A new Asian country

I went to my favorite weather site today ( http://weather.yahoo.com/ ) to look up the forecast for Moscow. To my surprise, I couldn’t find Russia in its usual section which was “Europe”. After quite a search I found it here:

Any thoughts on this sudden change of status? 🙂

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Yahoo! I’ve seen Oahu!

And here’s me again after quite a long break. First off, Happy New Year you guys and gals! Hope 2010 will be happy, fruitful and eventful.

As for myself, 2009 was a lot of fun. Both in terms of traveling and “normal” life as well.

The highlight of 2009 was definitely my trip to Hawaii (the island of Oahu).  The Russian mentality has always pictured Hawaii as something extremely exotic, with tropical plants, waterfalls and palm trees. There’s even a Russian song called “Oh, Hawaii!” that has a line that goes: “Coconuts grow there”. Well, they don’t and now I know it (at least I failed to find any on Oahu). 🙂 Pineapples do though. 🙂

Pineapples at the world famous Dole Plantation.

A quick couple of Hawaiian facts. Of course “Oahu” says nothing to most people, so here’s a list of all 8 Hawaiian islands and the number of reasons why I picked the one that rhymes with “Shmoahu”. 🙂

  • Kauai
  • Niihau
  • Oahu
  • Molokai
  • Maui
  • Lanai
  • Kahoolawe
  • Hawaii (a.k.a. the Big Island)

The capital of Hawaii is Honolulu and it is located on Oahu. So, basically all major U.S. cities have direct flights there. And I didn’t feel like making any more connections after flying from Moscow to New York and then to Minneapolis. 🙂 Second, Oahu has many other attractions apart from beaches, such as: Pearl Harbor, Polynesian Cultural Center, Waikiki downtown area that includes International Marketplace, bars and restaurants, shopping plazas filled with local stuff and world known brands, etc. But perhaps the key reason why I picked Oahu was the fact that the topline TV show “LOST” is being filmed there. 🙂

Right after I found out that Oahu is cooler than Hollywood, I started searching  for ways to get to see all “Lost” film locations. It turned out that the best way to see them is through the “Hummer guys” (as they were called by Jorge Garcia starring as Hugo “Hurley” Reyes in “Lost”). Here’s their website and a free whole-hearted promotion for the Hummer guys 🙂 http://www.hummertourshawaii.com It was a real blast riding in the jungle and seeing all the movie locations in the middle of a beautiful privately owned Kualoa Ranch. Apart from “Lost” spots, you get to see places where many other movies were filmed, such as “Jurassic Park”, “Mighty Joe Young”, “Pearl Harbor”, “50 First Dates”, “You, Me and Dupree”, “Godzilla”, etc. Well, enough of that, here’s a couple of pics that say more. 🙂

The guide shows the place where one of "Lost" episodes was filmed.

Godzilla was here. 🙂

"Jurassic Park" movie location.

Time for a couple of complaints about my trip. 🙂 As I said before, most Russians (including myself) portray Hawaii as an exotic place with white-sand secluded beaches and tropics. Well, I admit that I have fallen a victim of this stereotype but I found very few places like that there. First, Oahu is the most populated Hawaiian island, so don’t expect to find a quiet cozy spot – there are crowds everywhere. Second, Honolulu is the capital, which means a severe urban touch on the whole island. Moreover, it is the 2nd most expensive city in U.S., next to Anchorage, Alaska. The most famous district on Oahu, Waikiki, is often called “the tourists’ trap” for its numerous expensive stores and restaurants. But you can still catch a cool sunset there though. 🙂 Well, I guess these are about all my “complaints and grievances”. 🙂

What I liked most about Oahu is the fact that you can find all types of entertainment there. It’s not just a boring resort where you get sick of swimming, snorkeling and sunbathing 3 days after you get there. You can amuse yourself with tons of attractions, from “swim-with-sharks adventure” to exploring history at Pearl Harbor. Oh, and don’t forget that Hawaii is the surfer’s paradise, so, if you’re not a surfer already, make sure you take at least one surfing lesson. They are offered in abundance on Waikiki beach and elsewhere. 

Here’s a cool website that helped me pick most attractions beforehand: http://www.hawaiiactive.com You don’t have to book them from home and don’t buy the usual “Hurry! Limited offer!!!” crap either. 🙂 Most Oahu hotels have a desk with loads of information and a tour guide who can help you book your adventure as late as 1 day prior to the tour. But it’s still better if you at least make a draft of your program in advance. Here’s another source of info for ya. 🙂 http://www.gohawaii.com

And I’d like to wind up with a short Hawaiian video of mine. It shows just a few things that I did on Oahu but I’m sure you can do much better and much more than that! 🙂 Happy traveling and ALOHA! 

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Motley Crue in Moscow

I went to see Motley Crue in concert last night. Never been their fan but they were one of my childhood bands, so I thought I should pay tribute to the old farts. 🙂 They were truly electric and Tommy Lee, despite his heart broken by Pamela Anderson, was definitely the highlight of the show. He stagedived, drank alcohol and passed the bottle on to the audience. During his stagediving he had his earplugs lost or stolen by some fans, so he asked to return them in trade for his underwear. Nobody agreed though.

The only bad thing was that it was absolutely no fun to stand in the middle of a drunk sweaty smoking roaring pushing crowd. I guess I’m too old to enjoy that. 🙂 And even though one from the Crew swore “to the fucking god” that they were coming back next year, I don’t think I was lured.

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Turkey: the dead will lead you to the beach.

Just a small piece of advice: never ever feed Gizmo after midnight. 🙂 And never ever book a 3-star hotel in Turkey, let alone in Egypt. I made a huge mistake thinking that a 3*** hotel is good enough for Europe and it should be good enough for any other country. A broken air conditioner in the room and a leaking toilet in the bathroom were not that bad, but the road to the beach that lay through a cemetery was not exactly my idea of a health resort. So if you ever go to Turkey (or Egypt), please book a 5 star hotel or at least 4+. Though it’s still not a guarantee that your vacation will be fabulous, at least you will avoid running into a sunbathing zombie. 🙂

The sign on the cemetery fence says "Golden Sun Beach". :)

The sign on the cemetery fence says "Golden Sun Beach". 🙂

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Home Swede home. The sea, the music and more.

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Take a closer look at the building. Anything familiar? No, not Dubai. Believe it or not, it’s Malmo, Sweden. I deliberately didn’t put “just Malmo” or “only Malmo” since it’s actually the 3rd largest city in Sweden. And though the building does seem to be inspired by Burj Al Arab hotel n Dubai, it was fulfilled with Scandinavian moderation, simplicity and taste. The “simple” and tasteful 623-foot twisted skyscraper, called Turning Torso, consists of nine cubes stacked vertically, with each rotating from the one below. It’s definitely a sight to see.

However, the major Malmo attraction is by all means the Baltic Sea. It’s not very often that you get the beach weather there but the presence of the Sea gives the city a certain charm and exquisiteness. But once the heat is on, everybody is headed to the Western Harbor, perhaps the most popular beach zone in Malmo. “The beach” itself is made out of wood. Sweden is all about wood, stones and other natural stuff (IKEA fans will definitely agree). Sometimes you can get lucky and see beautiful swans hanging out on the water at a respectful distance from the swimmers. 

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Swans

Swans

After an invigorating swim in the far from relaxing water you can truly loosen up in the sauna at the Ribersborgs Kallbadhus. “For more than a century, locals have been visiting the Ribersborgs Kallbadhus for a steam in the sauna followed by a dip in the Baltic. The swimming baths are open year-round. If you want to blend in with the locals, brave the elements and hit the baths in the winter for an icy plunge. A better time to visit for the less adventurous is in the summer, when the baths are open for sunbathing.”   (Source:  http://edition.cnn.com/2009/TRAVEL/01/07/malmo.tips/index.html )

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The 4 Ribersborgs Kallbadhus photos: http://www.ribban.com

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Hunger satisfaction is possible in any of the cozy restaurants on the wharf or downtown. If you’re eating outside on a chilly evening the waiter will turn on one of their “lamp-post-like” heaters or offer you a blanket. For all-you-can-eat-buffet fans the best spot would definitely be Sankt Markus Wine Cellar. Styled as a medieval castle, the restaurant will offer you the best wines and the best food, including  Swedish traditional stuff, such as elk or deer. Eat until you explode. 🙂 Seafood lovers, don’t miss “Johan P. Saluhallen located on a small street off Lilla Torg. Fish and shellfish caught fresh from the waters of the Baltic and North Atlantic are served up daily at this fine restaurant, which also has an impressive wine list.” (  http://edition.cnn.com/2009/TRAVEL/01/07/malmo.eat/index.html ) On the same street in the downtown area there is a nice place for pizza/pasta freaks, called Restaurante bar & grappa. Despite a rather slow service, the food (Italian and other) is good. And don’t forget to order cider, the glamorous outstanding cider that can give you a tiny buzz just like the beer but which is by far more delicious. Pear cider is the most popular cider type in Sweden but it comes in all possible flavors, including strawberry. 

To the regret of bigtime party animals, Malmo cannot brag a worthy nightlife. A few night clubs downtown can’t be enough, so many folks choose to take a train to Copenhagen which is only 15 minutes away. But there is one event that brings people together from all over Scandinavia and the rest of the world. It’s Malmo Music Festival that is held annually in August. “The city  pulsates with life during this eight-day outdoor culture extravaganza that’s been going strong for nearly a quarter of a century. Music is the big draw, attracting some 1.5 million to Malmo every August. Hundreds of live acts fill the city with sounds of classical music, heavy metal and everything in between. If you aren’t busy dancing the night away, you’ll want to take in the film screenings, comedy shows and theater performances staged during the festival. The best part about the festival? It’s absolutely free. The revelry kicks off with a massive crayfish party in the city’s main square. Bring your own crayfish and a mood to party.” ( http://edition.cnn.com/2009/TRAVEL/01/07/malmo.seasonal/index.html )

There are many things in Malmo that will pleasantly surprise you. Like, for instance, I was amazed to find out that the pure drinking water there is available right from the faucet. I asked the girl at the hotel reception: “Is it true that you can drink water right out of the faucet?” “Yes you can”, she answered proudly. “You’re in Sweden now”.

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Down and out in Santa Barbara.

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Back in the early 90s Russia got smashed by the wave of imported soap operas. Most of them came from Brazil and Mexico and were exceptionally dumb and similar to each other. However, the then Russians (still Soviets in their souls and backgrounds) had never seen anything like that and were deeply touched by the fate of every Juan Carlos and Jose Ignasio. But there was one soap opera that was definitely standing out. It was American. It was “Santa Barbara”.

I remember when in my highschool days every kid in the class had a second “Santa Barbara” name. Every other cat in Russia was called Mason after one of the sexiest and “catlike” SB characters (first from the right on the upper picture). There was even a popular joke:

A Russian woman is emigrating to the U.S. – Where in the U.S.?, her friend asks. – Santa Barbara of course. – Why Santa Barbara? – Because I know everybody there.

Many years after the mass craze I had a chance to visit Santa Barbara. The first surprise was the pouring rain. Running away from it, I jumped into a tour bus. “You’re the luckiest tourists here”, the guide said. “You managed to catch one of those few rainy days of the year”. I didn’t feel that lucky however, since I was looking forward to some foot walking. So, we drove about the city, listened to the guide’s stories and admired the beautiful European architecture (Santa Barbara was founded by Spanish missionaries). “So where was the Soap Opera filmed?”, I finally asked. “I get that question all the time. But I hate to tell you that not a single episode of “Santa Barbara” was filmed in Santa Barbara”, the guide said. It was like telling me that my mom and dad were not actually my biological parents. I was knocked down. The city where I knew everyone suddenly became just a wet unfriendly spot with the average realty price of $ 1 mln. The fairy tale was over. One poor consolation was  the road sign that said “Castillo Street” (one of the main characters was Cruz Castillo).

Of course I’m proud to be one of those rare Russian “SB” fans who has visited the city of their dreams. But here’s my advice to all of you “Mission to Mars” fans out there: don’t be in a hurry to visit Mars. Sometimes it’s better not to fulfill your childhood fantasies unless you are ready to face the adult reality.

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Oasis of the Seas. All aboard Dec. 1, 2009!

Oasis of the Seas

What else do we know about Finland except that it is cold there and that it’s the Motherland of Santa Claus? How about another Finnish fact that the guys there will soon finish the construction of the LARGEST CRUISE SHIP IN THE WORLD? Its length is 359 meters (to compare, “Titanic” was 269 meters long), it has 16 decks, a rock climbing wall, an ice-skating rink, an aqua theater and the “Central Park” – 400 tons of soil with real trees and bushes. The ship can accomodate up to 5400 passengers in 2700 cabins.  The liner costs $1.4 billion and is expected to be put out to the Caribbean Sea for its first cruise on December 1, 2009. Don’t forget to reserve your tickets but first take a virtual tour. More info on http://www.oasisoftheseas.com

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