Moscow, a door to a unique land

Here we are in this mid-autumn afternoon finally arrived in the magnificent Red Square on the east side of the Kremlin Palace, the sun that is setting over the crenellated walls of the castle and its gothic Spasskaya Tower whose clock is ringing. Everything around us is full of history, art and majesty.

IMG_6575

If you have arrived you also means that you have done your homework as a good tourist by having a visa at the Russian embassy in your country, a procedure that will not be easy, given the complexity of the documents requested. But now the visa shows off in your passport so you’ve managed to gain access to Russia.

We are in Moscow. It is certainly not like experimenting Russia with the exterminating spaces that unite Eastern Europe with the Far East, a melting pot of different races and a country with the largest surface in the world. But it is still your first experience in this land.

Moscow, however, is the gigantic monumental capital of one of the oldest states and has most played a part in the recent history of mankind, at least in the last three hundred years. Moscow is the access for all of us to a dimension of the experience of the world that could not be done otherwise.
150 million people live in the boundless Country of which Moscow is the Capital, enclosed in 5 time zones and two continents, the Country with the greatest geographical extension to the world and the endless natural resources and which contains the most potentially strong economic structure in the world. This is a Giant that sleeps and that is slowly waking up.

If we do not reach Moscow for the first time, we can not find the key to this world new for us “Westerners”, made of history, human and cultural experiences, socio-economic awareness, and then exterminated nature and spaces. Like entering the antechamber of a palace with many rooms to be discovered.

Therefore Moscow means mystery and research of new keys to the reading of the world and of history. On this Red Square where you find yourselves were victorious and defeated sovereigns, processions of prelates, deluded armies, invincible armies which  fortunately never entered into action and workers demonstrating for their rights. Where you are, the story has always passed powerfully and continues to hover. Why needless to say, Russia is the most powerful nation with the greatest economic potential in the world.

Before this trip, you had ideas and preconceptions about Russia given by having lived for many years in the West. But according to the ideas of this blog trying to go beyond our pre-established mental formats, you realise that, as each person can see positive and negative sides, even in this country you risk losing the many positives focusing only on the defects.

But Moscow has grown too fast especially in the last twenty years and not all that glitters is gold. Along the road that brought you to the Red Square you have met an incredible level of traffic on the gigantic 7-lane highways and the silhouettes of gigantic buildings where thousands of people live in silent hives. And among the people you met who live in these suburbs, depression and resignation reign. None of them will be able to participate in the benefits of this economic explosion because they are like the obscure stokers of the transatlantic who sailed the seas in the nineteenth century and they are needed only to move the Giant we were talking about.

So much history has passed on the Red Square. The images that are most vivid in my historical memory are those of the soldiers of Napoleon’s Grand Army who arrived there occupying the Kremlin Palace but that after a few days had to abandon it having finished the provisions that had been taken away by the inhabitants. Or those of the Red Army parades in front of Lenin’s Mausoleum in front of the hierarchy of the Communist Party.
Traces of the history of this city can be found in the Kremlin museums or in the History Museum on the Red Square. If you are also lucky enough to visit them with a kind local guide the visit will be even more appreciated!

Needless to say, this country will be back on these pages in the coming months hoping I will be able to document the other features and possibly the evocative corners of this majestic Capital.

Our first experience in Moscow, however, could not but conclude with experimenting the Russian cuisine in a typical traditional restaurant, an experience that will leave us pleasantly surprised. My menu of the day is obviously made of “Russian salad”, then the traditional beetroot soup of eastern Europe Borscht, “Vareniki” stuffed pasta rolls and chocolate pancakes as dessert,  all wet from the traditional cherry lemonad. Delicious!

9DE7DD0F-C7FC-4251-A912-8BBF715A5F7C

All around us the place exudes Russia, the skis shoes, the mural painting with Yuri Gagarin, the CRT TV and the old refrigerators that have to populate the past and the experiences of most of these 150 million stokers who keep the Mother Russia moving. People who will not participate in the success of this huge Giant and that day after day will be consumed in traffic, with almost no hopes for a better future and to whom we wish good luck while we redo suitcases to return to our world of security and illusions.

“Dasvidania” and “spasibo” for your attention!
Пол

IMG_7064

Surprises in the East

After various articles on my experiences in the metaphorical journey of my life in these crucial years of my forties, it is finally time to start sharing some of my real travel experiences, which by the way is the ultimate goal of my Blog.

Rather than talking about more common destinations that I have experienced, Id’ like to start from more peculiar destinations that have brought me suggestions such as those very east of the river Rhine, Eastern Europe and Russia, Countries culturally distant but very stimulating from a historical, political and social point of view given my roots in Western Europe.

I was born in the early seventies and grew up in the shadow of the American TV series broadcasted in the eighties in my Country and the Hollywood acclaimed movies of the nineties, largely oriented to highlight the qualities of the Western life system in the cultural battlefield between East and West that was the Cold War.

At the time “Russians” were considered all those who lived generically beyond the notorious Iron Curtain (whose the stylised map above refers to), whether they were really of Russian origin or they generally lived in Eastern European countries, sealed beyond the reticulates that marked the border with the European West. The “Russians” were generally seen as faceless peoples living in dark cities, ready to move like single-color armed forces to subjugate “our beautiful Europe”.

On the contrary, thousand opportunities awaited by looking at the shiny lifestyle of the “Americans” who lived in our West: national parks, enchanting landscapes, cities full of lights, endless entertainment and warm people largely descending from our European ancestors as well.

None of us at the time would have ever imagined only of comparing these two lifestyles, one made of freedom, nature, monuments and moral values, the other in fact described by the only term “communist” or “red” and of which one was also uninterested in wanting to know anything more.

In reality this was the political goal for which the Cold War had fought from the West, much more culturally than militarily , for the goal to make our liberal model prevail over the communist one.

I do not mean here to debate the pros and cons of these two economic and social models, even if in the end history has decreed the victory of the liberal one.

In the past, a trip to Eastern Europe would have been impossible due to the inviolability of the borders but, even when the barriers fell in the late eighties, there was little incentive for an average citizen of the West like me to discover something more of the East if not of the old Austrian and Russian kingdoms’ capitals of Prague, Budapest and St. Petersburg, or places impressed in the history of man as the infamous Auschwitz camp.

With the end of the communist oppression of Eastern Europe, this “undercover world” gradually opened up, first offering Companies production opportunities at infinitely lower costs than in the West, then slowly tourism began to touch even lesser-known places and states, starting from the Baltic countries, Poland, the Czech Republic, also favoured by the entry of these countries into the European Union.

As part of this new phase of my professional life, I began to make myself aware of how much Eastern Europe has to offer from the point of view of opportunities for doing business, the possibility of visiting surprising natural places or observing civil and religious monuments of the highest quality and the pleasure of meeting interesting people whose past is in many ways more stimulating as they couldn’t enjoy  the freedom as we did.

Despite the shortness of my business trips and the fact that their primary purpose is purely professional, I always leave a couple of free hours in my agenda to savour some of the places I visit and immortalise them in photographs that become a sort of my travel diary .

Places of particular interest that I have so far discovered and that I would like to tell you in the next articles more about, were the surprising and vital Czech Republic, the proud and luxuriant Lithuania, the “Parisian” Budapest, the monumental Bucharest and the elegant and historical Moscow, which has been my latest destination in chronological order. Of course the more my discovering, the more my reports will be shared in the Blog.

I would like to start from Moscow in the next article, to tell of the place where I have most breathed the weight of history and its incredible growth potentials.

So we’re gonna meet in a few days in the middle of the Red Square, in front of Lenin’s Mausoleum. Do not forget to get a Russian visa otherwise you can not keep me company!

Paolo

IMG_6576

Airport experience

Here we go, during another hectic week flying around the skies of Europe.

This time they will be 4 flights in 5 days, on my way to an average of 12 flights per month and getting close to the dramatic figure of one flight each other day in a year!

Frequent traveling in these days of low cost flights through overcrowded airports can be very hectic and it often involves queuing because of items left in bags at security checks by inexperienced passengers….(xxxxx)…Or slow walking shoppers delaying your pace on your way to the gates while they check their stores.

Shall we talk about the airport shopping, or “travel retail” as it’s technically named), today?

Sorry but it is something I’m not a big fan of while it has become a massive source of airport revenues these days, as they try maximizing the profit per passenger from the very first moment they put foot in the terminal up to when they board the plane.

It’s curious that airport shopping only is allowed for departing passengers while arrival halls hardly have any store apart from restaurants and bars. It is like airport planner think that passengers have finished the money while on board the planes!

I dislike this airport shopping because whatever merchandise I have to buy I don’t think airport is the place to shop for it as I’m supposed to be there on my way to a destination where I’m sure I’ll be able to find some stores as well (am I going to the moon?). So why spending also at the airport?

I think probably it’s the fact that airport experience it’s already part of the vacation and there are different rules of engagement: “well let’s buy it, we are on holiday!” (Yes but without the airport store you would have perfectly survived today!).

Then, shall we talk about the Duty Free Stores?In the past they were used to be in a specific location that passengers decide to access or not. Now the trend of airport planners is to only allow passengers to move from security to waiting areas after crossing huge areas of duty free activities so it’s impossible to avoid it,

And as with any duty free experience you cannot miss the sales promotes storming around passengers to ask to try perfumes or chocolate. Even at 4 in the morning!

By the way I don’t blame these sales persons as they do not definitely enjoy convincing passengers that perhaps are not even interested in buying anything. This category of poor sales people has to work in shifts early morning up to late night in remote locations far from the city centers so I’m sure their life is not so easy.

What should be the focus of airport shop should really be limited to food and essentials stuff.

But please do not try selling me a luggage at the airport: “I already have one here and if I really need a new one I will buy outside of this airport”!

Paolo