Some Memories Of Russia

I’m not really sure what Tucker is up to, but his recent takes on Moscow and Russia in comparison to the U.S. have an odd ring to them. To be charitable.

Almost all my time in Russia was either in St. Petersburg or Moscow. I really wish time and circumstances had allowed me to see more. If it were possible to go back (it’s not), part of me would love to start in St. Petersburg and take the train all the way across the country. Stop and explore along the way, take lots of photos, and get to meet more of the people. On these photos, click to embiggen if you like.

My quick takes are perhaps dated, but here they go. I really enjoyed and liked St. Petersburg. In a perfect world, I could spend months there going through the museums and archives. I felt relatively safe there walking around, and it was comforting to know I had several ways out of Russia from there in an emergency. Had several offers to come back without a date, as they had a nice girl for me to meet and marry (grin, several people did not think much of my companion), and/or to come back in winter and take a sleigh ride.

Moscow did not feel as safe, particularly at night. I only really went out once at night, and it came close to ending in a less-than-positive manner. I will note that in St. Petersburg the word seemed to be out not to harm the tourists (like when the Mob ran Vegas). That was missing in Moscow.

And, yes, the stores and even some food courts were amazing. Of course, part of it was that even the Soviets realized the new buildings were crap and that it was much better to upgrade the old buildings that were well built.

It was a bit jarring, however, to eat at a fast food place shoehorned into the splendor, and that the native Russian with me assured me was the best Italian in Moscow. Cough.

I really thought I had a photo of one of Stalin’s show subway stations, but can’t find it. Pity, as it really was quite a show. If I remember correctly, there were several done in different styles (Deco, Nouveau, etc.) to show the class, grace, and modernity of the great Soviet state. Cough. Tourists were not generally allowed to travel to or through any other stations for some odd reason. Cough. Still lots of rumors (here and there) that Stalin had tunnels put under the Kremlin, both as an escape to distant airfields and to create bomb shelters.

Shakedowns, often by militia, police, etc., were the official big thing at the time. It was the way they had actually gotten additional money back in Soviet days, and was (I was told) how they got paid at the time of my visit. Apparently paychecks got held up a good bit, and I was treated to some amazing music as members (most?) of the Moscow Symphony were having to beg for money in the subway near the Kremlin as they hadn’t been paid in months.

The difference, at that time, was that if you were a tourist, the shakedowns in St. Petersburg tended not to get too physical (or so I was told), whereas Moscow you could easily end up in the hospital or worse. I got lucky in Moscow when accosted one night, talked fast, and engaged in an expedient change of location that got me clear. I did not run (that is not a good idea in such a situation) but I did move in a determined manner. I’m also glad they didn’t understand English as I may have muttered a few things under my breath while trying to talk my way out.

I will also admit that in St. Petersburg I had hired a driver and translator. To be honest, I chose that pair because they had worked with (but not for) the GRU and KGB during the Soviet era. Longer story there, but we did not have any problems or shakedowns during the time there. I used similar to get to and from the airport in Moscow, as kidnappings for ransom on that road were an issue at the time.

So, yes, there are places in Moscow and elsewhere that are absolutely gorgeous. There are places where, especially as a tourist (and most likely under open and covert watchful eyes), you are going to be safe. But, there are also no-go zones and other delights to go with the remains of Stalin’s show pieces. You might also want to look at average income, STD (and esp. HIV) rates, medical, and a few other critical things.

Glad I visited, not really interested in living there. If Tucker or anyone else is, all the best to them. They are going to need it.

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2 thoughts on “Some Memories Of Russia”

  1. And ghosts, everywhere in-country; insisting on being heard; from the urban rubble mounds where old St. Pete used to stand, to the Krasnoyarsk rail yards where the Zeks froze overnight in parked rail cars. One big Indian Reservation filled with unmarked graves with war-hero kilometer steles along the Trans-Siberian. *shiver* Bribed the police at the airport to let us in. When the Lufthansa pilot announced Polish airspace, the entire plane cheered.

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