Sunday, July 6, 2008

Russian Wrap-up

I keep trying to make a post about Russia, but haven't been able to find the time, even though I've spent the last five days in the relative technological havens of Berlin and Paris... Paris is actually eerily similar to Moscow - there's a lot of people speaking Russian here (so they don't only go on vacation to the beaches in SE Asia!) and I come to McDonald's for my free wi-fi...

Anyway, #1: A new low
I've spent a little bit of time comparing a few of the airlines I've gotten to experience over my six months of traveling so far (I've been on 32 distinct flights so far btw!) - see here, and here. However, my flight from Krasnoyarsk to Moscow, on the not-so-trustworthy wings of KrasAir may have set a new standard. The airline seemed OK, it's the airplanes that really stand out. It's not that the Tu-154 is an inherently bad plane as far as I know, it's just that it's operated by various Russian airlines who are willing to fly what appear to be incredibly old planes, and just generally don't seem to care because, well, they're Russian. It should be a telling note that Siberian Airlines has changed its name to S7, supposedly because Siberia had had a few too many planes crash... all of them Tupolevs. And most Western airports don't let these planes land, so when my onboard magazing excitedly talked about a KrasAir partner opening service to Greece, they talked about brand new Boeings and Airbuses servicing the new route. My plane? Well, there was nothing obviously wrong - the bathroom looked just like the one on the train (that's not a good thing), the seat covers were all torn and worn out, the overhead compartments weren't actually compartments, just open shelves, the fans didn't come on until after takeoff, a good 30 minutes after we got on the incredibly hot airplane. So, you know, the little things, the plane seemed to be flying just fine, and they even fed us (take that all the American carriers...)

The mighty Tupolev arrives in Moscow. It's no wonder the passengers applaud here when the plane lands

#2. Making friends in Krasnoyarsk.

My stay in Krasnoyarsk lasted three days, and during that time I did not meet a single other foreigner there. There aren't any hostels, and the sights don't exactly approach Moscow and Baikal, so foreigners seem to just ride straight through on the train. Instead, while hiking on the Krasnoyarsk Stolbi (Pillars) I ran into a group of locals (Vera, Yura, and his girlfriend Lena), we hiked for about 12 more kms from the point where we met together, then over the course of the next few days hung out a bit in the city, which was actually a great experience - for me anyway, I can only hope they were amused by my random stories of various places I'd seen over the prior six months, as well as my observations of their city - e.g. why are all the girls always dressed like they're going out to a night club, even when in actuality they're just going to buy some bread? So we talked, wondered around town a bit, met a few of their friends, saw some of the sights of Krasnoyarsk, all in all good times. I've since been invited to come back to Krasnoyarsk, so we can go hunting in a village where Yura had grown up, and some of his family still resides... Honestly? I'm a little tempted!

Lena and Yura

#3 Nostalgia in Moscow

Yes, in my old age, I'm clearly becoming sappy and nostalgic, so I wondered around some of the places where I grew up while in Moscow. The most immediate observation: things are a lot closer than I seem to remember them being! Apparently growing taller lets you walk faster, who knew!

The house, where I grew up. Seemed much bigger when I was 13!

The park near the house - looks fairly familiar, except for the dirt bike racing course that's spawned up in the middle

Always good to see that Lenin is still gracing the entrance to the park. Not sure if it's the same statue though?

My old school. Sadly my old English teacher, to whom I am actually quite grateful no longer works there

My uncle and I getting ready to go to the banya (the Russian take on sauna) at the dacha. The hats signify just how popular the Coneheads movie still is in Russia...


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