I spent the next week just wandering around St Petersburg getting familiar with it, looking in the shops looking into the open marketplace and doing a lot of looking at everything around the area without doing any of the tourist sights whatsoever and I'm pleased I did this because it allowed me to see a little bit more of the problems that the locals had to live with on a daily basis even if that was just on the surface.
There's no doubt about it St Petersburg is a beautiful city, one of the most beautiful I have visited and even with the wide streets that I mentioned it has quite a trouble with traffic in the peak periods there are quite reasonable size traffic jams. This gets worse of course when it was raining and almost rained for the whole week that I was in the apartment, but being so close to the main shopping centre it was really no problem.
I was just strolling along one day minding my own business having just crossed the traffic lights and suddenly someone behind me gave me a punch on what he hoped was going to be the kidneys for no apparent reason and swore at me, no idea what I did to cause that, I have been mistaken for Russian sometimes so who knows.
Spent quite a lot of time walking through the outside marketplace where individuals have their own stalls and a lot of the people seem to be of Turkish descent from I would guess the Russian 'Stans down towards the border of China. They are certainly into selling the leather coats, and after a lot of haggling and walking away and coming back ended up with a Mafia style long leather overcoat, extra along, in black of course, with a beautiful warm lining which I will probably leave in a rubbish skip somewhere because I can never see it getting so cold where I would be wearing it and if it is that cold I'll just put extra layers on underneath.
I ended up paying 200 American dollars for the coat and I had the advantage that I didn't necessarily want it, because I'll have to carry at all the way through Vietnam and the rest of the way home, but at that price I did not think I could pass of up.
The apartment I had was about two blocks from the railway station so I decided to travel from St Petersburg to Moscow by train. I thought this is going to be interesting booking the ticket, very fortunately the person behind me in the queue was able to speak English and did all of the interpreting for me so I managed to get on the express in a special class they don't have first-class, for 1300 Roubles.
I decided, seeing I liked the apartment ideas so much, in St Petersburg to repeat the experience in Moscow, so I spent quite a lot of time at the Internet cafe sending off e-mails to people that had apartments they rented, eventually ended up with one that was eight stops by the Metro out, plus three stops by the tram which sounded worse than it is, however I think that with a city the size of Moscow it is not to bad.
A lot of these apartments seem to be owned by Americans and they have their agents in Moscow looking after them. One American owned 10 apartments which he rented out between 60 and 120 American dollars a day. I guess with Moscow if they are the right spot, they may be full almost year around and if you got in early and bought the apartments, before they all went up in price, you would be onto a fairly good return on investment at this point.
So I had the ticket organised, so on Monday at noon the housekeeper came to clean the apartment and collect the keys and I wandered down to the station, found the train, found the carriage, and better still I found the seat, and 30 minutes later the train was on its way. Next a waiter came to take the order for the meal, which was included in the price of the ticket and you have an optional any sort of spirit so seeing I was in Russia, I of course took vodka and I got a reasonable size small bottle of vodka which made the trip a little bit more pleasant.
The scenery along a rail line was forests with villages every so often, the villages looked extremely interesting, but as I commented on the Ukraine you've really only have to go to a couple of the villages and you're starting to see a repeat in the pattern and whatever there is there, however it would be rather nice to do a little bit of this individual village hopping, but not too much. There was a lot of forests, lakes, rivers, and so forth along the Railtrack and there was quite a lot of factories still in production however you could see some that had closed and moved on.
So about five hours after I had left St Petersburg the train pulled on to Moscow Station.
Boris, the apartment manager was at the station to meet me and took me through the pouring rain to the apartment, showed me through the apartment, told me were everything was, told me where the shops were, the way to the trams, what trams to catch, which Metro and so forth, he did a very good job of familiarisation with the area and getting to and from Moscow city.
The apartment is extremely nice and been furnished very well and the owner, a Russian who was now living in America, gave me a discount on the apartment on provision that I did some photographs of the apartment for his web site.
I did this before I settled in so that my luggage was out of the way and ended up with about 28 photographs that should make him happy and like most people he has no idea as to what those 28 photographs should be worth, but I took the photos with a small point camera, however, of course perhaps I did know where to point and went to shoot.
Tuesday 2nd September
Well I did my first trip into the city today, did the tram ride and the Metro without many problems, wandered round the city took 80 photos, went through a very large department store which looking at the prices was one of the top stores, saw some beautiful Fur coats on display, so thought I would check them out, there were Mink of course, Silver Fox, and Lynx. A sales woman latched on to me and following the round the shop with a calculator to convert the Russian Roubles into American dollars. The first time she did this I said no, no dollars, she says Euro, I said no, Roubles. One of the coats was 262,000 Roubles, and St Petersburg I was told that you can get a one roomed apartment for that sort of money, and whilst it was only a little over 8000 American dollars, looking upon it as a one roomed apartment places it into perspective.
I thought I had to register my Visa again when I arrived in Moscow so went off to a travel agent to his get this sorted out and to get help to sort it out, on checking the Visa and I discovered I was flying out on the ninth of September and the Visa was good to the eighth. I imagined myself being shipped off to some Gulag for a couple of years, yes a great imagination.
Coming back on the Metro, I went one station too far, so then it was across the platform to go back one station, so really no problems, only one minor problem is every time the tram goes past the apartment the apartment shakes a little bit like an earthquake, but I guess this is Moscow and not Hollywood or Sumner.
Boris was telling me tonight that the rain that we came through last night was quite a downpour and created many problems right throughout Moscow with all sorts of traffic disruptions.
Received a phone call this morning at 830 from the apartment owner in Santa Monica, California, basically telephoning to see how I was getting on in his apartment and to get me some tips as to what the sights were around the apartment on how to get there. I thought was very thoughtful and perhaps made up a little for the continual earthquake caused by the tram every few minutes.
Telephoned Lufthansa and explained about my Visa being a day short and so they placed me on the flight to Munich a day earlier. I have yet to decide whether to go on to Thailand a day earlier or spend the day in Munich.
Successfully negotiated the tram and the Metro again and ended up in Red Square after walking through the large department store that was at the edge of the Square, the Square was sealed off and they are sending up a large platform for a concert that was going to be happening over this coming weekend.
Then went on to the world famous church (St Basil's) that is always associated with Moscow, but the size of the church in real life was not as large as I expected to be. I however did quite a few photographs so time will tell whether my photos look as impressive as the ones that we have all seen.
Shopping for groceries, as I have remarked before is an experience there is a grocery shop and liquor store, of course, at the entrance to the apartment block, and the grocery shop inside is probably as large as a small mini market in our country, but in this particular situation they have about 10 different departments and each one has a person serving there, at their speed and each one has a cash register so should you would be wanting 10 different types of produce etc you have two lineup 10 times, wait to be served, pay your money over, then move on to the next cash register it's an experience which never again will I complain about waiting in line one of our supermarkets.
Went out to the Sheraton hotel, about three Metro stops from Moscow Central, had my Air ticket revalidated to leave the day earlier, now means of spend a day in Munich and probably at least be able to download my e-mails.
All the public transport that I've been on in this country is extremely well patronised, with peak periods in a standing room only situation. The downside of course of changes of season's, travelling on public transport, with lots of people, one of these scenarios will always be that you end up with a cold. For some reason when I did when I did my repacking when I was back in New Zealand I only packed two days of flu tablets so might be on to some Russian medicine which hopefully will be a good dose of vodka.
And I am continually amazed by the grocery and pharmacy shops in the way everything is in behind glass and you can touch nothing. Went into a pharmacy the other day to get some flu tablets, they had the modern western medicine's and a few Russian equivalents, you line up behind a queue and eventually you come in front of day small Square opening about the size of the telephone book, you bend down and state what you want, hoping they speak English, and they bustle away and produce something and show you the amount on a calculator.
And in one chemist shop there were about five little divisions like this all walled off by glass with all the products on display behind glass and with a telephone book size opening for transactions, interesting.
Having an apartment, you do your own shopping for groceries and by the Metro there is a large type of supermarket and I need to buy some cake, sausages, grapes, Coke, and toilet paper.
Simple at home to the round the supermarket and you're out and a few minutes. Here as I had said, each of the products are at a different counter, where you get in line and wait to be served get your product by some method, usually pointing, the natives of course can ask which is marginally faster, pay your money and move on to the next counter, except for toilet paper, there is next door in the Department that sells cosmetics, I'm not quite sure of the relationship! Of course you bring your own plastic bag or pay three Roubles for a new one.
Just wandering around the city by the Metro and the trams, trying to see how the locals live which of course you can only ever do to a superficial level, it's amazing the conversations you strike up when asking for directions and English suddenly you find somebody wants to practice their English and it is usually very good English. You find out a lot about the way of living, costs, and many other subjects. They are always fascinated when they find out I am from New Zealand, to them it is the other end of the earth, however several times I have seen New Zealand butter on sale wrapped in silver foil.
Went to the Russian Museum at one corner of the red Square and found it quite interesting but nothing like the St Petersburg Museum that was incredible. I was intending to save the Kremlin and a tour of the city until Saturday and Sunday but that was Moscow's holiday and all of the main streets were closed along with Red Square so I had to be content with wandering the streets along with the tens of thousands of others. There was a very strong police content with areas of the road blocked off which meant you had to go through checkpoints all the time which made life a little interesting.
I wandered by Mcdonald's, which was just off the main street and was totally packed. So packed that they had the doors closed and you line up waiting to be amongst the next batch to be let in. I spoke to a young couple, brother and sister, she spoke good English and was at university learning to be an interpreter. He was in the army studying to be an officer like his father, yes the pay was lousy in the army, I did not quite understand with those conditions why he was pursuing an army career. He hoped to get to Capt, and even then the pay was not exceptional.
It was a leisurely few days here and Moscow, and having not seen all the sights, now have a good excuse to return. The majority of the people I met were extremely friendly and most hospitable.
The apartment manager offered me a transfer to the airport for $60 and I found I could get a taxi for 500 Roubles or $16 50.
Talking to people I've managed to work out some basic increases the Russian people have had to face in the last say, 12 years.
Wages have gone up by a factor of 29,
Riding the Metro has gone up by a factor of 140
Riding a tram has gone up by a factor of 333
a loaf of bread has gone up by a factor of 50
a kilo of sausages has gone up by a factor of 42
a pair of fashion shoes has gone up by a factor of 45
a new car has gone up by a factor of 80
a bottle of wine has gone up by a factor of 71
the Rouble has decreased in value by a factor of 5
A family of three used to be able to holiday in the Caucasus mountains for three weeks for 90 Roubles. You could have a holiday in Egypt for $230 now with the Rouble decreased in value by a factor of five you need five times as much.
Glancing at the above statistics is easy to see why it the old people in Russia that are finding things hard and why a group of people would like to go back to the old ways when things were, in theory, affordable, even if they weren't available.
Wherever I travel around Moscow I see large billboards advertising western products, I even saw a finance billboard offering household finance. The stores have all the latest western products at western prices and I see in a Russian English newspaper the world Rich list 10 of the under 40 on the list are Russian.
The Russian English newspapers are full of apparent corruption at governmental level and I think one could very well apply the words of the "Wild, Wild West" like being in the West of America in Marshal Dillons day.
The streets are full of the latest western cars, BMW has lots of adverts everywhere, there are large features on television showing the latest cars, Lada has released a sports car which looks not unsimilar to a Ferrari or the Honda that was released to compete with the Ferrari.
They have the wheel of Fortune TV quiz show, where contestants bring gifts to the presenter which takes quite a lengthy time for them to present these goods from his home town and from what I can gather he gets a gift in exchange, then it appears to go on to a version of "its in the bag" where the prize is in a box, the presenter looks at the prize, and then start offering money for the prize. It looked like the contestants took what looked like 10,000 Roubles, he appeared to have a monthly wage of 4000, and the prize was a video camera so he came out about even, or ahead if he did not need a camera.
All of the above is open to correction as it is all being gleaned from people I've spoken to and from television that I have watched and worked out simply by observation, without any knowledge of the language.
So it was a 500 Rouble ride to the airport, through customs to get to the check-in counter, they were worried a little bit at the X-ray about my champagne cork puller, but fortunately I did not have to open my suitcase, checked my luggage through and then on to passport control and a queue that took 20 minutes to go through, the people queuing being mainly Russian, took it in their stride having queuing ingrained into their way of living.
Uneventful flight to Munich, which is of course the way you want it, checked in and first Internet connection for nine days, 180 junk mails, but that is life. Tomorrow on to Thailand and then Vietnam.