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 Post subject: Another visit to Russia!
Post Number:#1  PostPosted: 30 Apr 2011 03:48 
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Another visit to Russia - 13th trip to the FSU

OK, its time for me to pack as I'll be catching a plane in the morning for what will be my 13th trip to the FSU in less than a 4 year period.
I guess nobody can blame me for not putting in a full effort and I must say that my frequent flier account is looking nice and flat.

The only negative is that I have pretty much ignored the other parts of the world, but I have still managed to have visits to France, Czech Republic, India, Finland, and Estonia during this period. Plus, I have travel had a few trips within the USA that involved this adventure, not to mention a summer planned trip to Austria, Slovakia, Hungry, Croatia, and Slovenia. So maybe I should not complain as that's probably more traveling than many people do in a lifetime and a word of advice for anyone starting this adventure, you better enjoy traveling if you are looking for love in another country or feel like you are a lucky gambler.

Now comes to the sad part, as I'm winding down my adventure as I have finally run fast enough to catch the one for me (maybe I just learned that it was not a good thing to put ones foot in ones mouth). This will hopefully result is a happy and long life with a special person and if we are lucky, a few little additions, but my days to grand adventures will be coming to an end and for that I might need a serious case of rehab (trust me, my fiancee asks me this question a lot).

Anyways, it's looking like it's going to be raining and since I'll be on my own for a few days, we'll see if I will have time to keep this trip report up-to-date (granted, it seems like trip reports after we meet someone are never as fun as the first time trip reports of those who are newbies and have just met someone). So for now, I will hit the rack and pack in the AM as I should have about 30 minutes to spare before I need to head to the airport [surprised.gif] .


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 Post subject: Re: Another visit to Russia!
Post Number:#2  PostPosted: 30 Apr 2011 06:06 
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Cheesy,

Considering that you will probably not read this until you are back on "Terra firma".
I am a bit late with my wishing you a safe journey, but ........... better late than never.

I wish you a safe journey and good luck.

In my opinion.
With regards to your days of "Grand Adventures" coming to an end, you are embarking on a new "Grand Adventure" admittedly a slightly different type of adventure but as I see it a more important adventure or to put it differently an adventure that is the culmination of your previous endeavours.

May you ship sail mainly in calm waters and under blue skies, may you find the wisdom to navigate the squalls that will appear from nowhere I just hope that the inevitable squalls will be few and far apart.

Safe journeys and good luck.

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 Post subject: Re: Another visit to Russia!
Post Number:#3  PostPosted: 30 Apr 2011 14:41 
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Sorry been late but still wish you to have a great holiday.......

Looking forward reading your impressions of the big day.........9th of May.

Have a good time in rodina.

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 Post subject: Re: Another visit to Russia!
Post Number:#4  PostPosted: 01 May 2011 02:04 
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Hope you're having a good flight. No kids kicking your seat, no crying babies to get on your nerves, and no one dropping the deadly gas bomb because they're too lazy to go to the WC. [angry2.gif]

Enjoy your time there!! [biggrin.gif]

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 Post subject: Re: Another visit to Russia!
Post Number:#5  PostPosted: 01 May 2011 07:34 
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Have a good trip Wicheese!

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 Post subject: Re: Another visit to Russia!
Post Number:#6  PostPosted: 02 May 2011 00:43 
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Call it Jet Lag!


I have no idea why I enjoy international travel so much as I am one who does suffer jet lag, why else would I be typing this at 4:20 Moscow time. So if one has a cure I would not mind hearing it?

OK, for me it was a typical flight to Russia as I went STL/JFK/SVO. The domestic flight was nice as I'm almost always upgraded to first class and what was funny was that one of the flight attendants for the JFK/SVO segment was sitting in front of me, what she was doing in STL was anyones guess as she mentioned she lives in LA. Now I was hoping for a first class bump on the overseas segment because lately it's been happening on about 50% of my flights, but no luck as all I got was a handshake and thank you for flying Delta from the lead flight attendant! [sad.gif]

Now once on the plane, I was fearing the dreaded situations that Donhollio mentioned as a young (make that very young as she reminded me of the 18 y.o. arm candy you see on some of the pay-per-letter sites) mother sat down in from of me with an infant, but I was lucky as the kids was quiet the entire way over. Next to me was a Russian Canadian lady who was about my age and had lived in Canada for 15 years, married to a French Canadian in Montreal for the last 8. Very nice lady and when I asked her if she would ever want to move back to Russia, as it certainly has improved a lot since 1996, her answer was "I'm proud to be a Russian, but life is still so much easier in the west". I had to agree with that, especially since the Looney is doing so well vs. the dollar.

Now it's been six months since I was last to Moscow and at that time Delta was still using the old terminal F, but since then they have switched over to the new terminal D and I will admit to being impressed (I had scouted it out a little back in Nov. but this was my first flight through it). Anyways, I think I set a new SVO record for myself, as I was off the plane, through immigration, and picked up my bag in under 30 minutes (26 in case you are wondering). I was greeted by a smiling and happy face and I thought it was good to be back in Moscow. Oh, I was even shocked as the new terminal has a parking garage which is a big improvement for SVO if you ever had friends navigate the parking mess at the airport, so I'll give the airport a thumbs up for all the improvements, even though the signs getting in and out of the parking garage needed to be improved. [thumbs.gif]

Since it was a holiday weekend, the roads were almost empty for Moscow and we returned to my Fiancees apartment on the south side of Moscow in under 40 minutes where I was able to take a needed shower and then get caught up on things along with a little nap. For the evening, we headed in to the Hermitage Gardens as a number of military bands were giving free concerts. Lots of old music from the WWII period and it was good to see a few old pensioners dancing to the music. We relaxed with some tea at the local Uzbek restaurant which is next to where the concerts were performed and walked around in the Garden a little (nice area to relax in the middle of Moscow as it's really a short walk from where the first McDonalds in Russia is located).

Later we headed over to Gorky park as they had free entrance and we heard they were having another concert as well, but we were a little too late, for the concert, so we just enjoyed a nice walk before stopping off at the store to get a little food and wine to be enjoyed later. Now if I can only fall asleep again and I think writing this short trip report has done the trick!


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 Post subject: Re: Another visit to Russia!
Post Number:#7  PostPosted: 03 May 2011 08:34 
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A view of life in Moscow!

Yesterday was a national holiday and it still seemed like Moscow was empty, but after a late morning start, Natasha and I finally made it into the center, with a quick detour to her office (her office is in a western style business complex and would not be so out-of-place anywhere in America as is home to several large western companies) and a quick bite to eat at the Starlight diner (not recommended as it was overpriced and not so tasty, but Natasha often goes there to meet one of her friends who has a young child as they have a family friendly section, so I wanted to check it out).

As with all my visits to Moscow, my first stop was Red Square as I never tire of the views of the Kremlin, St. Basils, and GUM where it was full of people and preparations were already in progress for the big May 9th parade. I was a little disappointed to find Alexander Gardens closed and only populated by lots of policemen so we made our way across the street to the Moscow Conservatory (currently under a bit of construction out found) where we indulged in chocolate and tea at the Coffee Mania cafe. From our window seat I watched how a local policeman negotiated with a 20 something man who had illegally parked his Ashton Martin as well as a good population of Moscow women inside the cafe who one would guess were looking for just the right man to support them (you know the type who would be perfectly happy milking a westerner on Aweb if not for the fact they had better fishing opportunities elsewhere).

While at the Cafe, Natasha received a call from her brother who wanted to meet us for diner with his new girlfriend. The location was not too far away and not so distant, that we just decided to continue our stroll which took us out past Arbat where we came across several nice new apartment buildings with units still available and I commented that they must be expensive being so close to the center on a quiet street and with underground parking; later we were to find out they cost $21,000 per sq_m with the smallest unit being 194 sq_m (you can find them on a site called maindoor.ru).

After a few intentional detours, we finally made it to our destination, a little restaurant called "Кот Бегемот" which is made to look like an old Soviet Style apartment. The food was rather tasty and it was tourist friendly as there were a number of other English speakers in the room, but be sure to make a call ahead for a table as it was busy.

Now to the life in Russia section, before our nice walk around the center we had to fix our tickets to Saint Petersburg as we had booked tickets with Sky Express, but they canceled our AM flight and replaced it with a PM flight the same day. So first time was spent in an attempt to get the cost put back on our credit card (this will require a visit to their office today) and booking of alternative transport options which will be the express train to St. Petersburg. So instead of buying the tickets online (recommended) we went to visit the train station where a number of ticket windows did not accept credit cards (temporary) which resulted in my going outside to a money exchange where the rate was none to my favor and I realized how fast the dollar is declining. [surprised.gif]

Anyways, this little adventure which took hours should have been completed in minutes on the phone and over the internet and can easily be explained by the saying "this is Russia".


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 Post subject: Re: Another visit to Russia!
Post Number:#8  PostPosted: 04 May 2011 00:19 
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I hope you have a great trip wicheese. [hi.gif]

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 Post subject: Re: Another visit to Russia!
Post Number:#9  PostPosted: 05 May 2011 01:05 
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General Comments!


After spending a few days walking and running around Moscow, I was reflecting on my early visits which started back in 2007. First, prices are going up in both the restaurants and especially if one is looking for souvenirs as I was trying to find a shirt for a co-worker and noticed that it was hard to find any for under 300 pyb (I miss the days when both the old Arbat and area around Red Square were loaded with souvenir tents). I guess I was also spoiled by the 30+ pyb to $ exchange rate of recent years, but I think things are returning to the 24 to 1 I had back in 2007.

I spent a good chunk of time walking around the tourist locations today and I only remember seeing one obvious WM & RW pair (that one made me laugh as it was a fat man with a tall slim lady which made me think, at least the dynamics of why men come here have not changed).

The RW waistline is expanding. This is a trend I have noticed over the last few years, maybe because I now spend so much time people watching, but at least in Moscow you see more than enough people with weight problems. Granted, I have also seen my share of long legged and thin women, but what they had in common was age as they were mostly all young. Now I will add, Russians are still thin compared to the average American, especially those you see frequenting Wal-Mart (usually lower income people who do not eat a good diet).

It seemed like there was a noticeable amount of new construction. I can't quote figures as it's only what I witnessed, but from my walk around it does seem like the country has recovered nicely from the recession. Also, lots of paint being added to the city infrastructure in preparations for the May 9th celebration as I found out after my run when I put my foot on a park bench to stretch my hamstring (it also reminded me of the need to learn how to read Russian as there was a sign [embarrased.gif] ).

Never worry about any RW you had dated in the past, as they will usually turn out OK. This was prompted by a comment by my fiancee as she asked if I still stayed in contact with some of my former RW friends. I admitted I had lost track recently, but my curiosity prompted me to check in with a few and they are all doing well and most all are married (it made me think of the one Hollywood movie where a man was a good luck charm for women who had sex with him). One has an nice young boy, but another who married a man from the French speaking world less than six months after we broke-up reported that she was diagnosed with breast cancer (she would have been 29 at the time). So hearing that story, it made me think that if you know what you want, then you should go get it.

Lastly, I need to report that I have finally taken a Moscow River cruise. After spending time in Moscow now for at least 11 visits I guess it was time. Anyways, it was nice and relaxing, but I think I'll be able to wait another 11 visits before I'll see a need to repeat.

OK, I'll repeat my activities of the last few days today and on Friday we'll head over to St. Petersburg for a weekend visit (I'm hoping for better weather than what I experienced on my last visit).


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 Post subject: Re: Another visit to Russia!
Post Number:#10  PostPosted: 11 May 2011 10:38 
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OK, first my advert for "Sky Express" airline, don't use them if you can avoid them. They might be better than many of the other domestic Russia airlines, but are not really customer friendly as it took a lot of jumping through hoops to get them to refund the money of a segment "they" canceled. Second, on our return from St. Petersburg they lost our reservation and it took a lot of arguing and showing paperwork that we paid for it to get us on the plane. My Fiancee was not too happy, but I just looked at her, smiled, and said this is Russia.

Now the positive, this led to our rearranging travel to Pieter on Russia's version of their high speed train (much slower than it Europe or Asia). It was a smooth ride and ontime (3:50). Much nicer (but more expensive) than the old overnight sleeper I took to Pieter the last time I visited the city back in Oct. 2008.

Now once in Pieter, it was raining (no surprise as this is the way I remember the city). First day was spent visiting the sites (Russia Museum was a highlight). We stayed in a small micro hotel that night near the Moscow train station (different from the one I had previously used (something Berg) and it was a dump, as a none smoking room was booked but we ended up in a smoking room, the room was quite plain which I expected, but it was not cheap like most of the micro hotels. I should also mention they had no "COLD" water (not a spelling error) so when I wanted to take a shower it was scalding hot (I opted out as I can take a cold one, but this option left me a little greasy for a day). So I switched the hotel for the second night to a Holiday Inn which was very nice and only 300 pyb more expensive.

I would recommend the restaurant we ate at that first night. It was an Armenian restaurant "Kilikia" which I considered both cheap and really tasty (I'll post a few pics of the food I had there when I get around to downloading my pictures. I got the recommendation off of the Fodors site and it turned out pretty good as it was along our way after seeing "Madem Butterfly" at the Mariinsky (sad opera which left me sleeping so go to the ballet there and skip their opera performances, unless you really love Opera), which has no problem charging a much higher foreigner price.

On the second day in Pieter the sun came out and we headed over to Pushkin to see Catherine's Palace. It was a really nice day excursion as I had not visited it before and was easily reached by mini-van. That night we went to a Georgian restaurant "Tbliso" which had very good food (not so cheap) and I got a kick out of the singer who was singer almost karaoke style, but playing video games while singing. Afterwards we walked around the Peter & Paul Fortress and along the waterfront as we took advantage of the sunlight and very late (at least for me) sunset.

On our last day in Pieter, we headed over to Peterhof and spent most of the time we had available checking out the gardens which was nice as we had sunlight and the fountains were working which could be considered a highlight (when I was there last they were off for the season and you really do loose a lot).

Now to my last full day in Russia (May 9th) as we took in all the festivities of the day. We watch the parade of military vehicles after the official and closed to the public real performance on Red Square (BTW, the marching soldiers are just for the camera and are already gone by the time the average person can see anything, so I just checked it out on youtube). Later we checked out the concerts in the center of Moscow (mostly Russian pop music with a patriotic twist) which was being performed on multiple stages which we could walk between. We finished the night watching the fireworks (only 10 minutes from a spot along the third loop road (no, we were not part of the group that were parking three deep on the road to get a glimpse of the fireworks) as Natasha knew of a good spot to park and walk to a great vantage point.

Now I'm home and will get pictures posted, maybe by the weekend, and it's time for my real life to start again.


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