"Adventures in Russia" gussymons's Profile

Nearly didn't make it to Russia

0705hrs on a chilly Thursday morning at the end of August 2002 and I am waiting outside the Russian embassy in London. I've got all my bags, my passport and my travel documentation with me because I'm catching a flight to Moscow at 1300hrs that afternoon.

Problem. I don't have a visa. Am I prepared to pay the ridiculously high charge GBP£120 in order for them to process the visa application form in record time? Looks like I don't have a choice. The sad thing is that I'm not even first in the queue!

After a Kafka-esque episode, I get my visa stamped and head to Heathrow by train to catch my first Aeroflot flight to mother Russia. Forget the stereotypes, Aeroflot is fine and takes me to Moscow, only 3 hours away, with no hoohaa.

I touch down, anxious since I don't know a word of Russian and still have to find my accommodation in the dark and contending with the bizarre alphabet.

Midnight in Moscow

Touching down at Sheremeteivo-2 in the evening I passed through customs and what hit me first was the language in the airport signs. Cyrillic looks like the Latin alphabet turned upside down, or back to front, and with some weird-looking letters with sounds like 'sh', 'zh', and 'ts'.

The whole airport looked run down and very 1970s with plastic everywhere and no tourist information at all. This is a problem for travellers who are accustomed to countries with a highly-developed information network for tourists. Russia is simply not set up for mass tourism - Americans beware.

Haggling for a taxi to my hostel was the only option since I could never have navigated my way there by public transport being without rubles. The one-hour fare cost about US$40 - three weeks later I took a bus back to the airport from the centre which cost the equivalent of US40 cents.

I arrived at the hostel late in the evening and was exhausted. The staff were friendly and showed me to my room which I would be sharing with three other travellers. At first I was apprehensive, especially when the first chap I met was somewhat eccentric. By way of introduction I said hello and asked if he spoke English to which he replied in a loud voice "Of course! I'm an American!". Indeed.

The other residents in the hostel were interesting people and I enjoyed exploring Moscow in their company and alone when I so wished.

Over the course of the next week I went out all the time and saw things and talked to people, and travelled around the city just chilling and seeing stuff. I went out most evenings and planned a trip to St. Petersburg which took me away from Moscow for a week or so.

in the photo I'm standing next to Tolstoi. The photographer is Caleb Paul, an Australian who is currently doing a massive tour of East Europe. Check out his VT site under the name 'shorbe'.


The next day I woke up became acquainted with some of the other residents and headed out for the Metro on Prospekt Mira.

The Metro systems in Moscow and St.Petersburg are amazing compared to the dreary, soulless underground in London.

Opposite is an example of a mosaic at a Metro station depicting famous scenes in Soviet legend.

Statue Park

Near Gorki Park, the statue park is in Moscow. Its just by the embankment and there are loads of statues and monuments of Soviet heroes and world figures all rendered in stone.

You can see Peter the Great on his ship in the backgroudn if you look carefully!

Tolstoi's Grave

This is on his sprawling, lush estate 150 miles south of Moscow in Tula. The estate, Iasnaia Poliana, is home to the Tolstoi museum and near the main house is his unmarked grave.

Traditionally, newly weds go there for good luck. I saw a few couples trot up the path to this beautifully kept memorial to Tolstoi.

Legend has it that he wanted to be buried where his brother spoke of a 'Green stick' which, if found, would bring universal joy and peace to mankind.

Adventures in Russia - Part 2

I haver just spent six months in St. Petersburg studying Russian and living off Nevskii Prospekt (with a short, but memorable stay in the student obshzhitie) in a flat.

At the moment I am in London, planning Operation Siberia(!). Winter in Petersburg was mild - the coldest was -18 C. I cannot wear my beautiful fur shapka with genuine pride, until I have survived a Siberian winter...

I have made over 3,000 images using the new digital camera bought in October 2003 in the last 6 months than in my entire life previously. This means that I hope to add one or two to the travelpages (and seriously edit them too).

Apart from that I have made a 20 minute film/slide show of St.Petersburg which plays on media player and is virtually impossible to upload to the internet. It is about 250 Mb big!!

  • Intro Updated Mar 15, 2004
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Comments (14)

  • takla73's Profile Photo
    Jun 14, 2007 at 12:04 AM

    Happy birthday GUS and have a nice day Greeting from Alexandria Egypt TAKLA

  • zazatann's Profile Photo
    Jun 14, 2006 at 6:19 AM

    Just wanna say "Happy Birthday" to you. Smile.....Greeting from Bangkok, Teya

  • uglyscot's Profile Photo
    Jun 14, 2006 at 1:02 AM

    Happy Birthday ,Gus. What an amazing life you had in the US army, a real eye-opener.

  • Daja123's Profile Photo
    Jun 13, 2006 at 9:35 PM

    Happy birthday, Gus! Have a great day!

  • freddie18's Profile Photo
    Jun 13, 2006 at 7:40 PM

    Hi Gus. I wish you the best on your birthday. I like your country because of architecture. One day I gonna go back to UK to see more. Regards from Freddie of Toronto

  • mary2u99's Profile Photo
    Jun 13, 2006 at 7:37 PM

    Hey there ..Have a wonderful day and Happy Birthday to you.:-)

  • deecat's Profile Photo
    Jun 13, 2006 at 7:22 PM

    A warm birthday wish comes your way via Chicago.

  • ANGELINEW90's Profile Photo
    Jun 13, 2005 at 9:06 PM

    happy birthday.. nice pages..

  • maysue's Profile Photo
    Jun 13, 2005 at 6:48 PM

    Happy Birthday! May you have many happy returns and a great day today!

  • Aug 13, 2004 at 4:09 AM

    How about changing that photo and have a recent one instead. Hope to see you before you leave to St. Petersburg soon. TTFN.A.

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Gus Symons
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