A Travellerspoint blog

Moscow

Moscow was a quick trip--I felt like one second we were there, and the next second we weren't. But it was interesting, to say the least. It was such a city of contrasts--so beautiful, so ugly, so clean, so dirty, so rich, so poor, so modern, so primitive. One second you are walking amongst high-end, expenseive shops and buildings, and the next you find yourself in the midst of a bleak, soviet-style high-rise housing development. It was a strange feeling to be surrounded by such old, rich, historical sites like the Kremlin or St. Basil's Cathedral while trendy attired young Russians walk by. Russia is a country in an obvious, somewhat awkward transition, and it makes me wonder whether or not these vivid remnants of the past will ever be able to blend smoothly into the modern present. I feel as if this two camps are at constant odds with one another. Yet, the city is certainly humming with people, with culture, and with history. Perhaps this strange combination of old and new has come together in a way that works, or perhaps it is simply a matter of time before one side gives way to another. Time will tell...

Posted by istol 21:51 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

Amanda's Beijing Impressions

Before arriving in Beijing, I had very little interest in China, even when understanding its economic importance. Now that I've seen big, crazy Beijing, however, I'm much more interested.

The contrasts between Moscow and Beijing are the first things that struck me. In Beijing, you can smile at strangers and it's not creepy. There are restaurants, bars, and general activity everywhere. Everything is CHEAP. There are SO MANY people! In Moscow, streets are often empty, and it's hard to find a reasonable restaurant you can afford.

Beijing still has many obvious problems. There are very poor people everywhere collecting trash and harassing Americans. Many people are trying to sell you something, but it's really more like begging. The city is very dirty, and it's been making me a little sick. My lungs feel clogged, and bug bites are turning into really nasty problems.

Furthermore, much of the development in preparation for the 2008 Olympics is somehow disturbing. The government is bulldozing much of "old Beijing" (read: the real Beijing) and replacing it with Western-looking structures. They've repainted the Forbidden City and other culture attractions, which makes them look more like Disney World and less like a serious historic artifact. I will be very interested to see how the world perceives Beijing during the Olympics. I have the feeling that the Chinese government will not be able to hide every problem.

The economy here confuses me. I see a lot of activity in Beijing, but the train ride through the countryside revealed a deep poverty right below the country's shiny surface. When I get back to the United States, I'm going to do a lot of reading.

Posted by agregg 21:39 Archived in China Comments (0)

Amanda's Moscow Re-Impressions

It was good to be back in Moscow! Since I spent some time there last summer, my "first impressions" are slanted all over the place.

Anyhow! The city is large, fairly austere, and at first glance very unfriendly. No one talks on the metro, smiling person = foreigner, and there's no "please and thank-you" in everyday conversation. Evidence of inequality is everywhere. There are drunk school kids riding the metro next to professionals in $2000 suits. It's a harsh reminder that Russia has a lot of developing to do.

Despite all that, however, I'm still charmed by the city. I love the parks, the bizarre Soviet architecture, riding the very efficient metro, and short to-the-point conversations like:

    "Young lady, what do you want?"
    "A sausage."
    "This one?"
    "No that one."
    "Here."

I was even starting to get used to the hilarious "old lady knows best" culture: "Young lady, you don't want sausage. You want this one." And of course they're right. It was, however, pretty hard not to get irritated when Ilana was told not to sit a certain way. Yikes. It's hard to keep your pride tucked away THAT much.

Also, I'm glad to be shedding my "translator" duties. Few people in Moscow really speak English, so getting around can be a little rough. But we made it.

I'm nuts. I can't wait to go back.

Posted by agregg 21:25 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

Cory on Beijing

city of eggplant/no cab drivers knowing where our hotel is

sunny 28 °C
View Mongolia on ctamler's travel map.

The fun thing about entering China by train is border crossing day: two six-hour stints on either side of the border getting your passports checked and your bags poked through and waiting in the train station. In the Russian station everyone (not just our group...everyone) looked down in the dumps: worn out, soggy from the weather, hungry, grouchy. There wasn't much food available, little room to walk around, the border patrol was full of sullen young Russians who looked more like hooligans than law enforcement.

The minute we stepped into the Chinese station, the atmosphere changed. Everyone around us was smiling, laughing, drinking. The station was much more open, cleaner; there were shops, there was food, even the ramen for sale was better. The women of the Russian train staff were cheerfully buying scarves on the second floor.

Beijing had the same sort of instantly favorable impression on me. The city's bright and full of life, the weather good and hot. It's easy to get around -- taxis everywhere if nothing else, though most of the cab drivers don't seem to have a clue as to where our hotel is. We're very near to the Forbidden City and Tian'anmen Square, which is convenient. People are generally pleasant and helpful, and there hasn't been as much staring as the warnings led me to expect there would be (aside from a group of high school students passing through Peking University snapping photos with their cameraphones and shouting "Hello! Hello!" -- the one English word everyone seems to know here, even the tiny two-year-old girl we passed in the Summer Palace). Shopping here is like a sport, temples and palaces are huge and gorgeous, good food is beyond reasonably priced -- it's downright cheap -- and incredibly varied. We like the eggplant.

Posted by ctamler 21:17 Archived in China Comments (0)

Suzie's Beijing Impression

sunny 28 °C

Beijing was also huge compared to what I had pictured in my mind. While in the Summer Palace we were on top of a hill looking out and the city just seemed to stretch on and on in all directions. Beijing definitely seems more upbeat than Moscow and everyone is always trying to sell you something. One thing which I found really interesting was how much history you are able to see throughout the entire city of Beijing. You'll be driving around on different streets and all of a sudden a palace or a pagoda will pop up. The city definitely seems to be moving at a fast pace and so far I have loved everything about Beijing.

Posted by sculhane 21:00 Archived in China Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

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