A Russian and American

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I had very few positive experiences in Russia but one of them I got to enjoy long after leaving the border.  Her name was Anastasia and we met on a moonlit shore…no wait, that was a movie I once saw.  This Anastasia worked at the front desk of the hotel where I was a guest in St.Petersburg.  There were no fireworks, no love at first sight, none of that standard movie garbage.  I found her attractive and so one night I just sat with her and we talked for hours.  The next day I left for Moscow with her phone number.

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We talked maybe once a week and enjoyed each other conversations.  After a couple of months I asked her to meet me.  She agreed but there were issues.  She being Russian and me American meant that we neededvisas to visit each others countries.  Luckily this didn’t matter as I was living in Poland at the time.  But then a bigger issue popped up.  She was afraid of flying.  So me being the nice guy that I am offered to meet her in Helsinki, since it is only a bus ride from St.Petersburg.  So there we met, on Valentines Day.  I remember nothing of the city except for the unbelieveable cold.  Nothing in my life has ever come close to that feeling.  Not even standing in a freezer.  So we spent all our time in the hotel.  It was a wonderful few days.

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We decided to meet again a few weeks later but in a warmer location.  Barcelona was chosen.  How she got over her fear of flying I will never know.  Again it was a wonderful few days.  Barcelona is a beautiful city in Winter and I was with a beautiful girl.  My life was complete.  It was but an illusion though and disappeared after a few days.

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Life continued on for a few months until she decided to come to Poland to see me.  She rode the train for an ungodly amount of time and we spent a few days together in Warsaw and Torun.  These would be our final few days together.  We would continue talking for years but our beliefs were too different to make a relationship work.

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Not a storybook romance, though our meeting was a lot more interesting than most modern stories of internet romance.  I got to see two cities that I might not have seen otherwise, though it doesn’t really count for much as my attention was somewhere else.  Overall it was an enjoyable experience that taught me a lot about love and how the cultures and circumstances we are raised in affect our beliefs.  I find roses, chocolates, champagne, and saying I love you so boring and Hollywood but she loved such things. C’est la vie

Tankograd, Russia (Yes, that translates to Tank City)

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Chelyabinsk Main Street

What comes to your mind when you hear the word Tankograd?  A beautiful tropical paradise?  Glass and steel skyskrapers?  Maybe a palm tree lined street saturated by a warm and clear sky?  If any of these pictures came to your mind then see a doctor immediately, as it is proof that you are crazy.  The picture that should jump to your mind is of a grey, concrete, soot covered city full of tanks.  And you would be correct.

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My Tank(Everyone Gets One in Tankograd)

Tankograd, the World War II name for the city of Chelyabinsk, is a city of over one million poor souls in the South of Russia near the border with Kazakhstan.  It has all your normal Communist attractions such as giant Lenin statues, a massive paved parade ground, et cetra so we will skip descriptions.  If you seen them once you know them all.

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The Mandatory Giant Lenin Statue with Parade Ground

This is the real Russia.  Forget Moscow and St.Petersburg.  If you want the full Russian experience you must come here.  There is no Kremlin, no beautiful canal, no Red Square, no impressively absurd building at all.  What they have, and have in spades, are tanks.  The main park has a giant display of tanks that you can touch and climb on.  So for a little boy it might be the dream city.

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More Tanks for Your Viewing Pleasure

Let me enlighten you with my personal experience of this fabulous city.  I went there because I like to travel beyond the normal and sanitized tourist destinations, and also because of a lady I had met in Turkey. And by met I mean I swam into her after coming up from a dive in Cleopatra’s pool.

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The Beautiful City
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The Mandatory Giant Parks

I arrived on an old Russia planefrom Moscow. A TU-124 I believe.  Anyway, it was something from another time and space.  I have flown on old planes before, DC-8 and 707, but this Russian plane was in a league of its own.  The airport was also impressive in how bad and disgusting it was.  But onto the city itself.  It was cold but by no means freezing.  A Russian summer most likely.  The sky was grey which was amazingly was also the color of the city.  My friend put me up in an extra flat of hers a little ways outside the center.  So my first day I was left alone as she worked 9-5.

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My Russian Hat(Too Small for my Big Head)

I have always enjoyed walking around cities and set of exploring.  Ten seconds after locking the door to the flat I was attacked by two men in the stairwell.  They had probably heard me speaking English and were waiting for me.  A nice old lady decided to watch.  I guess attacks happen so often there that it was  considered entertainment and there was no need to call the police.  I am a decent fighter so I was able to hold my own and only suffered a torn shirt.  My friend apologized profusely and moved me into a kind of dorm near the University.  From here on out my judgement of Chelyabinsk may have been biased from the bad experience.

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The University

The area around the University is quite nice, and in the park behind the University I made a friend.  After chatting for a while she found out that I was a firefighter and took me on a walk to see her father who was working that day at a nearby fire station.  We had a simple conversation about the job with her translating and he gave me a whole Russian firefighters uniform, including stereotypical hat.  I never saw my friend after that but I was glad to learn that she immigrated to the USA.  She was smart and hated Russia.

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Picture From my Friends Firefighter Father

I had quite a few other interesting experiences.  Such as taking a gulp of what I thought was strawberry juice only to have it be beet juice.  Most disgusting surprise ever!  Riding on a tram with a hole rusted through the bottom so I could watch the pavement cruise by under my feet.  Seeing a goat walk itself through the city center.  Riding on a ferris wheel in the park that was covered in rust and missing a couple of the bolts meant to hold it together.  Maybe I am the only one to find these things interesting.  The Russians that were around me sure didn’t seem to find anything amiss.

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Of Course It’s Perfectly Safe

And then there are the tanks.  There is not much to describe here.  There are tank statues everywhere.  The pictures will show better than any description I can give.  Perhaps I should give Chelyabinsk a second chance since we started off on the wrong foot, but since I have no desire to ever return to Russia I doubt it will happen.  Plus, nearby is the city of Ekaterinburg, which is beautiful and interesting.  But that is for another story.

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A Tank Protecting a Modern Office Building

An Overview of Russia

I’ll get the good out of the way first since it is much shorter and easier.  That way we can focus on the true country.  The women are beautiful(I am inclined to the Slavic look), and Moscow and St. Petersburg are impressive.  Annnnd we are done with the positives.

Let us begin the drawbacks of Russia with Safety.  There is none.  In St. Petersburg I survived unscathed, which I attribute to a miracle.  In Moscow I was robbed twice even though I consider myself pretty observant.  I am pretty sure I was pick pocketed by the wind.  And in Chelyabinsk I was assaulted and robbed.  The only place in the world where I have actually gotten into a fist fight.

Weather?  We all know Russia is a bloody ice box so I can skip this.

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How about appearance?  Russians are very proud of St.Petersburg.  I am not sure why.  It is ok but cities with canals never really impress me.  They stink and don’t add much to the looks(I’m staring hard at you Venice).  Peterhof is incredible in that normal Russia overdoing everything sort of way.  Pretty much a copy of the Palace of Versailles it is indeed impressive.  I don’t really have much memory of the city itself except of mosquitoes, a giant monument with huge chain links, and a uber ornate church.  Moscow’s only memorable parts are Red Square and the giganticness of the city when flying out of the airport.  Gray blocks of flats are far as the eye can see. Chelyabinsk is the real Russia.  An absolutely disgusting factory city.  There was no color.  Even the flowers in the park seem designed by Communists.

The difference between men and women was huge. Every guy I saw was drunk and just hanging out.  But the women were something else.  Every woman I met was educated, attractive, and nice.  I had a great time sightseeing with them.  One showed me all around St. Petersburg and one in Chelyabinsk. The father of one was a firefighter and she took me to meet him while he was working and he gave me some of his uniform.  A traditional winter hat and and firefighter jacket.  It was a great time.  I even dated one for a few years after meeting her in a St. Petersburg hotel.

But there is an issue with the people, and that is my next point.  Propaganda.  They are fed it hard and fast from birth.  I was amazed at this modern day of age with the internet that their views can be so, well…wrong.  The Motherland comes before everything and everyone.  Whose fault is it that the trams have holes rusted through the floor?  Surely not the governments.  It is the EU’s and Americas fault.  The amount of misinformation and persecuted feeling they have is incredible.  The Orthodox Church also plays a huge part.  They have a lot of power and control of the people.

So how would I sum up Russia? Very simply.  The worst country I have ever been to(And I have been to Saudi Arabia!).