Monday, April 30, 2012

Russia: The Battle of Borodino Lives On

          In September 1812, France's Napoleon Bonaparte faced Russian Imperial General Mikhail Kutuzov at the Battle of Borodino. After 200 years, through the works of artists such as Leo Tolstoy (as well as legal disputes about the historic preservation of the battlefield), Borodino continues to inspire passion and incite controversy.
          Recently, RuNet Echo examined the historical and modern contexts of Russia's victory in the Napoleonic Wars. In this post, we continue that study, focusing closely on the Battle of Borodino.
Napoleon I on the Borodino Heights, by Vasily Vereshchagin (1897), public domain. 
         Napoleon's Blog describes the strategic significance of the Battle of Borodino as follows:
The Battle of Borodino (Russian: Бородинская битва Borodinskaja bitva, French: Bataille de la Moskowa, fought on September 7, 1812, was the largest and bloodiest single-day action of the Napoleonic Wars, involving more than 250,000 troops and resulted in at least 70,000 total casualties. The French Grande Armée under Emperor Napoleon I attacked the Imperial Russian army of General Mikhail Kutuzov near the village of Borodino, west of the town of Mozhaysk, and eventually captured the main positions on the battlefield, but it failed to destroy the Russian army. The battle itself ended in disengagement, but strategic considerations and the losses incurred forced the Russians to withdraw next day. 
The battle at Borodino was a pivotal point in the campaign, since it was the last offensive action fought by Napoleon in Russia. By withdrawing, the Russian army preserved its military potential and eventually forced Napoleon out of the country.
          Travel website's blog describes how Borodino's grounds are preserved today (protecting the site of World War II battles, as well):
Located in the Mozhaysky District of Russia’s Moscow Oblast, the village of Borodino is indelibly etched in Russian history as the location of two devastating battles. The historic Borodino battlefield is a protected area that has been preserved as a reminder of the two history-shaping conflicts that took place there, firstly between Russia and France in 1812, and later between Soviet and German military forces in 1941. Within the protected area is the State Borodino War and History Museum chronicling these conflicts in detail, while the former battlefield is scattered with memorials and monuments as reminders of specific events and influential figures relating to both wars.
          Russian LiveJournal blogger paluch675 provides [ru] photographs of Tsar Nicholas II and his family at the 1912 celebration honoring the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Borodino, featuring images of the following events:
Император Николай II, императрица Александра Федоровна с дочерьми и сопровождающие их лица проходят по перрону железнодорожного вокзала по прибытии на станцию Бородино для участия в торжествах. Второй справа -- барон В. Б. Фредерикс. Бородино, 25 августа 1912 года.
Emperor Nicholas II, Empress Alexandra Fedorovna, and their daughters, with others accompanying, walking along the train station's platform, after arriving in Borodino in order to participate in festivities. Second from the right -- Baron V. B. Fredericks. Borodino, 25 August 1912.
Крестный ход к памятнику Бородинской битвы во время торжеств в деревне Бородино, 25 августа 1912 года.
The procession to the Battle of Borodino Monument, during the festivities at Borodino village, 25 August 1912.

          In a 2008 post, Russian History Blog discussed some of the more recent celebrations honoring the Battle of Borodino:
People from all over the country and overseas, particularly from France come to this historical event. These people are big fans of history. This celebration took place in 1962. In 1995 it got a status of a historic military fest. During its 190 anniversary in 2002 300 thousand people gathered.
          In anticipation of this year's celebration honoring the 200th anniversary, both RuNet and Anglophone bloggers have reported on protracted legal disputes between historical site preservationists and developers. In May 2011, Russia Profile went so far as to announce "The Third Battle of Borodino." In April 2012, the Kremlin intervened against illegal housing developments around the historical site of the Borodino battlefield.      
          Borodino's cultural legacy is not confined to the physical location of the battle -- indeed, it lives on in a variety of art forms.
          In a post titled, "The Battle of Borodino (A Painting to Remember)," Justin's Systema Blog describes an exhibit found in Moscow's Napoleonic War Museum:
It was an amazing painting, with details of the battle painstakingly captured with the precision of the artist. You could see everything. Hundreds of men on horseback charging each other with sabres drawn, while their comrades on both sides loaded their muskets and fired at each other. Cannons aimed at the opposing armies with smoke covering the battlefield. In addition to the mural which was very large, small huts had been constructed on dirt surrounding the artwork in order to replicate the scene of the battle. There was even a recording which would play in the background; the sound of the trumpet signalling a cavalry charge, followed by the sound of galloping horses, cannon and gunfire. The effect was incredibly impressive.
          Finally, summarizing the historical significance of Borodino, Historical and Regency Romance UK blog quotes Napoleon Bonaparte himself:
Although the Russians were beaten they were not completely defeated and Napoleon later said of the encounter: "The French showed themselves to be worthy victors and the Russians can rightly call themselves invincible."

Monday, April 23, 2012

Russia: The Tsar's Victory over Napoleon, 200 Years Later

         Across Russia, celebrations have commenced honoring the 200th anniversary of Tsar Alexander I's defeat of France's Napoleon Bonaparte.
         Napoleon's Blog contextualized [en] the Russian Campaign amid the greater scheme of the Napoleonic Wars, as well as other conflicts with similar names.
The French invasion of Russia in 1812 was a turning point in the Napoleonic Wars. The campaign reduced the French and allied invasion forces to a tiny fraction of their initial strength. […] 
Napoleon’s invasion is better known in Russia as the Patriotic War (Russian Отечественная война, Otechestvennaya Vojna), not to be confused with the Great Patriotic War (Великая Отечественная война, Velikaya Otechestvennaya Vojna). The Patriotic War is also occasionally referred to as the 'War of 1812,' which is not to be confused with the conflict of the same name between the United Kingdom and the United States.
The post went on to examine Napoleon's decision to invade Russia.
At the time of the invasion, Napoleon was at the height of his power with virtually all of continental Europe either under his direct control or held by countries defeated by his empire and under treaties favorable for France. No European power on the continent dared move against him. The 1809 Austrian war treaty had a clause removing Western Galicia from Austria and annexing it to the Grand Duchy of Warsaw. This Russia saw as against its interests as well as being seen as a launching point for an invasion of Russia. Tsar Alexander found Russia in an economic bind as his country had little in the way of manufacturing and being rich in raw materials yet being part of Napoleon’s continental system denied it the trade that was its lifeblood for both money and manufactured goods. Russia’s withdrawal from the system was a further incentive to Napoleon to force a decision.
Reconstruction of a historical 1812-era military parade, in St. Petersburg, Russia. (10 September 2009) Photo by GENNADY CHERNYAVSKY, copyright © Demotix.
          Patriotic War of 1812 Blog incorporated [en] excerpts from Wikipedia into a greater analysis of the Battle of Smolensk -- the first major confrontation of the war.
The Battle of Smolensk, the first major battle of the French invasion of Russia took place on August 16–18, 1812, between 175,000 men of the Grande Armée under Napoleon Bonaparte and 130,000 Russians under Barclay de Tolly, though only about 50,000 and 60,000 respectively were actually engaged.[…] 
An initial probing force captured two suburbs but failed to bring the Russians out to battle. Napoleon ordered a general assault with three corps of the Grande Armée, supported by two hundred artillery pieces. This was initially successful, the intense artillery bombardment setting the city on fire but the French forces lacked ladders or climbing apparatus to scale the city walls and were under counter fire from Russian artillery. By nightfall, most of the city was burning. [..] 
Technically the battle of Smolensk was a victory for Napoleon as he captured the city. However his soldiers were already running short of food and its destruction denied him a useful supply base, adding to the logistics problems caused later by the Russian scorched earth tactics.
         In another post, Patriotic War of 1812 Blog provided [en] a timeline of the major events of the Russian Campaign, including the occupation of Moscow, as well as the Grande Armee's retreat.
  • August [16-18]: Battle of Smolensk.
  • September 1: Moscow evacuated.
  • September 7, 1812: Battle of Borodino.
  • September 14: Napoleon arrives in Moscow to find the city abandoned and set alight by the inhabitants; retreating in the midst of a frigid winter, the army suffers great losses.
  • October 19: Beginning of the Great Retreat.
  • October 24: Battle of Maloyaroslavets.
  • December 1812: last French troops are expelled from Russia.[...]
          Several bloggers of the RuNet have also highlighted the various celebrations around the Russia marking the 200th anniversary of the French Retreat.
           In a post last February, 1812-2012 LiveJournal blog discussed [ru] an earlier event in southern Moscow and identified even grander events to come.
The first event was already held on January 7 at the Tsaritsyno palace [ru] (now a museum and memorial grounds), which Napoleon's troops occupied in 1812. 'Although it was somewhat improvised, around 2,000 people attended,' said the President of the International War History Association, Alexander Volkovich, who was certain that future events will draw larger crowds. Another two mass events are planned to take place at Tsaritsyno on May 18 and between June 23 and 24. During May's 'Night of Museums' [en] festival, the Tsaritsyno mansion will host a large-scale battle reenactment, with several hundreds of people taking part in the spectacle. […] In the summertime, between June 23 and 24, Tsaritsyno will host a ball dance, reenacting the very ball in honor of Alexander I where he first learned of the start of the war.
          LJ blogger Residents of Perlovka introduced [ru] an exhibit that will be on display until September, beginning by quoting Tolstoy's 'War and Peace':
'The Rostov train on this night was in Mytischi, 20 versts [13 miles, 21 km] from Moscow.'
The blogger then cited the exhibit's designers:
Tolstoy's references to Mytishchi in the pages of his novel inspired us to create the exhibit '1812. War and Peace,' which describes prominent military leaders (including Denis Davydov [en] -- a pioneer of the guerrilla movement that played a vital role in the defeat of Napoleon's army), the combat valor of Russian warriors, the famous battles, the military uniforms and weapons, as well as the perspective of life in the year 1812, and of the Russian nobility in the first half of the 19th century.
          Mainstream news outlets have also reported on the 200th anniversary of Russia's victory over the French. An Italian source discussed [en] how a representative of the Russian Orthodox Church has proposed making the French expulsion from Russia into a national holiday. RIA Novosti -- Russia's State News Agency -- provided [en] several photographs of battlefield reenactments. Voice of Russia joined the coverage, discussing [en] issues surrounding the historiography of the Russian Campaign.
          Finally, this author's own blog illustrated [en] the lingering cultural effects of Russia's victory over Napoleon by recounting a past conversation with a Russian-American taxicab driver in Los Angeles:
On one occasion I'd arrived home and, when the West LA van pulled up, I noticed that the driver was the same driver who I'd met on my previous trip. He was from Russia and so I immediately spoke to him in Russian and explained to him that we'd met before. […] Two other passengers boarded the van with me. [...] I translated for the driver and the four of us had a lively conversation about travel and Los Angeles, etc. until at one point the driver suddenly switched to English. He pointed to a sign that said, BISTRO and said in English, 'Do you know why they call cafes 'bistros'?' 
I then explained in English that the Russian army had fought all the way to Paris during the Napoleonic Wars. Russian officers would sit in French cafes and they'd taunt the Parisian waiters by saying, 'Bistro Bistro Bistro.' 'Bistro,' I continued, was the Russian word for 'quickly' and, as a result, cafes where patrons expect quick service have come to be known as 'bistros.'

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Russian Cab Driver at LAX and the 'Bistro' Story

          While living in Los Angeles I got accustomed to taking shuttles home from the airport. When exiting LAX one must simply cross one lane of traffic before arriving at a concrete median and indicating a final destination to a coordinator. Eventually a van with a sign in front saying, in my case, West LA would approach and I'd hop in the van.
          On one occasion I'd arrived home and, when the West LA van pulled up, I noticed that the driver was the same driver who I'd met on my previous trip. He was from Russia and so I immediately spoke to him in Russian and explained to him that we'd met before. He, of course, did not remember me but we continued to converse.
The control tower and Theme Building at Los Angeles International Airport, as viewed from Terminal 4. Source: Wikimedia Commons

          Two other passengers boarded the van with me. One man was older than me and he'd just returned from a trip abroad. Another man was about my same age who explained that he was in the movie business and he seemed to be relatively well traveled. I translated for the driver and the four of us had a lively conversation about travel and Los Angeles, etc. until at one point the driver suddenly switched to English. He pointed to a sign that said, BISTRO and said in English, "Do you know why they call cafes 'bistros'?"
          I then explained in English that the Russian army had fought all the way to Paris during the Napoleonic Wars. Russian officers would sit in French cafes and they'd taunt the Parisian waiters by saying, "Bistro Bistro Bistro". "Bistro", I continued, was the Russian word for "quickly" and, as a result, cafes where patrons expect quick service have come to be known as 'bistros'.
          The driver then said in English, "No. That's not the reason, the reason is…" and he continued to tell the exact same story I had just told. I could sense that the other passengers felt the same way I did about the story - we were all excited with him and grateful that he'd elected to share some of his culture with us. I also learned that it's best to let people tell their own stories.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Russia: Evgeni Malkin's Journey to the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs

          Evgeni "Geno" Malkin - a Russian-born ice hockey player who currently serves as the alternate captain for the NHL Pittsburgh Penguins - led his team to the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
          Born in the industrial city of Magnitogorsk in 1986, Evgeni played for the same Metallurg Magnitogorsk hockey club where his father had served as a defenseman. In 2003, Evgeni represented Russia in the U-18 World Hockey Championships before he was selected 2nd overall in the 2004 NHL draft. By 2009 he'd already won his first Art Ross Trophy.
Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin skates against the Columbus Blue Jackets in a Feb. 26, 2012 game at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, PA. Photo by Michael Miller (Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0).

          During the 2012 World Junior Ice Hockey Championships, which were held in Calgary/Edmonton around the New Year, Russia defeated Canada 6-5 in a semi-final before ultimately losing to Sweden in the championship match. The Pens Blog captured Mr. Malkin's playful banter directed at his Canadian teammates via his Twitter account:
As you probably know, Russia defeated Canada in a semi-final game at the World Junior Hockey Championship tonight. Evgeni Malkin spent the night trolling on Twitter. James Neal got in the act as well. […] 
What we've learned from this is that Crosby, Staal, Fleury and Asham each owe Malkin $100.00. Too bad the Pens don't have any Swedish players for the final.
Here are some of the specific tweets the post cited:

James Neal:
@malkin71_ here they come geno
  Evgeni Malkin:
I cant wait see Canada lose tonight!!!
  Evgeni Malkin:
Whats the score Canada)))))?????
  Evgeni Malkin:
Thanks boys))))#87,11,29,45-100$ tomorow please)))))
  James Neal:
Anything can happen. What a game. Tough loss for the Canadian boys. Ur lucky this time @malkin71_
          Fathead Sports Blog discussed in a February post how Mr. Malkin had taken a leadership role in the absence of the Penguin's Captain, Sydney Crosby:
Even with Sidney Crosby injured, Evgeni Malkin is having an amazing season. Within a three week span in January 2011, Crosby fell to a concussion and Malkin suffered a devastating knee injury. For a team that’s expected to perennially contend for the Stanley Cup, having their future Hall of Famers in doubt was worrisome. 
While it’s unfortunate that Sidney Crosby is still sidelined with lingering effects of a concussion, Malkin has dominated this season. One would never guess that he shredded his knee not too long ago because he’s playing at such a high level. At this time, Malkin is leading the NHL with 78 points and has the Penguins looking like the Cup contender they’re supposed to be. 
Because of Malkin, the Penguins are currently fourth in the Eastern Conference standings. He has scored five points in a game a remarkable five times this season. Five times! In the modern day NHL, that is simply astounding.
          In March, Mr. Malkin's intensity of play led to a discussion as to whether or not he should have been suspended for a hit on Boston Bruins defenseman Johnny Boychuk:
According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the boarding minor Malkin received in the Penguins' victory over the Bruins on Saturday will be the extent of his punishment: No suspension, no fine, just time served. 
Seth Rorabaugh of Empty Netters has it right: This was a trifecta in Malkin's favor. No immediate injury, no prior history of illegal hits and there's enough gray area in Boychuk's last-second turn to the boards that supplemental discipline gets a little murky.
          In April, both English- and Russian-language sources reported that Mr. Malkin had scored his 50th goal of the season, which was all the more remarkable because, (1) the season had been relatively low-scoring across the league, and, (2) Mr. Malkin himself had been forced to miss several games due to an injury to his knee.
          CBS Sports Blog announced the goal in an April 7 post and also mentioned that Mr. Malkin had secured his second Art Ross Trophy for leading the league in scoring points at the end of the regular season:
Entering Saturday's game against Philadelphia it was pretty much already decided that Evgeni Malkin was going to finish as the NHL's leading scorer and win his second Art Ross Trophy. And that's exactly what he's going to do, as he will finish the regular season with 109 points, leaving a pretty significant gap between himself and the second leading point producer in the NHL, Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos. 
And Malkin did it while playing in just 75 games. His 1.45 points per game average pretty much blew everybody else away. 
The only question that remained unanswered for Malkin was whether or not he would score his 50th goal of the season. Late in the second period, with the Penguins already up 3-2, he did just that by moving into the center of the ice and beating Flyers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky with a wrist shot.
 - a Russian-language news outlet - announced Mr. Malkin's 50th goal of the season on April 8. A few days later, a Russian-language Twitter user posted a YouTube video of Malkin's training exercises.
          Looking ahead to the Stanley Cup playoffs, Mr. Malkin thanked the fans via his Twitter account in both English and Russian:
#Pens fans are the best- always support me & team! Thank you for everything! Can't wait for playoffs- Be loud :)
Спасибо всем!!!Спасибо за вашу поддержку,переживания и теплые слова-хороший сезон,но впереди самое интересное)))Хорошего Вам настроения)))
Thanks everyone!!! Thank you for your support and care, for your warm wishes - such a good season, but the most interesting things are ahead))) Wishing you a good mood)))

         The Penguins have lost their first three Stanley Cup playoff games against their instate rivals, the Philadelphia Flyers. Game 4 will be played in Philadelphia on April 18.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Russia: Watching News of Patriarch Kirill's Watch Travel

          This week a controversy that began in the Russian blogosphere concerning an altered photograph of the Patriarch's watch on the official site of the Russian Orthodox Church spread to Western blogs, as well as the West's mainstream media.
          The timing of these events is remarkable for two reasons: (1) The Russian Orthodox Church is in the middle of Great Lent (with still another week before it celebrates its Easter holiday on April 15), and (2) The Church is in the process of finding its post-Soviet identity, as discussed in a January Global Voices post titled, "The Russian Orthodox Church Re-Enters Politics."
           The Russian-language v_n_zb LiveJournal blog provided [ru] details about the photo alterations in an April 4 post:
Nikolai Pravdorub contends that [staff] on the official site of the Russian Orthodox Church altered photographs in which the Patriarch of Moscow and all the Rus' Kirill was depicted wearing a Breguet watch worth 30,000 Euros. 
After a statement last week by Patriarch Kirill that he owns a Breguet watch but has never worn it, the Orthodox Church's official site,, spent the past weekend revising all photographs archived between April and July, 2009. 
Specifically, the site removed all of photographs that showed a Breguet watch on the Patriarch's wrist. 
In addition, one of the photos where a Breguet is visible on the Patriarch's wrist was crudely retouched in Photoshop and replaced in the old bulletins section of the official site. In the [retouched] image, the watch's reflection remained on the varnished surface of the table, and, although the photograph was taken and published in 2009, the metadata attached to the EXIF file was dated March 31, 2012. 
In other words, we have evidence on the most official site of the Russian Orthodox Church that the Patriarch not only wore the watch repeatedly and for quite a long time, but also that a team was dispatched after his recent public statement to conceal this very fact and remove from the Church's site any photographs that included the watch.
          The post went on the illustrate how there was a period of time when the church was in the process of returning the images to their original forms, and therefore some of the original links still do not work:
P.S. On the site, they quickly removed the altered photo, but the old photo doesn't open, either: And here a third photo has yet to be removed -- where the reflection of the watch is also visible, but the watch [itself] has been retouched.'s screenshot of the altered photo on the Patriarchy's website, widely circulated online. 
By April 5, the story caught the attention of the Western media, including Western mainstream blogs.

          Fr. Stephen Smuts, a TAC Priest in South Africa, quoted on his blog an article from The Telegraph. Reuters 'Faith World' blog published an article titled, "Russian Orthodox apologise for photo after bloggers rap Patriarch Kirill over watch":
The Russian Orthodox Church apologised on Thursday for doctoring a photograph of Patriarch Kirill to remove what bloggers said was a luxury wristwatch following accusations that he lives a lavish lifestyle. […] 
The Church made no reference to a watch in a statement, but said a 'rude violation of our internal ethics' had been made and removed the doctored 2009 photo from its Website, replacing it with a version showing a watch on his wrist. 
'Employees of the press service’s photo-editing desk made a silly mistake while working with the photo archives,' the statement said, promising they would be punished. 
'We apologise to all the users of the website for the technical mistake,' it said. 'One of the basic principles of our work is the fundamental rejection of the use of photo editing programmes to alter images.'
          ABC News blog published an article titled, "Russian Orthodox Church Apologizes for Photoshop Stunt," which included a quote from Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin -- a church figure no stranger to controversy:
'There will be a thorough investigation to determine why in this instance there was a crude violation of our internal ethical code,' the patriarch’s press team said in a statement. 'The guilty ones will be punished severely.' 
[…] The patriarch’s press service responded, saying, 'The person simply showed stupid initiative, not justified by anything and not agreed with superiors. It is clear that it is a mistake. We do not want to hide anything, we have nothing to be ashamed of,' according to the Moscow News. 
The Moscow News also said that Vsevolod Chaplin, the church’s head spokesman, told the Russian blog, 'I do not care what watch he has; moreover, I do not remember what watch I have on my wrist, I would have to look. I am not interested in this side of life.'
          In addition, the Russian blogosphere has surged with humorous posts referencing the indicient. Typically pro-Kremlin blogger Fritz Morgen published a satirical post [ru] titled, "Ten Reasons to Defend Patriarch Kirill":
1. The Patriarch represents a great country and should look respectable. 
2. Wearing an expensive watch, the Patriarch defiantly rejects the cult of sleaze that plagues the psyche of so many Russians. [...] 
4. The Patriarch is teaching us how to cope with envy, which (unlike wearing watches) is a deadly sin. 
5. The Patriarch socializes with wealthy and influential people, and for them to take his moral teachings seriously, he should dress on their level. [...] 
7. Wearing the watch and knowing that he would draw criticism for it, the Patriarch behaves bravely and independently, as befits a leader of his rank. 
8. With the help of the watch, the Patriach [sic] avoids the sin of pride and reminds himself that he is not a saintly ascetic, but a man of flesh and blood. [...] 
10. The church thinks in terms of centuries. However much the watch is worth today, it will be worth a hundred times more in 200 years, as an historical relic that raised a scandal in the Russian state.
Activist blogger Alexei Navalny chimed in via his Twitter account:
Теперь это Мастерство Фотошопа РПЦ будут вспоминать при каждом удобном случае. Навсегда прилепится
Now the Orthodox Church's mastery of Photoshop will be remembered at every opportunity. [Its reputation] is stuck forever.
Patriarch Kirill on the mock cover of Photoshop for Dummies (an anonymous photo-parody widely circulated online).
Other Russian bloggers posted irreverent photos of the Patriarch with even more farcical alterations.

          Galludo's LiveJournal blog posted a selection of these photo-parodies, including a picture of the Patriarch on the cover of a "Photoshop for Dummies" book, in an April 5 post.
          Monk Blog included similar pictures in a post [ru] from a Ukraine-based blogger, with the following insightful summary of the week's events:
Many have heard in the news the story of Patriarch Kirill's watch. When the Orthodox Church on its website displayed a photograph from a meeeting, where the Patriarch wore an expensive watch. Later the photos were crudely photoshopped, [but] the reflection of the watch remained in the table. Bloggers noticed the alterations, and the original photo was restored. Amusingly, [others] on the Internet have started playing with the idea of the watch. 
Yet, what remains unclear is the purpose of [the Church's] attempts to feign an ascetic lifestyle. After all, those who believe will continue to believe, and non-believers won't have any more respect [for the Church].

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Watching the 2004 ALCS in Mongolia

          While studying abroad at St. Petersburg State University for my senior year of college, I traveled on the Tran-Siberian Railroad for 6 days in the same direction. Here is an answer I provided on Quora on what the journey was like:

"Night stop of the Transsiberian at Novosibirsk." Photo By: Christophe Meneboeuf  Wikimedia Commons   

I took it from Peter to Ulan Bataar, Mongolia. They ran out of food but they never ran out of beer or vodka. There were 2 fights- a small fight on the train and a giant brawl off the train. A soldier lifted up his shirt and showed me 4 bullet wounds he got in Chechnya. You step off the platform in the middle of the night and look up at the stars and know there is nothing around you for thousands of miles.  I would go from Peter to Irkutsk instead of Vladivostok to Moscow. It would be a tragedy if you didn't stop off in Irkutsk to see lake Baikal. It's a spiritual place for Russians. They believe your brain works differently there because the water is so clean that it purifies the air. I jumped in lake baikal while it was frozen. IT doesn't feel cold. It feels like a million knives stabbing you at the same time. You turn into a monkey and you don't know your name. All you know is that you have got to get the heck out of the water. To this day if I am treading water in life I think back to that lake and I tell myself I must just move in some direction, it doesn't matter which. The trip changes you. And whenever you meet a Russian you can tell them you've been to Baikal and they will know that you really have been to Russia.

          When I got to Mongolia, I stayed in a hostel that had rented the only room with a TV to a Frenchman named Anael. One evening I tracked down Aneal and, although he wasn't familiar with the rules of baseball, he agreed to allow me to watch the American League Championship Series between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees in his room which was aired at 8 am. Anael and I watched the Red Sox come from behind to defeat New York in 7 games before they went on to win the 2004 World Series.