to Russia with Love

IMG_2444

Had the former USSR taken the time to bury Lenin, he would be turning in his grave today. But while he remains held in his mausoleum like some Soviet ‘Frozen Moment’ the country he led into revolution against the excesses of the imperialists in 1917 has reverted to many of its bad old ways.

Image

Over the past few months I have been immersed in a trilogy of novels by the author Tom Rob Smith spanning 50 years of life in the Soviet Union, staring with “Child 44” and culminating with “Agent 6”. The savagery with which the population was beaten into submission, physically and mentally, particularly under the rule of the dictator, Stalin, shocked me to the core, so much so that I had to refrain from reading these books at bedtime as it was affecting my sleep.

I was  surprised to see how much Perestroika has altered the very fabric of this once staunchly Socialist nation.

ImageToday the opulent palaces and churches have been restored to their former glory for the entertainment of the plane loads of tourist who flock here each day and for the locals who are returning to their opiate; religion, with renewed fervor. 

ImageIn the shadow of the Finlandsky Railway Station, where Lenin first step off a train in 1917, returning from exile to the adulation of the masses, today his statue stands watching over the square.IMG_4640

While elsewhere in Saint Petersburg and Moscow, the icons of western capitalism overshadow the very symbols of the socialist revolution. Apple, MacDonalds,  Prado, Gucci, vast malls and skyscrapers jostle for prominence while the stone effigies of hammer and sickle embedded on the facades of drab, utilitarian, soviet buildings look on.

ImageSupermarket selves bulge with every imaginable commodity. Shopping malls are full of trendy young people in designer jeans talking on the latest smart phones.

ImageThere are no more bread line, though the Russian who’s ability to queue rivals even the British, still line up in an orderly fashion just to cross at the traffic lights and Jay-walking is virtually unheard of. Old habits die hard.

The traffic in Moscow was appalling. We spend hours stuck in traffic jambs. To amuse myself during these delays I learnt to decipher the Cyrillic signs. It is really quite simple, in Cryllic;

C = S
B = V
H = N
P = R
3 = Z
Y = U
W = SH
И = I
Д = D
Ч = CH
Я = Ya
П = P
Г = G
6 = B
Л = L
So supermarket looks like cynepmapket, Suzy looks like CY3И and for the American tourist; Macdonalds looks like MAKДOHAЛДC….just in case they don’t recognise the golden arches.

Image

On this very educational trip to Russia I also learned the quickest way to pass through customs and passport control; in a wheelchair.

On the last day of our guided tour, several of our group felt unwell. Hubby, not feeling 100%, abstained from lunch and dinner. I was feeling fine until about 6 pm when I suddenly felt faint and started to sweat like a horse. By the time we reached the airport at 10 pm I had regained my composure but by the time we arrived at the check in counter I almost passed out again and a doctor was summonsed. While I was being attended to my elder brother-in-law also became faint and another wheelchair was requisitioned. We both had to sign waivers stating that we did not want to be hospitalised. The time left on my visa was rapidly evaporating so the last thing I wanted was to be detained any longer. Together with our entourage we were wheeled through the former Leningrad airport, the only thing that has not kept pace with the modernisation program. The only lift was accessed through a locked door, to summons it one of our attendants had to run up the stairs, get in the lift there and bring it to the ground floor.

We arrived safely back in Israel and having been ill during most of the flight I was wheel to an awaiting golf buggy and whizzed through passport control and the green “nothing to declare” lane without a hitch…wish I’d have known that I would be arriving in this fashion, I could have smuggled in all manner of illicit contraband undetected…drats.

Image

all my photos are here https://picasaweb.google.com/109192522417224619393

Advertisements

Seoul Sister

IMG_0545

Last Sunday we arrived safely in Seoul, South Korea, after an uneventful 10+ hour fight from Brisbane. We were lucky and secured exit row seats, unfortunately they were situated right outside the the toilet block and we were assaulted with many unsavory sounds and smells.

It was our first time flying Korea Air and were very impressed. The service was good and the crew very helpful and attentive.

Happily all our luggage arrived on the same flight as we did. From past experience it is a pain trying to find clothing to fit us in Asian countries. Not that it stops hubby from trying. He serioulsy impress a gaggle of female stall holders at a local market here when he decided to try on a shirt. In the absence of a change room he took his shirt off and exposed his hairy body, the ladies whooped with delight.

This is our first visit to Korea and are pleased to discover it is a nation of kind,friendly people. We are not harrased by street hawkers here and feel safe and secure to wander the streets at all hours. Tourism is not over developed and not everyone speaks English but most try to be helpful. The traffic is far less chaotic than that of countries such as Vietnam and barely a horn is sounded.

Our hotel room is cozy, i.e. there is only 10 cm of circulation space. The beds would make good mortician’s slabs. I’ve discovered that they love to employ the latest technology here unfortunately though few instructions are in anything but Korean script. The toilet in our bathroom, like the shower stall has a myriad of optional functions and almost requires a PhD to operate it.

IMG_1096-001

IMG_1095

As you can see in the photo it heats the seat and washes and blow dries the nether regions with variable pressure, though I’m still unsure what the face symbol represents; perhaps it gives a facial or washes your face if you spend a long time talking on the porcelain telephone after a rough night on the town, either way I wasn’t going to experiment. The shower offers almost as many options, sans blow dry.

As a lighting designer you’d think the 6 button LED lighting control panel would have been a breeze but as I could not read the labels in Korean I resorted to the time honoured practice of ‘hit and miss’. Some buttons need to be hit twice and others it turn off automatically; not a good idea when installed in the bathroom.

In our room we have been provided with an interesting array of hair styling products including a hair brush, not sure I would like to use it though as I’m not sure it is new.

The hotel is in a handy location near many palaces, pergodas and temples. The weather here is tropical; hot and humid with regular thunderstorms. After walking for several hours each day we have worked up a serious sweat. I gave up wearing make up on the first day as it melted in the first half hour, slipping from my face and settled in my sandals. Using the bathroom is most uncomfortable as our clothing, sodden with perspiration sticks to us like cling wrap and pulling up my knickers is like trying to get into a wet swimsuit.

IMG_1060

We have been experimenting with the Korean food and in the absence of English language menus have been surprised by many of the results; these we have labelled “UFO’s”, unidentified food objects. Tonight’s surprise were rice cakes floating in various sauces. They are glutinous globules the size of your average witchetty grub, and a similar texture too, though a tad chewier. Yesterday’s experiment was less enticing and looked like black pudding stuffed with maggots, though we were assured they were noodles. Whatever we order it usually comes with lashings of chili, I am pleased to announce our sinuses have been thoroughly flushed clear as have ever pore in our skin.

This is our last day here and we fly out at 3 pm bound for Tel Aviv. Hopefully with all this walking and sweating we will have lost a couple of kilos in preparation for all the food in store for us in Israel.

Links to my photos are below.

Seoul – day 1
Seoul – Day 2
Seoul – Day 3
Seoul – Day 3 – part 2