In Soviet Russia, Vodka Drinks You

Trip Start Aug 25, 2007
Trip End Dec 20, 2007

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Sunday, October 21, 2007

Perhaps the greatest introduction one can receive to Russia is to take a flight on Russian Airlines.  It became very clear that I was leaving clean, efficient and safe Denmark, as I prayed that the plane we were getting on could actually get off the ground.  One of the other people on the tour assured me about the airlines outstanding safety record by telling me, "Well this airline is only a year old."  Great...

I wish I had more pictures of the inside of the airplane, but alas, I can only share with you the view I had from my seat.

That poster was about a foot from my face.  Leg room is not an option on Russian airlines and I had scored the worst seat of them all...the one with the wall separating us from first class.  The wall was so close to us that a little cubby hole was available to put our feet in.  The taller people actually had to sit with knees against the wall and legs out to the side.

The rest of the the plane looked like it didn't belong in this century.  But as I said, all I got to see was this view of Saint Petersburg which looked like it had been taken in the 70s.  As the plane took off, we started to hear a little ripping sound, only to find that the more the plane tilted the more the poster started to fall off the wall onto us.  That's how we discovered that the poster had been hung to cover up a hole in the wall.  Niiice...

Unfortunately, the flight wasn't anymore eventful.  The toilets in the plane were also quite a shock, but as they continued to be just as shady, dirty, and creepy throughout the rest of my trip the novelty wore off fast.

We arrived in St. Petersburg in the afternoon, taking a tour bus to our hotel.  Tour buses, also, are not as nice in Russia.  They also hardly ever have an on-board toilet and often smell a little funky.

But anyways, we got a nice little introduction to the city while driving to the hotel.  St. Peterburg, like many other Russian cities, was built in a series of phases which radiate out from the old center.  The center, of course, was built by Peter the Great, in his attempts to Westernize Russia.  Obviously, Stalin didn't think that was such a great idea.  He wanted Russia to be...well...Russia.  So he tried to shift the center of the city.  Not that it worked, but he did create a very popular new area to the city, filled with big squares, self-aggrandizing monuments, and grandiose architecture. 

The apartment buildings, which go for high rents today, are typical Stalinist architecture and back in the day would have been communal apartments.  That meant one family per room with a shared kitchen and bathroom.  Stalin wasn't a big fan of the individual.  Communal apartments still exist today in Russia but now it's only reserved for the very poor.  In Stalin's day, everyone got the priviledge of communal apartments.

That night, we had a really nice and yummy dinner at a small restaurant.  Russian food is, surprisingly, really good.  It's meat and potatoes...but it's good meat and potatoes.  We also got champagne with our dinners and later our study tour guides bought us all a round of vodka shots.  Vodka in Russia is cheap, plentiful, and tastes a lot better than the $30 bottle you have at home.  By tastes a lot better, I mean it burns a lot less.

As Anna explained as she was teaching us how to do a Russian shot, "You don't drink it because it tastes good, you drink it because it makes you feel good."  And people wonder why alcoholism is a problem in this country.

Oh and a Russian shot is about 2x the size of an American one.  You actually have to gulp it.  It's a little gross but girls only need to do half of a shot at once.  Also, mixed with champagne, it's very very potent.

Afterwards, we headed back to the hotel.  The hotels here that cater to international travellers are huge inside.  Ours had 2 restaurants, numerous souvenir shops and a "business" center.  Despite the international clientele, the workers pretty much speak Russian and only Russian, which is typical of pretty much everywhere we went.
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