No, I am not insulting you. That's how we'd say HELLO in Russian. If you guessed that I have been saying "hello" instead, you were right! I can manange "da" (yes) and "nyet" (no), and "spasee'ba" (thanks).
The 10 hr flight from Atlanta to Moscow was okay. I read my "travel bible" (lonely planet) to get a refresher on Russian history, from Ivan the Terrible, to Peter the Great, to Lenin, Stalin, ... and all the way to president Putin. Than... the American by me started to talk (yeap! I was not the one talking, believe me). He happened to be working on building a facility to destroy Russian chemical weapons!!! US brings personnel and money for the plant, and contributes with other projects like hospital, orphanage, etc. According to him, the new cold war has began, slowly. He warned me to be careful with the skin-heads in Saint Petersburg, because the US government issues warnings before each of his trips, and on the last one talked about 30 attacks on foreigners!!!
He was very informative, I must say, and useful too, as I got a ride from the international to the domestic airport in Moscow, since the government had a van waiting for him!!! Not bad at all for me, who couldn't read a single sing, particularly at the domestic airport. Both airport were actually VERY basic and old.
i was afraid of the fight on the Russian airline Aeroflot, but it was actually very good. No one spoke English, so I took the 1.5 hour to rest.
No sign with my name at the terminal at first, but than Sasha arrived, an young physician. Her husband, Andrey, a photographer waited in the van and at Sasha's fast driving mercy, we arrived at the flat where I rented a room. A 200 year old building with no elevator, it has given me no choice but to exercise my legs going up and down to/from the 5th floor. my windown faces a canal, where I can see Russians on the go, often with beer bottle in hand.
Boy the Russians do have a drinking problem! Althought vodka is the national drink, and is consumed a lot (I got a free shot with lunch. it's the norm!), beer is most consummed, including openly while people walk, during the whole entire day. Alcoholism is abundant here, and I heard that AIDS is the second biggest health problem.
Sunday I got to see quite a fashion display on the streets. Most girls wearing very short mini-skirts and very high heels. yeap, most looked like "Natashas", the name for prostitutes, but I can't say they were. The Russian people in general is beautiful, like I haven't seen before.
Going into a Russian orthodox church during service was very interesting. Nothing like catholic church. No seats at all. People walk around, kissing the pictures on the walls. There aren't any statues, only paintings under glass and walls, ceilings. There were 4 priests praying and lots of candles being burnt, old ladies cleaning the glasses being kissed by the followers.
Many incredibles churches visited. Sad to know/see that during the communist era, these amazing buildings were used to store vegetables, and even transformed into swimming pools! I got to see the destruction that was done but also the efforts to restore them.
I got to see Peter the Great being washed. Okay, not "himself, but his statue on a great horse. Than I climbed the 361 steps to the top of the Saint Issac Cathedral for a view of the city.
My 3rd day and it's raining. So, a perfect day to explore The Hermitage museum. Created by Catherine the Great, it houses an enourmous collection of arts from around the world. 5 hours appreciating the work of the most incredible artists wasn't enough, but just a taste. To go thru the whole winter palace, enjoying each piece of art, it would take 9 years!!! Yeap! too much, I must say.
Many marines on the streets, some found drinking beer on the streets at midnight!!! Army guys pop from doors, but don't seem intimidating as I expected. Actually, I'm surprised how laid back people are, largely ignoring me, and I guess others too. I can't seem to stop being amazed by the number of people, young girls to old man and even guards, who walk around on the streets drinking beer, at all times!!!
Food: crunchy black bread fried with garlic (goes well with drinks), bliny (pancake), cabbage pie, beet base soup, apple and lemon pies, nutty yogurt... all delicious. I visited the Stragonoff palace, where the Stragonoff's family cook invented the internationally famous dish. Mc Donalds and KFC present, but I won't dare go in, of course.
This photogenic city, with the many canals, oustantatious palaces, beautiful churches, truly surprised me. Hey. It even "made" me, okay, encouraged me, to drink vodka, for a true Russian experience. But what could I do: In Russia as the Russians, right?
I've taken tons of pictures, of course, but I don't have internet connection time allowing me to down load. Thus, I promise pics later.
From the cultural capital to the political capital (Moscow) I go.
Be in touch.
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