A Travellerspoint blog

Russia

Couch Surfing Is the Way to Travel


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My journeys in Moscow and Azerbaijan this year and Albania, Croatia, and Slovenia last year were with an organization called Friendship Force.

Friendship Force was originated by Jimmy Carter while he was President to allow ordinary citizens from around the world to meet one another and become friends. The force of friendship would bring greater understanding and reduce conflict moreso than armed forces. Since then, Friendship Force has grown to thousands of local groups throughout the world. It is overseen through a national office in Atlanta housed in Carter's non-profit offices.

When you travel with Friendship Force, you are hosted by the Friendship Force club in the city to where you have traveled. You stay in members' homes and have the opportunity to become friends and actually experience how everyday normal people live.
Without Friendship Force, I would have never had the experiences I had in Azerbaijan and last year in Albania. Without Friendship Force, I would have been too nervous to travel to Moscow by myself. It would have never entered my mind to even go to Albania and Azerbaijan!
BUT it is still group travel. Even when the group is small, you must travel as the group with all the accompanying frustrations and enforced schedule. Only the homestay is independent, and FF rules do not allow them to let you roam independently.

In Moscow, this was the first FF experience for my host. Unfortunately, she found it quite burdensome which made me feel quite uncomfortable. Sometimes she became so petulant that I did not always display my best manners. In Baku, very little English was spoken so I spent hours hearing more of everyday life in Baku than I could understand. Believe me, Aseri and Russian are not quietly spoken languages - especially when you cannot understand a word.

Although I enjoyed both my FF trips and excursions, I think this will be my last one. The wonderful experiences are overshadowed by the negative. Most FF members from the USA that I have met are interested in inexpensive group travel and sometimes display ugly American behaviors.

Instead, I think I will stick to Couch Surfing and perhaps and the Affordable Travel Club. I will also try Servas. Some travelers find that home rentals through Air BnB are also conducive to meeting locals and having everyday instead of tourist experiences.

In St Petersburg, I had a CS host who met me at the train station. She showed me how to use the metro immediately. On the first night, we looked at the map and she showed me which metro stops to take. Then, I was on my own and could do what I wanted and when.

We also organized another event on the CS website to meet up with other CS members. With opportunities like these, a traveler is just as likely to have everyday experiences with everyday people as you do with Friendship Force without the group burdens. And if it doesn't work out or becomes even better than originally planned, you can always change your plan.
Couchsurfers from St P Russia

Couchsurfers from St P Russia


Roller Derby Practice

Roller Derby Practice

Roller Derby at the Hermitage

Roller Derby at the Hermitage

Tea and Cake

Tea and Cake

Katerina and Janet

Katerina and Janet

Bazil Tye Meets a Russian Lady

Bazil Tye Meets a Russian Lady

Posted by pscotterly 00:45 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

St Petersburg Scenes


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In 1997, I drove to Lincoln, Nebraska. For some reason, Lincoln was the only city other than St Petersburg, Florida with a Treasures of the Tsars display from The Hermitage in the renamed St Petersburg from the formerly named Leningrad.

I began to dream of having the opportunity to visit this city.
St Petersburg in only a 3.5 hour express train ride from Moscow. There was no way I was going to miss this city once I was this close.

I was definitely ready to leave the group and travel on my own. I also felt that after a week in Moscow I should be able to decipher enough of the Russian alphabet to find my way around.

If I were to plan this trip again, I would have tried to rent an apartment for at least two weeks and leisurely enjoyed all this city has to offer.
As it was, I decided to see what I could and just enjoy it. Although I always say there are too many places to see in the world that I will never go to the same place more than once, St. Petersburg is one that I might consider returning to.

Sunday on the River

Sunday on the River

St P Street Scene

St P Street Scene

Palace Roofline

Palace Roofline

Museum of the Siege

Museum of the Siege

Good Morning Neva

Good Morning Neva

Church of Spilled Blood

Church of Spilled Blood

Broom and Dustpan

Broom and Dustpan

Peter and Paul Fortress Artist

Peter and Paul Fortress Artist

Graduation Day Fireworks

Graduation Day Fireworks

Russian Museum

Russian Museum

Old Symbol

Old Symbol

Boys Climbing on Lenin

Boys Climbing on Lenin

American Consultate St P Russia

American Consultate St P Russia

Stairway in Hermitage WC

Stairway in Hermitage WC

Hermitage Door Handle

Hermitage Door Handle

Posted by pscotterly 00:10 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

White Night Bike Tour

semi-overcast
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In this part of the world and at this time of the year, the light is long and the dark is short.
A tour company offers a bike ride from 10:30 PM until 2 AM to celebrate the event.
Fortunately, my Couch Surfing host and a Friendship Force traveler wanted to go to the event.
She's Got a Ticket to Ride

She's Got a Ticket to Ride


Bike Riders

Bike Riders


Bike Tour

Bike Tour


Sculpture Stop

Sculpture Stop


White Nights Bike Tour

White Nights Bike Tour


Olga on White Night Bike Tour

Olga on White Night Bike Tour

Modern Sphinx

Modern Sphinx

History Stop

History Stop

1 AM on the Bike Tour

1 AM on the Bike Tour


Aura at Night

Aura at Night


Every night the bridges around the main city are raised to allow the entry of the cargo ships for unloading. One of the events of the bike tour was to watch one of the bridges shut down and raised.
Bridges Up

Bridges Up


Although this was an interesting event, Olga lived in the suburbs. The bridges follow a timed cycle to be raised. We watched this bridge around 1:30. We then had to ride back to the tour agency, drop off our bikes, jump in our taxi, and get to our bridge before 2:20. Around 1:50, our taxi was calling us and asking when we would be at the tour company. Fortunately, our tour arrived at exactly 2 AM and we crossed our bridge in the taxi at 2:10 AM. The bridges do not go down until around 5 AM and the metros stop running between 1 and 5 AM.

Posted by pscotterly 18:39 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

I Love a Parade

rain
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Ready to leave Moscow.
I must admit I was ready to get out of town. I had been a burden to my host and her petulance was getting to my good humor.
Fortunately, she arranged for a friend to take me to the train station which was under renovation. It would have taken me hours to figure out how to locate the lockers for left luggage and which track to take.
Had a couple of hours to spare before the train left for St Petersburg.
I wanted the challenge of figuring out the Moscow metro. I had been drug and led for the past 5 days. Only yesterday had Nadya, a friend of my host, taken a few minutes to explain the symbols and organization of the stations.

I took a chance and got off on a likely looking stop.
Surprise! I surfaced to be at the exact start of a Parade.
June 12 is Russia Day, when the nation celebrates its history and ethnicity.
The parade had marching groups dressed in period costume - starting with medieval clans all the way to the rockin' Sputnik days.
What fun!

Russia Day Parade

Russia Day Parade


Russia Day Parade 4

Russia Day Parade 4


Russia Day Parade 7-001

Russia Day Parade 7-001


Russia Day Parade 8-001

Russia Day Parade 8-001


Russia Day Parade 10

Russia Day Parade 10


Russia Day Parade 10-001

Russia Day Parade 10-001

Posted by pscotterly 23:30 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

Moscow Scenes


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In the 1950s, I wondered about the strange place called Moscow, Russia.
Life magazine showed picture of empty store windows, frumpy people dressed in cheap brown coats, and long military parades.

I was certainly surprised!
GUM department store looks like Beverly Hills or Venice.
At GUM

At GUM

I was told by people close to my age that Russia was "one long queue." But the younger people have no recollection of any lack of goods. They might not be able to afford half of what they see, but they have no concept of national shortages.

I assumed everyone drank vodka. I only met a handful of people who were even social drinkers. I could have thought I was still in a Muslim country - except that all the Orthodox churches are being renovated or rebuilt.
Monastery Colors

Monastery Colors


Lunch Break

Lunch Break


Church Dome and Clouds

Church Dome and Clouds


First View of St Basil Cathedral

First View of St Basil Cathedral

Relicary with Dustcloth

Relicary with Dustcloth

Cleaning Day in the Cathedral

Cleaning Day in the Cathedral


Point to ponder:
Are there more Orthodox churches in Russia or Catholic churches in Italy?
No need to wonder about this - which country has more people actually attend services: Italy, Russia, or the USA?

Red Square was closed off from visitors. They were setting up stages for Russia Day on June 12. All we could get was a glimpse from afar of Lenin's tomb. I think it was off limits to keep any demonstrations from happening. I was going to visit on June 12 to see what happened, but did not have time before my train left.
On the Edge of Red Square

On the Edge of Red Square

Executioner and Announcement on Red Square

Executioner and Announcement on Red Square

The Kremlin contains historical buildings within the original walls: the Armory Museum (fantastic displays) four churches, and former palaces used as current government buildings that are off limits to visitors.
Kremlin Wall

Kremlin Wall


Kremlin Tower

Kremlin Tower

Kremlin Contrast

Kremlin Contrast

Kremlin Cathedral

Kremlin Cathedral

In Line at the Kremlin

In Line at the Kremlin

As usual, one of my favorite places to visit was the cemetery.
Moscow Cemetary Typical View

Moscow Cemetary Typical View

Grave of Yeltsin

Grave of Yeltsin

Grave of Kruschev

Grave of Kruschev

In Moscow Cemetary

In Moscow Cemetary

You can see almost anything in Moscow - except a bunch of Communists skulking around looking dour.
Dostoevsky in the Rain

Dostoevsky in the Rain

MORE Weddings

MORE Weddings

Attention

Attention

Eternal Flame in the Rain

Eternal Flame in the Rain

Moscow's Boulder Mall

Moscow's Boulder Mall

Park Scene 2

Park Scene 2

Skateboarders

Skateboarders

Ski Jump on Campus

Ski Jump on Campus

Where Am I

Where Am I

Time to Go Please

Time to Go Please

Posted by pscotterly 23:14 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

Faces and Food in Moscow


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With Moscow Host Natalia

With Moscow Host Natalia

Making a Bootliner on the Metro

Making a Bootliner on the Metro


Stasha is Wanted by CIA

Stasha is Wanted by CIA

First Morning on Moscow Metro

First Morning on Moscow Metro


My My Moo Moo

My My Moo Moo


Bazil Tye Says Goodbye to Nadjia at Moscow Metro

Bazil Tye Says Goodbye to Nadjia at Moscow Metro

Only One African in Moscow

Only One African in Moscow

Bellringers

Bellringers


Russian Friend

Russian Friend

Reading Beggar

Reading Beggar

Pilgrims

Pilgrims

Orthodox Priest

Orthodox Priest


My friends in Azerbaijan told me to eat well while I was there because I wouldn't find any good food in Russia.
I can always find food, but the Azerbaijanis were speaking pretty close to the truth. But then - it's hard to beat the food in Azerbaijan (even in France!)
My First Dinner in Moscow

My First Dinner in Moscow

Time for Dessert

Time for Dessert

Potato Pankakes with Red Caviar and Rabbit

Potato Pankakes with Red Caviar and Rabbit

Ukraine Restaurant in Moscow-001

Ukraine Restaurant in Moscow-001

Breakfast on the Square

Breakfast on the Square

Posted by pscotterly 22:45 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

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