Planes: I must admit I was both excited and apprehensive about flying Aeroflot. On one hand it reminds me of countless flights back and forth between Magadan & Moscow (9 hours each) starting at the age of 3, and on the other hand I have heard stories about their not so stellar safety record. I was more than pleasantly surprised with clean modern plane, personal entertainment system in each head rest, friendly service and abundance of food, drinks and snacks included with your ticket. Even the food was better than what I’ve had on most American flights (which you have to purchase) and Condor/Lufthansa. Likewise my short flight from Moscow to Kazan on a regional airline and an ATR 72-500 had a nice snack tray and drink service throughout an entire flight. Regional flights are still relatively cheap here as well you can fly for about $150 round trip. I won’t hesitate to fly Aeroflot again.
Trains: As a kid, one of my favorite parts of summer vacations was riding the train from Moscow to my grandmother’s. Usually a 12 hour overnight ride. So to satisfy my nostalgia, we rode the train to Kazan. I purchased half of a suite (kupe) for about $70 each, this gave me and Arina top and bottom bunks. This train cart was exactly as I remember it, complete with old school toilets that flush onto the tracks. We ended up with only one other passenger in our suite and she was super sweet, talkative and pleasant. And what train ride experience is complete without some “alkashi” for neighbors? We had a suite of drunks next door that were wasted before we even left the platform. The smell of alcohol coming from that place alone was enough to get you intoxicated. Hours of endless entertainment in the form of songs, laughter, random appearances at our door and just general mayhem. This went on all night, of course. We took off around 8:30 pm and our first stop was 25 minutes, I figured we could grab some beer, maybe some chebureki (meat pockets, local yummy dish) or taranka (salty dried fish). We stopped around 11:45 and Arina and I braved the platform. Within 5 minutes I realized we are about to become dinner to the local mosquito gangs. Holly monkey, I have never seen so many mosquitoes in my life, nor have I been bitten by so many so quickly. We grabbed a can of cold beer and ran back for our lives to the suite. I am pretty sure these blood suckers had fangs and no chemical would deter them from feasting on my skin. A week later I am still covered in bites. The rest if the trip was pleasantly uneventful, I fell asleep to the rhythm of the train tracks surrounded by childhood memories. I also got a chance to take the speed train (first one of its kind in Russia) from Moscow to St. Petersburg. It was identical to most speed trains in Europe and in just 4 hours of a smooth ride we would arrive at our destination.
Automobiles: Oy Vey! Driving in Russia, I’m at a loss for descriptive words, but chaos and craziness definitely come to mind. Technically, traffic rules are similar to our with a few exceptions, however not many actually follow them. Moscow has been experiencing some of the worst traffic jams as of recent, and they can happen at all hours of day or night. In this case all bets are off and everything is fare game, including passing on the right, driving on unfinished shoulders, driving over or on sidewalks. Tailgating and cutting other cars off is a whole new ball game out here, I’m talking about being scared for my life every time I got into a vehicle. This explains my driving skills after all. Taxi rides are very entertaining. Back in the day a cab driver knew the city like the back of his hand, these days with the invention of GPS, we frequently had to figure out where the heck we were going. In one instance, we told our driver to take us to the main theater in Kazan and he asked “where would that be?” Arina responded with ” don’t you know the big theater in the center of the city?” to which our guy responded “do I look like I go to these types of places?” I couldn’t help but chuckle. Seriously, dude? Cab rates in Moscow are steep, but in Kazan you can get anywhere in the city for $4-5. Dispatch is automated and meters are phone apps. It seems every cab has a police radar detector which beeps annoyingly all the time. Works like a charm, apparently. It is also not uncommon to hitch a ride with a random local driver for about the same cost. The cool part about Moscow (and most big cities) is an abundance of public transportation options. From the famous Moscow metro that even a 3 year old could navigate, to buses and trolleys capable of taking you anywhere and everywhere. 99% of the time it’s faster than driving and for a small fraction of the cost of gas and your sanity. Buses run non-stop so you don’t ever have to worry about a schedule, just hop on the one that lists your destination. You might have to stand, or smell an armpit on a packed bus, but you will get to your stop for less than a $1. In most cases it was fairly comfortable and mainly convenient.