Monday, May 18, 2009

Back In The USSR

Well, for those of you in "the know" I left a few days ago for a trip, around the world beginning with Russia. For those of you who don't follow worldwide events, consider this is your update.

Over the next 6 weeks we here at Rich Has Too Much Time Industries will be travelling to Moscow, St. Petersburg, Prague, Istanbul, Egypt, Indonesia (Bali), Thailand, and Korea. We will keep you updated on our impressions, events, and sightings ... provided we have the time.

Back In The USSR

In a sign of our new host country’s warm intentions, whose affable easy going citizenry have brought the world such blessed memories as Communism and The Cold War, our plane was greeted and immediately boarded by well wishers consisting of Russian commando health authorities who shined a laser into the ear of every passenger. Their excuse: looking for swine flu. The truth: intimidation. The world must be remain fearful of the Russian bear.
Visit a gas station in the US and the oil company mascot is a shell, the number 76, or a smiling tiger. In Russia, they use a fire breathing wolf. My cabbie zoomed through Moscow traffic at the rate of 2 miles an hour, and got me to my hotel in what he claimed to “record time” – one and a half hours.
“Tip?” he asked, holding out his hand.
I checked into the Renaissance Hotel, across the street from the Russian Olympic stadium and unpacked my bags, and waited for the arrival of my adopted older brother Chad, and his fiancée, Vanessa Rousso who had come to town to play a high stakes poker tournament.
After acclimating ourselves to the our new surroundings, and playing some cards, Chad and I took the evening shuttle to the famous Pushkin Square, named after famed 1930’s Russian capitalist, Vladamir Square.
We were looking for Pushkin Restaurant, which was difficult, because Russians use an alphabet borrowed from alien invaders from the planet Zoxan. It’s kind of like a game show, “and behind this door we have either a famous restaurant, or an army firing range. Rich, do you dare open that door, or you can elect to take a plane home."
Compounding the problem, Russians are generally as helpful wolves, but not as friendly. Fortunately, I have been endowed with an incredibly well honed sense of direction passed down my ancestor, Ferdinand Magellen, and I don't mean to brag here, but I, in record time managed, to get us lost.
Just kidding, we found the place, and I have to say, it was one of the coolest restaurants I have been to. It had an old, dark, kind of cool, aristocratic feeling- a restaurant where Russian nobility of the late 19th century would have congregated. The service and the food was excellent.
One thing about Moscow, it's super expensive city in the world. A ten minute cab ride costs $30, and I bought two oranges for $5. (That’s the advertised price per kilo) There are no bargains to be had in Moscow, but this restaurant was well worth it.

St. Peter's Basilica
In the morning, the three of us set out to see the Moscow landmarks. First on our list was St. Peter’s Basilica, which is located in the famed Red Square.
St. Peter's Basilica- Moscow
Take a good gander. It’s even more impressive in person. Definitely my favorite thing I saw in Moscow.
Interior walls are painted with various religious figures, and I know that the 15th and 16th century were slightly rougher than how we live today, but at least in some Italian art you can occasionally see a smile. Not Russian. Most of the depictions of Jesus and the saints are of pure unhappiness and suffering.
I pointed to an especially mean looking angel, and asked Chad, “How’d you like to have her give you a helpful visit in the middle of the night?”
“No I wouldn’t” replied Chad.
(I’m not sure whether this is supposed to be Ivan The Terrible, or Jesus Christ, either way he’s a site for sore eyes cause he’s probably the friendliest looking person we’ve seen in Moscow.)

The Honest Cabbie

Having explored St. Basil’s Basilica together, we decided to get lunch at the shopping mall in Red Square. Yes, Dolce Gabana in Red Square, is there a surer sign Communism is dead?
We were set to go into the Kremlin next, but the Venus Fly Trap of the mall had ensnared the more impressionable member of our party. In the interest of hiding this person’s identity due to the nature of the ensuing events, let’s call this person “Vanessa R”. … no wait, too obvious, we’ll go with “V Rousso.”
V Rousso wanted to shop. Shop shop shop. Shop til you drop!!
Chad and I, on the other hand, being men, (the sane gender) had zero interest in joining her, and V Rousso found distressing the idea of taking a taxi home by herself in Big Bad Moscow at 3 A.M. (or whatever time mall management decided time away from their loved ones was not worth the next several thousand dollar profit they would earn by selling V Rousso another set of Versace shoelaces,) but after several reassurances from Chad, her fears were assuaged and she dutifully set about her tasks of adding fancy labels to her closet, and concurrently eliminating Russia’s national debt.
When the mall finally closed (3 AM) our girl asked security to escort her to a cab, noted that it had old fashioned roll down windows and that the cab driver seemed incredibly surly - nothing out of the ordinary for Moscow. She got in and told him to go to the Renaissance Hotel.
Now cabs, like EVERYTHING else in Moscow are pretty damn expensive. V Rousso thought she was going to be paying $35, $50 max, so when our friendly cabbie offered the bargain “friend” rate of $500 our girl said, “Niet!!”
“You pay! You pay!” the cabbie stated in what I am sure was an incredibly sweet tone, as he locked the child proof doors.
V Rousso started screaming, “Let me out!” jostling the door in effort to free herself.
“You pay! You pay!” the cabbie yelled.
So being clever, V Rousso pulled out her credit card, and handed it to him, knowing she could charge it back, but unfortunately in opening her wallet, exposed the $10,000 in cash she had on her, which was like pouring blood in the water during a shark feeding frenzy.
The cabbie, being a clever Moscow scammer, first ran her credit card, had her sign the bill, THEN grabbed her purse. While they wrestled for the it, he decided that now would be a good time to try to kidnap V Rousso, and put his foot on the accelerator.
V Rousso, with one hand wrestling for her purse, used the other to open the rear window, managed to yank her purse away for a split second, grabbed her $20,000 Armani sweater bag, and jumped out the window with the cab going ten miles an hour. (saved by heavy 3 AM Moscow traffic)
The poor girl was in a state of shock when she walked into the hotel and nervous wreck as I tried to calm her down.
Come to Russia – we treat you right.

The Kremlin
Skip it, they don’t let you meet Putin, and all you’re going to see is more unhappy figures in old cathedrals, although, I did see a carved statue I thought was very cool.
the sword in one hand, and a castle in the other, an example of a saint having being venerated because he is able to protect the town.
On my own
The next morning I headed out on my own to explore Moscow. Having nearly mastered the subway, I managed to get to a gigantic cathedral (more unhappy faces) and then headed up the street to Pushkin Museum (named after the famed Russian industrialist of the 1960’s Alexander Museum)
I have to say, they had quite a collection of paintings and artifacts ranging from Greek, to Egyptian, to Italian sculptures. It was pretty cool, but I am no art connoisseur, and there is only so much I can take, so I headed up the street figuring out how to navigate myself around Moscow.
Unlike Los Angeles, which has a restaurant at every corner, Moscow seems to have very few. (either that or illiterate Rich doesn’t know the sign, and thus chose not to open the door for fear of releasing the velociraptors ) I did however, see a Heineken awning, and starving, I ended up eating a Mexican restaurant in Moscow. (paella for those of you keeping score at home)
That evening, while Chad was still playing the tournament, I took Vanessa out to Pushkin restaurant, and had a really nice conversation with her. She felt a lot more comfortable getting into a cab with me beside her. How can you blame her?

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