FBA (Real Time Travel)

September 28, 2008

“Choose career, choose family, choose friends” - £$%& that! I got a Samsung DV3 HD LCD and a Sky+ Digibox, I don’t need anybody else. I can pause live TV, go to the pub, come back and watch whatever program I missed. And get this: I can fast-forward through commercials and bits I don’ like! I can fit 2 hours of real time television into 50 minutes! Now beat that (but you won’t - ha ha)!

The paragraph above has got many exclamation marks. I must be real excited. Well, I guess I am, because pausing the TV feels like I can control it. It sort of scares me a bit, realizing that I must only be able to enjoy things in life that I am able to… control. Then again, it is probably true for most of us.
For example, we enjoy travelling as the ultimate way to be in complete charge of our lives. We find it exciting - to be on the go. But travelling instantly becomes tedious when it gets to the bit we have no control over, such as, for instance, flying.

On a positive side, if flying with BA, you are not in any danger of getting bored. In fact, British Airways are doing a very noble thing by deliberately lowering the standards of their services; to the point where their customers are so exhausted by delays/cancellations/lost luggage etc, they are quite happy to sit in a plane knowing that they are actually at last flying somewhere.
The strategy was originally devised by BA to help the customer battle anxiety caused by the many potential dangers of flying itself - in psychology this maneuver is often called “the innate diversion”.

It is fun to see how, sometimes, when taken to extremes, this strategy trips itself over, falls on its own head and bites its tongue. Anybody who was passing through Heathrow last Christmas is sure to remember how some not entirely favorable weather conditions were used as an opportunity to cancel many international and all domestic flights. It caused a riot, despite the customer services frantically handing out leaflets on what to do “when your flight is being canceled”, where British Airways apologized for any inconvenience caused and offered to cover an overnight stay in one of the designated hotels (nice one, although the cover was something like £100 per person and the cheapest room rate was like £150).

Many call Heathrow a mess. They don’t appreciate the fact, that its one of a few places where a true adventure may be had. Remember Alice in Wonderland? In Heathrow you may go down some narrow corridor that gets narrower and narrower with its ceiling getting lower with every step, and at the very end there is a tiny door. You open it and whoosh! - you find yourself within the huge enclosure of international departures. Imagine that!

To be fair, BA is not the only airline that trucks things up. Strangers get their flights canceled every second. The point is that we cannot be in less control of our journey than when we take a flight. An RV is by far the best choice for any self-respecting control freak who is not pressed for time. However, the train is the only option that offers the “plan your own route” opportunity without the immediate disadvantage of being tied to your own means of transportation.

The Trans-Siberian Express is ideal for such creative synthesis, where the fusion of constituent elements (that’s bits of your journey) into a new compound (that’s your desired route) positively reduces any proposition of mundanity to simply non-existent. Ta-da!

Filed under: Life Outside Russia
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , — sasha @ 6:08 pm

Winter Specials

September 5, 2008

Die-hard clubbers and ice-fishermen share an invisible bond: it’s them and not the morning factory shift who fill in the first Metro train at the break of dawn; an intersection, where both sleep-deprived groups merge before going off their separate ways. There is no further understanding between them: just like heroin addicts, ice fishermen recognize only their own kind and, unless you are one of them, you meet the wall when you look into their eyes.
My memory has the record of the only time this crack in the social sidewalk was bridged. A friend of mine, the drummer in a band, was coming from an all-nighter. He was carrying bits of a drum-kit. The guy sitting opposite had some massive drills on him. They checked each other’s tools with mutual respect.
Indeed, no matter what mind-altering substances are consumed by an average clubber on a night out, compared to the state of mind of an ice-fisherman (imagine all the Zen of fishing multiplied by the cold of a winter morning, plus all the future uncertainty a fresh ice cover may offer) its all just chicken-shit.

Sadly, local ice-fishermen are a dying breed, winters in St. Pete are not as cold as they used to be, in fact they, just like the Russian Christmas, are no more (someone was really bad, I guess). What we have instead of a winter is five months of misery: its still dark when its time to get up for work and its already dark when its time to go home. The air is nice and warm, thanks to the heavy through traffic and seriously damp as well, thanks to the heavy through traffic again. Consequently it might be only minus five but it feels deadly (just like when you get out of the shower and the room feels seriously cold, do you know what I mean?).
People of St. Petersburg generally spend their winters in, hugging radiators and counting the days to the first sunshine. Outdoors isn’t fun anymore, the gray and slushy muck that covers pavements can only be classed as a parody of real snow.
When I was a kiddie we used to scoot on black ice and do cross-country skiing in the suburbs. Nowadays, the only bit of winter activity that is still on offer in St. Petersburg is the ice-skating. There is an ice-skating rink directly on Dvortsovaya and some other rinks set up in most parks around and out of town.

However, if you want a real Russian winter you have to chase it. This means going Tundra. But don’t just go anywhere, my friend, shop around. Kamchatka along with mount Elbrus guarantee some of the best skiing/snowboarding adventures. Lake Baikal is sure to provide some breathtaking scenery to go with its dog-sledding. Ekaterinburg is famous for its “Troika” rides and other romantic winter escapades.

To be perfectly frank, Siberia is not exactly my bag of hammers, I’ve only been there once during winter and I retain fond memories of the hotel I holed myself up into. Not because I was dressed slightly inappropriately, although I would not advise anybody to travel that far North without some sort of a hat and a pair of gloves, I just didn’t feel like getting out of my room. We all get slightly anti-social from time to time, I guess.

Filed under: Russia - everyday life
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , — sasha @ 12:40 pm