What is Russia Like?

I’m asked that question a lot. It’s understandable. Closed for almost a century to most of the outside world, even today Russia seems mysterious and even mystical.

It is. But one must quantify. Which Russia?

The Russia of Moscow, that grand capital of the Russian nation, the largest city in Europe with a legal population of 12 Million and another 3 million illegal residents from the surrounding republics?

Or the Russia of Saint Petersburg, Tsar Peter the Great’s “Window to Europe” with it’s endless summer nights, magnificient museums, and it’s beautiful bridges, canals and palaces?

Or perhaps the Russia of the south along the Volga river and the vast fields, rolling hills and streams bordering the southern former Soviet Republics?

Maybe it’s the Russia of Siberia which begins in the center of the country and runs both East and North? So, are you ready for a tour?

Is it the Russia of the East where Indians and Eskimos to the Northeast give way to an Oriental Russia in the Southeast along long stretches of Chinese borderland and then ending at the Sea of Japan?

Or is it the rural Russia, the small towns and villages spread over this land?

One thing is certain, Russia is massive: A full 1/6 of the earth’s surface is the country we know as Russia. 11 time zones covering 49% of the European continent and 61% of the Asian continent is Russia. The entire northern border of Asia is, you guessed it, Russia. The largest freshwater body of water in the world, Lake Baikal, is in Russia. Over 100 languages and dialects are spoken in the largest country in the world.

Russia has some of the most beautiful nature, forests, small towns and villages in all the world!

Many visitors feel that ancient castles and churches are what make Russia so special.

Hope you enjoyed this tour!

Eurovision 2009 in Moscow

euro logoWell, they’re over. The 2009 Eurovision Song Contest, this year marked the 54th annual event, was hosted in Moscow complete with hovering swimming pools, Dima Bilan “flying” over the audience and a live speech from an astronaut in the international space station.

The winner, Norway’s “Fairy Tale,” performed by Belarussian-born Alexander Rybak, 23, won a record 387 votes, against 218 for second-place Iceland.

euro 1

For Russia, hosting the contest was a costly venture. Russian Channel One director Konstantin Ernst, who organized the event, said it totaled more than 24 million euros ($32.3 million). Hours before the 11 p.m. start, the Olimpiisky Sports Complex was surrounded by flag-waving fans. Sporting Union Jack flag face paint and a beaded Russian headdress, Helena Davidson from London praised Russia for its handling of the semifinals. “It’s putting on an amazing show. I can’t wait for tonight,” she said.

euro 2

Iceland came in second and third place went to Azerbaijan with the song “Always” by Aysel & Arash.

Ukraine’s Svetland Loboda performed to wildly cheer crowds but did not win.

The hosts were popular comedian Ivan Urgant and pop singer Alsou. Making his English-language debut, Urgant seemed relaxed in his interaction with the audience. “Are you enjoying my flawless British accent?” he asked the crowd to screams of approval.

euro alsou

Armenian sisters Anush Arshakyan and Inga Arshakyan placed tenth.

In previous years, winners were determined by national televoting – the aggregate votes cast by viewers in each country determined the country’s vote. Votes for the country in which one was voting were not allowed.  This year, however, a mixture of 50 percent televote and 50 percent jury was used. National juries consisting of five music-industry professionals in each country helped determine the vote for each of 42 countries.

OMOH breaks up gay pride parades

The feared Russian Interior Ministry forces has one focused mission: To maintain order within the country’s borders. The initials OMON which are OMOH in Cyrillic Russian, stand for Отряд милиции особого назначения; Otryad Militsii Osobogo Naznacheniya, Special Purpose Police Squad) the special special units of militsiya (police) within the  Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs. There is an OMON unit in every Russian oblast.  

omon

As reported by the Moscow Times newspaper and RIA Russian news service OMON troops broke up an attempted gay rights protest on Saturday as OMON troops dragged protesters into police vans. More than 30 protesters were detained, including Peter Tatchell, a prominent British gay rights activist, Andy Thayer, an activist from Chicago’s Gay Liberation Network, and the organizer, Nikolai Alexeyev.

The unsanctioned protest, called Slavic Pride, was originally announced as taking place at Novopushkinsky Skver in central Moscow, but organizers changed the location at the last moment to the Vorobyovy Gory viewpoint near Moscow State University, a popular spot for wedding photographs. Moscow city officials which must approved public marches, parades and protests had denied a permit for the event.

A handful of protesters including Tatchell and Edvard Murzin, a heterosexual human rights activist, unfurled banners and shouted slogans including, “No compromises! Equal rights! Homophobia is a national disgrace!” Minutes later, OMON troops hurled themselves through a hedge and grabbed protesters, including Tatchell, who was dragged to the ground. As Tatchell was bundled into a police car, he called out, “Russian people don’t have freedom.”

Organizer Alexeyev arrived separately, walking arm in arm with a drag queen in a wedding dress. Two burly OMON officers began questioning him. Alexeyev asked what offense he was committing, and one said, “We have reason to think that you are going for a walk with a man dressed up as a woman.” Minutes later, both were detained. The man in drag threw his bouquet at a plainclothed official.

Omon 2

A police spokesman said about 40 people were arrested around the city, both at Vorobyovy Gory and at Novopushkinsky Skver. Most of the protesters were released after being fined 500 to 1,000 rubles ($17 to $34).