Saturday, May 06, 2006

Russia - Day 5

We headed off to the airport bright an early for a flight back to Moscow. Nothing too exciting to mention other than the fact that I'm somewhat dreading flying Aeroflot from Moscow to Amsterdam. I'm fairly certain our two planes have barely made it between the two cities that are an hour apart. In any event, I expect it to be a painful flight. Coming back to the hotel from the airport settled another debate - I'm never riding on a bus again. I will be skipping the Star City trip tomorrow (and the 4 hours of bus time) in favor of a trip back to Red Square and some of the other sites I missed in Moscow.

For lunch we had - you guessed it - borsch. Thank goodness for the 70 cent beers we bought from a sidewalk vendor. Other than my last bowl of this soup, lunch was actually pretty good, but very similar to the meals we had been eating for the last several days. Some of the group headed to McDonalds, but once again, I don't do McDonalds (unless my choice is between a Big Mac or salmon, or borsch from this point forward).

After lunch we headed back to the hotel for a talk from Shell's president of Russia operations. He was by far the best speaker of the trip. He was British (how can you not love Brits) and in his 30 years with Shell had worked all over the world. He downed a Nevska (Hebckoe) while he spoke, and had a very practical view of doing business in Russia (as compared to the somewhat idealistic view of some speakers). He also made the assertion that Russia oil and gas reserves, while huge, would never surpass the Persian Gulf. In addition, there is an 80% export tax on oil and gas, making it very difficult for western companies to make money in the country. Despite these costs, there is still a very big upside to operating in Russia as most major players (ExxonMobil, ChevronTexaco, Shell, Total, BP, etc.) have a presence here.

The night ended with dinner at the Pushkin Café. I decided to avoid the dinner crowd from the last two nights (see "White Lightnin'" on day 3 and "$70/bottle" on day 4). The restaurant was very classy. Apparently, it was a historic café but was torn down in the Soviet era to build a new, modern building next door. Some time later was a song written about the café and people began hunting around Pushkin Square trying to find it. An industrious businessman decided to rebuild the café to match its 19th century appearance, and I must say he succeeded. It was a beautiful restaurant with great food. I'm glad I was able to see it before leaving on Sunday.

After dinner, a few of us headed over to Red Square to see it lit up. Most of the square was partitioned off, but we were able to get some pics of St. Basil's lit up. The square being closed was actually good because the pictures don't have a bunch of tourists in front of the building. We hit the beer garden in front of time square where we ran into some friends and called it another early night. I can't wait to sleep in a bit tomorrow!

- Tony

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