Archive for the ‘Russia’ Category

On my way home…

April 13, 2011

Heading to the airport. Business class upgrade is confirmed, thanks United! I’ll be home in about 19 1/2 hours.

It’s snowing in Moscow

April 12, 2011

I made it back safely to Moscow and checked in at the Red Square hostel. I’m really over landing in countries in the middle of the night! I got in at 2:00 am and went straight to sleep. Tomorrow I get to make the 17 hour series of flights home! This trip has been really great and I’ve enjoyed all the places I chose this time. There were some things to note if you plan on visiting these places:

Kazzhol Hotel, Kazakhstan – this was listed as the lonely planet’s top pick for midrange hotel. I think they have been surviving off of that review for the last couple years. The hotel was not friendly, clean, or convenient unfortunately. They also failed to call me for my wake up call at 3:00 am to catch my flight (luckily I set an alarm as well). Every time I went to ask the hotel staff a question, they told me that I did not pay for my room for the night (as if that was a standard greeting). They also tried to charge me for the room the night before I got there. When I asked about the taxi to the airport that I had arranged, the woman at the desk told me that there were many taxis outside (at 3:45 am). The restaurant downstairs was great though, and reasonably priced.

Flight schedules – unfortunately, almost every central Asian flight schedule sucks. This makes it exceptionally hard to safely get from the airport to the hotel and back. Arrange a pickup with the hotel, and pay the ridiculous price. You’ll pay it either way, just the other way includes an actual robbery vs. a robbery via the extortionist hotel prices. The integrity of cab drivers at 4:00 am is non-existent. Most importantly, do not get into a cab if there are two people driving you to your destination (the cabbie’s friend, etc.).

Language – buy the lonely planet Central Asia Phrasebook. Unless you speak Russian, you will need this book more than anything else you bring. English is not very prevalent. I would also help to learn how to read Cyrillic as well. Otherwise you will be extremely lost (it won’t take that long to learn that the B is a v, the C is an s, and the Y makes an oo sound).

People are really great – everywhere in the world. People generally have the best intentions. Give them the chance to prove it…


50 years ago…

April 5, 2011

The world celebrates the 50 year anniversary of the first human shot into space on April 12th. This monument in Moscow honors Yuri Gagarin. He completed a full orbit of the earth in about an hour and a half in 1961. You can read more about the story of Vostok I at

Vladimir, not John

April 4, 2011

That title makes much more sense if you say it out loud. Today I went to the mausoleum of Lenin to see him. Unfortunately, Lenin is all closed for business until April 20th (long after I depart), and I won’t be able to check another preserved ex-world leader off my “to see” list (I saw Mao in Beijing and it was quite interesting). So, I walked around Arbat St. instead. One of the highlights of this country is the subway system. It is an amazing system! Not just the efficiency, but also the beauty of the stations. Most stations are built in the Stalinist style with incredible detail. The trains are old, but luckily you never really ride the trains for very long because of the map design. If San Francisco had a system that worked this well, people would actually look forward to their commute. Instead we have muni :(.

From Russia, with love…

April 3, 2011

Moscow is really great. I have to start any post about this place with that simple fact. It is just a really, really, really beautiful city. After two days of traveling to get here from San Francisco, I arrived in the morning and made a day of Moscow. Starting with Red Square, I took in the buildings and tried to read up on the history of each one (each building has about a chapter of information on it alone). The thing that strikes me as most remarkable, it the length of the history, and how well it is preserved. Having lived in Belgium, I thought I knew old buildings, but some of these buildings are 600-700 years old, and they are perfectly preserved. Even though Moscow was bombed during WWII, apparently they missed everything of interest while bombing. I don’t have access to uploading pictures right now, but google St. Basil’s Cathedral and you’ll know what I’m talking about (yes, it is the building from the level 100 screen in Tetris). It’s not a cheap city, but you can get by reasonably with a little effort.

Today I set out to see the Kremlin and the Russian version of the Crown Jewels. It was amazing to see all the Russian Orthodox churches, all within one compound, each one service a different purpose (weddings, coronations, etc.). The experience was filled with the never ending experience of waiting in line, but it was totally worth the wait.

Patience is the best advice for traveling in Russia. The people are so friendly, and very helpful, but everything takes longer than it seemingly should. Budget a lot of time for waiting and you’ll get the most out of the trip. If you plan to see everything in one day, you will be swearing at the traffic jam your taxi seems to never fail to find. So far, so good. Hopefully I’ll be able to post some of these pictures soon. Wifi seems to be lacking.


Russia, Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan

January 22, 2011

Yep. End of March…