Ivan's travels experiences.... Moscow
spent the next week just wandering around St Petersburg
getting familiar with it, looking in the shops looking
into the open marketplace and doing a lot of looking at
everything around the area without doing any of the tourist
sights whatsoever and I'm pleased I did this because it
allowed me to see a little bit more of the problems that
the locals had to live with on a daily basis even if that
was just on the surface.
There's no doubt about it St Petersburg is a beautiful
city, one of the most beautiful I have visited and even
with the wide streets that I mentioned it has quite a
trouble with traffic in the peak periods there are quite
reasonable size traffic jams. This gets worse of course
when it was raining and almost rained for the whole week
that I was in the apartment, but being so close to the
main shopping centre it was really no problem.
I was just strolling along one day minding my own business
having just crossed the traffic lights and suddenly someone
behind me gave me a punch on what he hoped was going to
be the kidneys for no apparent reason and swore at me,
no idea what I did to cause that, I have been mistaken
for Russian sometimes so who knows.
Spent quite a lot of time walking through the outside
marketplace where individuals have their own stalls and
a lot of the people seem to be of Turkish descent from
I would guess the Russian 'Stans down towards the border
of China. They are certainly into selling the leather
coats, and after a lot of haggling and walking away and
coming back ended up with a Mafia style long leather overcoat,
extra along, in black of course, with a beautiful warm
lining which I will probably leave in a rubbish skip somewhere
because I can never see it getting so cold where I would
be wearing it and if it is that cold I'll just put extra
layers on underneath.
I ended up paying 200 American dollars for the coat and
I had the advantage that I didn't necessarily want it,
because I'll have to carry at all the way through Vietnam
and the rest of the way home, but at that price I did
not think I could pass of up.
If next time you see me I am wearing this, talk about
all of your relations in Sicily and Russia and tell me
how close you are to them all.
The apartment I had was about two blocks from the railway
station so I decided to travel from St Petersburg to Moscow
by train. I thought this is going to be interesting booking
the ticket, very fortunately the person behind me in the
queue was able to speak English and did all of the interpreting
for me so I managed to get on the express in a special
class they don't have first-class, for 1300 Roubles.
I decided, seeing I liked the apartment ideas so much,
in St Petersburg to repeat the experience in Moscow, so
I spent quite a lot of time at the Internet cafe sending
off e-mails to people that had apartments they rented,
eventually ended up with one that was eight stops by the
Metro out, plus three stops by the tram which sounded
worse than it is, however I think that with a city the
size of Moscow it is not to bad.
A lot of these apartments seem to be owned by Americans
and they have their agents in Moscow looking after them.
One American owned 10 apartments which he rented out between
60 and 120 American dollars a day. I guess with Moscow
if they are the right spot, they may be full almost year
around and if you got in early and bought the apartments,
before they all went up in price, you would be onto a
fairly good return on investment at this point.
So I had the ticket organised, so on Monday at noon the
housekeeper came to clean the apartment and collect the
keys and I wandered down to the station, found the train,
found the carriage, and better still I found the seat,
and 30 minutes later the train was on its way. Next a
waiter came to take the order for the meal, which was
included in the price of the ticket and you have an optional
any sort of spirit so seeing I was in Russia, I of course
took vodka and I got a reasonable size small bottle of
vodka which made the trip a little bit more pleasant.
The scenery along a rail line was forests with villages
every so often, the villages looked extremely interesting,
but as I commented on the Ukraine you've really only have
to go to a couple of the villages and you're starting
to see a repeat in the pattern and whatever there is there,
however it would be rather nice to do a little bit of
this individual village hopping, but not too much. There
was a lot of forests, lakes, rivers, and so forth along
the Railtrack and there was quite a lot of factories still
in production however you could see some that had closed
and moved on.
So about five hours after I had left St Petersburg the
train pulled on to Moscow Station.
Boris, the apartment manager was at the station to meet
me and took me through the pouring rain to the apartment,
showed me through the apartment, told me were everything
was, told me where the shops were, the way to the trams,
what trams to catch, which Metro and so forth, he did
a very good job of familiarisation with the area and getting
to and from Moscow city.
The apartment is extremely nice and been furnished very
well and the owner, a Russian who was now living in America,
gave me a discount on the apartment on provision that
I did some photographs of the apartment for his web site.
I did this before I settled in so that my luggage was
out of the way and ended up with about 28 photographs
that should make him happy and like most people he has
no idea as to what those 28 photographs should be worth,
but I took the photos with a small point camera, however,
of course perhaps I did know where to point and went to
Tuesday 2nd September
Well I did my first trip into the city today, did the
tram ride and the Metro without many problems, wandered
round the city took 80 photos, went through a very large
department store which looking at the prices was one of
the top stores, saw some beautiful Fur coats on display,
so thought I would check them out, there were Mink of
course, Silver Fox, and Lynx. A sales woman latched on
to me and following the round the shop with a calculator
to convert the Russian Roubles into American dollars.
The first time she did this I said no, no dollars, she
says Euro, I said no, Roubles. One of the coats was 262,000
Roubles, and St Petersburg I was told that you can get
a one roomed apartment for that sort of money, and whilst
it was only a little over 8000 American dollars, looking
upon it as a one roomed apartment places it into perspective.
I thought I had to register my Visa again when I arrived
in Moscow so went off to a travel agent to his get this
sorted out and to get help to sort it out, on checking
the Visa and I discovered I was flying out on the ninth
of September and the Visa was good to the eighth. I imagined
myself being shipped off to some Gulag for a couple of
years, yes a great imagination.
Coming back on the Metro, I went one station too far,
so then it was across the platform to go back one station,
so really no problems, only one minor problem is every
time the tram goes past the apartment the apartment shakes
a little bit like an earthquake, but I guess this is Moscow
and not Hollywood or Sumner.
Boris was telling me tonight that the rain that we came
through last night was quite a downpour and created many
problems right throughout Moscow with all sorts of traffic
Received a phone call this morning at 830 from the apartment
owner in Santa Monica, California, basically telephoning
to see how I was getting on in his apartment and to get
me some tips as to what the sights were around the apartment
on how to get there. I thought was very thoughtful and
perhaps made up a little for the continual earthquake
caused by the tram every few minutes.
Telephoned Lufthansa and explained about my Visa being
a day short and so they placed me on the flight to Munich
a day earlier. I have yet to decide whether to go on to
Thailand a day earlier or spend the day in Munich.
Successfully negotiated the tram and the Metro again and
ended up in Red Square after walking through the large
department store that was at the edge of the Square, the
Square was sealed off and they are sending up a large
platform for a concert that was going to be happening
over this coming weekend.
went on to the world famous church (St Basil's) that is
always associated with Moscow, but the size of the church
in real life was not as large as I expected to be. I however
did quite a few photographs so time will tell whether
my photos look as impressive as the ones that we have
Shopping for groceries, as I have remarked before is an
experience there is a grocery shop and liquor store, of
course, at the entrance to the apartment block, and the
grocery shop inside is probably as large as a small mini
market in our country, but in this particular situation
they have about 10 different departments and each one
has a person serving there, at their speed and each one
has a cash register so should you would be wanting 10
different types of produce etc you have two lineup 10
times, wait to be served, pay your money over, then move
on to the next cash register it's an experience which
never again will I complain about waiting in line one
of our supermarkets.
Went out to the Sheraton hotel, about three Metro stops
from Moscow Central, had my Air ticket revalidated to
leave the day earlier, now means of spend a day in Munich
and probably at least be able to download my e-mails.
All the public transport that I've been on in this country
is extremely well patronised, with peak periods in a standing
room only situation. The downside of course of changes
of season's, travelling on public transport, with lots
of people, one of these scenarios will always be that
you end up with a cold. For some reason when I did when
I did my repacking when I was back in New Zealand I only
packed two days of flu tablets so might be on to some
Russian medicine which hopefully will be a good dose of
And I am continually amazed by the grocery and pharmacy
shops in the way everything is in behind glass and you
can touch nothing. Went into a pharmacy the other day
to get some flu tablets, they had the modern western medicine's
and a few Russian equivalents, you line up behind a queue
and eventually you come in front of day small Square opening
about the size of the telephone book, you bend down and
state what you want, hoping they speak English, and they
bustle away and produce something and show you the amount
on a calculator.
And in one chemist shop there were about five little divisions
like this all walled off by glass with all the products
on display behind glass and with a telephone book size
opening for transactions, interesting.
Having an apartment, you do your own shopping for groceries
and by the Metro there is a large type of supermarket
and I need to buy some cake, sausages, grapes, Coke, and
Simple at home to the round the supermarket and you're
out and a few minutes. Here as I had said, each of the
products are at a different counter, where you get in
line and wait to be served get your product by some method,
usually pointing, the natives of course can ask which
is marginally faster, pay your money and move on to the
next counter, except for toilet paper, there is next door
in the Department that sells cosmetics, I'm not quite
sure of the relationship! Of course you bring your own
plastic bag or pay three Roubles for a new one.
Just wandering around the city by the Metro and the trams,
trying to see how the locals live which of course you
can only ever do to a superficial level, it's amazing
the conversations you strike up when asking for directions
and English suddenly you find somebody wants to practice
their English and it is usually very good English. You
find out a lot about the way of living, costs, and many
other subjects. They are always fascinated when they find
out I am from New Zealand, to them it is the other end
of the earth, however several times I have seen New Zealand
butter on sale wrapped in silver foil.
Went to the Russian Museum at one corner of the red Square
and found it quite interesting but nothing like the St
Petersburg Museum that was incredible. I was intending
to save the Kremlin and a tour of the city until Saturday
and Sunday but that was Moscow's holiday and all of the
main streets were closed along with Red Square so I had
to be content with wandering the streets along with the
tens of thousands of others. There was a very strong police
content with areas of the road blocked off which meant
you had to go through checkpoints all the time which made
life a little interesting.
I wandered by Mcdonald's, which was just off the main
street and was totally packed. So packed that they had
the doors closed and you line up waiting to be amongst
the next batch to be let in. I spoke to a young couple,
brother and sister, she spoke good English and was at
university learning to be an interpreter. He was in the
army studying to be an officer like his father, yes the
pay was lousy in the army, I did not quite understand
with those conditions why he was pursuing an army career.
He hoped to get to Capt, and even then the pay was not
It was a leisurely few days here and Moscow, and having
not seen all the sights, now have a good excuse to return.
The majority of the people I met were extremely friendly
and most hospitable.
The apartment manager offered me a transfer to the airport
for $60 and I found I could get a taxi for 500 Roubles
or $16 50.
Talking to people I've managed to work out some basic
increases the Russian people have had to face in the last
say, 12 years.
Wages have gone up by a factor of 29,
Riding the Metro has gone up by a factor of 140
Riding a tram has gone up by a factor of 333
a loaf of bread has gone up by a factor of 50
a kilo of sausages has gone up by a factor of 42
a pair of fashion shoes has gone up by a factor of 45
a new car has gone up by a factor of 80
a bottle of wine has gone up by a factor of 71
the Rouble has decreased in value by a factor of 5
A family of three used to be able to holiday in the Caucasus
mountains for three weeks for 90 Roubles. You could have
a holiday in Egypt for $230 now with the Rouble decreased
in value by a factor of five you need five times as much.
Glancing at the above statistics is easy to see why it
the old people in Russia that are finding things hard
and why a group of people would like to go back to the
old ways when things were, in theory, affordable, even
if they weren't available.
Wherever I travel around Moscow I see large billboards
advertising western products, I even saw a finance billboard
offering household finance. The stores have all the latest
western products at western prices and I see in a Russian
English newspaper the world Rich list 10 of the under
40 on the list are Russian.
The Russian English newspapers are full of apparent corruption
at governmental level and I think one could very well
apply the words of the "Wild, Wild West" like
being in the West of America in Marshal Dillons day.
The streets are full of the latest western cars, BMW has
lots of adverts everywhere, there are large features on
television showing the latest cars, Lada has released
a sports car which looks not unsimilar to a Ferrari or
the Honda that was released to compete with the Ferrari.
They have the wheel of Fortune TV quiz show, where contestants
bring gifts to the presenter which takes quite a lengthy
time for them to present these goods from his home town
and from what I can gather he gets a gift in exchange,
then it appears to go on to a version of "its in
the bag" where the prize is in a box, the presenter
looks at the prize, and then start offering money for
the prize. It looked like the contestants took what looked
like 10,000 Roubles, he appeared to have a monthly wage
of 4000, and the prize was a video camera so he came out
about even, or ahead if he did not need a camera.
All of the above is open to correction as it is all being
gleaned from people I've spoken to and from television
that I have watched and worked out simply by observation,
without any knowledge of the language.
So it was a 500 Rouble ride to the airport, through customs
to get to the check-in counter, they were worried a little
bit at the X-ray about my champagne cork puller, but fortunately
I did not have to open my suitcase, checked my luggage
through and then on to passport control and a queue that
took 20 minutes to go through, the people queuing being
mainly Russian, took it in their stride having queuing
ingrained into their way of living.
Uneventful flight to Munich, which is of course the way
you want it, checked in and first Internet connection
for nine days, 180 junk mails, but that is life. Tomorrow
on to Thailand and then Vietnam.