08 September 2007

French fries but no ketchup...

We finally feel like we are in a foreign country.

We have been spoiled travelling in Iceland and Finland, where everyone spoke English and you could (sometimes) read the signs. Russia is a little different. The writing is all in Cyrillic, which means that unless you recognize the letters you can't spell out a thing. Even the most touristy areas are manned by people who do not speak much English. This has led to much gesticulating on our part and some rather humorous misunderstandings. Truthfully, it's been more than a little stressful because during medical training, we are misled to believe that we can accomplish tasks successfully on the very first try. Yet yesterday we spent over and hour going to 5 different banks trying to withdraw money with our ATM card. We were mostly unsuccessful. It felt like, well, rejection.

Desipte these hiccups, we just spent 3 days in St. Petersburg. It was dominated by leggy blonde models and beautiful archictecture. We spent our second day wandering the Hermitage, arguably the most amazing museum in the world (if you don't go for the artwork, which is almost exclusively European, at least go for the building itself). The beautiful objects housed in what used to be Catherine the Great's winter palace made us forget we were hungry and thirsty until closing time. Mark found his favorite room in the Winter Palace, a room completely gilded with gold leaf, from the walls and ceiling to the chandeliers and clocks. Peggy spent a lot of time staring at the 2 Madonna and Child paintings by Leonardo da Vinci.

From St. Petersburg we started the first leg of our Trans-Siberian trip to arrive in Moscow. While St. Petersberg was splendid but brusque, Moscow seems downright warm. The people we have accosted for directions on the street have all had a smile and the patience to spend time explaining things to us. We were pleasantly surprised; Moscow, at least as we had seen it through the eyes of Western media, has always seemed a bit dangerous and wild.

Mark has a tradition whereby whenever he visits Moscow, he goes to the first McDonald's to open in a communist country. It was packed, and the menu was full of familiar favorites such as big macs and flurries. However, for the life of us we could not find anyone with a ketchup packet. I guess fries are best eaten plain in Russia. (Our Moscow pictures are not yet uploaded. We'll try to post them soon)

The World Press Photo Exhibit is currently being exhibited in St. Petersburg at the Peter and Paul Fortress. Click here to look at some pictures by Spanish photographer Pep Bonet on members of the Single Leg Amputee Sports Club in Sierra Leone.

We board a train tomorrow night for Irkutsk, Lake Baikal, Ulaan Baatar, the Gobi Desert, and finally Beijing. We may be out of e-mail contact for a while. Wish us luck!

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