Victoria, our guide for the trip. Would you believe she has an eight-year-old and holds a PHD. in languages?
I have spent two weeks enjoying Russian hospitality. We have travelled 1450 km. of rivers and canals, through four bodies of water and 19 locks. At one point we were at the 62nd parallel. That night, when it got dark enough to turn on lights, it started getting light again. Many of us had trouble sleeping.
Although the Russians tend to be stoney faced most of the time--they come through when you need them. My plans were to arrive in St. Petersburg on June 5 and join the cruise on June 7 until June 17. My visa was issued for June 5 to 17. One week before I was to leave I was informed that the cruise I had planned to take had been cancelled, but they could get me on a cruise from June 4 to 14. Since I couldn't enter the country until the 5th, I would miss the first day, but they were spending the first three days in harbour in St. Petersburg, so this wouldn't be a problem. They cancelled my hotel in St. Petersburg and I thought I would just stay in Moscow until the 17th--I had a non-refundable plane ticket for the
Church at open air museum.
17th. When we got to Moscow, the cruise director couldn't find me a hotel room, so he offered to let me stay on board for two days and then he would arrange for me to go to another boat until the 17th. It was also a real bargain--65E for cabin, three meals and the tours. A room in a three star would cost 65E without meals, etc.
Other things we learned about life in Russia. Kids start school at age seven or eight. They attend a minimum of 8 years, then go work or to college. Some colleges are free, others are not. They can enter University based on grades. There is an entrance exam for the best universities, but everyone knows that you can find a teacher who will give you the questions and expected answers for the right price. They also pay someone to get a "free" seat. Bribery is a part of life in Russia.
Medical care is available in clinics, but doctors are poorly paid. Many are setting up private practices. Doctors are routinely bribed to perform surgery, move people higher on the lists and so on. Pensioners and children get free medicine, but
Spinning at open air museum.
they line up long before the pharmacy opens because they often run out of medicine.
Military service is compulsory for boys if they are not going to University. After university they can choose to be a soldier for one year or an officer for two years. The government gives the families of military personnel one return airfare per year to anywhere in Russia.
Life is tough for some people. Single moms, pensioners and the disabled get a small pension from the government--but it would be hard to live on it.
It takes two incomes to survive. Many homes are multi-generational.
The highest percentage are poor, a small group are considered middle-class, a few are wealthy.
Marriage is on the decline. Civil marriage ceremonies are mandatory. About 10% also have church weddings. Wedding palaces are often used for weddings. These are the mansions that were owned by the noblemen during the time of the Czars. Church weddings were discouraged during the Soviets times, and people still wanted a nice setting for their weddings. The service lasts five minutes. One superstition is that a wedding gown must be one piece--no jackets or detachable trains. If a dress
Monestary near Kirill.
is separated, it means the couple will separate. Speaking of--divorce is easy to get. They send a letter to the court, make one appearance and it is all over. If it is complicated--children, etc. they go to the wedding palace to sort it out. Another quirk--at age twelve, a child can declare that he doesn't want his father to be his father. Here is the reason why. If he doesn't do this, when the child is over 18 (even if he has never seen his father) his father can apply to have the son financially support him.
Homes are heated by central heat--that means there is a heating system in the middle of each town that sends heat and hot water through underground pipes to houses and apartment buildings. Many prefer the older buildings that have their own systems. The central town systems are not reliable. Many towns don't provide hot water in the summer months. Most people live in apartments. By law, elevators are mandatory for buildings over five stories. When Russia privatized after U.S.S.R. collapsed everyone was given a chance to take ownership of their apartments--free. It is now almost impossible for a young couple to afford
Monks singing at monestary near Kirill.
to buy these same apartments.
After the end of communism, many people started hoarding money. The favourite was the 100 ruble note--kept in sugar bowls and shoe boxes. Gorbechev one day announced that the current 100 ruble notes were worthless, thus wiping out most people's savings. The result (other than the suicides that followed) was that nobody hoards money--they invest.
The good news is that income tax is only 13%. Only the first job is taxed. Other sources of income--parttime, entrepreneurial stuff is not taxed. Income tax was 20% until 1998. The government decided tht one way to stop people from keeping two payroll systems (one for actual earnings, one for government records) was to reduce income tax to 13%. Russia sells oil and military goods to other countries to make up the rest.
Bye for now,
Tot: 3.225s; Tpl: 0.016s; cc: 15; qc: 65; dbt: 0.0265s; 3; m:saturn w:www (188.8.131.52); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.4mb