@Seaboard92 reading your report brings back many memories. Here are some that seem to be worth sharing.
I visited Moscow about a month after the Ostenkino TV Tower incident. So things were considerably less stable and settled back then.
Unlike you I traveled by train from Helsinki to Moscow on the EC Leo Tolstoy. It had only three en route stops - Vanaikkala (Finnish Border post), Vyborg (Russian immigration and addition of the domestic section to the train), Bologoyo and Moscow Leningradski, though back then it was called Oktobryuskaya. It did not stop at Tver though we passed through it. We arrived at a platform across from the Krasnaya Strela (Red Star). Interestingly, we were held at a signal presumably for congestion ahead, right next to the Ostenkino TV facility where there was that incident in the recent past.
I had a private guide for the duration of my stay since I don't speak much Russian. He turned out to be a rail enthusiast. So that was good. Excellent unplanned but extended tour of the Metro came in handy.
We made additional plans beyond what the standard Moscow tourist sites that the tour company had originally committed to. Upon my suggestion one day we went to the battleground of the famous Battle of Borodino which the French formally won and entered Moscow. But in reality it was the beginning of the end. It is memorialized in Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture, which interestingly is played at every American Independence Day concert in Washington DC! And of course Leo Tolstoy wrote War and Peace about it. So I was not going to miss a chance to visit.
Another day we took a train to Peredelkino to visit Boris Pasternak's (author of Dr. Zhivago) grave. I always wanted to visit it. You can get a brief glimpse of it in the movie "The Russia House". Incidentally The main character Barley Scott-Blair, played by Sean Connery, stayed at the Ukraina Hotel, that I have mentioned earlier, when he was in Moscow!
And as I said, I walked a lot, all over Moscow, sometimes with the guide and sometimes just by myself.
I returned to Helsinki by Leo Tolstoy through a raging blizzard north of Tver all the way to the Finnish border at Vanaikkala. At the border checkpost they spent more time looking for young Russian women stowaways hidden in the train than for any other contraband, which was a bit weird!
I agree with you that Russia is a lot like America, in some good ways, and in some bad ways too.
A final interesting footnote.... I was in Helsinki for a technical standards meeting. My company IPR folks told me not to take my company laptop into Russia! So I locked it up with some baggage that I did not need in Russia in a locker at the Helsinki Central station before boarding the train to Russia, and retrieved it upon return to Helsinki. As I said, things were a bit up in the air back then.
That sounds like a really good trip. I would love to read a trip report about it sometime. Moskva was the one place I didn't have a local to show me around which might also shape my thoughts on the city. I actually preferred both Novosibirsk and Irkutsk over Moskva. I would have taken the Leo Tolstoy or the Trans European Express had either train been running but right now nothing is leaving Russia with the exception of trains to Belarus.
They've even thrown a Lastochka commuter consist on the Minsk-Moskva route now too. Which if you ask me is too many hours on a commuter consist that I would never consider it. I think the Tolstoy is slated to return on December 12th though so I'll probably take it or the Allegro on my trip for New Years.
I find it funny that we play the 1812 Overture every day on the 4th of July too. I wonder if people are confusing it with the War of 1812 in the USA. That would be interesting and a quick informal google search hasn't turned anything up on that.
I'm curious what you think is similar in Russia to the USA as well.
Of the foreign countries I've visited, Russia was the most familiar. (I visited in the 1990s.) It was striking how much it was like the US, culturally. In the way most of Europe isn't, most of South America isn't, Australia isn't, and China isn't. (I haven't had the chance to visit anywhere in Africa or the Middle East.)
I'm curious to what makes you think that as well. I would love to discuss the similarities more because I find it interesting. I know that V Putin is a very big Beatles fan. I actually do trivia at work for a better snack I grab from first class and one of my questions is this. "Which current world leader invited Sir Paul McCartney to perform under his office window in 2003 to sing a song about what his country used to be called?" And Almost no one can get it, they generally think it is Queen Elizabeth. The trick in the question is the part current world leader, and about the song. Then I point out if you look it up on youtube in this video you can see Putin and I believe Gorbachev in the video.
I actually love how that video really helps to humanize the Russians as it shows that they love our music just as much as we do. I really want to see people humanize other people around the world.
Canada? I also found Australia the most similar place I've been to Texas( with lots of differences) but then some people don't consider Texas as being part of the US!
Texas is the size of a small country you know. I have not been to Australia but I would think Russia is a bit more in common with us because it was one of two super powers in the Cold War, with the USA being the second. And both are also militaristic countries. No one ever hears about Australian troops around the world.
I'm optimistic that I'll be able to do so, and I'd be very keen to make contact with you about potential guides when my plans have some level of structure - many thanks!
And if you're ever in SE Oz and fancy a lookabout, let's know.
I will definitely help set you up with some good locals. And I'm sure my friends know some people as well. Of course if I ever run the group tour I'm debating you could just do that as well. Granted I prefer solo travel. I always have and always will.
Most definitely. I'll come down to Australia at some point. Not sure when just yet but definitely will come.