Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Russia - Day 0

Travel day. I actually had a good little Saturday planned. I slept in Saturday morning - I was pretty wiped after flying home from Bellevue on Friday. I spent the morning packing then went to lunch with my wife and the folks to get my first taste of Mexican food in a week (I don't trust Seattle Mexican food) and also my last taste for a week (I'm not anticipating trusting Russian Mexican food). Went to the airport early and watched the NFL draft at Papadeaux's while enjoying my last tastes of Texas beer (Shiner), and almost missed the plane (good thing my wife called!!!).

The flight to Paris was pretty uneventful; it was actually much less painful than I expected. The flight from Paris to Moscow more than made up for the first flight. To begin with, good 'ol DeGaulle airport makes you take a 30 minute shuttle ride to get to a gate that's about 50 feet away. Then I spent a wonderful three hours on an Air France cattle car filled with people who spent the entire flight stacked 10 deep waiting for the restroom. Needless to say I didn't use the restroom on the Flight.

We got into Moscow and through customs at about 7pm. The drive from the airport to the hotel was very interesting. Moscow met several expectations and had a few surprises. I was anticipating the Soviet-era dormitory-style buildings - large, grey, non-descript. I was surprised by how rapidly capitalism has taken hold here - obviously the roots of capitalism were seeded long before the fall of Communism. On the way in from the airport (which I'm not even going to begin to try and spell), there were several very modern malls with pretty far-out architecture and billboards on top of just about every building. From what I've seen, Moscow is one big Times Square in that regard. There is also a large Mercedes Benz presence in Moscow - clearly the US isn't the only former enemy of the USSR to be taking advantage of the market liberalization. There are also a lot of third-world elements - abandoned construction projects, shanty towns in the woods off the airport runway, etc. The center of Moscow has a European feel to it blended with remnants of the Soviet era as well as the rise of capitalism - lots of shopping and casinos.

After a long day of traveling, some classmates and I settled in for a laid-back night at the hotel bar, sampling some Russian beer and pub fare. I'm looking forward to seeing what the next week will bring.

- Tony

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