The dates of my trip were March 20 - 29, 2003. Where to begin. The jet lag is waning, slowly. Eight hours difference and I can't seem to stay awake much past 9:30 at night and so am waking up at 6 a.m., which is all right, I guess.
Russia. Wow. I'm very happy that I went, but was even happier to get back home. They have incredible history, beautiful palaces, museums, and art. But they are poor. The tap water in both St. Petersburg and Moscow is undrinkable. I spent $$$$$ on bottled water, which tasted fine, all brands. The Russian cars are cheap, so everyone has one. Traffic is fierce, at the same time, 8-12 million people a day use the Moscow Metro. The cars are filthy, layers of grime. They don't use salt on sidewalks or roads, just sand. We walked on ice a good deal of the time. Still lots of snow on the ground and frozen canals and rivers, although we had sunshine and the ice was breaking up in places. I found the late winter, early spring, an interesting time to visit this country. The snow in the country, in the forests, and around the palaces was beautiful. I enjoyed looking at the ice on the Neva and on the canals.
The people were very nice and friendly to me. The kids were very friendly and curious. They study English, so I was able to talk with them a little. In the Tretyakov Art Gallery, a young lad started standing with our group to listen to our guide speak English. Our group invited him to stay with us. I gave him an American quarter. At the end of the tour, he thanked us in English for letting him join the group and me for the coin. His mother stayed nearby. His name was (phonetically) Evon. So sweet.
We drove through the Karelian forest, from Helsinki to St. Petersburg. The trees were mostly pine and silver birch. Roads were good. At the borders, we had no trouble. Passports got stamped leaving Finland, through a dead zone, and then again entering Russia. Tractor trailers were stopped and lined up for miles at the borders. It could take them all weekend to get through. They weren't making any money. Russia still have 'regulations' which slow things down. Our passports and visas were checked again upon checking into our hotels.
We ate beef stroganoff, borscht, Russian ice cream (very good). They cook with mushrooms and/or cabbage in a lot of recipes. Then there were places that served chicken, french fries and mixed vegetable. Didn't have any dumplings, but they did have venison on a buffet. It was tender and good.
Optionals on the tour included a ballet, Giselle, very good and a lovely theater, a folklore show which included singing and dancing, very enjoyable, trips to the country to see palaces and a monastery. The night before we left Russia we went to the Moscow State Circus, great show.
The overnight train trip between St. Petersburg and Moscow was interesting. The compartment was small, narrow beds on each side with a table between and room to stand. I slept after a while and the train stopped for 1 1/2 hours with a mechanical problem (out like a light - me), so we were late getting into Moscow. The toilets on the train were nasty. Locked in the station and only unlocked out in the country. They flush onto the track. Yuk.
Teachers and librarians are Workers of Enlightenment in Russia.
One evening we went on the Metro, the escalators are fast, and long, 7 meters. They seemed three times longer than London's, and I thought London's were long!
The bus driver in Moscow didn't keep the bus windows clean. Joyce didn't tip him.
Our hotel in Moscow, very nice, 2000 rooms, was full of night birds, both female and male, late afternoon and evening. The lobby women's room smelled like a bordello. Hotel residents' ID were checked each time we approached an elevator, because they don't let the prostitutes upstairs.
In the years since glasnost, and perestroika, Russia has come a long way, but they have a long way to go too. 30% of the people are very poor, still. Houses in the country don't have indoor toilets. We asked why no graffiti and our guide said the kids don't have the money for paint.
The best souvenirs for me were the Matroyshka nested dolls. The amber was beautiful. Lacquered painted wooden boxes were popular, too. Very colorful merchandise. VODKA!
Our tour director and our Moscow city guide both encouraged the members of our group to recommend travel to Russia. I can whole heartedly comply, although I, personally, would be most comfortable on a group tour, as opposed to traveling on my own.
Please enjoy the pictures Part One, Part Two, and Part Three on my web site.
Joyce N. Church
Written April 2003
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