Friday, August 24, 2007

Moscow hotels

After much research I booked a hotel in Moscow through, the Maxima Irbis on the north side outside the Garden Ring but supposedly near a Metro station. It got a good review on It is farther out that I would like, but there is virtually nothing available in the center that is less than $300 a night. I know Moscow is the most expensive city in the world according to some, but this is ridiculous. Anyway, here's hoping it's a nice place and that I can learn to use the Metro quickly. And I hope the Metro doesn't shut down, as part of the Montreal Metro just did. I was at the Bay store in downtown Montreal and the Metro entrance was closed when I tried to take it to get home. I got a bus home, and just learned from reading the online Montreal Gazette that there was a crack in the basement ceiling of the Bay, which is right above the McGill Metro Station. There is construction going on downtown on de Maisonneuve Boulevard, which parallels the Metro. This whole city is falling apart --hope Moscow is in better shape.

The only bargain I have found, aside from my air fare, is the bus fare to Boston from Montreal. I considered driving and parking at the airport, but the return bus fare costs less than long term parking for 10 days, and that doesn't include gas, etc. for the car. If you book a week ahead, the return fare Montreal to Boston is only $89, and you can leave the driving to them.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Petersburg recalled

Thinking back to my last trip to Russia, in summer of 2005. St. Petersburg was at its most beautiful in late June/ early July, time of the White Nights. Stayed in a private apartment near the intersection of Tschaikovskogo and Liteiny Prospect, just a couple of blocks from the Neva River. I read later that this was the neighborhood where Vladimir Putin grew up, and that as a boy he aspired to work down the street on Liteiny Prospect, at the Bolshoi Dom or big house of the KGB, a dream he realized. Wish I had known then that the former KGB headquarters in Petersburg was just nearby. I remember being on a tour in Potsdam, Germany in 2000 and seeing President Putin's dilapidated house there, in the KGB's Forbidden City (forbidden, that is, to Germans.)

One day I decided to walk from my flat to the Hermitage along the Embankment. Even there the traffic was intimidating. Not far from the Hermitage I came upon a good pizza place run by Italians --unfortunately can't find the name at the moment. It had a bilingual menu in English, a necessity for me, and the prices were reasonable. It was the first good meal I had in the city.

Also discovered a good Turkish restaurant on Nevsky Prospect not far from the Hermitage --I believe the name was Caravan. Ate lunch there several times and always enjoyed a decent meal for about $8. A bookstore nearby offered good deals on greeting cards with texts in Russian, and on reproductions of posters from the Communist era. Another bargain was the bootleg caviar I bought from a guy selling it outside the Hermitage --it turned out to be fine, although I have heard since that it isn't always.

It's hard to beat the romance of this city, truly one of the most beautiful I have ever seen, and I've travelled a lot. Looking forward to further adventures in Moscow, which as I recall is not so beautiful but equally impressive in its own way.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Moscow on my mind

I have found and booked a good air fare to Moscow, $870 return from Boston in September, with Now I'm in the process of trying to find reasonably priced accommodations in central Moscow, and that is proving to be more of a challenge. The cheapest hotels are over $100 a night, and that is for something so far out from town that they advertise nearby fields, streams and quiet.

I am debating between signing up for a Russian language course (beginner level) and being in a homestay (which may also be quite a ways from the center) and spending more and renting a furnished apartment more or less in the center. Both options have advantages and disadvantages. I stayed in an apartment in St. Petersburg two years ago, shared with another person. It was a pleasant place, but the entrance was a little scary --lots of locks and numbers to remember, no recent attempt at cleaning or dusting. And although it was central, it was still a long walk from my destination most days, Herzen University. But it was fun living like a real Russian, having to buy groceries and make my way around with no front desk person to answer questions.

If I were willing to fork over big bucks for a mid-range hotel ($250 per night or more,) my problem would solve itself. But that is the challenge and the glory of budget travel, finding a way to enjoy yourself without breaking the bank.

Stay tuned for more on my Russia adventure...and if you happen to know anyone in Moscow who wants to sublet their flat for a couple of weeks in September, please let me know.