Thursday, May 15, 2008

What a Long, Strange Trip It's Been

The weather in Russia at this time of year is quite interesting. We apparently have experienced phenomenal weather, with the sun actually making an appearance. In the three days we were in "Peter", it has also rained, drizzled, was overcast, and snowed.

Novgorod, which I believe translates to "new city", is ironically the oldest city in Russia. What a depressing place! Ivan the Terrible massacred the people because he thought they were out to get him. I am impressed with one of the major underlying philosophies of the Russian Orthodox Church: bear your cross without complaint. It explains very much how the people here have survived tragedy after tragedy. My goal is to adopt this more into my life, but I'll pass on standing for church services.

We stayed last night at the "best hotel in Novgorod." Admittedly the decor and furnishing were a bit dated, it was clean and comfy. Breakfast was another story. Half the food was gone by the time we got there. The best part was how they translated cream of kasha as "Hercules-gruel." Once you get past the name, it tasted halfway decent.

Looking back, that was opulent compared to the bus ride to Moscow. My cousin and I got on the bus last and had to sit separately. I found a seat next to a nice Singaporean girl who was easy to talk to and very sharing with her snacks. My cousin got stuck next to a large Canadian woman who smelled like salami and kept drinking water (and getting up to use the bus bathroom). My cousin almost had a panic attack at the "best" known rest stop on the highway. Relieving one's self involved breathing through your mouth, not flushing the toilet paper, and bringing your own soap. I almost used the men's room if not for the man taking a sponge bath. (Note: for all you entrepreneurs out there, don't bother trying to create a nicer, more "Western" rest area. If the mafiya doesn't get to you, the government will if you vote the wrong way.) But wait, it gets better! In between snow and horrendous traffic, we were stopped three times by the police. This charade involves the drivers getting off the bus with all paperwork, the police reviewing all the licensing and paperwork for the bus, checking the driver's license, a breathalyzer, and then a request for contribution to the fund for the next meal. We were instructed not to take pictures. It would save a lot of time if the cops just set up a tollbooth for the bribes instead. Note to all of you badasses who want to do a DIY tour: get ready to hand over large sums of money to the cops in random traffic stops. For Russians, the going rate is about 100 rubles (just over 4 bucks). For foreigners, it starts at 100 euros.

Tver came and went in the blink of an eye. I would have appreciated a little more time here as it's where my best friend received her adopted son. We arrived several hours late for a late lunch. The place we went to was downstairs from a children's/Chinese/VIP lounge called Mary Poppins. Needless to say, I'm a bit concerned. I don't think vegetarianism is fully understood, as it appears that they veg folks received the same soup (i.e., meat stock) without the shredded meat on top. They also received extra dessert of apple drizzled with raspberry sauce since it is assumed they are not getting enough to eat without the meat.

Very much looking forward to our eventual arrival in Moscow after this ordeal of a bus ride.