I am currently at Helsinki airport on the way to Budapest, Hungary. Getting out of Russia actually took longer than entering. It wasn't particularly exciting, but passports get checked about five times, names compared to boarding passes each time just to make sure. Then in Finland, another round of security screening and passport checks just to transfer! Also AU$5.5 for a bottle of water here!
Enough whinging though and onto my time in Saint Petersburg. One thing I've noticed about both Moscow and Saint Petersburg is that as impressive as the cities themselves are, going from the airport to the city centre, you pretty much jump from endless grey apartment buildings and little else, to vibrant, modern cities quite suddenly. Maybe it's just the route we took, but there doesn't seem to be much in the way of suburbs around either city, you either live in the city centre, or basically in a large, grey apartment building. This article expands on that a bit.
Traffic is also terrible in both cities, though the public transport in Moscow in particular outdoes most cities of the world.
Once arriving, the first thing I noticed about Saint Petersburg, me being me, is they seem to have a thing for fancy bathrooms...
Someone clearly needs to combine Japanese toilet technology with Russian bathroom interior decoration to make the ultimate throne room!
And the RT (Russia Today) advertising definitely permeates the tourist areas, from the airport to tourist buses.
Saint Petersburg though is a very different city to Moscow. It is quite true that it is even more impressive, with amazing buildings around every corner, and a bustling nightlife, but it is also a lot more tourist oriented and some of the dodgy things I'd expected in Moscow proved to be true in Saint Petersburg. Taxi scam attempt right out the terminal, gypsy kids trying to pick pockets on the streets and a guy who came up to me on the street, pulled a sharp dagger out of his jacket and offered it to me saying "Good price."
Was an interesting way to go about things for him, as it's totally weird to take out a dagger standing a foot away from someone on the street, but I get the impression if I paid he actually may have given it to me. It probably works on some tourists, but he didn't seem like he actually wanted trouble so I just told him no indifferently and after trying to convince me briefly he started offering me other trinkets for sale and eventually just shook my hand and left.
So I managed to get a pervy experience on a Japanese train and a knifey experience outside a laundromat in Russia. I feel those count as key achievements for a trip to those respective countries!
Despite the need for a bit more care when going around in Saint Petersburg, it certainly is quite a place! Nightlife is lively and entertaining, and streets that look like dead alleys during the day, fill with thousands of people and busy restaurants (closed and hidden away during the day) at night.
During the day there is still plenty to see, including the Museum of Soviet Arcade Games. Complete with working games and old school soda machines to try out!
The games were quite fun, many just what you'd expect from old school arcade machines, but some interesting memory games and submarine games. Also that green soda from that disturbing looking machine tasted, well... green - like in Star Trek.
It was of course also vital to experience the local cuisine. Another thing I noticed about Russia is that while it does have traditional food, it isn't really "the norm" from what I could see. Even asking around where's a good place with actual Russian food, many people seemed surprised at themselves not really knowing where to get any. So where in Japan, Japanese food is everywhere, in Russia you're more likely to find typical European or American food than local cuisine.
That being said, the food was still awesome!
Oddly I also had the best baklava I've had in my life in the same place as the meat above, so apparently Turks living in Russia make the best Greek desserts, who knew?
Finally, I should probably at some stage mention the actual whole point of Saint Petersburg, which is the history and cultural aspects.
One thing I didn't realise is that Saint Petersburg is actually home of the largest museum in the entire world, after the Louvre in Paris - the Hermitage Museum! With over 3 million works of art on display, it isn't the kind of place where someone can drop a pair of glasses and have people mistake them for art...
Because in Soviet Russia, museum curates YOU! Sorry, I set up a part of my mind purely dedicated to making those Soviet Russia lines in response to every situation I encountered, at least 7000 times per day. I'll have to turn it off now.
Instead they have actual art, and even I, who really doesn't care much about art, could easily spend hours exploring some really impressive and interesting pieces. I really couldn't choose which photos to upload, so here's heaps! Every room was basically a work of art in itself, filled with works of art...
A ceiling in one room.
People have super creepy faces in a lot of the artwork for some reason...
A random image of my office computer chair that got mixed up in the rest for some reason.
Seriously creepy faces!!!
There was also a Rembrandt exhibition going on at the time, but frankly his works are far less interesting than a lot of what I saw around the museum.
There were heaps of other impressive places to see and take photos of, but I've overloaded on them already. But because I had to climb 262 steps to get this one, I thought I better put it in...
So with my trip to Russia at an end, and with me now actually finishing this off from Budapest, what I still consider my real home city, time to reflect.
When I travel I do like to consider whether the places I visit would be viable places to live should I ever decide to leave Australia. While Australia does have a lot going for it, I figure we only have another 5 or 10 years before we end up a left wing police state, so I may have to leave before that happens, and while it's still legal to leave the country. I'd also like to think some day I will get married and have kids, and I certainly won't be sending my kids to a "Safe Schools" socialist, "progressive" reeducation camp. As the famous documentary "Kindergarten Cop" once stated, "Boys have a penis, girls have a vagina."
Obviously visiting a place for a week isn't enough to learn all about it, but it is enough to be able to see if it's so bad you'd never want to live there at least. UK, Macedonia, Greece and Italy for example, I can definitely say no to from my visits in the past.
That's one reason I wanted to try visiting Russia and Japan, as both countries seem far less infected by a lot of modern Western suicidal tendencies that most European countries (and places like New Zealand, the UK, USA and Canada) have been taking on hungrily.
I could definitely see myself living in Japan, no problems. So how about Russia?
I'd say the biggest problem with living in Russia is the desire of much of the rest of the world to do everything possible to destroy the country. Having the entire Western world bent on murdering every man, woman and child in your country does have some downsides.
Putin has done a good job of turning Russia from people starving on the streets, to a thriving, modern nation, despite the best efforts of the rest of the world to prevent it. But there are limits to what can be achieved under such circumstances.
I don't think Russia would top my list of places to live, simply because of the political instability more than anything else. If Putin is suddenly killed and some American stooge or Russian oligarch takes over, the place could be a hellhole in a matter of weeks.
That being said, as it is currently, I could definitely enjoy living there. I think Australia is for now a better place to raise a family, assuming you home school or carefully select a good private school. But the tipping point where Russia comes on top could be just a year or two away.
Japan on the other hand, I'd seriously consider moving to now if I had the money to safely do so and a way to readily get an income when over there.
I'll be in Hungary for about 2.5 weeks now, starting in Budapest. I've been here many times before and know the place quite well. Currently Budapest is still number one on my list on places to move to in the future. It's a beautiful city with amazing food. Hungary is a relatively poor country, with the cost of living being about half that of Australia, and the average income even lower, but the plus side is that means if you come in with some money it will go a lot further!
Hungry has distanced itself a bit from the insanity of the Euro nations, despite still being a member. But because it's such a small country, it hasn't had the kind of attacks against it that Russia has had (though it is still very unpopular with the EU socialist dictators).
It will be interesting to see how things develop here over the coming years. Hungary has been slowly but steadily getting better off since throwing out the communists in 1989, and they have avoided foreign debt and influence quite well, so there is a chance they will be a last bastion of sanity, while the rest of the world tries to fight with Russia, maybe Hungary will just sit aside and not suck for a decade or two longer.
Of course all this is a moot point if the entire world collapses in war or a police planet in the next 10 to 30 years. But I'd like to think that can be avoided. It's just a matter of where to live in the decade or two when things are at their worst.