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Mike's Around-The-World Trip Update #11 - 9.21.2004
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THIS E-MAIL MAY APPEAR TO BE FROM MY LATE CAT BEAST,
but it's not, it's from me. yahoo is restricting how
many people i send this thing to, so beast had to step
in...please reply (if you want) to:
michael_kivisto@yahoo.com. check out the photos, past
updates, and random thoughts at:
www.michaelkivisto.com. now, to the update (i wrote
it, not my cat):

moscow walk beside me
i am alone on your two-faced streets
st. petersburg stood proudly for me
but lenin is so quiet when we meet

lay down your stones beneath me
over the land where red square lies
sing like the art of the hermitage did
why won't you look me in the eyes?

i examine you from all the angles
your contrasts confuse and change me
st. basil's stopped me in my place
why do your policemen chase me?

moscow please smile with me
i am alone in the tunnels under your streets
st. petersburg said "welcome" to me
but your beauty refuses to speak

--------------------------------------
can you tell which city in russia i enjoyed more?
actually i enjoyed them both but found moscow more
tough, more aloof, less friendly. in st. petersburg
the people on the streets look in your eyes and often
smile, while in moscow the people walk by you like you
aren't there. i feel like i made no impression
whatsoever on moscow - i didn't meet a single person
here. so here i am waiting for the big train to take
off, the trans-siberian railway, which in 4 days will
deposit me in irkutsk, russia at the base of lake
baikal, the largest freshwater lake in the world. i
think aerosmith said it best when they sang "train
kept a rollin' all night long, train kept a rollin'
all night long, with a heave, and a ho, but i just
couldn't tell her so, no, no, no!" uhh, they are
singing about a choo-choo train, right?

let us peer into the recent past...

i took the train from helsinki to st. petersburg on
the 10th of september and arrived under a gray raining
sky - perfect. it's how i always pictured russia:
cold, gray, tough. the latter expectation was met
further when the train dropped me not at finland
station like i expected but at a train station not
mentioned anywhere in my guidebook. cool. first time
in russia and i had no idea, none at all, where in
hell i was. i flipped to the map with finland station
on it and walked down the street toward the hostel,
not realizing yet that i was not where i thought i
was. i looked around me and everything was written
in, can you guess?, RUSSIAN!! hey, hey! if i hadn't
studied it for 3 years in college i would have been
totally screwed but i can actually read it so i was
golden - too bad there weren't any street signs to
read. i wandered in a circle over ridiculously wide
streets jammed with racing traffic. i stood at a
corner across from an outdoor market that occupied a
muddy, dirt road, discretely looking at my map trying
to figure out what street i was on. "they like to rob
tourists" echoed in my head - the warning i received
from travelers, the internet, and guidebooks. ok
dude. pretend like you know what you are doing and
tuck that laptop you are carrying over your shoulder
farther under your arm so you don't attract attention.
beauty. now WHAT THE F*CK STREET AM I ON?!?!?!

i walked into a cafe, one i would never even think of
eating at, and asked, in russian, WHAT THE F*CK STREET
AM I ON?!??! he answered me in english, and guess
what? i didn't believe him. nope. here's a dude
who's lived in russia his whole life and here's me,
the guy who's never been east of europe, and i knew
better. yep. he's wrong. that's not the street he
told me it is, i thought to myself. that IS finland
station over there and not the station he said it is.

so my dumb *ss walked the opposite way that he told me
to, walked itself right back to the station and slowly
read the cyrillic letters written on the side of it.
oops. it ain't finland station. sh*t. where am i
then? i didn't know and i wasn't going to find out; i
was unsuccessfully trying to fight off a nasty cold
and was quite tired so i walked over to the cabs to
get a ride to the hostel. he wanted a ridiculous
amount of money to take me there. it was a short walk
from finland station (despite all indications that it
wasn't, i still believed it was finland station) but i
simply didn't know what direction to walk in so i got
in the cab. it felt nice knowing i was headed the
right way after an hour of not knowing - i happily
ignored his insane driving and the disturbing
condition of his cab.

of course when we got to the hostel he wanted more
money than we had agreed upon. half in russian, half
in english i tried to explain that i didn't have
enough dough. we agreed to 20 u.s. dollars, but he
wanted $25. i offered him 20 u.s. dollars and 5
euros, which is worth about $27 but the idiot wouldn't
accept it. so i paid him in rubles instead - 700 of
them, which is $23.33. whatever. even though one
second earlier he looked like he was going to punch me
in the head, the cabbie lifted my backpack out of the
trunk and put it on my back. we said thanks, you're
welcome, goodbye, goodbye in russian and everyone was
happy, especially him.

i turned to the hostel and saw an abandoned, crumbling
factory instead. oh wait. it is the hostel. f*ck, i
hope the inside looks nicer. it didn't. i checked in
anyway; i had 6 nights reserved at the place. the
receptionist spoke english very well and i had no
trouble checking in. i got a sheet of paper with
about 95 codes on it for every single door in the
place - security is a major problem in this part of
town i guessed. the rooms were quite gloomy, matching
the weather outside but music brightens the darkest
room and i had the laptop blaring the tunes within a
few minutes. only one problem in all of this: i was
now sick. really sick. deathly sick.

i stayed in bed for 2 days and did absolutely nothing.

but i came back strong.

michael from australia was there, so was barrett from
mississippi and steve from oz, all of whom i had
be-friended in helsinki. for the first time i met
john from ireland, emilio from spain, jess from
denmark, james from canada, mark from australia,
lawrence from holland, henry from australia, and allen
from england...and do you remember what i said in my
last e-mail? those two of you who read it? people make
a country. after i returned from the edge of death,
my room (which i had to myself despite there being 4
beds in it) became the common room. we gathered in
there every night drinking beers and listening to
music on my computer before hitting the town. we
partied 3 nights in a row at a place called the dacha
(which means country home.) it's a little place with a
small dance floor, cheap beers, and a fun crowd,
tucked away down the street from a cathedral. each
night ended later than the night before. the place is
open until 6:00 in the morning and we closed it on our
last night. we had an incredible time, each night
offering some different version of insanity (the kind
of stuff that belongs in my "random thoughts".) it's
a great feeling to look up across the bar and see your
new pals scattered throughout the place enjoying
themselves. people come and go from hostels so the
crowd changed every night but one constant remained:
me and barrett. barrett was in my room in helsinki
and we hit it off well so i was glad that he was
coming to st. petersburg a few days after me. i came
back to the hostel from dinner one night and there he
was, standing in the lobby. he was staying at a
different hostel but we met every night at the dacha.
he has a great attitude and was fun to be around, even
after he got robbed by the russian police.

huh?

yep, you read it right. the police, the f*cking
police! rob people in russia. they demand your papers
from you, your passport, visa, migration card,
registration, all the d*mn papers you need to get in,
and then extort money from you to return them. they
didn't bother with the bribe with barrett; they
just took his money after he passed out on a bridge while
drunk (and lost) one night. but like i said, we met
at the dacha the next night anyway and he just laughed
it off. i avoided the police after that like they
were zombies and i was carrying a bag of souls.
actually i easily blended in with the locals (in
moscow) by walking around with a scowl on my face.

st. petersburg is quite a sight - the hermitage, the
church on spilled blood, the peter & paul cathedral,
nevsky prospect, all quite beautiful, especially when
the sun broke through the clouds and melted the gloom.
the city is not without it's problems of course: the
streets were lined with old crippled women hawking
junk, flowers, or simply begging for change. the
saddest sight was seeing a dejected elderly woman
walking down the street wearing a signboard that
advertised a sex shop. the ancient streetcars and
buses limped through the streets looking like they
were built by 3rd graders in a failed science
experiment. overall though i had an amazing time in
st. petersburg, russia's "window to the west."

then i went to moscow.

don't get me wrong; moscow is fantastic with dozens of
incredible buildings, including st. basil's cathedral
which is so amazing that the csar ivan the terrible
blinded the architect who built it so he couldn't
possibly build a nicer one, but i didn't meet anyone.
not a one. well, on the train from st. pete i did
meet alexander but he spoke about 9 words of english
to my 10 of russian so besides leading me to the metro
we didn't have much quality time together. i spent my
days wandering the streets, avoiding the police,
taking photos, touring the kremlin, checking out
lenin's tomb, staring dumbfounded at st. basil's
cathedral, something i've wanted to see since i was 10
years old, and reading my dostoyevsky novel ("the
idiot") in the outdoor cafes.

more about lenin's tomb: seeing lenin lying there with
one fist clenched, the other relaxed, and his eyelids
closed, was surreal. the guy looks so good i'm sure
he could rouse another group of bolsheviks to
overthrow putin. i stared at his corpse for 1 minute,
expecting the entire time that he would start
stretching, let out a big yawn, and then prop himself
up on his elbows to have a hazy look around. i think
i want to be preserved with chemicals and put on
permanent display when i kick the bucket. would you
guys come see me? seeing a historical figure like
that, actually seeing him in the flesh was like
traveling through time. i mean, there he was, just
lying there, laid out like he was having a comfortable
afternoon nap, dead. have you seen a recent picture
of me? i think the dead guy looks better than i do!

my only complaint about my time in moscow is that the
design of the hostel i stayed in made it hard to meet
people, so i met no one and, therefore, i don't have
much to tell you about moscow, although i did love it.

that's probably fine though, right? i have, as usual,
said way too much for one e-mail.

but perhaps you want more, perhaps you want all the
details of what i do, perhaps this adventure interests
you - and that's why i am writing a book. i wrote 28
pages while in st. petersburg and moscow which contain
just about every detail of what happened, but i
couldn't possibly send a 28 page e-mail, so hopefully
this will suffice until (hopefully, again) the book is
published.

so that is all for now. what's in store for me? a 4
day train ride, 5 days at the lake, then a 1.5 day
train ride to mongolia and about a week exploring,
then a 1.5 day train ride to beijing, china. after
that i have no idea. go see china for a month on a
motorcycle is what i am hoping.

i gotta go catch a long, slow train now...you all do
like me and keep on keepin' on.

from russia with love,
michael

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