Russian truck transports plane through St. Petersburg streets

plane transport truck

I just know there is a “In Russia….” joke to be made here. The photo shows the elaborate transport of a U.S. owned Eclipse private jet. The plane was being transported from the airport to a convention center where it was scheduled to be put on display.

According to the story, during transport, the truck hit the nose of the plane which messed up the entire plan. Originally, the plane was supposed to be driven several miles to a river, and be barged up the river to the convention center. But because of the damage, the truck was delayed, and the barge left, forcing the truck to make its delivery entirely by road.

The plane is an Eclipse 500, one of the products of the Eclipse Aviation company, which went bankrupt in 2008. More photos of the plane in question (without a broken nose) can be found here.

%Gallery-115044%

[Story/photos from: English Russia]

10 ways to survive a Russian winter vacation

Russian winter vacation
The phrase “Russian winter” may bring to mind images of tall fur hats, snowcovered gold church domes, and steaming bowls of borscht. It may also remind you that both the armies of Hitler and Napoleon were driven off by the cold winter of the north and that “Russian winter” is also an explanation why every invader has failed to conquer the country. Winter of 2010-2011 was forecast to be the worst in Russia (and Europe in general) since they began keeping weather records, but so far, it’s just been freezing (or below) as usual.

Still, there are plenty of reasons to visit the largest country in the world when it’s cold. The long lines to visit Moscow‘s Kremlin or St. Petersburg‘s Hermitage museum virtually disappear over the winter months, and hotel prices, which still high, dip to slightly more palatable levels. More than anything, winter is when you’ll find Russia at its most “Russian”: residents draped in fur, sipping vodka, or taking a steam at a banya bathhouse.

After a recent stint in Russia over the winter holidays, I put together a few ways to get through a week or two in subzero temperatures and even learn to love the cold.1. Find something warm to sip – Though Russia is famed for their vodka-drinking (more on that below), you’ll find coffee to be the most widely available beverage, with even the simplest cafes offering a full range coffee drinks from espresso to macchiato. You’ll find familiar brands like Starbucks and Costa Coffee, as well as Russian chains like Kofe Xaus (Coffee House) and Shokoladnitsa (Hot Chocolate) on nearly every street in major cities with every conceivable hot drink including tea (pronounced “chai” like in Turkish and many Balkan languages).
2. More warming beverages – You can’t talk about Russia without talking about vodka, the national spirit. Russians actually tend to drink more beer than vodka, though both are readily available most anywhere food and drinks are sold and both good for a warm-up. Cocktails are pricey anytime they involve imported alcohol, but a half-liter of local beer or a small glass of vodka (sipped, not drunk as a shot!) can warm you up for a just few bucks. While many bars and restaurants can serve alcohol 24 hours a day, a new law means you can’t buy strong alcohol (i.e. nothing stiffer than beer and wine) after 10pm so plan ahead if you want a late nightcap.
3. Eat filling food – Take a look at any Russian menu and you’ll see the food is made for cold months – hearty stews and soups, variations on meat-and-potatoes, and salads that rely heavily on mayonnaise and meat. If you are looking for lighter (and cheaper) but still substantial fare, seek out pelmeni dumplings, pierogi cheese or meat pies, and blini pancakes. Russian chain Теремок (pronounced Teremok) is all over Moscow and St. Petersburg and is a quick and reliable stop for a pancake with any conceivable filling from ham and cheese to red salmon caviar. They have both restaurant locations and street stands, with handy picture menus so you can point to your choice instead of struggling with Cyrillic. Street food gets classier when caviar is involved.
4. Tread carefully – An ice storm hit Moscow just after I arrived on Christmas, making the sidewalks slippery and treacherous. Many Russians took advantage and slid gleefully down the street and down hills. It may look fun, but you don’t want to spend your vacation in traction or even with a bruised tailbone. Take small and careful steps on icy streets; gravel is used to make it less slick but salt not as common. Ladies, you will see Russian women tottering along the street in 4-inch stiletto boots and think you too can do it. You cannot. It is in their DNA to walk gracefully in high heels on ice while we slip and slide in our most practical shoes. Speaking of shoes…
5. Wear boots – I admittedly mocked my husband for buying huge waterproof boots before our trip, as they won’t see much action in Istanbul where winter temperatures have barely dipped below 50 F, but he was warm as toast. I wore knee-high flat leather boots most days, and while they weren’t waterproof, they kept me relatively warm and dry (though warmer socks might have helped). On the days I wore shorter, slip-on shoes with long pants, I was miserable and ended up with wet pant cuffs and cold ankles. Embrace the equestrian look and tuck your pants into your boots for extra warmth (then again, men may just want to make sure their cuffs aren’t too long).
6. Dress in many thin layers - You may think Russia is the time for big bulky sweaters and coats, but you’ll find that thinner is better. Many museums require you to check your coat at the door and you won’t find them all to be well-heated, so better to have warm clothing underneath. Layers also give you options: I arrived in Moscow in a wool coat bought in Istanbul and left wearing a puffy down coat UNDER the wool, plus a few other layers. Let your wardrobe be flexible and able to add or subtract, it’s easier to pack as well. Check the Gadling cold weather gift guide for some good winter clothing ideas.
7. Bring a good hat – Walking the streets of Moscow, you’ll be sorely tempted to buy a beautiful fur hat like everyone else you see but think again. Is it really that cold where you live? Do you realize how expensive a fur hat is (think a few hundred dollars at minimum for a good one)? Also, a structured fur hat can’t be stuffed in a purse or a pocket on the metro and needs to be carried inside museums, it’s like having a pet to take care of! Suddenly a ski cap seems much more practical.
8. Find the shortcuts – Even in subzero temperature, walking is still the best way to explore Russia’s major cities, and streets are usually well-cleared. After you get your bearings, however, you may want to look for some indoor shortcuts: department stores and shopping centers that span a block, underground passages, and subway tunnels. Russia’s metros are not only beautiful (and heated), they often have multiple entrances that can put you blocks closer (or further) from your destination. Find your landmarks and figure out the Cyrillic so you can take a break from the outdoors for a few minutes.
9. Check your hotel amenities – After location and price, two key hotel features may be a bathtub and a coffee maker or tea kettle. After a day trudging around the city in snow, a hot bath and a cup of tea can be worth their weight in gold. My Moscow hotel room at the Mamaison Pokrovka, had a full-fledged espresso machine with every option for coffee and tea, greatly helping us to warm up each morning and night. Also, some mid- to high-level hotels offer a pool, sauna, and/or jacuzzi for guest use but check the fine print: many are only free for guests for limited hours in the morning.
10. Soak at a banya – Another Russian winter essential is the bathhouse where you can sit in blissfully hot steam for hours. You may want to skip the birch branch flogging but there’s a reason many brave souls dive into snow after a steam: the banya brings your body temperature way up and warms you inside out, while the snow seals your pores. Sound too extreme? Maybe skip the snow and go back to the beginning of the list for some borscht and beer. Na sdrovia!

Find other ways to keep warm in frigid temps? Have you found Russia worth braving the cold? Leave your suggestions and experiences below in the comments.

Winter holiday celebrations in Russia

Winter holiday celebrations in Russia
In most of the western world, Christmas and Hanukkah have come and gone, but in Russia, presents are being wrapped in anticipation of tonight, New Year’s Eve. In the days of the Soviet Union, religious celebrations were frowned upon, so Russians shifted their winter celebrating to December 31 and combining the traditions of gift-exchanging and New Year’s revelry into one night. In the Russian Orthodox church, Christmas isn’t officially for another week, with the Julian calendar corresponding December 25 to January 7, 2011.

I arrived in Moscow last Friday (western Christmas Eve) to find the capital freezing but festive, with New Year’s yolki (trees) decorated all over the city and various versions of Ded Moroz walking the streets, and now in St. Petersburg, locals are rushing home with Champagne and Charlie Brown-like trees under their arms. Nearly every public square has a large decorated tree and every store has elaborate holiday displays.

%Gallery-112268%Ded Moroz (Grandfather or Father Frost in English) is the Russian version of Santa Claus. He wears a blue (or traditional red) and white fur suit and carries a white staff. Ded Moroz originally was a more sinister figure, extorting presents from parents in exchange for not taking their children. In the Russian fairytale (and according to my Russian husband), Father Frost ruled the winter and if children were polite to him, they received gifts, but if they were rude, he would let them freeze to death. Sort of gives a new meaning to naughty and nice! These days, he brings gifts to children at parties rather than leaving them under the tree and he is accompanied by his granddaughter Snegurochka the Snow Maiden. According to the Moscow News, a Ded Moroz appearance can run 2,000 to 10,000 roubles (about $65 to $325 USD) and professional Santas might make more than 10 visits a day during Christmas week, making it a lucrative seasonal profession.

Tonight in Russia, the usual pre-New Year’s partying and indulging is going on, along with tree-trimming and presents. Be sure to stick to your resolutions and be polite to snow kings or you could be left out in the cold next year! S novym godom!

Photo of the Day (12.5.10)

Statues are boring. Whether its some bronzed general ensconced on a horse, or an ironclad explorer gazing off to the horizon, many statues repeat the same themes endlessly and needlessly. But today’s statue-themed photo, courtesy of Photo of the Day regular jrodmanjr, is fantastically beautiful. It’s not just the statue subject matter mind you, but the way the photo plays with light and dark. The little wispy strands of clouds, the angular power wires criss-crossing the frame and the silhouetted stallion all combine to create a wonderful, luminous visual interplay.

Have any terriffic travel photos you’d like to share with the world? Why not add them to our Gadling group on Flickr? We might just pick one of yours as our Photo of the Day.

Ten wild cab rides that you’ll never forget

Everyone has their own way of immersing in a culture. Some jump in knees-deep into the food scene, massacring the local food blogs and munching their ways through every gastic adventure that they can find. Others enjoy the philosophical and soft-edged days of lounging in street side cafes, watching passers-by and drinking coffee in the early afternoon sun. Here at Gadling though, we prefer the good old cab ride.

It’s pretty surprising what you can pick up about a culture from the cabs, each driver with his own background, each car holding thousands of untold stories. Inspired by the works at the outstanding blog known as HACK, we’ve thus put together 10 of our favorite rides from around the planet below.

1. Cairo
One of the most fun and arguably scariest things about Cairo city life is the traffic. Here, traffic signals are rare and crosswalks are non-existant, meaning cars, taxis, trucks, people and donkeys are all jumbled into a free-for-all on the dusty Egyptian roads. It takes nerves of steel to brave these roads, which is why it’s so fun sitting shotgun in an experienced cabbie’s car. An average ride will involve darting through city traffic honking up a storm while barreling past 1960′s-era Fiats, diladapidated buildings and remnants of Cairo history, all for the grand sum of no more than 4USD.

2. Moscow/St Petersburg
The funny thing about cabs in Russia is that there really aren’t any. Instead, the majority of car service is provided by everyday residents looking for an extra few dollars of income. All you have to do to flag a car is hold your arm out low and wait for a passing vehicle to pull over — it could be the remnant of a cold-war era beater or a shiny new Volkswagon — then mutter your destination and you’re off to the races.

This could be a little unnerving for the first time hithchiker, which is why we recommend a few Stoli and tonics before trying your first time. Another handy tip: if you don’t speak Russian, take a photo of your destination and show the driver.

2b. Moscow at 5AM
Traffic is so thick in Moscow that it’s hard to ever really appreciate the passing city while gurgling through the congested streets. For a real taste of Russian ridesharing, try taking a cab to Domodedovo at 5AM when the streets are clear and when your car’s throttle can really open up. Roll down the windows and watch the amazing city of Moscow fly by as you get an uninterrupted view of the beautiful capital city.3. Tokyo
The most mindblowing thing about Tokyo cab rides is the cordiality. Approaching your target cab, the first thing that you’ll notice is that the door automatically opens and shuts for you — all controlled by the white-gloved driver. The rest of your ride is strangely reminiscent of a ride in a London taxi, with black, fancy leather and all the pomp and circumstance of a ride through Oxford Circus. Set that against the high-neon and non-stop glam of Tokyo and you’ve got yourself a formula for travel contrast bliss.

4. Bangkok via motorcycle taxi
Tuk-Tuks and taxi cabs are the mainstays of Bangkok public transportation, but if you really want to make progress then take a motorcycle taxi. You can pick them up at stations around the city and they’ll provide a helmet and the ride of your life — all you have to do is lean and and hold on tight.

5. Delhi via Tuk Tuk as told by Mike Barish

Plenty of places have pedicabs and rickshaws that cater mostly to tourists. They’re alternatives to cabs, but exist only to be kitchy. In India, however, the small cabs know as tuk tuks are commonly used by locals and tourists alike to navigate the incredible congested cities in the nation’s capital.

The tiny three-wheeled vehicles are as ubiquitous in Delhi as cows in the streets and the smells of spices in the air. They’re loud, mostly uncomfortable and expose you to the exhaust fumes from the trucks that suffocate the city’s highways.

All that said, tuk tuks are convenient and get you to where you’re going much quicker than walking. They cost a pittance (think $5 or less), can be found everywhere and usually idle on the side of the street, making it easy to approach and speak with the driver about the price. Once you get going, though, don’t expect to converse much. You’ll be lucky if you can still hear your own thoughts.

6. Enroute to Pudong Airport, Shanghai
The only thing slowing your cab driver down between downtown Shanghai and the international airport at city’s edge is the glaringly obvious radar banks over top of the highway. Imagine yourself comfortably crusing at 95 miles/hour on the People’s highway at 6AM when WHAM, the cabbie slams on the brakes and you slow to 45 for 2000 feet. Get a safe distance away and VRRroooooom, you’re pressed against the back of your seat on your way to the International Space Station once more.

7. Zambia as told by Willy Volk
After our bus from Livingston, Zambia, to Sesheke (a border crossing in the southwest of the country) choked and died, my friend and I sat in the scalding sun waiting for repairs. After about 90 minutes, an approaching pickup stopped when it saw potential passengers sprawled in the dust. Able to outbid the others for seats in the uncovered rear of his truck — we paid the equivalent of $2 each — we high-fived each other, jumped in the back, and sat down … on fifty-kilo bags of uncooked sweet potatoes.

For the next four hours — during which we covered maybe 100 kilometers — we rumbled, bumped, and jounced along southwestern Zambia’s dusty, desolate M10 “highway.” Cinnamon-colored dirt coated my skin and, together with the smoke from roadside fires, filled my nostrils. Bouncing over potholes as large as truck engines, we repeatedly flew in the air and landed hard on the solid, gnarled edges of the sweet potatoes. Bang, bang, bang: our asses smacked those unforgiving, rock-hard bags every 10 seconds for hours. Bang! When we were finally able to crawl out of our tortuous ride, we hobbled to the boat launch — Namibia’s immigration office lay on the other side of the Zambezi River — only to discover we’d missed the day’s final boat and had to be ferried across in a dugout canoe.

8. Technology touts in Taipei as told by Darren Murph
One of the unfortunate results of the broad information infrastructure in Taiwan is that streaming video is everywhere on the island, which means that more than a few cabbies are all-too-distracted by what’s going inside of the cab instead of outside. Darren recounts the full experience with photos over at Engadget.

9. Mexico City
They say tha cabs in Mexico City aren’t the safest in the world, but it’s just so hard to resist the cute little green Volkswagon Beetles that chortle through the street. Provided you have a good command over the Spanish language or at least a good idea of where you’re going, make sure to jump in the back seat of one of these vochos — there’s as much history in these taxis as there is in the city at large.

10. London
Sure, it’s cliche to tout the cultural value of the London taxicab, but there’s no question about it: it’s a rite of passage. From the iconic, black taxi styling to flip-down seats to the near-perfection of every London cabbie the experience is sure to please — just make sure you’ve got enough Sterling to make the trip, UK cabs are among the most expensive on the planet.

[Flickr image via Bruno. C.]