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I've written several times about my love for Russian Railways and trains. Numerous stories and photos about my train adventures in Russia have been published in the blog, and occasionally I receive questions from other travelers who come across my posts when doing Google searches. With increased popularity, comes increased attention. This is both a blessing and a curse. Even though I'm still relatively unknown on LJ, I receive dozens of messages and emails each month asking me questions about travel, American life, a few marriage proposals, and just creepy things written by strange men. Today, someone was researching train travel in Russia, and came across my story about the platzkart adventure to Kazan. The reader has traveled to Russia before and is embarking on another journey, this time taking a long train journey from Moscow to the Urals. He is concerned about sleeping with roaches! See the question below:

"Hi! I am taking another long train trip from Moscow to the Urals, I am opting for platzcart class - I like the openness *and* the price is nice! But, as I have never traveled to the Urals before, I am wondering what the train experience through there will be like. I tried doing a search on the train number (392У) and found a review that mentioned it was dirty and roach-ridden. So, as I have a deep, long standing phobia of roaches of any size, I am petrified, and have had nightmares about roaches since reading that review. So, I am writing to you to ask for your opinion - are roaches on trains common, in your experience? Have you taken the train to the Urals before? Where might I find more info. about the train I will be taking, and what can I do to prepare myself, besides bringing insect repellent?"

I haven't been to the Urals, or on this specific train (392У). Do you know it? Is it good or bad? Have you ever cuddled with roaches on an overnight train journey? :)) As a foreign traveler, it's sometimes difficult to search for and find English language information about specific Russian trains and routes. I think I must have been on one of the worst trains on my overnight journey to Kazan. Incredibly old, in disrepair, with horrible conductors and no food!  Honestly, I'm not sure which is worse - seeing a roach on the train, or a half-naked, sweaty old man sleeping in his underwear. :)) Please help my reader, and answer his questions about this train if you have information about its condition.
Большое спасибо! :)

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Many people often ask me "why Russia?" I can afford to travel to much nicer places and stay in more upscale accommodations, but to me there's no adventure in this. Complete boredom. With Russia, there's always something interesting! A complex puzzle to solve, new experiences each journey, and constant brain explosions and frustration with infrastructure and societal interactions as a whole. When I thought about visiting Kazan for a few days, there were two options to get there. Fly or take Russian Railways. I not only chose the latter, but decided to travel in a platzkart to get a true Russian experience. :) At first, I was a little nervous to ride the train dormitory style by myself. This uneasy feeling arose not from my own thinking, but from Russian friends when I posted a status update on Facebook that I would ride alone in a platzkart on the Railways. Responses included - "why?!?", "brave and wild!" and "are you crazy?" What did I think of the experience?Read more... )
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I'm in the middle of nowhere, with very limited Internet and mobile acess. I finally got a connection inland, and am writing to say hello. :) Alaska is amazing. All around there are postcard snapshots. Cruise life isn't so bad, particularly for this scenic location, where you are swallowed by mountains and crystal clear water at every turn. The last town we visited has only 800 residents, and I saw none of them. Very remote wilderness and landscapes here, untarnished by pesky humans. Awe inspring. I'll try to tell you about it soon, but I'm not sure when I'll have time to process photos and write texts. Hope everyone is well! 
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I've expressed many controversial viewpoints about Russia and its people in previous posts. After three visits in one year, the world's largest country remains a huge puzzle in my mind, with many pieces missing such that an entire frame or understanding will likely never be achieved. In the lead up to the Sochi Olympics, I had huge doubts. How could a nation with virtually no tourist infrastructure host a global event, welcoming visitors from around the world? After the Volgograd bombings, American and other Western press went into a feeding frenzy, focusing only on the strong probability of terrorist attacks. U.S. Senators, and even some athletes, went on major news networks and proclaimed they wouldn't send their families to the Games. "It's too dangerous"..."Russian security forces can't handle the threats," and other strong words of caution penetrated Western airwaves to the point many tourists became so frightened that they canceled plans to attend. In my mind, absence was never an option. Every day, I sit in the heart of Washington, DC, a few blocks from the White House, perhaps the largest terrorist target in the world. Such tragic bombings can occur anywhere, including right here on my beloved American soil, and they have.

When foreign journalist arrived shortly before the start of the Games, the Internet immediately exploded with pictures of dirty water, stray dogs, weird signs and hotel horror stories. It looked like Russia would become a joke on the world stage. And then the Games began...
Read more... )
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After a quick night's sleep in Moscow, it was time to head to Kazansky Rail Station to continue my journey to the Olympics. The original plan was to take the new double-decker train to Sochi, but after arriving at the station I was informed the train was full. So, I waited for the standard train which wasn't scheduled to depart for about three hours. What to do in the meantime? I wanted to take photos of the station, but a guard immediately approached when he saw the camera and informed me no photography is allowed. I was able to speak to the Chief of the station, a very nice guy who spoke decent English. Because the station is undergoing a lot of construction, the Chief preferred that no photos be taken. However, he offered to give me rare access to the rooftop of Kazansky Rail Station and from there I saw some amazing views shortly before sunrise!Read more... )
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Every trip to Russia is memorable, but this one was special. An opportunity to attend a major world event in the motherland, to see Russia in all its glory, and evaluate how well the country handled the massive influx of foreign tourists visiting Sochi for the Olympics. At the same time, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to take my first train journey. The rails are deeply rooted in American history and remain active today. However, they are primarily used for freight shipments rather than passenger transport. Most Americans have cars, our road infrastructure is excellent, and we're a very mobile nation. There's no need to ride a train long distances when you can simply drive yourself anywhere in America and enjoy magnificent sites along the way. So, I've never once taken a train ride in the States.

My journey to Sochi began in St. Petersburg, my favorite Russian city. It was here that I boarded the high speed Sapsan train, which carried me to Moscow. Overall, an impressive experience!Read more... )
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Perhaps you remember this photo from my Moscow post last year? I came across this Sochi countdown structure during a stroll in the city, yet never imagined that a year later I'd be attending the Games. On Sunday, I'll leave America for a very short yet interesting journey in Russia. I've never been to an Olympic event, but am intrigued that Russia is the host country so I'll go and witness everything for myself. During the trip, I'll also take the opportunity to ride the Russian rails. I wrote here that I've always been curious about long train journeys, so I'll take a ride from Moscow to Adler on the new double-decker trains. This journey is over 24 hours! I'm sure to get a good taste of what it's like to travel on Russian Railways, maybe see some interesting scenery along the way and hopefully sleep a bit. Here's the full itinerary, although it's subject to change:

(1) Arrive in St. Petersburg the evening of 10 February. I'll have a free day on 11 February. If there are any readers who can walk with me or show some interesting places in the city during the day, please send me a message on LiveJournal or to my personal email account at shanrocks75@gmail.com. Of course, it's necessary that you speak basic English as my Russian is very bad. I visited St. Petersburg last winter and like this city very much. I've seen all the standard tourist sites, so I'm looking for a unique place or person in the city that I can photograph and write about. Any suggestions from locals?

(2) On 12 February, I'll take the high-speed Sapsan train from St. Petersburg to Moscow. From there, the real adventure begins. I'll board the new double-decker train and ride all the way from Moscow to Adler. I'll stay in Sochi for two days, then fly back to Moscow. One day there and then back to America. The entire trip is only one week, and I'll have no time to meet with readers in Moscow. I'm sorry, as I know many of you have requested such a meeting. Hopefully next time I'll be in Russia much longer and have time to arrange a gathering.

I truly hope Russia shines on the world stage during the Games. I know many readers are opposed to the financial resources dedicated to the Olympics, or have no interest in competitive sports, but for me it's an opportunity to see Russia in a new and unusual light. To assess Russia's ability to accommodate a huge influx of foreign tourists and engage in hospitality on a grand scale. I'll be sure to share my observations about the good, bad and ugly encountered at the Games and on the rails. This is Russia - always something interesting and strange waiting for me. :) You can also follow me on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Please share this post and my journal with others who may be interested in my Russian journey. And a special welcome to my new readers who found me through the community [livejournal.com profile] ru_learnenglish!
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It all started with the movie "Before Sunrise." I watched this film a week before joining United Airlines, and immediately envisioned a grand rail trip through Europe. On the journey, I'd meet a handsome foreign stranger, we'd engage in intellectual intercourse for hours and then skip off from the station to some remote, romantic bridge for a sunset kiss. I've never once traveled the rails during any of my international trips, so this fairy tale remains buried in my mind. Such train encounters seem less likely in today's world, where everyone's face is buried in mobile devices and laptops, yet I'd like to believe they're still possible mostly because romance and the rails remain intertwined in a lot of societies. I most recently saw it in Wolsztyn, Poland, home to an operating steam locomotive. The locomotive itself is very cool, but my attention was initially drawn to this beautiful wedding couple on the track.Read more... )
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In every town, I try to locate interesting diners. Diners are an American tradition, seen in many Hollywood movies and representative of the community spirit often found in the States. Locals gather to eat cheap and tasty food in a cozy setting, catch up on local news and gossip and spend time with friends. Over the weekend in Chicago, I found a really interesting one called "The Silver Palm." As you can see, the diner is an actual train car.

The diner opened in 2003 and is named after an Amtrak passenger train originally running the route from Miami to Tampa, Florida. The route was discontinued in 1985 as a result of Florida budgetary cuts. However, the Silver Palm was reborn in 1996 running a longer route from Miami to New York City. Amtrak changed the name of the train in 2002 and it's now called "Palmetto."Read more... )

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