First Impressions of Russia

Vladivostok

June 3, 2002

Well, I have made it to Vladivostok safe and sound and wanted to take a moment to e-mail you before I leave tomorrow on the train. Moscow has been a great place to visit so far. It has actually exceeded my expectations. I walked through Red Square and around the Kremlin yesterday and got to see St. Basil’s Cathedral, too. Incredible! I will go on a tour of the inside of the Kremlin when I get back and see the cathedrals, parliament, and other amazing buildings that lie inside. I will also see Lenin and Stalin’s tombs.  The weather has been outstanding. In the 80’s and clear. Moscow is very clean and spacious. Many of the boulevards are up to 10 lanes wide and the sidewalks are huge. It gives what could be considered a crowded city some breathing room. The subway is easy to navigate, too. I stayed with a Russian grandmother who already had a Swiss guy named Freddy there, too. She hardly speaks a word of English. That has been the real challenge. In the first 24 hours of my stay in Russia, I have had more difficulty with the language barrier than I did the entire three weeks combined in Nepal. I guess I was warned, but the reality of it has been a struggle at times. I’m studying my Russian-English Dictionary very carefully.

Once I spent the day in Moscow, I had to quickly vault to the airport again to get to Vladivostok. The plane flight was 8 hours and it was actually a very nice flight. I sat next to a Russian guy who is a fish trader. His name was Igor Smirnov. Is that a perfect Russian name, or what? He bought me two beers and shared stories of his business. He was very pleased to tell me that his company now has 70 vessels in the Baltic and Pacific.

Now that I am in Vladivostok, I am staying in a very nice hotel for only $25. However, I really don’t have much of a desire to walk around tonight since the city is rather underwhelming. It is crowded, dirty, polluted, and very boring. My body clock is also a little off, too, so I will probably go to bed early. I have the whole day tomorrow to spend in Vladivostok, but I don’t know what the heck I’m going to do. Overall, it has been a good experience so far. I manage to get what and where I need despite the language barrier and the people have been very hospitable. I haven’t really witnessed the cliché that nobody smiles in Russia. Everyone seems fairly amiable. It will be interesting to see who I meet on the train. I hope there are some Europeans who speak English at the very least. Otherwise, it could be a long trip. I still won’t mind relaxing and just slowing down my normally rapid pace of life. As for Americans, I met two on the plane to Moscow, but they are the only sightings at this point. They were coming to adopt a baby. Otherwise, I am a very unusual entity around here. I don’t know why that is since Russia has so much to see.

Well, I think I’m going to close now. I wanted to let you know that all is well and that everything is on schedule. I leave tomorrow afternoon on the Tran-Siberian Railway and will head to Irkutsk first and then on to Moscow. I look forward to getting back there since I just got to catch a glimpse of the magnificence ahead. Take care and I will try to contact you in Irkutsk in about 4 days.

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