Archive for April, 2009

From Russia with Amicable Regards

Saturday, April 18th, 2009
The famous, onion-domed towers of St. Basil's Cathedral

The famous, onion-domed towers of St. Basil's Cathedral

So I’ve made it back from St. Petersburg, once again successfully navigating the various Russian metro and train systems to arrive back at Jim & Laura Hutchinson’s apartment.  Refreshed with a shower and fresh change of clothes, I headed back out into the streets of Moscow to meet up with a Russian couple outside the Kremlin.

Natashia and Leon are Muscovites I met during my train ride back from St. Petersburg.  Natashia was returning home from visiting her grandmother and she and I shared a cabin on the train.  The train left at 10:20, and I had intended to get to sleep early, as I’ve been desperately short on rest.  I discovered that she spoke a bit of English and we ended up talking until about 1 AM.  It was fascinating to hear a local’s perspective on her country.  She would often simultaneously disparage and commend Russia.  She claimed that post-USSR life in Russia offers many more choices and freedoms for people, but when I pushed to hear her opinion about comparing the quality of life now to life under soviet rule, she was hesitant to say that it was any better now.  “Who is to say it is better or worse now? Do you think your life is better than your parents’ or are your parents unhappy with their lives?  It is just a different life.  We each have a life to live and enjoy, and we have little control over anything else.”  I was taken aback by the wisdom in her words.  I had expected to hear a reinforcement of my opinion that things are so much better for Russia with freedom and newfound affluence.  No more long lines to enter shopping centers empty of all but a few shoddy products.  No more fear of the KGB crashing through your door because of suspicions of dissidence.  No more strict, drab dress codes.  In fact, what she said echoed my own drum that I’ve been beating for years: happiness is a decision, it’s not dictated by circumstance. (more…)

Sbarro is actually spelled сбарро

Friday, April 17th, 2009
This grand staircase greets you shortly after entering the Hermitage museum.

This grand staircase greets you shortly after entering the Hermitage museum.

Greetings from Санкт Петербург (St Petersburg) where I’ve broken one of my cardinal rules of travel by dining at an American chain restaurant. I have two remaining shreds of dignity to hold in my defense. First, this is not McDonalds and second, Sbarro at least looks foreign when spelled with the Cyrillic alphabet. But the real reason why I’m here is that I saw a sign for free wifi as i was walking by, and it was beginning to spit wet snow outside.

My day started around 8:30 when my alarm told me to wake up and get ready for my train’s 9 am arrival in St Petersburg. I had taken the overnight train from Moscow, using the night travel to spare the precious few days I have in this country while taking in my first experience riding a sleeper car. I hadn’t planned to take this foray north, but after hearing several endorsements I decided to try to squeeze it in. The only problem is that I have no guide book for St Petersburg (in fact i didnt even have a basic city map), so I came here pretty blind.

This particular side trip began with the touch of misadventure I’ve come to expect. Jim and I took the metro from his apartment to the Leningrad train station. This would normally have been fine, but we had forgotten that (more…)

…gang aft agley

Thursday, April 16th, 2009
Jim buying some shaurma

Jim buying some shaurma

I suppose it would be a bit presumptuous of me to claim Steinbeck’s famous proverb applies to me.  That would be to claim that I even had laid some plans in the first place!  I suppose a more appropriate tag for my travel experiences would be the almost trite, serendipity.  Actually, on third thought, it would best be characterized as providential.

Well, that’s how I see it as I update today’s blog entry.  I’m sitting in Jim Hutchinson’s office as I write this, refreshed from a whopping 6 hours of sleep that more than doubles the rest I’d received in the previous two days.  Who is Jim Hutchinson?  He’s a missionary living here in Moscow with his wife and three young daughters.  I originally got in touch with Jim several weeks ago via e-mail as I began to “plan” my trip here to Russia.  I wanted to find a church to attend when I would be in Moscow.  Jim offered to give me some touring advice when I got here, so I gave him a call the day before I left the states.  He must have assessed that I’d be instantly (more…)

Da Svidaniya

Tuesday, April 14th, 2009

Well hello neglected blog readers! Life has been in blur mode for me over the past few weeks as I’ve been blessed with quite a lot of business and I’ve been trying to adequately prepare for a week away from home. Bit here I am again, sitting in another airport, ready to board a plane for a new destination. I just enjoyed a visit with Ken Taylor and his family on a planned long layover in Washington DC, but now I’m continuing on my way to Moscow. This will be a new, slightly more adventuresome trip for me. Charming, first world Europe is always a pleasant destination, but it’s not exactly exotic. Russia may no longer be soviet, but it’s still populated with Russians, and the country is still reputed to impose unique difficulties for travelers. Certainly the visa process was a bit challenging, something I’m guessing is a taste of my week to come. For now, though, I’m sitting in a roomy economy plus seat (scored for free by simply asking the right question) and hope to get some decent rest on the 11 hour, red-eye flight. With only an hour of sleep to my credit last night, I’m needing to break the mental fog that comes beyond fatigue. An overnight flight and jumping 8 time zones tends only to contribute to this problem, so a little sleep would go a long way in preventing my first day in Russia from being nothing more than a marathon sleep session. Well, our flight is starting to taxi, so I’d best shut down my phone. More to come!