Monday, May 08, 2006

Random Thoughts from the Russia Trip

Here are some random thoughts and observations from the last 8 days in Russia.

Mullets are definitely in here. I seen tenfold the number of mullets you would see at any given NASCAR event. Even the women wear mullets. The mullet's distant cousin, the rat tail, is also popular to a lesser extent. Our tour guide in St. Petersburg had a rat tail and I couldn't help but laugh every time I saw it. After three days it still never got old.

Fashion here is an interesting mix of the latest European styles with hint of American 1980's. All of the women wear the big bug-eyed sunglasses and I saw more than my fair share of fingerless gloves and Michael Jackson leather coats. If I had seen Max Headroom t-shirts and parachute pants I would start to wonder if I arrived here in a flying DeLorean.

I've definitely seen worse. I heard some stories about people being booted from restaurants and clubs, but about the worst experience I had was an old lady cutting right in front of me in line for a subway token when she realized I didn't speak Russian. One of the speakers at the university commented that in general, Russian's didn't like Bush, but were not averse to American people. I've heard the "waiting-out Bush" sentiment before. I wish more people had this more pragmatic view of things and realized that what you see in the American media and in American politics isn't a true reflection on America - sad but true.

When in Russia:
Buy a beer and walk around with it. Apparently this is illegal, but it is not enforced and everyone does it. Bars were hard to come by in Moscow and with sidewalk vendors selling beer for as little as 67 cents I can see why.

It’s a Small World:
Granted we were all hovering around the same tourist spots, but I still found it amazing how many times I ran into other people on the trip when I'd go out. It was also funny to run into several people that went on the Netherlands trip in the Amsterdam airport during my layover on the way home.

Buses and Aeroflot:
Two modes of transportation I don't ever care to experience again. Enough said.

Russian airports put us to shame. Every person and every bag (whether you are traveling or not) is scanned when you go through the front door of the airport. You and your bags (checked and carry-on) are screened again before you check-in and check your bags. For our international flight, we were screened a third time before we entered the gate at Moscow and a forth time when we went to the gate in Amsterdam. The ironic thing is, cumulatively these four scans took up less time than waiting in one line in the US.

Apparently Moscow and St. Petersburg get 30-60 days of sunshine per year. I'm counting myself lucky that we had 8 days of great weather. Now if people would just turn off their heaters when it's 75 outside. I guess that what happens when you pay next to nothing for natural gas (thanks Putin and Gazprom!).

- Tony

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