With Love From Russia... and Siberia!

Wednesday, September 29, 2004
Where to begin after almost a month in Russia?!?! Here are some highlights!

  1. The train ride to Siberia - discounting of course the endless hours of non-motion and never available toilet! This was the two day train ride where the provodnitsa smuggled jeans and blankets! All the Mongolians were "issued" two pairs of jeans and one blanket at the start of the journey. This doesn't seem like something worth reporting, but it was so funny - and so systematic! She had a clipboard noting who had what and as soon as the Russian border patrol people had left the train for good... she collected her goods and packaged them back up again. I'm not finished!!!! There was a secret compartment under the hallway carpet where she hid them all. Rob even helped her to store them there since the hiding place was directly in front of our cabin. The secret compartment was large enough to hide away two full grown adults!!
  2. Blending in. I know it sounds stange - but all of a sudden, you cross from Mongolia to Russia and you no longer stick out. In Asia you are ALWAYS the white or Western person.... but suddenly we took one more train and voila! Sometimes we are on the metro or walking down the street and someone asks us a question... they are surprised to realize we are not Russian. It's a nice change! And, it's funny to see people's reaction too.
  3. A visit to Lake Baikal, the largest and deepest lake in the world. It doesn't officially hold the record for the clearest lake in the world, but it certainly seems it! Looking into the water is actually strange it is so clear. Any realistic concept of figuring out depth is out of the question.
  4. Staying on Olhon Island in the middle of Lake Baikal. This place is remote even for Siberia! But, we found a guy named Sasha who spoke great English and he befriended us. We went fishing and for a jeep ride around the island. We stayed with Sasha's grandmother.
  5. Eating omul. Omul is a type of fish found in Baikal. No self-respecting Siberian calls it Lake Baikal, so neither will I, I will call it Baikal, just like them. They smoke the omul for a while at the market by the lake in Liskvyanka and then all the potential buyers stroll past examining each and every fish - most residents of nearby Irkutsk come here for a breath of nature. After a full circuit of fish examining they choose the fish they want... since we weren't really sure about the correct examining method we picked an old lady who looked really nice and smiled at us.
  6. The acrobatic flight in Novosibirsk. It took us two days to find this place and organize an actual flight, but it was worth it. Andrei, the onsite mechanic learned "Pilot English" and was so happy to have us turn up. He was great! In addition to a death-defying flight of amazing stunts in an old Russian plane he also gave us a great tour of tiny airport.
  7. MTV Russia is fantastic. It's the best programming I've seen since the China progaganda channel! It makes anything you see on American television (HBO or otherwise) seem tame. The videos are wild and the tunes aren't bad either. We bought an MP3 CD in the metro yesterday hoping to prolong our Russian music experience.
  8. Visting the Kremlin and Lenin's mauseleum.
  9. Visiting Anya in Moscow! Last time I came to Russia I met Anya through another Russian friend and I got to see her again this time. It's great to see a friend after so long without seeing anyone I know. Her and her boyfriend taught us how to play Russian pool! If you want to know how to play, here's a link, but good luck finding the gigantic table! http://www.wordiq.com/definition/Billiards
Russian Sterotypes and "Facts"

  1. So many Russian women seem to be SOOOO tall. And, they all wear skyscaper stillettos. How they manage to walk through the mud and cobblestones I'm not really sure, but wow, I could sure use a lesson or two.
  2. Babushka means grandmother. If someone is a grandmother, or of grandmother age she gets this title. It's a title of respect. After a week or so we realized that if someone calls a woman babushka - it's likely that it is NOT really her grandmother - it's a title!! In Russia, it's a hard earned one.
  3. Anything you have ever heard about Russian sterotypes... they are rarely true nowadays. Not only do they charge Western prices (or higher), they also dress the same as us, sometimes speak fluent English, and they also smile! Sometimes you do encounter the NYET person - someone who always says "NO" regardless of what you ask - but nowadays there is always someone who says "Da". And, it's likely they'll smile and try to help you. The most common stereotype about Russians that is true is in regards to their education. Most people we have met seem to not only have college educations, but they work as architects, economists, engineers, linguists or scientists... and the odd network marketer?!? No one seems to thing this is very extraordinary.
Anyway, about the tourism part... it's great! Especially St. Petersburg. St. Petersburg is one of the best places to walk through a history book. Every place you go, every sight you see - there's history involved. Plus the city is filled with canals and beautiful buildings. It's such a perfect place to visit you can't believe you haven't been here before... oh, wait! I have been here before! Even when you have been here before, there's just too many things to see that you haven't the time - even on your fourth or fifth visit. Just make sure you get to the Hermitage on your first visit!

The only bad thing about Russia is the fact that I do not speak Russian. I have learned most of the alphabet (Cyryllic) and can prounce most things... but it is just not the same. Although, I did meet an old retired military guy who learned Spanish to speak with the Cuban army. Speaking with me on the bus that day was the most Spanish he had spoken for 20 years!!!

Of all the places I have been to, I would most like learn Russian and Portuguese. Whether or not either of these will ever happen I can only guess! I promise to keep you posted.

For now, Das Ve Danya! (Goodbye!)

Love, Alison


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