Moscow & St. Petersburg, Russia
by Pat Alzobaie © 2006


Pat Alzobaie recently traveled from Morelia, Mexico to Moscow, Russia with an able-bodied friend. In Moscow, two good friends showed them what little was accessible in both Moscow and St. Petersburg. Pat is a 71-year-old amputee, who uses a wheelchair and is unable to hop because of a foot disability. 


We flew from Mexico City to Los Angeles on Mexicana Airlines. They do not let people on who cannot walk unless someone, who supposedly can get them to the bathroom, accompanies them. Their excuse is that it is for the safety of the other passengers. 


From LA we flew Aeroflot to Moscow. They made no effort to help and seated me in the middle of the aircraft, miles from the bathroom, and though they had promised an aisle chair, they did not have one. They said it was illegal to have one, which is a crock, and they were nasty about it. They said if I did not like it, I did not have to take the flight.


I moved myself to be nearer to the bathroom in the back and flat out refused to move. I got help from my friend  in getting to the bathroom. I sort of hopped from arm to arm and struggled to reach the bathroom. I fell getting back to my seat but was not injured.


Going through entry procedures in Moscow was also not exactly fun. I believe they do not want tourists. They will not get this one again. Moscow has wonderful architecture and itís a really pretty city, but it has the coldest, most unfriendly people I have ever encountered. No one ever smiled. I always get smiles and greetings everywhere I travel except here. There, NO ONE, but no one smiled. I wonder if when a baby smiles, they slap it so it will not do it again. Really odd. I was told they considered smiling a sign of weakness.


My friend met us in Moscow with two cars--one for us and one for the luggage. I stayed in his apartment, which was reasonably accessible. I fell twice getting out of the shower, but otherwise it was OK.


We saw the handicrafts market, which I went through (twice, in fact). They had every kind of the metroyshkas imaginable: painted boxes with miniature paintings, bark boxes, crystal things, jewelry, including amber, blue pottery or porcelain, some clothes, rugs, furs and not a lot more. I bought very little.


We also saw museums from the outside, and every church, and produce market. I rolled through them and bought wonderful fruits: huge wonderful cherries, strawberries, raspberries, wild strawberries, which I had never eaten, pickled things, meat that one buys and then takes to the grinder to grind, mushrooms and other veggies and fruits.


We also visited the famous Gum department store. It was great, and is flat with the outside. I did not go in many of the shops, as they are not in my price range or type. Wonderful structure, however. They had a wonderful display of things designed by Da Vinci, which consisted of cherry wood models, some full sized, some small. The display was the entire length of the store, which is considerable.


There is also a fun street that is closed to traffic that has stands down the middle and restaurants, etc. along both sides. 


In Moscow, there are horrifying prices on restaurant food, and no cheap places, except MacDonaldís. Three smallish sticks of shish kebab and three beers exceeded a hundred dollars.  And it was not a fancy place, either.


There is a usable wheelchair car on the train to St. Petersburg, but there is a gap of a foot. If one fell into it, one would fall several feet down to the track.


Several workers picked the wheelchair and me up and lifted me over the gap. The lady in charge of our car was nice, and I gave her a tip.  Unnecessary, but I am glad I did.  We were three and half-hours late getting into St. Petersburg because someone stole some of the cable that carries the electricity that runs the train (they sell it for the metal value). So we sat on the sidelines until they arrived with it and installed the new cable. 


St.. Petersburg was beautiful. It had wonderful buildings, and again no smiles.  An old man was asking for help to find an address he had written down, but no one would help him. So he wandered about. We stood on the street with an arm out, and a private vehicle became our taxi. Everyone does it. 


The Hermitage was amazing, though I do not care for museums and galleries. My friend adored every picture. The entry fee was $20 and no reservations were necessary. The ground floor is even with the outside, and they had a little lift thing to go up in. The museum had a wheelchair accessible bathroom.

Returning from St. Petersburg, we got to the train station and were told that we did not have a reservation for the wheelchair accessible car. We had made one when we bought the ticket. So there we were. The gap and doorways were too narrow to get on the train. But I told my friend that I was going to get on the train if I had to fling myself over the gap and crawl to the cabin. Then the lady appeared to whom I had given the tip.  She told us to wait and went for the man in charge.  He said there was nothing he could do. Two minutes before the train left, we were told to go down to car nine, and there was the wheelchair accessible car, empty.  Why?  No explanation was given. Glad I did not have to fling and crawl.


On the way back, nasty people went through my luggage looking for smuggled antiques. A witch took everything out of my suitcase and threw it on the counter. When finished, she threw it back in like one would throw garbage. She told me to go on before I had a chance to do anything about organizing things. When I got home, things were broken and everything was wrinkled. I do not know what would have happened if I had opened my mouth.  I never have breakage, as I am an expert at packing.


It was really an interesting trip and I am glad I went, but I would not have any interest in going again. I can say that about very few places I have been.


The trip home also had no promised aisle seat. Again I scooted to the seat in the back and just refused to move.  When told to, I said if they wanted me elsewhere, they could jolly well carry me there. I got help from my friend in getting to the bathroom and fell again. I did something nasty to one shoulder and my back, but nothing serious.


One of the attendants on the plane actually found my refusal funny. He even smiled. I asked him if I could steal one of the bright orange coffee cups, and he told me to go ahead and do so. So I stole  mine and one for Orlando.


And so was my trip. From Moscow to Mexico City was 28 hours. I spent the night at my friend's apartment. I have been back several days, and am still exhausted.


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