Wild dogs and Cappuccino Culture
After 75 days, 6000-plus miles, and 11 cities, we're finally back in St. Petersburg! We launched the trip from here on Sept. 1st -- a day that now feels like a distant dream.
This week, we'll describe how the city has changed since 1995, and we'll track down our final Road Story subjects from 1995: Larisa Fedotova, the young businesswoman from Khabarovsk, and the surviving members of the five-generation family of Maria Gurevich.
But first, here's a random assortment of observations on what's changed in Russia over the past ten years:
Cheap, easy Internet access. In 1995, Gary and I uploaded our photos and text by connecting, through prior agreement, to Sprint telecom nodes across Russia. Our average total upload was only about 400 kilobytes -- miniscule by today's standards -- but it sometimes took up to eight hours over the rickety Russian phone lines. There was no Internet dial-up service in most cities, and the vast majority of people we met had never heard the term "web site."
Now, reliable Internet access is available across Russia -- through ubiquitous Internet cafes, pre-paid Internet usage cards, and national services like Russia Online (which had local dial-up numbers in all but two of our cities). DSL and cable internet are still hard to come by outside of Moscow and St. Petersburg, though we did have a surprisingly fast connection at the Birobidzhan Internet café.
ATMs. A rarity in 1995, these are now all over the place. If you're in a town with more than 100,000 people, you can pretty much count on finding one there. Any standard ATM card from a major bank should work, and there are no big hidden fees.
Cheap telephone calls abroad. Anyone who remembers the Soviet system of placing international calls (standing in endless lines at the Telephone-Telegraph office) will appreciate this development: Kiosks and telecom stores now sell cheap international phone cards. We bought one card in Moscow with a rate of 98 kopeks a minute to the U.S. That's 3.5 cents, making it cheaper for me to call my mom in Florida from Moscow than from my home in Washington.
Packs of wild dogs. Don't worry; they're gentle. But has anyone else noticed the huge numbers of stray dogs wandering around Russian cities? They jaunt along in little packs, hanging out in courtyards and occasionally popping into stores.
Marshrutki, marshrutki, marshrutki. In 1995, the only public transportation options in most cities were the creaky municipal buses, trams and trolleybuses. You could stand on a corner for 20 minutes waiting for your bus, and three would wheeze in at once. Now, the "marshrutka" has taken over. Privately-run van services, the marshrutki run routes all over the city. They charge a couple more rubles per ticket, but they're fast, numerous and convenient.
Espresso yourself. The land of the samovar has begun to embrace cappuccino culture. In all the bigger cities, coffee bars now serve up frothy concoctions, though in the smaller cities, watery instant brew still rules the day.
Tomorrow: St. Petersburg!
By Lisa Dickey |
November 14, 2005; 10:16 AM ET
Previous: Murmansk: Hunting for WWII Artifacts With An Expert | Next: St. Petersburg: The Grand Dame Has a Facelift
Please email us to report offensive comments.
Posted by: Mark | November 14, 2005 12:44 PM
Posted by: Dan | November 14, 2005 01:39 PM
Posted by: jack perry | November 14, 2005 02:31 PM
Posted by: John Semlak | November 14, 2005 02:40 PM
Posted by: Denis | November 15, 2005 03:13 AM
Posted by: aprilushka | November 15, 2005 10:39 AM
Posted by: Erin | November 15, 2005 03:47 PM
Posted by: Nastia | November 16, 2005 06:28 PM
Posted by: Lisa Dickey | November 17, 2005 11:10 AM