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Travels in Russia

Russian Remonts
Stop Theif!
Almost Worth Staying For
Offshore Your Rubles in Swiss Accounts
Russian Women
You Can Buy Anything in a Russian Kiosk!
What Did Russians Eat Before Potaotes?
Nothing Like a Birch Branch Beating!
Anything Can Be Scrap Metal
Serious Soviet Pollution
Day-Tripping Around the Garden Ring
The Russian Poezd
Yeltsin's Family
Soviet Photography
Happy Times in HTML Hell
Road Runners Rule!
Piva is Good!
A Subaka Says What?
Soviet Swimming
Manly Russian Men
Invest in Russia?!
The Zen of the Line
But He Went by the Name of Lenin
That Looks Just Like My Dom
Russian Adoptions by the Dozen
Internet Cafes Are Everywhere
Going to See Mama Russia
Going to the Movies
Russian Visas
Eta Notebook Batteria, Durak!
Fidelity is Not a Brokerage
Soviet Suburban Living
Taking the tramvai
Cash Transfers Across Russia
Time to go...
Do Your Spring Cleaning Now!
Reclama Nation
Russians Do Tours
Going Local
Pecktopan = Restaurants
Yevgeniy Primakov, Who?
101 Reasons Why NATO's War Sucks
A State Secrect: Women's Ages
Russians Blew up the US Embassy!
It's Dacha Time Again
I Love Me a Starlite Diner
Anything Goes at Night
Yesho Piedesat Gram Vodkoo
Shock Thearpy
IMF & Reform
Zoos Should Be for Politicans
There Was Giligan, And the Skipper Too
The Regions Exist?
Do You Believe the Media?
What is Russian Feminism?
Russian Music Rocks
Bye Bye Fast Food
Yest Klooch?
Addicts Are Addictive
Racism in Russia Too
An Education in Russian Politics
Orphans Are Lonely
Making Bliny
Nasty Newspapers
#51 If you get the jokes
Sick as a Dog
Those Crazy Russians
An Open Road Ahead
Iron Felix
You Can Buy (Almost) Anything in a Market
Education Makes Elections Happen
Ice Cream in Winter
Superstitions Are Sneaky
The Adventures of Flat Jon
Ice Fishing in Sibera
Death is Painful in Any Culture, Anywhere.
Lenin is Alive
Every Thing is Leaking
New Russians
Go Dollar!
Corruption is Endemic
The Joe-Cool Moscow Crew
Taxes Will Find You
I'm Driven Mad
Holidays Last and Last
It's All About Location
Taxies Take You Everywhere
Russian Religion Re-emerges


Russia, July 12, 1999

And Peter is a Distant Second

Like St Petersburg can compare to Massive Moscow!

Look to the heavens
Kazan Cathedral
Dive into the Baltika
Time for a Taste Test!
Ain't no shacks on this street
You find a remonted window!
A Young Pioneer
Laura looking into the future
There are many city rivalries in this world, New York vs. Los Angeles, London vs. Paris, Singapore vs. Hong Kong, but none I find as lopsided as Moscow vs. St Petersburg. Unlike the previous three sets, where both cities have similar cash and culture reserves, St Petersburg is outbid and outclassed at almost every turn these days, but refuses to admit it.

Peter the Great literally commanded the city into existence in 1712, declaring what then was a swampy river mouth the new capital of Russia and requiring all the princes and such to move from Moscow and establish estates there. He even went so far as to banning any new construction outside of St Petersburg, so enough resources would be available for the massive construction projects he commissioned.

Under the leadership of Empresses Ivanova and Elizabeth, Catherine the Great and Alexander I (who was from Finland) as Russia's capital for two centuries, St Pete became Russia's most European city, and even today I sometimes feel as if I am in East Berlin or Warsaw when I walk down a back street (I'm never so confused on a main street!).

When the Bolsheviks took over in 1917, they moved the capital back to Moscow to show a complete break with the Tzarist past, and St Pete never recovered. No, wait, it was only because the capital was moved back to Moscow that St Pete gained what it is so proud of today, its culture. The world famous Hermitage Museum was the Tzar's Winter Palace, off limits to the proletariat before the revolution! The Kriov Ballet, which some say is better than the Bolshoi these days, only got that way because it was far enough away from Moscow to escape the worst of Stalin's purges.

Due to this cultural concentration (I do believe Moscow has more, just spread out over a much bigger city), there are hordes, and I mean hordes of tourists on Nevsky Prospect in central St Pete, or Peter as its know by the locals. I know there are tourists in Moscow, a majority of who are Russian and have come to see the splendor of the New Russia, but because they look like everyone else, I never notice them.

In Peter, all the tourists are obvious. They are the ones wandering around, taking photos, and just plain gawking at the Baroque and Rococo architecture. The Summer Palace, with its multiple fountains, never ceases to amaze me with the number of Russian tourists taking a glimpse at their pre-Revolutionary history. Also, since it is so close to Finland, Sweden, and the rest of Northern Europe, the foreign tourist quota is shockingly high. So high that many signs are in Russian and English, including the announcements at the train stations!

Peter is also home to the best tourist attraction I've been to so far in Russia. Ok, so many of you will not understand, and others will roll your eyes, but the Baltika brewery on the outskirts of Peter is truly amazing. Maybe because it is the most modern factory in Europe, maybe because I was able to sneak in and wander around before I went on the official tour, or maybe just because I've stared at way to many Baltika labels in my two years here, but the experience took on the aspects of a pilgrimage for me.

The long, hot, and slow bus ride past the monotonous suburbs and even longer and more dangerous walk though all the supply trucks moving around the factory made the cool office seem like an oasis for me. The surly Soviet staff snapped me back into reality, but I guess they were just surly cuz I had wandered onto the production floor!

Once on the official tour, I was amazed by the efficiency of the factory. Around six hundred people turn out over five (5) million liters of beer a year. When I saw all the massive storage vats, I felt like Norm on Cheers when he got hired at the brewery: I was in heaven! Right about now, I'm sure my parents are getting scared reading this, but not to worry. I didn't even buy a bottle at the super-cheap factory store, and no, it wasn't because I had too many "samples", I was happily drinking the plentiful water on that hot day.

What Peter is obviously lacking is cash. I judge the wealth of a Russian city by the number of remonted apartments (remont is Russian for renovate) I can see from the main streets of the city. In Moscow, every single building in the center and many in the suburbs, have scores of brand new, bright-white German windows. These windows, paid for in US Dollars or D-Marks, do not come cheap, and signify that the owners of those apartments have spent quite a bundle remodeling the interior and replacing the leaky Russian windows in the process.

When I was wandering around Peter last year with my parents, I randomly counted the number of remonted windows and came up with a woefully small amount. This year, I recounted again, thinking I might have been mistaken last year. Nope, I was right the first time. At the very best, giving allowances that many remonted windows there are painted brown to look like the originals, I still give Peter a 5% remont rate downtown. Compared with Moscow's 15%, the wealth difference is obvious.

My friend in Peter brought this difference to life while I was there. Laura, a staunch Peterist, is planning on moving to Moscow in the fall to find a better job. For her, a life long pro-Peter booster, who always questioned me for living in Moscow, it is a painful but simple decision. All the decent jobs and new opportunities are in Moscow.

Sadly enough, you can hear a sound all over Russia that I've never heard as loud before: the sound of the big city sucking the youth and the wealth of the country from the provinces. Oh, you can hear it in Small Town America/England/France, but nowhere have I felt the pull of the capital city as strong as in Russia.

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