Amazing Race 14, recap 4: Siberia continued. Wear good underwear, it helps

At the start of this episode of Amazing Race 14, after an overnight rest from stacking wood, shutter building or both, teams took off from Krasnoyarsk, Siberia for Novosibirsk on a 400-mile journey via the Trans- Siberian Railway. The sleeper cars of the night train gave most a chance for some shut-eye and a lovely scene of the moon glimmering on snow as the train wound along the tracks.

Tumbling out of the mint green train station, teams made a dash to find taxis to take them to Punkt Tehnicheskogo Osmotra which somehow put Mark & Michael darting across the multi-lane road in the middle of traffic. But as one of them said, “Being stunt men, we know how to get hit by cars.” The taxi ride to the first clue box was the last of other people driving which might have been welcome relief for those who have problems with taxi drivers smoking.

For the first task, teams drove themselves either to Stadium Spartak to drive a snow plow or to a massive apartment complex to look for a Russian bride and drive her to a specific church to find her groom. The first task was easier. Driving the manual transmission Ladas to get to the snow plows was harder than actually driving the enormous vehicles through an obstacle course. Roads in Siberia after a snow are slick and the traffic, although organized with traffic lights and roundabouts is not easy when looking for landmarks. As Victor ground gears and slid he said, “Clearly, we don’t know how to drive in Russia.”

Luckily each time teams got lost, people were more than willing to help and a couple of times led teams to their destinations by driving in front of them so they could follow.

There was only one point when Tammy gave me the impulse to smack her. While she was waiting for Victor finish driving the snow plow for her turn, she said something like, “The largest thing I’ve ever driven is a Mercedes Benz..” Yes, Tammy, you are special.

As the episode editing cut back and forth between those driving the plows and those looking for the bride, the church and the groom, it was clear that the snow plow driving was the easiest choice but not so interesting. The bride finding involved a trip up stairs to knock on doors to see if a bride would come out–sort of like a cuckoo clock striking the hour. The teams interacted with the brides commenting on how lovely they looked. Flight attendants Christie & Jodi apologized for not being dressed appropriately for such an austere occasion. “If we really came to your wedding, we’d look a lot nicer,” one said.

Only one bride became worried by the exercise of driving with Americans who didn’t know what they were doing. took their bride to the wrong church at first. That was after they had stopped to ask a gaggle of young men drunk on vodka for directions. They didn’t take these yahoos advice, through particularly after one of them pinched Christie’s butt and asked for her phone number. Another person they asked for directions led them astray, but as one of them said, the church was lovely–just not the right place. Instead of bitching at each other, they decided to just keep forging ahead which certainly makes for more enjoyable travel–and television. Once the right church was found, the bride ran to her groom in relief.

Next stop for each of the teams was the Gosudarstvennaya Publichnaya Nauchnaya Tekhnicheskaya Biblioteka and the next clue. This is where one team member stripped down to his or her underwear to run 1.4 miles to the Novosibirsk Ballet and Opera Theater in 27 degree Fahrenheit temperatures. Very funny and an indication of how people do things while traveling in another country that might horrify them at home.

If you’re ever on the Amazing Race, pay attention to the underwear you’re wearing. Christie ran in a G-string and Jen had to put on underwear before she started running. The passersby didn’t seem to mind. Christie’s dash was met with a lot of whooping and car honking. Mark reported he was given his fair share of attention also. Considering he’s shorter than five-feet tall, I can imagine.

This leg was where Margie and Luke’s decision to U-turn Amanda and Kris paid off. This mother & son duo came in first again winning a trip to St. Lucia. As each member of a team came dashing around the last corner in his or her underwear, the ones who had come in before cheered.

Christie & Jodi came up last, but happily this wasn’t an elimination round. With Jodi’s finger bandaged after slamming it in the car door and Christie wondering what her father might think of her G-string, this was a happy ending to a visually interesting episode. It was particularly beautiful at the end where there was the visual treat of a ballet being performed on stage. Each time a new team stepped on the mat, a young girl broke out from the corps and headed to center stage with a graceful sweep of her arm saying, “Welcome to Novosibirsk.”

I bet the teams had a great time rehashing this particular day. One thing that’s clear this year is that this is any team’s game.

[Photos from Amazing Race 14 Web site.]

Bolshoi in Russia: Driving like it is the last time ever. It could just be.

Greetings from Moscow! Bolshoi in Russia is my variation on Big in Japan. (Bolshoi means “Big” in Russian. Get it?) Stay tuned for my live dispatches from Russia this week.

A few things to know before driving a car in Russia: avoid it if you can. The traffic is terrible. I suppose anytime you have a country where half the people own fast, luxury cars and the other half owns piece-of-junk Ladas, it’s not a good set up. They have to somehow share the same roads, you know.

The funny thing about driving in Moscow is that you have to know exactly where you are going. The city is filled with one-way highways which do not give you many opportunities to turn around if you end up going in the wrong direction. This is true for taxis, too. Know which direction you are going before you flag one. Not doing so could result in a lot of extra miles on the meter.

The other bizarre thing is that their highways are built so that they could be used as landing strips for aircraft, I’m told. Honestly, every highway here looks like it was built for tanks, not cars. It’s not that they have more lanes than US highways, it’s just that Russian highways seem extra wide because they do not use a median to protect you from on-coming traffic. People drive fast and they look like they are driving right into you. I took this photo from the car I was in, praying to God for no head-on collisions.

Onto more driving tidbits. Check out these cars.

Painting kitchy images on one’s car is a Russian specialty. Apparently, it’s popular mainly because you get a discount on your car insurance if you “mark” your car with, say, a big wildlife theme. Car theft is very common here.

You see wildlife images, Andy Warhol pictures, and even entire city skylines painted on people’s cars. I guess it makes sense, in a weird kind of way. Who would want to steal that?

From Russia, with love.