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Welcome to a short tour of Russia and Eastern Europe.


The Cathedral of St. Basil, Moscow, Russia.

Russia

NOTE: This page was created in 1994/95 and much has changed in the past few years. I will endevor to update it when time allows. In the mean time feel free to email me your thoughts and I will consider adding them to this page. You will find my email address at the bottom of the page. (23Nov1999)

Russia has for many years been a land of mystery and intrigue to the people of the West. For hundreds of years it has been an enigma, friend, or enemy, as the political winds here and there blew in changing directions. As in any situation where new relationships are being formed we have found that we didn't know at least as much as we did know. That being said we have found that people everywhere have much in common. We found that Russians as a people are interested in many of the same things as any other people. They wish a better life for themselves, self determination, and pride in self and country.

New freedoms in most areas of life are bringing new opportunities for Russians, as well as visitors, for business and pleasure. Russian society and culture have opened up bringing the opportunity to visit and do business. For the first time there is freedom of employment, religion, and opportunity for all citizens. These changes allow opportunity for unprecedented success and failure. The changes have been wrenching, the control of government over all aspects of life did not start in 1917, but had been the case for centuries. Not all of the changes have been of benefit to all of the people.

Look at and learn about Traditional Russian Matryoshka Dolls.

One of the largest problems facing Russian business and people and business is inflation. While there is relatively little inflation in dollar terms, in Ruble terms it is amazing. This has caused hardship

A Couple on their wedding day. Wedding.jpg, 77K

Due to the extraordinary political changes in Russia, and changing attitudes in the USA, it is now possible for individuals and companies to do business in Russia and Eastern Europe. This is the story of how Security Exports International, Inc. and Security Visions, Inc. have done so. While each company will have it's own experiences we think you will find our story interesting. This article is not a substitute for good research and preparation, but we think that you will find it interesting at least.

If you are planning on visiting Russia, and you are a citizen of most countries including the USA you will need a valid Passport, and an entry VISA. To get an entry VISA you will have to have an invitation from a registered Russian entity. If you do not have contacts in Russia to help you, you may use your travel agency or Moscow Guest House. Moscow Guest House will issue an invitation for a small fee. Email to Moscow Guest House.

Moscow Guest House also operates a Youth Hostel type dorm which is inexpensive if you are able to put up with roommates.

The Cathedral of Saint Basil the Blessed has become a symbol of Russia to those in the West. This colorful 16th century church sits on the north side of the Kremlin on what is commonly known as Red Square. Interestingly, Red Square is not named for the red bricks which pave it, but for the Russian word meaning beautiful, literally "Beautiful Square".

The Cathedral of St. Basil, Moscow, Russia. Basil.jpg, 77K

On a sunny fall afternoon Red Square is crowded with families, tourists, and vendors selling stacking dolls, shish Kebabs, and other small goods. The prices here, as in any area in the world frequented by tourists, will be higher than elsewhere. If you have the time the best place to do your souvenir shopping is at Izmailovsky Park. Izmailovsky Park has a large flea market with hundreds of vendors selling everything under the sun, it is open on weekends only. To get there by METRO take the Blue line, follow the crowd for about three blocks, entry costs about 5 cents. On the left (North) side you can see the old GUM department store. At one time this was the worlds largest department store, but now it is more of a mall type site with hundreds of small stores selling Russian and western goods. The South side of Red Square is bounded by Lenin's tomb (now closed to the public) and the wall of the Kremlin.

A Church next to the GUM department stores on Red Square. Redchur.jpg, 91K

The church above has beautiful bells which are rung on weekends and other times. It is well worth the time to soak in the sites and sounds of Red Square on a sunny day. Weekends are best as there are few official events. Remember that the Kremlin is the seat of government, so during the week Red Square may be closed when officials or visiting dignitaries are arriving and leaving. If you get a chance you may want to visit at night. The buildings are lit up with spotlights and look very nice, bring your camera too.

A view of Lenin's tomb and Kremlin wall at night. Lenin's Tomb .jpg (43K)

The south side of Red Square is the north side of the Kremlin. The Kremlin is a fortress that is surrounded by a high brick wall and many towers. The towers are lit up at night. Most of the towers still have an illuminated red star at the top of them. The fortress here has been rebuilt many times, starting in the 1300s. The first fort was built with wooden walls and was burned down. It is possible to visit the museums inside the Kremlin's walls during some days and hours, your Russian hosts can help you if you are interested in visiting.

Also in the area are the state library, similar to the Library of Congress, and other museums. If you come when the weather is nice it is a great idea to spend a weekend day walking around looking. It is interesting to stand where generations of newscasters have stood with their microphones.

The Alexander Gardens next to the Kremlin. Flowgrl.jpg, 119K

The city of Moscow is the center of political, social, and business in Russia. If you will be visiting Russia for any purpose Moscow needs to be on your list of places to explore. However for business keep in mind that EVERYONE will be there. This means vendors, your competition, from every country will be there as well. Moscow is a busy cosmopolitan city. Most of the services, including INTERNET email, western style restaurants, hotels, etc. are easy to find in Moscow. You will find many bright entrepreneurs busy making there way in the world. We have found that the average aggressive growing company is headed by people in their 20's and 30's.

Everywhere through out the streets of Moscow, and other cities, in Russia you will find thousands of small self standing shops called Kiosks. These kiosks sell foodstuffs, cigarettes, small electronics, and other goods. The economy of Russia is rapidly moving from that of a command economy to a market driven economy. This rapid change has not been without considerable pain to many of it's citizens. Indeed I wonder how Americans would have done if faced with similar changes. An example of this is the GUM Department store mentioned above. The "Old School" thought was that it was easier to build a fewer number of very large installations. These were easier for a centrally planned economy to build and manage. The problem of course is that by doing this the needs of the user were not always met. Also because of the large investment in the projects, failure could not be admitted, too much capitol and effort were involved to admit a mistake was made. This large project school of thought was not confined to retail stores but to all means of production.

We like to call Russia "The land of the big project.", because it still is in many ways. Because of the rapid changes in the economy, it is still easier to find capitol, Russian partners, and good management for a big project than a small one. However this is beginning to change and will continue to do so as more and more of the economy is market driven, and as the pool of local management and capitol grows.

A view of the GUM Department Store, on Red Square. Gum.jpg, 86K

Jobs in the private, market driven, economy are in very high demand, as well as those for western companies. I have met college professors who had a Ph.D., and were making the equivalent of $35.00 a month. Even with free rent and utilities, and some subsidies of basic foodstuffs this is not enough to live on. The average wage rate in Russia is stated at about $100.00 per month. However, if you need to hire a person who speaks English, and has good skills and motivation, expect to offer in the range of $600.00 per month.

Americans and others who visit Russia for the first time will be amazed at how expensive it is. A good quality hotel room will cost from $100 to $300.00 per night. Restaurant meals are on par with those in New York in cost, but not necessarily in quality. A taxi ride is similar in cost to those in any major city. While there are dispatched taxis, most any car headed in your direction will give you a ride. To get a taxi step to the curb on the side of the street going in your direction and wave your arm at your side, it is rare to have to wait for more than 30 seconds on a busy street in Moscow, but it can take all day in St. Petersburg! Agree on the fee ahead of time, and if at all possible have a Russian do the talking and negotiate the price. Remember even the taxi drivers are beginning to understand the market economy!

Subway.jpg (27K)

Moscow has the worlds busiest METRO (subway) system. It carries nearly 4 BILLION people a year. You will never need a schedule, during busy times the trains run in each direction about every 90 seconds. During non peak hours the trains will run on about a 5 minute schedule. There are many English newspapers and maps available, most of them are free. They will have a METRO map in them. If you are using the METRO alone for the first few times have a Russian friend or associate write down the name of the stops and transfer points down in Russian and English for you. Each car has a map, and the stations name is written on the wall opposite of where you get in and out every 50 feet or so. After a little while you will begin to pick up the sounds of the Russian language and have an easier time finding your station. The fares are extremely cheap, as of the spring of 1995 the fare was 200 Rubles, about 4 cents. You can buy the tokens at each station. Transfers are not needed. To find a METRO station look for a sign with a large M on it, depending on the station you will go down one or two escalators. You will need a token to get through the turnstiles, once you are on you may fide to hour hearts content. The Metro is a great place to people (and girl) watch. My experience has been that they are clean and safe.

Russian cultural performances and exhibitions are truly world class. Below is a picture of the famed Bolshoy Theater. The Bolshoy (meaning big) is within easy walking distance of Red Square and the METRO. Pick up a copy of the Moscow Times, it has a good listing of current plays, concerts, movies and other activities to see. Tickets for most events are very reasonable. There may be a two tier pricing structure, lower prices for Russians and higher prices for visitors, still the prices are reasonable by any standard.

The Bolshoy Theater, Moscow Russia. Bolshoy.jpg, 138K

The Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg Russia. Herm.jpg (30K)

The Hermitage Museum is in a former palace built by Catherine the Great. It is considered by many to be second only to the Louvr in France in the quality and size of it's art collections.

Some of my favorite places to eat in Moscow are:

American Bar and Grill (Hamburgers, fries. Etc.)

Armadillo Bar (Light fare, tex-mex atmosphere)

Kombi's (Sub sandwiches, etc.)

Patio Pizza (Guess!)

Patio Pasta (Pasta dishes)

You will also find McDonalds, Pizza Hut, and an increasing number of other places as more and more visitors appear in the area. Be prepared to spend the same of more for restaurant food in Russia as you would in any major capitol. Good reasonably priced restaurants will have long waits, an hour is not uncommon. Russian night life and dining are later than in the states. Dinner hour starts at 7 or 8 PM night clubs often OPEN at 10 PM. Remember that the standard business day is 10:00 AM to 6:00PM.

Another way to get food is to do what Russian do, carry around a plastic bag and if you see a street vendor selling something you even might want just buy it. I remember Richard and I buying a 2 Kilo bag of dried apricots in Moscow. By the time we got to St. Petersburg, we didn't even want to ever see another dried apricot!

A view of Moscow, looking north towards downtown. Moscow.jpg (103K)

Housing in Russia is very different than that in the USA or many other countries. Nearly all Russian people live in an apartment. The apartments are in large buildings usually from 10 to 15 stories high. The buildings are constructed of concrete and date from the 30's to the 80's primarily. Because housing is in short supply it is not uncommon for 3 generations to share an apartment, or even a couple of married siblings and their parents. Russian families tend to be small, one or perhaps two children.

Moscow has central hot water and heat. This means that you have a device for controlling the temperature in your apartment called a window. In the summer the hot water plants may be shut down for maintenance for up to a month. All this aside, one of our favorite ways to stay in Russia, if staying for more than a few days in a single city, is to stay in an apartment rather than a hotel. The apartments are more roomy, less expensive, and it is kind of nice to be able to stock the fridge, and make a cup of tea in the kitchen when you want to. There are businesses starting in the major cities that find apartments for western visitors short term.

While Russia itself is the largest market in the Former Soviet Union, it is by no means the only one. Many of the former republics are advancing rapidly to market economies. From Slovokia to Estonia you will find a new can do attitude, the FSU and eastern Europe are open for business.

If you are looking for additional textual information, you can return back to Impressions of Russia and the Former USSR.

If you would like to see more pictures, please go to:

<Petersburg and the North-West of Russia> <Ural>
<Moscow > <Central Russia> <South of Russia >
<Siberia> <Far East of Russia>
<Illustrated History > < Russia> >

Prague, Czech Republic

One of the most pleasant cities in the FSU is Prague, the capitol of the Czech Republic. For many years Prague has had an established tourist industry. It was and is a favorite place for eastern Europeans to visit. US citizens do not need an entry Visa at this time. Prague is known as the Paris of the east. The lovely old town area is a delight to walk through, and is small enough to b manageable on foot.

It is filled with interesting sites, theaters, and restaurants. The prices are very reasonable for both food and lodging. In an interesting twist it is often cheaper to make your hotel registrations at the airport than at the hotel. Because of the competition for customers at the airport the prices are often lower.

A view of Prague Castle from St. Charles Bridge Prague.jpg (42K)

A puppeteer on Saint Charles Bridge. Prapup.jpg (37K)

The famous Astronomical Clock in Prague. Clock.jpg (122K)

The second largest Cathedral in Europe, Prague Czech Republic. Church.jpg (69K)

Prague has a good system of public transportation, including a Metro (subway) as well as busses and trolleys. The old town area of Prague has many buildings dating back many hundreds of years. Just walking around is a treat. The city has preserved most of the old town, and many of the streets and squares have limited vehicular traffic. Many of the cafe's have outdoor seating so that you can sit over a cup of coffee and watch the world go by.

Many of the streets are paved with cobble stones and are filled with interesting architecture Arch.jpg (68K). Business is booming, Prague is the new home of Radio Free Europe, and of course McDonalds and other western businesses are represented. The state museum is beautiful and a must see.


Tallinn, Estonia

Estonia, located on the Baltic Sea, is considered to be one of the most progressive of the former Soviet Republics. US citizens do not need an entry Visa at this time. This small country is strategically located as a transportation hub. Many of you may remember the tragic loss of life from the loss of a passenger ferry in the fall of 1994, the ferry was on the way to Stockholm, Sweden. The port of Tallinn has regular links to Helsinki Finland, and other Baltic and northern European cities.

Old Town Tallinn. Tallin.jpg (53K)

The city of Tallinn was founded in about the year 1300AD. This view of old town Tallinn also shows the port. Old Town has many open markets, because the old town area is a walled city on a hill you will need to go to one of the few streets that pass through the wall. The hill is quite steep, so wear good walking shoes. There are many restaurants in the area serving most tastes.

You will find that the Baltic area, in addition to some others have some degree of tension between their governments and Russia's. There is also some tension between the local ethnic residents and Russians living in the area. It is wise to remember this when doing business in the area. It is no longer as easy for them to travel back and forth to Russia when doing business.


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