Oto in Motherland: a (huge) photo log

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Oto in Motherland: a (huge) photo log

Postby Otohiko » Tue Dec 26, 2006 4:51 am

THE MOTHERLAND
(or Oto returns to his hometown)

As some of you may or may not know, I was born and raised in Russia, and I've only been living in Canada (and, consequently, speaking/writing/reading English) since just before high school. Since then, I hadn't been back there - until this summer.

The circumstances of my trip to Russia weren't the best - I went there to look after my grandmother whose health has been getting increasingly poor, and noone else in the family could or would go to help out. Still, I knew I’d make the best of it – coming back to a place where you’ve grown up after not seeing it for 8 years is quite something. All the better since my best friends were still there, and we’d been in contact.

I grabbed a cheap digital camera with a big memory stick, intending to take pictures. Of all and everything. That intention I certainly fulfilled. As I took over 7,000 pictures and have nothing better to do with them, I shall post some around here. No, not all of them. But a lot.

Mind you, most of them are of one city, St. Petersburg, but that is accurate to my own experience of Russia through my life there. During the 14 years of my growing up there, I very rarely left that area.

Anyway, I’ll start this at the very beginning.


***
July 1st, 2006

Radies and gentremen,
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Point of departure (Oto's actual house in Canada). This is where I’m posting from presently.

It’s ironic that I left the country on July 1st (Canada Day).

After a ceremony-free goodbye to the family, I set off alone on a rather mundane bus ride to Montreal, some two hours away. Getting into the airport was surprisingly simple (so much for the security scares), and soon I was staring at this:


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The aircraft involved in the incident, Montreal's Pierre Trudeau Airport.

I mean the plane I flew on.

As it also may or may not be known, I’m a huge fan of airplanes – flight simulators, models, films and what have you.

I had a ticket for the regular Czech Airlines flight between Montreal and Prague, from where I would transfer to St. Petersburg. Ironically, this may well be the same plane that brought me to Canada more than 8 years earlier.

Czech Airlines is an excellent carrier, known to be the best in Eastern Europe, and certainly living up to the title. Have nothing but good things to say for them – good service, pretty good food, good flying, very reasonable pricing.

The plane is an Airbus A310 with its slightly chubby football shape. A good un-fancy trans-atlantic ride.

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An hour-some later, I was in the plane, snapping off pictures of the neighbouring Air France jet.

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Soon we were moving and lining up for the runway.

That's right. I violated the rule of not using electronic devices aboard during takeoff.


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And off it was!

…for all my love of planes, I soon discovered that flying was a mixed pleasure for me; in fact it was a mixed pleasure BECAUSE I knew too damn much about the things.

*to be continued*
Otohiko
 
Joined: 05 May 2003

Postby Otohiko » Tue Dec 26, 2006 4:52 am

Continued...
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Whoosh! The whoosh on takeoff is unmistakable. You can feel the exact moment the plane transits from being a rolling-down-the-runway vehicle and becomes an aerodynamic flyer.

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Parking lots at the airport.

My bus passed this interchange just a couple of hours earlier.
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St. Lawrence river, near Montreal suburbs.
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The plane climbed through a light layer of condensing fog before leveling out. A bit of shaking; it was a typical hot and humid Eastern North American day.

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Southern Quebec, about 20,000ft altitude. Starting to level out.

*to be continued*
Otohiko
 
Joined: 05 May 2003

Postby Otohiko » Tue Dec 26, 2006 4:52 am

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Clouds over Maine.

Amusing Oto fact: This happens to be the only time that I violated American airspace for longer than 1 minute in my life (that's right, I've never been to the States :shock: I promise to fix that next year with AWA)

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One funny thing about this: the slant is accurate to what my inner ear thought was the right way up in the plane. For the entire flight I felt like I was sitting at exactly that slant.

As I said, flying the plane was a bit of a mixed pleasure for this airplane fan. Through the whole flight, I was nervous as hell, in fact. The problem is that I think I knew too well what was going on. I’d sit there measuring bank angles and mentally bitching at the pilot for doing something I found unexplainable. I’d twitch every time I saw one of the control surfaces move or heard the engines changing thrust. I’d telepathically try to communicate to the pilot my desire to avoid this or that cloud in a passing cold front, and otherwise play backseat pilot. The periodic flashing of flight data on the screen in front of me and my having an atlas in hand only made it worse.

But to sum it up in one word – it’s freaking terrifying to know a little too well what’s going on and have absolutely no control over it.

Gulf of St. Lawrence, from 30,000ft:
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Newfieland's west coast:
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*to be continued*
Otohiko
 
Joined: 05 May 2003

Postby Otohiko » Tue Dec 26, 2006 4:52 am

Finally getting somewhere – or out of somewhere…

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Labrador. Last sight of Canada for Oto for 2 months.

Sunset over the North Atlantic:
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*to be continued*
Otohiko
 
Joined: 05 May 2003

Postby Otohiko » Tue Dec 26, 2006 4:53 am

Twilight over the North Atlantic:
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(the colors here are untouched by the way. I particularly loved that creepy red glow which lingered at the northern horizon for over an hour at our northernmost point in the journey, somewhere in the middle of the ocean. The world feels both huge and small when traveling by air)

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Dawn over England

*to be continued*
Otohiko
 
Joined: 05 May 2003

Postby Otohiko » Tue Dec 26, 2006 4:53 am

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Wonder if anyone who has some idea of geography recognizes this coastline?

The Netherlands
Note one of the infamous hi-tech dikes at the bottom in picture 2


Deutschland:
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Lens flares over the Czech Republic!
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Note the deployed spoiler. Not the plot kind, the aerodynamic kind.

Czech countryside:
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I love this shot (note the little church steeple!)

*to be continued*
Otohiko
 
Joined: 05 May 2003

Postby Otohiko » Tue Dec 26, 2006 4:54 am

Czech countryside, continued:
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I also officially love Europe with its red-roof villages.

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FLAAAARE!!!!
(it’s a term for the plane pulling up just before touching down to smooth its descent. Quite dramatic at times – note the flaps and spoilers fully deployed)
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Landed, looks like my camera didn't screw up their ILS and make the plane crash :roll:

Goodbye plane!
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*to be continued*
Otohiko
 
Joined: 05 May 2003

Postby Otohiko » Tue Dec 26, 2006 4:54 am

I was in Prague. Seriously.
The pictures prove it:
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(advertisement for Czech tourism at Prague-Ruzyně Airport)

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I actually didn't go to Prague since my transfer was in 5 hours.

But that's 5 hours that I had to stay awake after a Trans-atlantic flight. Since I was alone, falling asleep was not an option but rather a scary possibility.

So, I resolved to walking in order to stay awake. I spent the next 4 or so hours walking back and forth through the terminal. By my calculation, the total distance I ended up walking back and forth ended up being over 12km (7.5 miles). Ouch.

This describes my state rather precisely:
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(an advert for Czech Tourism)

My hat + chair:
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I never understood what “Free Zone” means, or whether my aimless wandering about there was true freedom. :roll:

*to be continued*
Otohiko
 
Joined: 05 May 2003

Postby Otohiko » Tue Dec 26, 2006 4:55 am

Oto’s hat and glasses, challenging fire safety codes:
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Challening international phone systems:
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Czech car:
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At last! Back in the plane, this time and A320 bound for St. Petersburg, a 2-hour flight away:
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*to be continued*
Otohiko
 
Joined: 05 May 2003

Postby Otohiko » Tue Dec 26, 2006 4:55 am

Noon, June 2nd 2006

Onwards again!
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Gdansk, Poland - known at some point as Danzig, Prussia/Germany:
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My first sight of Russian territory in over 8 years :o
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A spit in the Baltic Sea, off Kaliningrad (Formerly Koenigsberg, East Prussia)

Riga, Latvia
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(never realized the place was so small. I’ve heard lots about this city, and was surprised that from 30,000ft up, it was so… tiny. Apologies for graininess – had to dial up contrast on this one)

*to be continued*
Otohiko
 
Joined: 05 May 2003

Postby Otohiko » Tue Dec 26, 2006 4:55 am

Estonia:
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If you look really hard, you'll see the huge sprawled-out mass of St. Petersburg, Russia - the most northern city of over 1,000,000 people in the world (and it has over 5 million):
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aka. Oto's hometown!

In Soviet Russia... (note the characteristic communist block apartment blocks):
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Pulkovo Airport, St. Petersburg. Approaching Terminal 2:
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Tu-154 of Pulkovo Airlines:
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In August, a Tu-154 of Pulkovo Airlines crashed in the Ukraine. Maybe even this one. Creepy.

*to be continued*
Otohiko
 
Joined: 05 May 2003

Postby Otohiko » Tue Dec 26, 2006 4:57 am

Fuck:
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After 22 hours of no sleep and constant travelling, I had to stand in line for 2 hours to this shit. Nervous as hell due to some paperwork issues which I’ll mention more later, perhaps.

After that I fell asleep and stopped taking photos for a while...


The next photos came the next day, after I arrived to my grandparents apartment.

Soviet Russian living conditions

Actually, that was my first and only culture shock when I arrived there. The apartments are amazingly tiny. The pictures can't really convey it. I had the reverse shock when I returned to Canada some two months later. It just hits you.

Which is all the stranger since, while growing up in Russia, I spent nearly every weekend in that exact apartment.

Certainly it isn’t true of all living conditions, but as Russia lacks a true middle class – all but a small elite live in cramped quarters to say the least. The buildings are also in horrible condition, though it doesn’t seem like their mere 35-year age is all that much. But they are honestly incredibly stupidly-constructed pre-fab concrete block card houses. Sometimes there's odd noises coming from the building; the rumble from traffic seems unreasonable and the 9-storey block sometimes shakes. By the time I left two months later, two doors located in the same area stopped closing at all (I suspect because the building slightly deformed while I was there). Disturbing to say the least, but that’s normal real estate for most Russians.

Oh, I’m only beginning to scare you up. Before I go any further, allow me to disclaim that – as my pictures show – I love that city and don’t think Russia is hell at all, but there are many facts of life there that have to be adjusted to.

Some pictures from a typical Soviet Russian kitchen:

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*to be continued*
Otohiko
 
Joined: 05 May 2003

Postby Otohiko » Tue Dec 26, 2006 4:57 am

View out the window:
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It might look OK, but actually, that area is rather ghetto. It hadn’t been so obvious to me when I was younger. I sincerely disliked it, thought it was unsafe and always snuck off to another part of town (where I mostly grew up and went to school) to see my friends.

A big part of it was that there was a disturbing number of groups of young shady-looking men talking loudly and consuming alcoholic beverages (people drink on the streets. All the time. It's amazing, but you can't walk 10 meters without seeing someone with a beer bottle.)

My main fear walking on the streets in that part of town, though, was stepping on a [medical] needle. These were also encountered with disturbing frequency – not used for medical purposes, if you know what I mean.

Later in that area, I was also treated to the pleasure of standing for 5 minutes waiting for someone to open the door for me - while a few meters away, two somewhat intoxicated men were arguing loudly and threatening each other with bricks. :?

And if that’s not enough – about 10 years ago, the same apartment block was partially evacuated after some explosive stored by terrorists in the basement blew up, ruining a two-floor section, about 50 feet wide. It was repaired and the building still stands. Only one person was injured in that incident – an old lady who was sleeping in a first-floor apartment and was reportedly blown out of it with her bed.

I wrote a story about that in an English class in Canada – saying “man, I wish I was there when it blew so I could see that old lady flying through the air!” My teacher was bepuzzled and dismissed it as some nonsensical fantasy, perhaps for fear that one of her students might think of something so obviously wrong, I think. At the time I didn’t think of it as anything incredibly wild.

That’s shady areas for you.
Otohiko
 
Joined: 05 May 2003

Postby Otohiko » Tue Dec 26, 2006 4:58 am

Those who know of my affinity for military history can easily guess the first attractions I went to see...

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A Torpedo Boat on the shore of the Gulf of Finland, set up as a monument to WWII sailors. Defitely was top-of-the line in WWII - even has a pretty good radar on it!

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D-2 submarine, also from WWII.
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I took a LOT of pictures of it, and perhaps I'll post more later. Just some key ones now.

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F'n kids

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That's right. Oto with a periscope.

*to be continued*
Otohiko
 
Joined: 05 May 2003

Postby Otohiko » Tue Dec 26, 2006 4:59 am

Chilling in the boat’s officers’ mess:
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Loading dem torpedoes:
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*to be continued*

But somewhat later. If people want to.

Do I keep this up or am I boring you already?
:roll:
Otohiko
 
Joined: 05 May 2003

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