Day 6 – Homeward Bound

On Thursday evening we enjoyed our farewell dinner at a Georgian style restaurant near our hotel. Georgian food is a fusion of Middle Eastern and Russian cuisine. The country of Georgia was once part of the Russian Federation and is located on the east side of the Black Sea, north of Turkey and south of Kahasakstan. Our distributor Zurab’s family were originally from Georgia.

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Our flight on Friday from St Petersburg to Frankfurt, Germany was at 6:25 am. We were up and checked out of the Majestic Boutique Hotel Deluxe by 4:15 am. We had ordered a taxi the night before. We needed a taxi driver that accepted credit cards because we did not have any rubles. At 4:20 am no taxi had arrived. Kurt checked with the desk and even though we thought we had made prior arrangements no taxi had been ordered. The desk clerk called the Six Million taxi company. They said it would be 15 – 20 minutes until the taxi arrived. We decided to flag down a taxi to save time. A taxi stopped and in my best Russian I tried to confirm that the driver would accept a credit card payment. The hotel doorman wanders over and speaks to the driver in Russian. Our favorite doorman was a fellow we nicknamed Lurch (Adams Family reference). We asked him how tall he was. He replied “I am seven feet minus three inches.” He is 6’9″ tall and skinny as a rail. With the right beard he would make a perfect Abraham Lincoln. The driver seems agitated but finally opens his trunk for our luggage. At that moment the Six Million taxi arrives. We had not put any luggage in the first cab so we chased him away and took the second cab because we knew he would accept a credit card. The ride to the airport was quick and uneventful. The main thoroughfare is the St Petersburg Prospect (boulevard). It is straight as an arrow for 15 miles. When we arrived at the airport I handed the driver my Visa card. It did not work in his machine. I gave him my Amex card. That did not work. After several minutes of fumbling with his credit card machine I offer the driver a US twenty dollar bill. Deal!

For security purposes we had our luggage X-rayed before we could enter the airport. We checked in with Lufthansa to get our boarding passes. There were only two lanes open for immigration so we picked the one on the right with five people ahead of us. The other line also has five people in it. After about a minute a Lufthansa flight crew of six got in line ahead of us and everyone behind us in line bails out for the other line. You would think that clearing a flight crew would be fairly routine. It took several minutes for each flight attendant to clear immigration. Kurt and I headed over to other lines that had just opened up. No big deal. We still had plenty of time to clear security and get to the gate.

We boarded the plane and looked out the window at the sleet and the snow that was the start of the next blizzard and were happy to be headed home to a Chicago where the weather is still a balmy 60’s F.

A highlight of our trip was the Hermitage museum. The museum contains three million items on display. Our tour guide said if we wanted to spend three minutes looking at each item it would take 15 years. We had three hours to see what we could. Most of the items were collected by the Russian royal family over the centuries. Other items were confiscated from the aristocracy by the Bolsheviks before or after they killed them. We viewed paintings by Rembrandt and DaVinci among numerous others. Originally the style of painting was called dead nature but eventually was called still life. Some marketing person must have thought that through in the 1500’s.

The Hermitage Museum

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Inside the winter palace in St Petersburg.  Tom, Kurt, Zurab and John

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A contemporary French artist Jan Fabre had a controversial exhibit. He uses beetles as his medium. The beetles are glued onto various shapes such as skulls. Dead animals are added for effect. He claims the animals are dead as the result of road kill and he never harmed an animal in the name of art.

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He also creates artwork using only a Bic pen. Many, many Bic pens. He creates a subtle image within the Bic artwork that can only be seen at a certain angle.

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When we arrived in Frankfort, Germany there was a Lufthansa gate agent holding a sign with the name Reed. Our company president Tom Reed is flying Lufthansa first class. The plane is parked on the tarmac and the hoards of passengers are being loaded onto buses. Mr. Reed is invited to ride to the terminal in a new Mercedes van. Of course he invites Kurt and me to accompany him in the Mercedes. I love international travel.

Tom had a 2.5 hour layover and Kurt and I have a four hour layover in the Lufthansa business class lounge. That might seem like a long time but the lounge has a full open bar,  huge meal buffet, comfortable seating and lots of electrical outlets if you have the right adapters. Most countries have different shape plugs for electrical cords than the US. I have an adapter for every country.

We boarded UA flight 906 and took our seats in our first class pods. We pay for business class seats and get upgraded to first class. The pods are quite spacious and the service from the flight attendants is almost too attentive but you get used to being pampered. The flight time was 9 hours. The pods have separate mattresses that the flight attendants attach to your lay flat bed when you are ready to go to sleep. When we arrive in Chicago I will bypass the long lines at immigration and go through the automated Global Entry lane. A private limousine will meet me at the baggage claim exit. International travel does not have to be stressful.

Farewell komrads

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So ends another international adventure.

Days 4 and 5 – Russian History Lesson

Note to self, do not bother to bring sunglasses to St Petersburg. It has been gray and overcast with snow flurries all week. St Petersburg only gets 45 days of sunshine per year. This is not one of those days. The good news is that we are able to do a little site-seeing and there are no lines. During the summer there are many cruise ships and the lines wrap around the block to see the tourist attractions. Our tour guide mentioned that it is not uncommon for cruise ship passengers to stand in line for hours and have to return to the ship before it sailed without getting inside the cathedral or museum.

We were exposed to great insight into Russian history. It was quite violent. There are the czars and czarinas, the Yusupovs who are the richest family in Russia, the mystical faith healer Rasputin and the Bolsheviks. Here is an extremely abbreviated lesson on Russian history based on the sites we visited.

Peter the Great – 9 June, 1672 – 28 January 1725 – ruled the Czardom of Russia and later the Russian Empire from 7 May April 1682 until his death, jointly ruling before 1696 with his elder half-brother, Ivan V. Through a number of successful wars he expanded the Tzardom into a much larger empire that became a major European power. He led a cultural revolution that replaced some of the traditionalist and medieval social and political systems with ones that were modern, scientific, westernized, and based on The Enlightenment. Peter’s reforms made a lasting impact on Russia and many institutions of Russian government trace their origins to his reign. We visited his summer and winter palaces and the Hermitage museum which is attached to the winter palace. His descendants ruled Russia until 1917 when the Bolshevik’s lead by Lenin murdered the entire family of Nicholas II.

Peter the Great

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Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin – 21 January, 1869 – 17 December] 1916 was a Russian peasant, mystical faith healer, and trusted friend of the family of Nicholas II, the last Tzar of Russia. He became an influential figure in Saint Petersburg, especially after August 1915, when Nicholas took command of the army fighting in World War I. Rasputin then became an easy scapegoat for Russian aristocrats, nationalists and liberals.

Gregorio Rasputin

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On 6 April 1907, Rasputin was invited to Alexander Palace to see Alexei, the heir to the throne. The boy had suffered an injury which caused him painful bleeding. By then it was not known that Alexei had a severe form of hemophilia B, a disorder that was widespread among European royalty. The doctors could not supply a cure, and the desperate Tsarina Alexandra invited Rasputin to cure her son. He was able to calm the parents and their son, standing at the foot of the bed and praying. From that moment Alexandra believed Rasputin was Alexei’s savior. One of theories regarding why Rasputin was able to cure Alexei is because he was a faith healer. The doctors kept giving Alexei high doses of aspirin to cure him. The aspirin was a blood thinner and exacerbated the hemophilia. Rasputin stopped giving Alexi aspirin.

Alexei Romanov

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The Yusupovs were a Russian noble family descended from Ghengis Khan, renowned for their immense wealth, philanthropy and art collections in the 18th and 19th centuries. Most notably, Prince Felix Yusupov II was famous for his involvement in the murder of Grigori Rasputin. The Yusopovs had four palaces in St Petersburg and two palaces in Moscow as well as additional palaces throughout Europe. Their religion was originally Muslim but they converted to Catholicism. As a result an Inman put a curse on the family that only one child would survive during each generation. The curse has continued until this time.

Yusupov palace in St Petersburg

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Felix Yusupov was a member of the socialist group planning to take over control of Russia from Nicholas II and his family. Felix conspired to murder Rasputin. He invited Rasputin to his palace and tried to kill him with wine and cakes containing poison. After a long while Rasputin finally drank the poison wine and ate the poison cake but he did not die. Felix borrowed a gun from a friend that was part of the conspiracy. He shot Rasputin four times in the back. Rasputin fell to the floor. When Felix reached down to drag the body away Rasputin tried to choke Felix. Felix fled upstairs to get reinforcements. Rasputin crawled up another staircase and tried to escape through the garden. One of the other Bolsheviks found him and shot him in the head. They wrapped Rasputin’s body in a rug and dragged it to the river. It was winter so they had to chop a hole in the ice to dispose of the body.

Felix Yusupov

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Soon after the murder of Rasputin the Bolsheviks rounded up Czar Nicholas II and his family and killed them all. They burned the bodies and buried the remains in a swamp. The charred remains of Czar Nicholas II and his family were found in 1998 and buried in a cathedral in St Petersburg.

Tsar Nicholas Romanov II

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Another cheery fun fact about St Petersburg is that at the start of WWII the Nazis tried to capture the city. They attempted a blitzkrieg but ended up holding a siege for 872 days while they bombarded the city and starved the residents. Over 1.2 million residents perished before the Nazis were finally beaten back at the end of WWII.
So ends the Russian history lesson.

Bonus photo – This marvelous Russian-style church was built on the spot where Emperor Alexander II was assassinated in March 1881.

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Day 3 – St Petersburg, Russia

I awoke to the sound of snow plows and snow shovels outside my hotel window in St Petersbug, Russia.

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I always sleep well the first night after a long trip. Getting acclimated to the new time zone is easier when I arrive at night. Staying up until midnight helps in the transition. My trip to Russia was quite uneventful except for the one hour delay in Munich. Having flown over 2.5 million air miles during my career I have a motto that “any flight that arrives on the same day it is scheduled is a good flight.” I have only had a few occasions where I was delayed a full day. I was at Tokyo airport when the earthquake hit on March 11, 2011. I was also inconvenienced by the volcanic ash cloud from Iceland that shut down air traffic in Europe in April 2010. I was in Russia at that time.  You can read about these international adventures by cutting and pasting this link in your browser.

http://www.captainfatherjohn.com/category/x-international-travel/page/4/

A highlight from one of my previous trips to St. Petersburg was to sing a karaoke duet with the Russian queen of Pop music Tatyana Bulanova.  My Russian distributor Zurab was a very good soccer (football) player and knew Vladislav Radimov who played for the Russian national football team. Vlad married Tatyana Bulanova and they live in St Petersburg.

Tatyana Bulanova and CFJ

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Tatyana Bulanova has the title of the most crying Russian singer because her first hits were sad songs like a lullaby of a single mother. She started singing in the beginning of the 1990s and she is still one of the most popular singers. Her music genre is called “sorrow-pop. Her latest album was released in 2010. Overall she has 27 albums to date, making her discography a staggering 27 albums in 20 years.
She is now performing in the “All-Stars” shows instead of solo concerts. Unfortunately for me, she is on tour in Lenningrad this month and was not in St Petersburg.  Tatyana is the Russian equivalent to the likes of Paula Abdul and Cyndi Lauper in the US.

Watching TV in Russia there is lots of praise for president elect Trump. There is a high degree of optimism that Russian / US relations will improve. The photo of Putin and Trump was accompanied by the Sting song “The Message” which has the verse “the Russians love their children too.”

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The other two Rust-Oleum folks arrived on Tuesday. President Tom Reed and VP International Kurt Hardy connected through London and arrived at 4:00 pm. Zurab and I met them at the airport and took them to visit DIY stores to review the Rust-Oleum display and see the competitive products on the shelves.

Zurab Mishin, Tom Reed, John Simons and Kurt Hardy

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Bonus photo

King of the hill – Tom Reed

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