Moscow, spasiba

Authored By Brian

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Spasiba is roughly what “thank you” sounds like in Russian. In Cyrillic it reads “Спасибо” but I have yet to figure out how to pronounce a word with a 6 in it. :)

I arrived in Rome yesterday and it took 12 hours of sleep before I finally woke up this morning. The last five days have been full on with only about 4 hours of sleep each night. I was on location all day with the rally and then needed to upload pictures and write articles for which kept me up into the wee hours. The problem is that Moscow is very north, around the same latitude as Juneau, Alaska and in the summer it doesn’t get dark for long so you don’t feel like you’re staying up late. Official sunset is 10pm and sunrise at 5am but in reality it’s not fully dark for long when you count dusk and dawn.


There were four journalists including myself from various publications in the states and we were part of the Porsche North America group. We had a local production assistant from a film company named Alex who freelances as a guide to lead us around and facilitate our trip. In a place where not many people speak English or speak it well, having a local to translate and give us insight into the local culture and customs was awesome. He gave us the unfiltered story.


Moscow surprised me in a number of ways… firstly by how European it is in some ways. You couldn’t have a meal in less than two hours; there was no rush on either your part or the part of the restaurant. Definitely a cafe culture. The second was how enslaved the Russians are to fashion. The women are all dressed very well and most wear very tall heels and skirts. These ~70 degree days are the Moscow summer. They are also very thin and rather good looking. Jennifer gave me her copy of Rolling Stone which I was reading at the laundromat today. There is an article about the Bonnaroo music festival and it was hard not to notice that the Americans in those pictures looked pretty chubby by comparison.


Moscow is very expensive; it was rated the most expensive world in the city by an HR consulting company last year. Our hotel, the Baltschug Kempinski, was atrocious being five-star and close to the Kremlin. I heard our rooms were about $1100 USD/night and breakfast was $75 each morning for a buffet. The hotel is nice and conveniently located but not the most opulent place on Earth. My room was huge and had a flat-screen TV but it was $10 to have a coke or candy bar from the minibar. The exchange rate is roughly 25:1 or 100 rubles is $4 and it’s illegal to pay in a foreign currency. I saw more fancy cars here than I expected too; Porsche Cayennes are very common among the luxury car set and I saw 4 Audi R8s. It was either something like a Mercedes, a newish tiny compact car, or an older Russian car like a Lada.

Prostitution is unfortunately quite common here so you see a lot of girls waiting to get picked up. Our hotel has an arrangement (apparently also quite common) where you can dial the front desk if you need “company” and they will call in one of the girls who rest in cars across the street. The ones sitting in the lobby of the Kempinski late at night look like runway models.

I’ve had three articles posted on so far, you can see them here. There are pictures as well that I’ve cleaned up a bit. I also have all of my pictures from this 3-week trip going up in the gallery. They cover the pre-race, tech inspection and first stage of the rally.


The first couple of days were a little slow in that there wasn’t much to cover but we did get to tour around Moscow and see a few things. From my palatial room’s window I could see St. Basil’s Cathedral and the Kremlin. I wandered over before breakfast one morning and snapped a few photos and looked around. Lenin’s mausoleum is located in front of the Kremlin walls on one side of the Red Square.


As a group we went back through the Red Square and stood in a long queue to see Lenin’s body. This was a lot like seeing Ho Chi Minh’s and strangely, as the godfather of Communism, Lenin’s tomb was quite a bit smaller and less ornate. It had the same militant guards, however, who warned me to keep my hands out of my pants lest a poorly timed game of pocket pool would disgrace their former leader. He looked pretty fake, like Ho, and had a waxy complexion. The Vietnamese ship the body of Ho Chi Minh to Russia once a year where one particular family has a tradition of caring for the body. They may be the same doctors who work on Michael Jackson.


There are some questions as to whether or not the body is real but only the Russians know. We also hopped on the metro and toured a flea market and returned to the Red Square to walk through the fancy three-floor GUM department store which sits opposite Lenin’s Mausoleum. It has a beautiful tunnel-shaped roof you can see in the picture above. More than 200 big name stores like Louis Vuitton, La Perla and Dior are located inside. It’s ironic that across from Lenin’s dead Communist body is an outrageously expensive consumer department store that highlights the difference between rich and poor. Does he roll over with every purchase of a handbag?


The second day we hung around the tech inspection area, battled with insane traffic and had another good meal with the Team USA and Team Canada drivers. We ate at this place styled like a firehouse with a hilarious menu of fire-themed foods and a wide choice of beers. The image above is just one of many awesome translations on the menu. I had the “False Alert” which was a beef roast partially sliced and stuffed with potatoes and cheese. Delicious! I also ate Beef Stroganoff the next day which my mom made for us growing up. It was different than mom made or the hamburger helper I’ve made since but it was delicious. On our way to dinner we stopped at a vista point outside the University of Moscow and we could see all seven of the Seven Sisters. They are seven, tall, baroque-styled buildings that stand out among Moscow’s skyline. Two were pretty distant in the evening haze but each one of these remind me of the building in Ghostbusters where they battle Zool and the Keymaster.


Day 3 was where all the action was as the rally was to start Friday morning. We got up early, had our standard $75 buffet breakfast and then walked over to the Red Square to see the cars, take pictures and watch the rally begin. There was a short speech by the deputy mayor of Moscow and then the rally began with teams filing out at sixty-second intervals to drive some 60km off to the beginning of the first stage. Rallies like this are comprised of timed “special stages” which count towards an overall time and position for the lead and “transit” which is simply getting from point A to point B without breaking down or getting thrown in prison.


The press and Porsche staff boarded a bus and we were led via police escort through the streets of Moscow and out to the highway where our bus driver paid the policeman for his off-the-books assistance. We continued to a small airport where we boarded a Soviet-era helicopter and flew to the stage out in the forest. It was a little nerve-wracking at first with all of the decomposing aircraft located along the runways of this airport and Soviet helicopters aren’t exactly the most reliable in the industry. Even our guide asked us, “You know these are not known for flying very well?” Thankfully I’m still alive. :)


The countryside around Moscow is a mix of dark green birch forests and open fields. Areas cleared for farming or housing are lined with trees to outline the property but most of these plots were empty; perhaps a plan from another generation? When we landed at the stage, we walked out a couple of kilometers to take photos and watched the cars go by.


We were supposed to see about 30 cars pass but instead only 9 finished the stage in the two hours we were there with 20 cars getting trapped in a mud bog somewhere on stage. Unfortunately Team USA was one of those teams and lost a couple of hours in the process. This was only the first of 14 stages so hopefully they will make up the lost time.

We flew back to the airport, re-boarded the bus and rode back into Moscow and had a group dinner at the hotel. It was four courses and very fancy and I had quail as my main course. I don’t know if I’ve really had quail before but it was delicious. It was so tender it was like the inside had been ground up… I could cut through it with just my fork.

Afterwards another journalist and I went out to a restaurant + club with our guide Alex and his girlfriend. These places are pretty trendy. While we weren’t really up to snuff on the dress code, the fact that we were foreigners got us in. We had a few drinks, including some nasty alternative to Red Bull called “Burn” which would lose any energy drink taste-off, and did a little dancing to MP3-mixed electronica. This place had three dance rooms each with different music and tons of bars and only locals. Alex was a regular so we scored free drinks and then walked around checking out the transparent ceilings that let you see people above until we left at 3AM. Alex needed to have enough time to sober up before driving us to the airport – not that he was drunk but Russia has a 0.0 alcohol tolerance if you’re stopped by police. A single drink will get you in trouble. I chatted with Jennifer for a few minutes over instant messenger before I went to sleep at 4AM.

I woke up what felt like 10 minutes later. I hurried to get my stuff together and met downstairs for our ride to the airport. I have yet to see one on the streets back home but when we stopped to refill the rental van, I saw the fourth Audi R8 of our short stay. Alex recognized the white car with white wheels as belonging to a rapper in Moscow who he called a poser because he grew up in a rich neighborhood but raps about “the streets”.

My travel to Rome was uneventful except I fell asleep on both plane flights and the train into Rome. I was just exhausted… thus the 12 hours of sleep last night. I must mention how I hate the Frankfurt airport though; Not only did I miss my connection from SFO to Moscow there due to a gate change and three trips through security but Lufthansa booked a 45-minute connection where you have to go through immigration and security so I was forced to run from gate to gate and just made it. Twenty bags had to be pulled off the plane at the last minute for travelers who didn’t. Now I’m staying in my cousin Patrick’s place near the Trevi Fountain, listening to church bells signal the time and scooters putter along. It’s hot here and it’s like night and day from Moscow: the architecture and ornamentation here is so much more vibrant with centuries of artistic development and the tourists are out in mad force. Gelaterias have queues and restaurants have kitchsy names like “That’s Amore!”


I stay here until Wednesday night when I’m taking an overnight train to Munich. My former business partner from VFIVE is there for an industrial design internship with IDEO after getting his masters in Sweden. I’m going to stop over and hang out for a couple of days. Then either by myself or with another acquaintance, I’m off to Hockenheim for the German Formula 1 race before I catch my flight to Mongolia for the end of the TransSyberia Rally.

Two weeks and four countries to go… hopefully more sleep than last week though. :)

2 Responses to “Moscow, spasiba”

  1. Nathan D Says:

    So, now you’re a “journalist”?

  2. Brian Says:

    Only on Tuesdays. ;)