Saturday, March 16, 2013

Russia is Fantastic, but I am Proud to be an American

Well I just finished writing a blog about how much I loved Moscow. Seeing as I will be going on the Trans-siberian Express sometime in my future, I know I will return to this lovely place. This makes me especially happy since there is still so much more to see in this metropolis! Now that I have repeatedly written about how spectacular moscow is, I’ll have to mention a not so spectacular method of transportation in Russia:  train travel. Our journey on board a train to Moscow was 8 hours overnight. Great right? I could just go to sleep in St. Petersburg and wake up in Moscow the next morning. That’s a joke. I bet that would be the case if you forked over the money to ride first class, but we decided to pay $80 roundtrip and travel in the cheap seats instead. So let me just bullet point the Russian train experience (I’m sure that riding the train is better in 1st world countries, it just has to be):
  1. My body was longer than the bed and there was a wall that blocked my feet from stretching over the bed. I was a little scrunched up in the bed to say the least.
  2. My friend’s first reaction when seeing our sleeping space: “Well this is decidingly third world” (actual quote)
  3. The beds were essentially hard metal. You have to roll an old and not-so-clean mattress onto the metal in order to make your bed. After doing so I prayed that there were no bed bugs (thank goodness I made it out alive)
  4. You sleep in the same compartment as at least 50 other Russians who don’t understand what personal space means
In the end, we made it to Moscow and back, so that’s really all that matters. The train ride was definitely a Russian experience that enlightened me to one of the reasons why Russians don’t often travel. because train travel is completely exhausting. I’m really looking forward to my 36 hour train ride to Sochi that I have in a month and a half (I’m slightly serious, slightly sarcastic). I do know that it will certainly be an journey of a lifetime. 

So you may be asking: why didn’t you just fly to Moscow, it’s probably only a 2 hour flight? Yes, you would be right. Flying would be much easier. However, Russia has this problem where all the domestic plane flights in the country have been BLACKLISTED. Yep that’s right blacklisted by the USA government. Domestic airlines in Russia actually buy rejected and discarded planes from other airlines and fly them around the country like it’s no big deal. So there is a significant chance you'll end up in an airplane crash if you are stupid enough to fly in one of the death contraptions. Don't worry this is only for domestic flights, it's entirely safe to fly into Russia from another country. Apparently Russia doesn’t have any meaningful regulations ever (example: it’s not uncommon for people to keep wild bears as pets). Sometimes, life in Russia seems so normal and then all the sudden you learn about Russia’s domestic plane carriers. Mind blown.

AMERICAN DINER!!- complete with vanilla milkshake
One small aspect of Russia that I find completely fascinating is the nightly news coverage. Slowly, I am beginning to understand more of the rapidly paced news stories, but it has been very difficult. Even though I may not understand everything, I have clearly gotten the gist that Russian news stations offer the opposite perspective that American news stations offer. For instance, when Hugo Chavez died, the news stations practically went into mourning. His life’s story was idealized to say the least, and I would have loved to have seen an American coverage of the event in order to draw a comparison. On a related note, our hostel in Moscow was a block away from the Venezuelan Embassy, and guess what? Russians left pictures, flowers, candles, and notes to Chavez in commemoration of his life and his successes in Venezuela. There’s no denying Russia is a world away from the USA at times. Even though all of us are having the time of our lives here in this very distinct culture, we can’t help but miss the comforts of the United States. So when we found a little American diner in Moscow we couldn’t help ourselves; we ate there twice. I mean I really couldn’t pass up a hamburger and sweet potato fries. They were just too yummy. 
Lavra in Sergiev Posad

On a completely different note, while in Moscow two of my friends and I traveled another hour and a half by train to the sleepy little town of Sergiev Posad. This town is the single most important location for Russian Orthodoxy in the country. The Troitsa- Cergeev monastery, complete with its own Kremlin, stands on a hill beside the city and is home to some of the holiest relics in the nation. Even Tsar Boris Gudonov is buried in this monastery. This monastery has been honored with the prestigious title of a lavra (there are only two lavras in the entire country). Well here is a picture of the monastery to the right:

My trip to Moscow was undeniably spectacular. The old and the new, the atheistic Soviet influence and the ever present culture of Orthodoxy, merge into one city that has undergone dramatic cultural shifts in its long history. Moscow was well worth the trip, and I can’t wait to revisit the historic streets one day, but I’m glad to be back in St. Petersburg where the streets are brightened by the multi-colored buildings and where tsarist opulence influences the very nature of the city. 

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