Dec 102008
 
Authors: Phoenix MourningStar

Being lost and sleeping in the alleys of Moscow was probably one of the more erratic bits of traveling I’ll do for the foreseeable future.

I’ve slept on the streets of a number of cities: New York, L.A., Seattle, Boulder, Chicago, San Francisco — sometimes its by choice, other times out of necessity.

A peculiar challenge in Moscow was dodging not only the police, but also the packs of stray dogs. I never prepared for having to work my way around and jockey with stray dogs for the prized sleeping accommodations within city parks.

I experienced a personally unprecedented change in fortune during that 36-hour period after my release from Russian Border Security — I woke up just before the dogs under the bench adjacent to me, roamed the city for a few hours finally found Internet at a McDonald’s.

Logging on to every online account I have, I noticed my friend Sam back at CSU was up late pretending to study. We chatted briefly about my aptitude to get lost no matter where I am until I have to run.

By 10 p.m. that same night, I was on the campus of the Moscow Medical College partying with a med student, Jonathan, from Miami who looked far too much like Johnny Depp for anyone’s safety.

By 1 a.m. he escorted us to a raging nightclub I would later find out was more than just a known mafia-run establishment.

We left the club at 6 a.m. when things started to get rowdy — not interested in becoming part of the “misunderstanding” that was erupting.

Two hours of shuteye and a new acquaintance gets a call: “Hey, you guys wanna see some World War II helicopters and fighter planes?”

One hour and two subway transfers later, six of us are outside an airfield paying off a guard 50 Rubles each — about $2 U.S. — to climb on, sit in and have at more than two dozen attack helicopters, bombers and fighters!

The eerie feeling of knowing that those exact planes probably flew countless of hours of missions dropping their payloads was partly overshadowed by the screech of tires a couple hundred meters away. It wasn’t the Russian police. A half dozen “Fast-n-Furious” style street racing cars were spinning donuts on the tarmac. Our amazement grew further when a huge semi-tanker drove up a half hour later to clean the runway for them and lay down a layer of water for the cars to hydroplane on.

“You can buy anything in Russia,” the guard told us.

Touring Moscow City Center, Red Square, Lenin’s tomb and just getting lost in the city took me through nooks and crannies aplenty over the next few days.

There really is nothing like being immersed in a part of the world whose language you can’t speak, understand or read, but it’s something else when you can’t even sound out the alphabet or make heads-or-tales of the written language — can’t help but to love it!

Having made excellent contacts in Moscow, it was time to catch up with a French diplomat in Kiev, Ukraine, named Emily.

Emily works long hours and has only been in Kiev for four months, so I’m pretty much left to myself to explore during the day. Kiev is a very old city experiencing rapid growth with a large industrial sector (which casts a cloud of pollution that would have people from Los Angeles coughing up a lung).

The water has a “taste” to it and I’m advised to only drink bottled beverages and consider soda or beer over water.

I met up with Emily in a smoky bar after work one night. As we caught up, I asked to see her identification badge. She shows me a “special ID” badge she gives to Ukrainian police if she’s ever stopped.

The translation came out to be something like: “Officer, this person is a diplomat of the French government — she is not to be arrested, stopped or detained.”

Dang! I know a couple people back home who could definitely use one of these!

Phoenix Mourning-Star is an environmental science graduate student. His column appears Thursdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

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