Чрис Флынн

According to Facebook, Чрис Флынн is my name in Cyrillic (Russian).  Chris: Чрис Flynn: Флынн.  I’ve done a lot of pointing in Russia.  Very few people speak much/any English and as you can see non-English signs are pretty much useless as the language is very difficult to read.  Numbers are interchangeably used as letters as well as unknown symbols.  Funny thing is that although I can’t speak or read Russian I blend right in here.  I’ve been asked for directions over 10 times…I lost count…but people quickly realize I’m not much help.  You need to carry your passport and registration papers (hotels need to register you) at all times in Russia.  Supposedly the police are very corrupt and will demand to see passport and papers from people who don’t look Russian.  Obviously this hasn’t been a problem for me, as long as I don’t talk.  Everyone in India thought I was German.  They would yell “German?” as I walked by.  I knew I could pose for a German but it’s good to know I can add another country to the list where I can blend in.

We left Bucharest for Moscow last Friday and Moscow for Saint Petersburg last Monday.  Tomorrow (Thursday) we leave our hotel at 4am for a flight to Paris.  We spend the day in Paris and then have an 11:30p flight to Rio De Janeiro.  We have 112 hours (4 nights, 5 days) in Rio and then head back to Minneapolis.

Moscow:

Flying into Moscow I was amazed at the thick forest that preceded/surrounded the airport.  It looked like Northern MN from the air.  I remember watching a documentary on the battles fought in these forests surrounding Moscow during WWII.  There is still snow on the ground in both Moscow and Saint Petersburg but it’s quickly melting.  The center of Moscow is Red Square and that area is fairly stunning.  We spent a lot of time there.  We also saw an amazing modern ballet performance at the Bolshoi Theater.  The theater was hot, there was little leg room and a terrible movie only in Russian preceded the ballet.  But it was still a great experience and the performance itself was fantastic.

Moscow was probably the second most expensive city I’ve been to.  The first was Reykjavik, Iceland before their financial collapse (2003).  But Moscow is a close second.  A very small soda at a restaurant was a minimum of $7USD and I had a modest lunch at a little Italian place called Sbarro that was over $15USD.  BTW, this had to be the largest Sbarro in the world.  Moscow also has the largest McDonald’s in the world.  People in Moscow flock to the few cheap food options available.

The Moscow underground is extremely ornate and unique.  The first station we exited the train at had a huge portrait of Stalin on the ceiling with chandeliers everywhere.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a chandelier in a metro station before and they are common in Moscow’s.  Riding the metro is the one thing in Moscow that’s cheap – around $1USD for a ride to any zone.

Saint Petersburg:

Saint Petersburg is laid out similarly to Amsterdam or any city with lots of rivers and canals.  It’s a beautiful city but would be a lot more beautiful if it were clean (more on that later).  It’s the northernmost major city in the world with a population around 5 million.  It does not get dark until after 9pm….in April!

The weather has been beautiful (60s) but I’ve been amazed to see nearly all Russian’s in parkas and heavy winter coats.  I’ve been wearing jeans and a long sleeve shirt rolled up and have still been warm.  Apparently we do it differently in Minnesota.

There is a lot of history in Saint Petersburg and it’s home to one of the most impressive museums in the world – The Hermitage.  Next to the Louvre in Paris it’s probably the most impressive museum I’ve been to when you factor in the works and the building itself.  Definitely an all-day venture to see all of the works – they boast that they have over 3 million total pieces of art.  That includes every single coin and miscellaneous piece but that number is still mind-boggling to me.

Saint Petersburg is much less expensive than Moscow.  One of my favorite travel activities is shopping at supermarkets.  I think this experience gives you a great feel for how locals live and eat.  I purchased a lemon drink at a supermarket in Moscow for around $5USD.  This same drink in Saint Petersburg was around $2.50USD.  So it was nice to have our rubbles go further.

Russia:

Russians have been very friendly – as friendly as you can be without speaking the same language.  However, I have witnessed some random acts of violence.  Pretty sure these are common and alcohol induced.  One guy randomly punched a cardboard box that was sitting in a dumpster and it then went flying into traffic.  And on a metro some teenagers started fighting with each other.  So that stereotype was reinforced.

Something that Moscow and Saint Petersburg have in common is that both are very dirty and polluted by U.S. standards.  Part of the issue is that the cities are thawing out from long winters.  But Saint Petersburg is filled with dog poop and its rivers/canals are filled with trash.  The city is also just generally dirty.  Lots of nice cars but they are all covered in a thick coat of dirt and the buildings are as well.  And the air quality of both Moscow and Saint Petersburg leaves something to be desired.

Travel:

The Boston Marathon bombings have been on the news channels 24X7 here.  After being in cities with major international events happening (Seoul/DMZ, Cairo, Mumbai (building collapsed)) and watching the news in each city you get a different perspective on how important U.S. policy is around the world and on how much the world follows the U.S.

I hate forced/empty patriotism but travelling makes me realize how fortunate I am to live in the U.S.  There are lots of great countries but there are also lots of countries that have major issues.  Most cities in the U.S., including Minneapolis, have clean air, pure drinking water, clean streets and general order.  This is more than most of the cities we have visited.  We have only been to four cities where the drinking water is supposed to be completely safe to drink – San Francisco, Tokyo, Seoul and Dubai.  And the last time I breathed completely fresh air was in San Francisco.  Tokyo and Seoul are generally good, especially in parks, and Dubai just has lots of sand in the air but the rest of the cities range from terrible to noticeable.  Looking forward to Minnesota air…..

I should have much better Internet in Rio and will post pictures when I get there.

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