Impressions of Visitors
"I came to Russia to gain some more experience teaching English Language and to further my study of the Russian language, culture and everyday life. Where better to learn about Russia? I have been extraordinarily fortunate in landing a job that allows me to further all these aims in an extremely enjoyable and supportive environment.
"I feel that I should preface my remarks with a few details about myself. I am a 33 year old Australian who has never been to Russia before. I have taken a year’s break from postgraduate study so that I could come to Russia.
"I’ve been teaching English in Samara at the British American Linguistic Centre since November 2001. My friends and family in Australia thought I was a bit crazy to go at this time of year but so far (keeping my fingers crossed) Russia is having an unusually mild winter and I’m enjoying the experience of a northern winter.
"I came to Samara via Singapore, Zurich and Moscow and then a 17-hour train ride from Moscow. Probably the best way to get to Samara is to fly straight here. The only problem is that international flights to and from Samara are fairly limited and at the time of writing only Lufthansa and Aeroflot link with Samara as an international destination. If you have to transfer within Moscow, either to one of the other airports or to the train station and you don’t speak Russian, you can expect to pay anything from $30 to over $100 dollars for a taxi. I would advise against this as aside from the expense, the taxi drivers at the airports are decidedly dodgy. It is better and much safer to organize a local to meet you at the airport.
"I’ve been here for almost three months now and I can’t believe how quickly the time has gone by. Courses that I started teaching when I arrived are close to finishing and I am beginning to feel like a local. I studied Russian for six months in Australia and when I expressed an interest here in studying the language further, my boss offered to provide a private tutor free of charge. This has meant that I’m pretty busy teaching and studying along with the constant invitations from the incredibly hospitable people here.
"Probably my strongest initial reaction to Samara has been that everything here is so incredibly cheap. If you were really motivated to save money you could live here on $150 a month or less (many locals do live on less than this). I am continually stunned by prices when out shopping or even eating at cafes. The other day I went to the canteen in our office building and a 3 course lunch for my friend and I was around $10 and I thought it was a mistake. Some other prices here: a bus ticket is 15 rubles; a 500ml bottle of beer is around 40 rubles and a loaf of bread around 20 rubles.
"Of course the Volga River is the dominant feature of the town. During the winter it is completely frozen and it is possible to walk across it to the Samara Luka National park. For an Australian the possibility of walking ON a river is completely foreign and I have to confess to being rather terrified the first time that I walked on the Volga. Sunday here is the day when everyone is out walking, going to markets, maybe cross country skiing, generally spending time together with friends and family. I have found it really relaxing to take a walk along the embankment. It is so beautiful at the moment with the snow everywhere. While walking the other day I saw people swimming in the river where they had made a swimming pool by cutting a hole in the ice (it is called "sealing", after the sea animal). I have to say it seemed pretty crazy to me and I don’t know that I’ll ever become that much of a local!
"Anyway these are some of my impressions of the winter in Samara so far. I hope to maintain a regular column on this page with further accounts of life here. If you have any questions or comments, email me. I’d love to read your reactions
Travel to Samara
JAPAN – KOREA – MONGOLIA – RUSSIA
"I started my journey in Fukuoka, Japan.
"I organized my visa for Russia at the Russian Embassy.The visa itself is a piece of paper and there are no stamps put into your passport. BE CAREFUL NOT TO LOSE THE VISA!
"I decided to take the infamous Trans Siberian Railway. There are many lines along what is generally known as the Trans Siberian and the line that I took is the line that connects Moscow with Beijing, often referred to as the Trans Mongolian.
"There is supposedly someone in the International Ticketing Office who speaks English but I couldn’t find anyone, so I took along an English speaking friend to help me. I had two options open to me. I could either buy a ticket straight up to Moscow or buy one to a city closer to Samara. My Russian is non-existent so I decided to buy a ticket straight to Moscow. From Mongolia, where I had a transfer, there are two trains leaving to the West. The Russian owned train leaves on Tuesdays at 1.30pm or the Mongolian owned train leaves on Saturdays. (The Mongolian train is a little cheaper). I took the Tuesday Russian train and for a first class berth (2 people to a cabin) it cost me about $180 US. The second class berths have 4 people to a cabin.
"The next morning brought us to the edge of the beautiful Lake Baikal. The train spends about 4 hours or so meandering around the southern tip of the lake. Unfortunately, the day I passed, it was quite overcast and so the scenery wasn’t as spectacular as I had been led to believe. If you have time it has been recommended to me by other travellers that a few days in the town of Irkutsk are days well spent.
"The train’s first stop (before Irkutsk) was at Sludyanka. Sludyanka is a Siberian town on the edge of Lake Baikal. Here the traders were trading and the “Sludyankans” were flocking to the train to buy as much as they could in the 15 minutes we stopped there. On the platform you can buy salted fish which I really recommend. I brought some provisions with me for the journey and this combined with the things I bought at the kiosks at the stations was ok. The dining car started out with a fairly good selection of things but towards the end of the journey had run out of most things. Beer (peevo) was always available.
"The journey continued on pretty much the same with the same kind of scenery after this point and basically every time the train stopped at a station all across Siberia there was a lot of trading going on. Most of the goods appeared to be over priced clothing made in China. From what I could see these trains, for the average Siberian, were somewhat essential to their livelihood.
"The train arrived in Moscow on the Saturday at 4pm (2 hours delayed) and I was met by a representative of the British American Linguistic Centre .
**** I forgot to mention; if possible you should have some money changed into Russian Rubles before you enter Russia. After entering Russia the only place to change your money is in the dining car and they offer a bad rate.
"The British American Linguistic Centre rep took me to the Kazan Station and gave me a ticket to Samara. The train departed at 18.56pm so I had to wait a couple of hours.
"The over night train to Samara arrives the next day at 11.10am (Moscow time). I was met at the station by Peter (the Director of Studies) and taken to a hotel near the office.
"I ended up staying in the hotel for two nights until a suitable flat was found for me.
"My first impressions of Samara were good. I was taken down to the Volga River for a beer and took a walk to the office. It isn’t hard to get your bearings in Samara and the apartments are all conveniently located near the office."
Getting to Samara
Impressions of a foreigner upon arrival
"I came in from France, flying from Roissy airport North of Paris. Although the visa invitation sent to the Paris Embassy made the visa application much easier the queues at the Embassy and at the counters are a mile long. Don’t forget the regulation 3 passport photos, glue, a paperclip and CASH. 350FF (at today’s prices) and a 5 working day wait.
"I arrived outside the Embassy at 08.00 I was eleventh in the queue. By the time the doors opened at 09.00 there were nearly a hundred people waiting to make their applications. I was in and out with my visa in one hour but only because I paid double the standard rate for the express service – in cash of course!. I worked on the assumption that my time, extra travel and food costs made the extra 350 French Francs a bargain. The Paris Embassy works only from 09.00 –12.00 and is closed on Wednesdays. I know. The first time I went to the Embassy, on my first visit to Russia, it was a Wednesday.
"I’d previously flown into Sheremetyevo and knew that passport control is a real nightmare. It can easily take an hour to get through here.
"What I did was use the Diplomats only control point. The $5US that was folded in my passport along with my visa disappeared and I was into Russia. Picking up my bag I was out through “Nothing to declare” and into the arms of my Russian friends who were driving me to Sheremetyevo Terminal 1. It’s only 5 km between the two terminals but it was hot, my bags were heavy and my friends volunteered to meet me.
"There is no shuttle service between the two terminals so if you haven’t got friends you’ll have to use the taxi drivers who’ll be fighting to get at you as you clear customs. Agree a price before you start, wave a $5US bill and you’ll have no trouble. It’s relatively cheap and saves time and trouble. The taxi fare into the center of Moscow (30km) can vary from $25 to $200.
"If you decide to fly via Moscow be sure that the second flight ISN’T from Domededovo airport. It’s 50km away on the other side of the city center – and there’s no shuttle service.
"If you change money or buy an airline ticket Moscow – Samara at the Terminal or at the Samara Airlines counter check that you get your visa back. I didn’t and it causes all sorts of problems.
"The easiest way to get here, (I know this now – didn’t then), is to stage through Frankfurt and fly Lufthansa. There are direct flights to Samara airport for Togliatti and Samara. But they don’t fly every day so check. The passport control is easier, you miss the mess and queuing and bloody mindedness of Moscow and you get where you want to be much faster."