It occurs to me haven't said much good about Russia. Indeed I've barely said anything about Russia. I'll say some good things soon (after this posting), but I'm not going to lie to you: My first week in country wasn't easy. Some readers of my Philippine entries wrote and called me a bastard, said I had to so easy. They'll be happy to know that nothing comes easy in Southern Russia. It's been tough, and if I didn't speak Russian it would be a lot tougher. A brief rundown of my trip so far:
Landed in Moscow, flew to Rostov. Walked approximately 25 miles and took 36 public transport rides to cover Rostov and a number of surrounding sights in 3 days. Left Rostov on a mid-afternoon train to Krasnodar, arriving 3 hours later at 8pm. Checked out 4 hotels with a cabbie. None of them could take me - either fully booked or simply didn't take foreigners (a common problem in these parts, especially in with budget hotels). Went back to my last resort, the train station hotel (any reasonably sized city in any former Soviet city has komnaty otdihka - resting rooms, basically a small hotel - in the train station), where I shared a room with a random dude who snored a lot. Got up early. Checked out and checked my luggage at the train station bag drop. Spent all day covering Krasnodar, walking miles in the process. Boarded another mid-afternoon train, arriving 3hrs later in Novorossiysk, industrial Black Sea port town. I called a few hotels and same problem here: No rooms. So I b-lined it to the bus station and proceeded to Anapa, a Black Sea resort town 1 hour beyond Novorossiysk, by bus. Arrived 8.30. Spent 2 hours walking around with all of my luggage - a rollie bag that converts into a backpack when needed (thanks Karin!) and my computer bag on my back. Visited about 7 hotels, was rejected by all for various reasons. By this time it could have been my scent, which was powerful from walking a good 12 miles in the heat on the day. Was about to give up and head back to Novorossiysk, where I knew I could at least find an expensive room, when finally somebody took me. It was 10.30. Had a few beers and went to bed. Spent the next day covering Anapa, a reasonably pleasant seaside resort town. Spent one more night there. The next morning got up and went with my hotel owner to register my visa, which involved two hours running around collecting forms and standing in lines. Finished that up and boarded a bus back to Novorossiysk. Arrived around noon. Spent the afternoon doing a rush job on Novorossiysk, a town of little appeal that sprawls forever and requires long walks in the blazing sun. Finished up by 6pm or so and boarded another bus, this time one hour south (toward Sochi) to the Black Sea resort town of Gelendzhik, a mellower version of Anapa. Decided that I would spend three hours walking around Gelendzhik (the section in our book is quite small) and try to pick up an 11pm bus passing through to Sochi, 8 hours or so south. But there was no guarantee there would be space on the bus. Speed-walked around Gelendzhik, grabbed my first real meal of the day - some mediocre Uzbek plov (Uzbek pilaf-like dish) served by a bitch waitress (I hate it when I waste meals at places that don't end up deserving a review), then headed to back to the bus station at 10.30. The bus showed up on time but was full. There were others in my boat, so we pooled our resources and grabbed a cab heading south a few hours to Tuapse ($20 per person for 4 people), located on the main train line to/from Sochi (Gelendzhik is not on any train line). Arrived Tuapse at 2 am. My colleagues decided to pick up the next train south. I opted to sleep in the train station hotel - alone this time, for about $11 in a very clean, cozy room. Woke up and figured, I'm in Tuapse, let's see what's in Tuapse. Nothing in Tuapse. Three hours wasted. At 12.56 I boarded a local train to Sochi and arrived around 3.30. Checked my bags in the train station and walked around for three hours checking out hotels. I was killing two birds with one stone, reviewing hotels while at the same time figuring out where I wanted to stay. No problem finding a place in Sochi. The Moskva was overpriced and had a loud disco blaring into my room until the wee hours every night, but it had wifi in the lobby and free breakfast, enough to clinch the deal for me. Needless to say I was ready to stay in one place for few nights, so I booked four nights. I remain there now.
Now, I ask you, are you still jealous of my job?