Category Archives: Travel

Russia Considering Overdue Changes to the Current Visa System

Russia Considering Overdue Changes to the Current Visa System Oleg Safonov, the head of Russia’s Federal Tourism Agency, has proposed simplifying the visa regime for foreign tourists coming to Russia. The current onerous requirements and unnecessary bureaucracy in place to obtain … Continue reading

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Why is the Western Media so Biased Against Russia?

The British media and especially the BBC are anti-Russian.

The language they use is always purposely misleading. The Russian point of view is never considered. The western media on the whole start from an assumed point that Russia is always in the wrong, always the aggressor, and every item reported is in the same vein. British media is like a mouthpiece for America.

The BBC even has its own propoganda channel in Russian:

Take turning the gas off to Ukraine: That has always been framed as nasty Russia spitefully turning the gas off on poor little helpless Ukraine. Very little is mentioned of the debts owed, that Ukraine steals the gas and prefers not to pay for it. “Corrupt country doesn’t pay its gas bill” is not a headline. “Evil Putin makes Ukrainian pensioners freeze in winter” is. You see?

What kind of unbiased media runs headlines like this?

Anti-Russian propaganda
Each week the Sunday Times, without fail, runs an anti-Russia story and has done for years. Sometimes two or three. Always the key is in the language.

For example: “Russia builds up troops on the border” – they don’t mention that these troops are inside Russia so are there quite legitimately.

“Russia turns off Ukraine’s gas” – well, they wouldn’t if they got paid for it.

“Kremlin-backed separatists” – well, how do we define “backed”? Morally? In spirit? Financially? They don’t say.

The western media declines to report on the Ukrainian government killing civilians. That is always glossed over. They will however gleefully repeat numbers killed by “Kremlin-backed separatists” or “pro-Russian gunmen”. Not “pro-independence gunmen” you will note.

I am all in favour of balance, but very few in the western media are balanced. Russia is always assumed to be in the wrong and the aggressor in the majority of the British media at least. When they start from that assumption, its not hard to see why balanced journalism becomes harder.

When a journalist takes his own prejudices and writes from that standpoint (which most of us do, but journos are supposedly trained to avoid doing so) what he writes will always contain the slant that his opinion dictates.

Remember, many of these people filing copy for the media have never been to Eastern Europe, let alone Russia. They are simply recycling and rewording stuff they find elsewhere. We saw silliness written about Putin “wanting to invade Poland” as evidence of that.

In recent days, I have noticed an overall change of tone in the American media, actually. Some of what I am reading in the American media is reasonably balanced. More so than I see over here. I am sensing a gradual shift in standpoint in the American media. Perhaps that is indicative of the administration taking a step back for a change and not wanting to become too deeply embroiled?

Over here in the UK, some of the weekend broadsheet editorials especially [that middle England reads to get a synopsis], are pretty mind blowing in that it shines through that the writer has a zero grasp of the history and the politics of the region. When one looks at the writers who understand the region, and who have spent time there, blokes like Peter Hitchens writes content that is hard to argue with for example, one gets a clearer picture.

Instead of reading and believing how the media chooses to demonise Putin unquestioningly, if people took the trouble (as I have) to actually go to the Kremlin’s website and read what the bloke actually says, rather than read an interpretation of it through media spin, he makes many valid points that the media never address; he has been requesting talks with anyone and everyone for months, but that is never reported.

What some call Russian propaganda is actually needed in order to balance out what everyone else writes in order that those who might form an opinion on their own, can do so having read both sides rather than several regurgitated versions of the same thing they *think* are different sources. Continue reading

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Russian Ukrainian Adventures Newsletter – Summer 2014.

Russian Ukrainian Adventures Newsletter – Summer 2014.

Hello Member,

It has been a while since we sent out a newsletter, several years in fact. So we thought one was long overdue.

We would like to bring you up-to-date on the happenings at RUA in recent months.

The Forum Continues To Go From Strength to Strength!

The forum has been rather busy in recent months. We remain not only the busiest Russian women information discussion forum on the net by far, but we are also now the largest by a sizeable margin, and have been for some time.

As RUA continues to grow, so does our membership. We picked up many more new members recently following our decision to close our sister site (the old Lucky Lovers forum) to new posts. That resulted in a much welcomed influx or Russian and Ukrainian ladies to RUA. If you have recently joined us from GoGabber – welcome! You are in good company. You will find many people you already know here.

Unless you have been hiding under a rock the last few months, you will know about the troubles in Ukraine. As you would expect, the forum is replete with conversation and lively debate on the subject, and as it is such an emotive subject for many people, the topics have been quite frenetic. Continue reading

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2013 Musings from Togliatti, Russia: Samara Airport Again!

Leaving Russia. KUF Samara Airport Again!

When leaving Russia, I always aim to arrive at the airport an hour before I would in the west in order that the inefficiency I have come to expect can move at its own speed and I might actually make the plane. So I arrived almost three hours before the flight was due to leave.

They X-ray your baggage on the way into the terminal building, and then again at security. The queue for the second level of security had already filled the main terminal building. Progress was not fast. However, when I say queue, that isn’t quite accurate. Russians haven’t really grasped queuing. What they do is more of a mass thronging towards where they want to be. Blink and one will slip in ahead of you.

Only two flights were due to leave in the next couple of hours that I could see, one to Minsk on some local airline and mine to Germany with Lufthansa. How hard can it be?

Well after more than an hour of waiting to get through the second level security, a member of staff from Lufthansa was walking around herding up those travelling to Germany and arranged a queue jump to clear security.

On the other side, the queues to clear passport control were enormous. After a very long time waiting here with no discernible progress, the Lufthansa woman again rounded up everyone heading for Germany and again arranged a queue jump to passport control. For those not travelling with Lufthansa, some of them were very vocal about this and arguments broke out between passengers and staff.

Now I could see the passport booths, I could see the problem. Six or eight cubicles and only two open. Other staff were milling around, drinking tea, sending SMS’s but seemed in no hurry to actually do any work or open any other booths.

After some time, flight time was heading close and Lufthansa woman was getting more frustrated as our party simply weren’t clearing passport control as they were taking around five minutes to process each passenger. Well, do the maths. Two cubicles taking five minutes per person means 24 people an hour. That ain’t quick.

I understood that already the flight to Minsk was delayed because of this, and people around me were getting anxious about that. Lufthansa woman went into a side office and I could hear raised voices. Eventually, a miserable woman came out and very slowly opened another cubicle. But the speed of her work averaged six to eight minutes per person. How the hell can it take so long? :'(

As we know, Lufthansa is not known for being late. Delays because of such incompetence and bureaucracy would be unheard of in Germany. Again Lufthansa woman began stalking up and down bitching at the staff who were simply sitting around.

Finally I got to the booth, the guy spoke English. After the usual typing and messing about, the guy asked me where I was going. What the hell does that matter? “Out of Russia” was my reply.
“To what country?” he asked. He knew this anyway as Lufthansa woman had been badgering him too. *sigh*
“Germany, if its important” I said.
“What is your final destination?” he asked. Where are we, the USA? I thought.
After hours of watching this nonsense playing out in front of me, I had had enough by now and yearned the little bit of organised Germany that was to be my plane seat.
“What does it bloody matter where I am going? Do you want to come with me? Why are you people delaying these flights like this? Is this fun for you people? Look out there at the damn queues, man. Stamp the passport and let me get out of here.”
“Don’t shout at me” he said.
“Do your job then – you know the plane is late, right?” I told him.
Eventually, he stamps me out with a sneer.

On the other side, the staff have minibuses relaying people to the plane three at a time at breakneck speed across the tarmac. Everyone working for Lufthansa is bouncing about looking at their watches and flapping. Outside the building are five or six border police smoking, laughing and chatting like they have no care in the world.

After a huge effort by the Lufthansa staff, the plane took off fifteen minutes late. And of course, arrived in Germany on time. :chuckle:

When we left, the plane to Minsk was still sitting there now well over thirty minutes late. I’d have been surprised if that managed to leave two hours later as most of its passengers were still in the building.

Samara Airport: Absolute and complete bloody shambles and not fit for purpose. It has got worse over the years.

Final thoughts.

Russia is changing; and for the better. Air is cleaner, the economy seems to be showing signs of life, the younger generations are becoming more European in outlook. New and old Russia are currently side by side, evidenced by a swelling middle class. I expect next time I go back I will see more positive change. These things do follow a course, and I saw it before in Estonia where change from ex-Soviet shithole that didn’t work, to the nicer place it is today took about a decade. Russia will be slower, but all the vital signs are there and its well underway.

The only thing that lets Togliatti and Samara down is the KUF airport. Next time I will surely connect through Moscow and avoid most of it. If Russia wants tourism and foreign investment, sorting the shambles out that I experienced two times at Samara airport should be top priority. Continue reading

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2013 Musings from Togliatti, Russia: Cost of Living, Money and Finances

People have said for a long time that to replicate a western lifestyle in Russia costs more than at home. And it does.

When you subtract the stuff that is laughably cheap, what remains is way overpriced. But its true that if you just go about your day, have lunch somewhere, take a few taxis, have dinner somewhere, buy a few provisions from a grocery store, maybe take a boat trip or do something each day, you will be surprised how the money just drains from your wallet.

Those prices quoted above by mhr7 for Ukraine are how it used to be in Estonia. Then they joined the EU and everything shot up almost overnight.

In Russia, if you look at locals, many of them are tooling around in BMW, Audi and other imported cars. Those cars cost almost twice in Russia than they do at home. And we know few will be on finance. That means the bloke in the BMW jeep likely coughed up close to £50k for that car. Well, he isn’t on £200 a month is he? Local oligarch perhaps? Five years ago you saw the odd one and you may think so. Now go to a decent restaurant or the yacht club and these cars are lined up outside.

We took a boat trip for a couple of hours down the Volga. Tickets were maybe £5 each. The guy ahead of us brought three pals, a big pizza and crate of beer so he and his buddies could chill out. So tickets £20, pizza and beer maybe another £15. So this average bloke spent £35 for a two hour chill with his pals. So he isn’t on £200 a month either.

I would recommend any visitor budgets for £100 a day, excluding accommodation. And have a back up card in case he runs out.

Anyone who can live in Russia on £200 a month rides the bus, shops in the cheap market and eats only home cooked cabbage and potatoes. Whilst many do live like that, what I guess we can call the middle class is growing quickly and noticeably. People are buying the new houses as they are built, people are buying new cars, both local ones and imported ones. People are dining out more. People are remonting their dachas. People are holidaying abroad. People are spending money, so that money is coming from somewhere.

The only explanation is that the economy is starting to work as it should. Government is spending money on improving infrastructure. That money eventually filters down the food chain to the baker, the butcher and the candlestick maker. Continue reading

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2013 Musings from Togliatti, Russia: Restaurants & Eating Out.

Eating Out in Togliatti.  When you visit a place, you don’t really want to start cooking do you? So restaurants are going to feature. However, in my experience, this is something Russia hasn’t quite got to grips with yet. We … Continue reading

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2013 Musings from Togliatti: Taxis and getting around in Russia.

Getting around.

When I first went to Togliatti, when you wanted a taxi, you just stood by the road with your hand out and someone would stop. Negotiate a price before you get in and job done.

It always used to concern me the thought that any weirdo could stop and pick up women, and anything might happen. And indeed, sometimes it has done from what I have heard.

Happily, this practice seems to have mostly stopped. Now like anywhere else, you call a taxi, and a few minutes later you get an SMS that tells you what car it will be and how many minutes. Quite efficient really. Prices are really cheap still, anything between £2 and £4 takes you across town.

However, the quality of the said taxis, and the drivers, still leaves much to be desired. Most seem to be the crappiest old Ladas and other budget rubbish available. The quality of repair is terrible. Blowing exhausts, clunking suspension, dodgy brakes, etc. Interiors are generally filthy and the drivers personal hygiene leaves much to be desired. Bloody awful all round.

After the first few days of this, and trying several different firms to find they are all the same, I began looking out for liveried taxis to take a number from. There are some. But again, it often is the case that you take a number from a smartly liveried car, and the usual plain smashed up Lada arrives with foul smelling Ivan at the wheel smoking a Parliament. Cunning trick.

In one of the restaurants we visited, there were some business cards that proclaimed their taxis were “new foreign cars”. But when you call, a foreign car will be an hour, and a smashed up one can be there in minutes. :chuckle:

I expressed concern that I didn’t want my wife and daughter travelling about in a piece of smashed up crap with no brakes, even if it is £2. There must be a proper firm out there somewhere.

My wife asked a girl she knows who she calls a “new Russian” and got a number of a firm called ‘Elite’: 702 702.

And guess what arrived? A brand new Chevrolet with aircon, with a rather fetching young lady driver! And she was a good driver too – which makes a change there. So that’s the taxi problem solved. :nod:

Not all drivers at that company are women, but the cars are generally better than most and the drivers are not smoking and juggling two mobile phones and a taxi radio whilst driving. As all the cars are liveried, they are image conscious one told my wife when asked. The price was just the same as a smashed up one. That wont last…..

For the hell of it, we took a trolleybus on a couple of occasions. These have not been updated yet and are still the creaking rattling relics of yesteryear. They are ridiculously cheap. Pennies.

I suspect the new liveried taxis are where local travel is heading, and the smashed up taxi will soon become a thing of the past. As soon as the local cops cotton on to the fact that taxis in bad condition are easy targets for fines, as are people on phones, I reckon they will be forced off the road in a changing Russia. Continue reading

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2013 Musings from Togliatti: Russia is Changing.

Usually when you get on the road, you get the gargling paraffin taste in your throat that is the pollution. It is normally so bad that I need some antibiotics after a few days to quell my swollen throat.

I wont say the air smelled like an English meadow in spring, but the paraffin taste has gone. This air tastes somewhat cleaner than it has always done in the past.

And the road. What is different there?

Ahh yes, the ruts are fewer, the potholes not as big and while not the M1 or a Floridian boulevard, the road surface is somewhat better than I remember.

The drive from Samara to Togliatti used to take about an hour. Now it is 40 minutes as the roads are better.

Repairing the roads in Samara and Togliatti will take decades. But it is well under way and the main routes are all in the midst of being resurfaced.

They haven’t yet started on the pavements; they are still the death trap they have always been. But roads matter more IMO. Anyway, fewer people are using the pavements as more seem to be driving.

I can only guess what has caused the pollution to lessen and that is more newer cars and vans on the road. Many of the old crappy vans and trucks are now gone, as are many of the 70’s and 80’s Ladas. In their place is American imported SUV’s and modern Ladas. Continue reading

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Samara KUF Russia Passport Control Problems

Samara Passport Control

I always found Moscow a bit of a pain to connect internally through (although I gather it has improved since I last went through there), and the flight is shorter from the UK to Frankfurt and from there to Samara. Plus the FRA-KUF route is served by Lufthansa and not Yuri Air so is usually on time and half decent. And being a German airline, the luggage usually arrives at the same time as me. Added to which, the UK to Frankfurt and then Samara is almost a straight line on the map. It only involves a 2 hour flight to Germany and a four hour one to Samara.

If you time it right, and are lucky, the connection time can be 40 minutes. I couldn’t get these times at all this time, so I had to wait a dreary six hours in Germany. Still, they had free wifi and I can manage Bratwurst and black coffee. And I bought a nice shirt at half off. I have schoolboy German so know pleasantries, numbers and basic transactional speak in German, so I can get by without looking like a dumb foreigner who must desperately seek out an English speaker.

And while we are in Germany, what’s with all the German guys with little oriental women suddenly? Its like an explosion. For a while I thought I was in Scandinavia by mistake. :chuckle: Not sure if they are Thai, Philippine, Korean or Chinese. Those ladies don’t look all that different to each other to my eye. But for sure, German men, like their Scandinavian cousins have gotten a taste of the oriental woman. To be fair, some of the women looked pretty good catches for the average square-looking badly dressed middle aged German guy. Some of those women have pretty good fashion sense and they seem to take care of themselves. Pity the same cannot be said of the men with them.

Samara has always been a drag to enter Russia through. One agency website a few years ago specifically and emphatically advised against it and said ONLY use Moscow and connect internally to avoid being rolled for a bribe or given a hard time there.

On my old topic from a few years ago, Olga recounted a would-be corruption tale here and they tried to roll my wife on a visit in recent times too. Only that she recognised the customs guy as an ex student of hers did she get out of it – the guy ended up carrying her bags to the car outside. :chuckle:

I have always found them to be slow but you get there in the end. The more old visas you have (and they look), the more they see you are not a newbie and let you by without grief. That has always been my experience anyway.

However, in 2008 it took an age to get in. But I got in.

But last time I went there was some sporting event going on. They had nice English speaking female staff out in the foyer helping foreigners, handing out pens and helping with immigration cards. At the time, I cited this as “changing Russia” and assumed the old days had gone.

Nope. Regression has occurred.

I had no pen. I always have a pen, but this time I didn’t. I needed to fill in my immigration card as they hadn’t given them out on the airline as usual. No problem, pens will be on the counter. Nope. No problem, I’ll borrow one…….

But nobody else seemed to have one either. I identified an American by sight (and non American travellers will know how I did that – ask if you want me to elaborate). He had the big fanny pack with pens. He gave me one. It didn’t work. 😀

Not to be defeated, I asked a passing customs guy. He had one in his hand but wouldn’t lend it me. (:)

So I wandered past the queue and asked a border guard. He had a pot of pens but said no. :duh:

So I went to the next cubicle, and that guy lent me one.

Then I noticed on the immigration card, one could choose between being a “Male” and a “Famale” – I mean my god, – on an official document? If they cant get basic stuff like that right, is there any hope? :'(

So eventually I arrived at the cubicle to find a very bored and angry looking woman. The usual Russian bureaucrat behind glass. I make a point never to understand a word of Russian in such circumstances unless it behoves me to do so. But I slipped up.

“Gavarit pa Rooskie?”
“Nyet” – shit. :'( “Ummm. I don’t understand?” :innocent:
Her: 😀

Then we have the usual five minutes of her reading all my old stamps and visas.

She then starts to write the usual War and Peace on her computer whilst intermittently intently staring at the screen. After a few minutes of this, I am thinking ‘Really, how long does it take?’ I am bored by now and say “problyema?” and quickly cough, and say again “is there a problem?” (Hours in Germany plus the flights had dulled my reactions and I was ready for sleep)

She says “Da, probleyma” and then something else garbled that I didn’t get about the issuing of my visa. Well, I know this gag, this is the old in a side room and invitation paperwork and $50-$100 gag I am being primed for. So I changed tack.

“Do you speak English?”
“Nyet” (Touche – well played, love.)
“I think you do. You must in your job. My visa was issued in London, I know there is no problem with it. However, I have people waiting outside to collect me, one of whom is a lawyer, I can call him and you can speak to him on my phone to clear up any misunderstandings if that helps?” (Complete bollox by the way, but worth a shot – and I cant do that sentence in Russian.)

Long delay with no eye contact……………..

Suddenly, feverish stamping happens. 🙂 (When the stamping starts, you know you are in and its done). She pushes my visa and half registration slip back at me and looks the other way without a word.

I take them and go to move through the gate. But it is still locked and the lights are still red. Silly game huh?

“Dyevooshka?” I said mischievously while pointing at the red lights. She does this face (:) together with a big dramatic sigh (like she had released it three times already but I was too stupid to walk).

“Welcome to Russia” I said back to her as I walked through the gate. I can feel a Tweet to Medvedev coming on…….

What do these people get out of this? Surely it takes less energy to not do all the sulking, sighing, delaying and just do your damn job! Check the visa and stamp it, What two minutes tops? Why should it take fifteen minutes and fifty overheated people behind you?

New Russia indeed………. Continue reading

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от чего американцы предпочитают лечиться у себя, в Америке, а не в России, например?

Мне всегда было любопытно выяснить, отчего американцы предпочитают лечиться у себя, в Америке, а не в России, например?

Или не в Китае , или в Мексике. Или где-бы -то ни было еще. Спрашивала я тут разный народ, и пришла к выводу, что большинство людей имущих (кто может позволить себе путешествие в тур за здоровьем в другую страну) свято верят, что в Америке самая- пресамая медицина. Ну, а те, у кого дженег на путешествия нет.. у тех денег ни на что нет и они “вынуждены есть то, что дают”.
Во-первых, – по собственному опыту, – стоматология и косметология здесь оставляют желать лучшего. Это я еще мягко так пишу, щадяще.
Не стану вдаваться в подробности, замечу только, что на приеме у стоматолога (а их тут я по-первости, сравнивая с иркутскими докторами, меняла, уличая в некомпетентности, как перчатки), – слышала всегда одно и то же:”Вау! А я таких зубов никогда не видел! Кто делал? В какой стране? Какая превосходная работа!!” Без комментариев.
Качество – это одно. Стоимость медицинских услуг – другое. За деньги, что я истратила на Линины брэкеты ( или как там называются эти разноцветные железяки во рту?), можно было слетать пару раз в Иркутск и обратно. И в Иркутске выправить кривые зубы, прикусы и все в том же духе.
Но это еще что!
Начинаю интересоваться на цены за “медицинские процедуры” и диву даюсь. Мало того, что цены здесть запредельные, они еще и различные!
То есть за одну и ту же операцию (услугу) в одном госпитале возьмут одну сумму, в другом – другую. Американцы – как дети. Сказано – надо заплатить, они и платят, ни о чем не спрашивая. Платят даже за то, за что и платить не надо. (Недалече как вчера сослуживица рассказала мне историю про то, как ее старенькая мама, получая по почте отчеты от страховых компаний, принимала цифири за счета. И хоть и было на бумагах четко нарисовано “Не счет!”, – она исправно выписывала чеки. И отправляла. Так продолжалось годами.

До тех пор, пока старенькая мама моей сослуживицы не умерла. Сослуживица, листая материнскую чековую книжку, обратила внимание на непонятные проплаты и обратилась по адресам, куда уходили деньги, прося вернуть оплаченное по ошибке (точнеее, по материнскому незнанию). В возврате деней ей немедленно отказали. Сослуживица моя, не будь дура, пригрозила заявлением в суд. И быстренько получила тысячи долларов назад.
Я не натыкалась на чековые книжки с разными странными проплатами, нет. Я нарыла тут рапорт о ценах на медуслуги в разных медучреждениях огромной Америки. (Рапорт увидел свет в начале мая сего года на 17 511 (!) страницах). В общем, мне не терпится поделиться тем, что узнала.
Начну с того, что такая, ничем не примечательная операция здесь, в США , как замена сустава (колено, локоть..) в одном Оклахомском госпитале (названия нам ни к чему, потому что не в названиях суть) стоит 5 300 долларов. И та же самая оперция (!) в Калифорниийском медучреждении… уже 223 000 “зеленых”.
Госпиталь в соседнем с нами городке за помощь сердечкнику возьмет 7 737 долларов, а в столичном госпитале та же самая услуга будет в два рза дороже. (И все это – в госпиталях моего родного штата Айдахо, а не за тридевять земель).
Жидкость в легких? 15 335 долларов будет стоить лечение в столице Айдахо городе Бойзи. И то же самое, в том же самом городе, но в другом госпитале, – уже 28 769 долларов.
Болит спина? В этом случае жителям Айдахо уж наверняка лучше отправиться за здоровьем в столицу, потому что в Айдахо Фаллс чек прийдется выписывать на 11 000 больше.
Впрочем, ничего удивительно в этих ценах, если смотреть глазами американца, нет: коробочка с марлевыми повязками в местных госпиталях стоит 77 баксов). И никто мурлечку тут даром вам не даст. Точнее, дадут. И даже с улыбкой. Но в счет включат.
Знаокмая молодая мамочка рассказывала, что во время родов отказалась от “бесплатных” памперсов и прочих “подарков” в госпитале. Потому что она, медсестра по профессии, знает, что почем. Continue reading

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