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Steve talks about his recent trip to Russia, including the places he went, the people he met and the experience of traveling to Russia after learning Russian for four years.
Steve: Hi Alex.
Alex: Hi there, Steve.
Steve: Well, it’s a sunny day here in Vancouver.
Still a little cool for this time of year.
Alex: Yes, it is. I’ve noticed that, actually.
Vancouver lost in the finals of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
A small group of absolute idiots decided they would destroy a bunch of property downtown.
Alex: Yes, in what is called a riot.
Steve: A riot. It gave the city a black eye, so to speak.
Hopefully they’re able to identify most of those people, because there were a lot of people taking pictures.
Alex: Yeah, exactly, a lot of people taking pictures, videos, all sorts of different things.
And, of course, there are security cameras, which probably didn’t cross their minds.
Steve: And, you know, I hope that those people end up having to pay for the damages.
There’s no point in sending those people to jail, because that means that the taxpayer has to pay for their room and board.
Steve: What should happen is that their wages get garnisheed until they have paid off the damage.
But, you know it’s funny.
I think people when they’re in a mob, the brain is turned off and they get caught up in this other feeling of wow.
Isn’t it fun to overturn cars and burn and loot?
Alex: Yeah, it’s the mob mentality where someone if you talk to them one on one versus in a crowd of 30 people or 3,000 people, they’re a completely different person.
Steve: I know.
Steve: What a disgrace.
Anyway, I hope that wasn’t you — there was a guy there, Alex. No.
Alex: So, you’re back from Russia.
Steve: I’m back from Russia.
I can say that the trip exceeded my expectations.
Alex: Ah, good to hear.
Steve: Initially, I was in Berlin for a day because we have some business dealings there and then I was in Latvia for a day and a half.
I’ve been to both places before.
Steve: And then, finally, having spent the last four years, you know, an hour a day most days learning Russian, I finally got a chance to travel to Russia.
For me it was really exciting.
So I arrived in St.
Petersburg Airport, walked through the airport smooth as can be.
I had images of all kinds of bureaucratic whatever, long delays and stuff.
It was no big deal at all.
Walked right through, got my bag very quickly and was met by Eugene (Evgueny), who is our programmer, who lives in St.
Petersburg, just an awfully nice guy.
We took a cab in.
It was seven or eight hundred rubles.
Alex: So what is the conversion rate from rubles to dollars?
Steve: Roughly, it’s 30 rubles to the dollar.
Steve: Twenty-eight, 27, something like that.
Steve: In my own mind it was always 30.
Steve: The day that I arrived was the Day of the City.
It was the 300th anniversary of something.
Alex: Oh, okay.
Steve: Three-hundred eleventh, I don’t know what it was.
But it was just full of people, very good natured people.
No rioting or anything.
Rock bands, folk music, people waving flags.
I went up to this one family and I said where do I buy a flag?
They had this sort of flag, whatever, Day of the City.
They said oh, here, you take one.
I said no, no, no, no.
Oh, yes, yes, yes!
And that was kind of the way people were, just very, very friendly.
That was my introduction and then I took a boat and, of course, they have lots of canals.
It’s the Venice of the north, so to speak.
Most of the older part of the city where we walk around as tourists it’s a very large area that was built, basically, in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Perhaps early 20th to some extent, but mostly it’s old.
So you’re in these canals and there are these very opulent palaces where the royal family and the leading aristocrats and so forth would live.
So, it was just spectacular.
Alex: It sounds like a very interesting experience.
I guess one thing that probably was very impacting was the fact that all this stuff that you’d seen on paper or that you’d seen on the computer screen was there right before your very eyes.
Now, I had been to Leningrad, as it was, back in 1975, but I didn’t remember it that well.
This time, of course, I had a whole six days there.
I mean the Hermitage Museum is a tremendous museum, very well organized.
I’ve been to museums elsewhere, but it compares with Uffizi in Florence.
It compares very favorably to other museums; lots to see.
I went to the Russian Museum where there is Russian artwork and the Peter and Paul Fortress where there’s a fortress and a prison and a church and everyday with Eugene we would sample either Russian food or Armenian food or Uzbeky food or Georgian food.
Yeah, it was really great.
And we met with our learners there.
We had a meetup.
So it was great, yeah.
Alex: So the first six days were in St.
Petersburg and then after that?
Steve: Well, I went up for two days to Viborg, which is a city that for a long time was part of Sweden and I think largely inhabited by Finnish people.
Steve: Because, as you know, Finland was a part of Sweden for 500-600 years and then I think it was a part of Finland.
Because Finland was detached from Sweden and was sort of like a semi-autonomous kingdom or something within czarist Russia and then it became independent.
And then in the war between Russia and Finland in whenever it was, 1940 or 1939, ’40 maybe, it was then captured by Russia.
So, you can sense that a lot of the Scandinavian feeling in the town, very nice, natural, surrounding water, you know.
It’s a bit like Scandinavia, the ocean coming in there, lots of greenery.
The city is a little less modern let’s say than the Scandinavian cities, but very nice and, of course, Mikhail and Tatiana.
Tatiana is one of my tutors at LingQ.
Alex: Oh, okay.
Steve: I mean they really looked after me.
It was phenomenal.
We had just a great dinner and the next day we wandered around, had a coffee, visited here and there and stuff, yeah.
And then I went up on a commuting train really from St.
It’s only about an hour.
No, it actually worked out to be, gosh, two-and-a-half hours, because in the train you sit on these hard wooden seats, okay?
And it stops.
It’s a milk train.
It stops every 10 minutes.
Steve: So it was a long way.
But, yeah, it was great.
On the way back…I should say there’s no toilet on this train.
Alex: Oh, really.
Steve: And on the way back the following day I needed to go to the bathroom so badly.
I figured oh, well, it’s only another half hour into St.
And then it just got…no.
I finally just got off in what was the middle of nowhere and had a pee.
But, fortunately, there was another train about 20 minutes later so I was able to continue.
Alex: Okay, yeah.
Steve: Anyway, two-and-a-half hour train ride; no toilet.
Alex: Yeah, it’s probably pretty tough, ay?
Steve: Well, next time you make sure you go to the bathroom before you get on the train.
Steve: Yeah. And then the next day I took the high-speed train down to Moscow.
Steve: Many things are very efficient.
Like the metro system, the subway system in St.
Petersburg and in Moscow, very efficient.
You buy these electronic cards that you just flash at the wicket and it keeps track.
Like if you’ve bought 10 rides then it keeps track of those rides and when you’re done you throw the card away.
Steve: Similarly with my ticket, which Eugene had ordered for me, I had to go to the train station, put in my passport information and out came my ticket.
So I had my ticket there.
I traveled second class.
I cannot imagine how comfortable first class might have been because second class was absolutely very comfortable, very nice.
So that was a nice train.
Alex: And how far was it?
How long did it take from St.
Petersburg to Moscow?
Steve: It was four hours and some and it’s more than 600 kilometers.
Steve: The train reaches speeds of 250 kilometers an hour, I believe.
I read somewhere that there have been some accidents with people getting hit by this train.
Alex: Oh, really.
Steve: As a result, there are some villages where they pelt the train with eggs and tomatoes, rocks or something, but it didn’t happen to our run.
There’d been a bit of controversy there.