A Guy In Russia Is Carving 1000 Stone Rabbits

“If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.”

Perhaps it was this ageless wisdom that inspired Sergei Gapanovich, Petrozavodsk, Russia businessman, to remove graffiti on a rock face next to the road… with multiple rabbit sculptures.

The “Rabbit Valley” project has now received attention by media from all over Russia, and when our YouTube channel team was visiting the capital city of Russia’s Republic of Karelia, I knew we needed to visit Sergey and try our hand at the art of stone-rabbit sculpting.

Снимок экрана 2019-06-08 в 10.48.03.png

This humble blogger’s first attempt at Russian stone-rabbit sculpting

Why rabbits?  “When I was six years old, I became lost in the forest,” recounts Sergei, “and as I lay shivering in the cold, some rabbits came and kept me warm throughout the night, and in the morning led me home.”

Never one to let the facts get in the way of a good story, Sergey also doesn’t seem to let his successful business ventures in Petrozavodsk get in the way of his passion of stone-carving.

He is currently working on a giant rock bench on a Karelian island, and plans to take on even more difficult stone-sculpting projects.  At the moment of this publication, Sergey has sculpted 400 rabbits, which means there are only 600 rabbits to go.

Have you ever dreamed of having a certificate of your own personal rabbit sculpture from the Republic of Karelia.  It’s possible, by visiting the Rabbit Valley web-site.  You can choose the type of rabbit that you love the most and will get a certificate of ownership.  Dreams can come true.  And with just a flew clicks of a mouse, you can have your own stone rabbit.

Because “only in Russia” is only possible because of people just like Sergey.

Check out our video of the project and more from the city of Petrozavodsk:

 

Cherepovets: Russian City of Steel and Hockey

You know Moscow and St. Petersburg, of course.  And you probably have at least heard of cities such as Novosibirsk, Sochi, and Vladivostok.  But what do you know about Cherepovets?

In my traveling with my Russian language YouTube channel, I have particularly enjoyed going to cities where I knew almost nothing about the city.  And the visit to Cherepovets was no exception.

A quick diletant-level history of Cherepovets will quickly take us from ancient times and a pagan tribe that lived on the shores of the Sheksna river to a Soviet “Mono-City” to a modern city working to develop and diversify.  During Soviet times, there were quite a few cities created around one major enterprise, and in the case of Cherepovets, that would be the Severstal steel factory.

Снимок экрана 2019-03-24 в 21.09.07.png

The Severstal steel factory dominates much of the horizon in Cherepovets

The Severstal factory is the largest steel factory in Russia, so it would be hard to miss, particularly since it’s located right next to the city.  I reckon this harkens back to a time when ecology wasn’t the first thing on anyone’s mind anywhere in the world.

I will leave the subject of ecology to others as it is not a topic that I pretend to know much about.  I can only say that when I arrived in Cherepovets, the smell from the factory in the city center was quite strong, but in talking to locals, it seemed to not be a major concern.  Most folks pointed to the fact that the factory has been working hard to filter much of the emissions in recent years.  And it seems that new apartment buildings in the city are being built in areas farther away from the factory.

Cherepovets is located almost the exact same distance from both St. Petersburg and Moscow.  It is working hard to attract investment and also diversify, and has created tax incentives for new business in the city.

But what I learned the most when I was in Cherepovets is that the local people are incredibly proud of their city and also are crazy about ice hockey.  Their team, also called “Severstal”, is in the professional Continental Hockey League.  We were able to go to a match that Severstal played against the visiting team from Chelyabinsk and also talk with a couple of Severstal’s Canadian players.

The atmosphere at the match was incredible.  Imagine a city, anywhere in the world, where their local team, regardless of the sport, is THE main event in town.  The arena held about 5000 fans, and everyone seemed to know each other and really enjoyed supporting their hometown team.

The word on the street is that there is some fear that the Continental Hockey League will exclude Severstal from its ranks in the future.  I think that would be a criminal move.  You take a city like Moscow- there are at least 5 major league hockey teams in the city.  Each of those teams, of course, has die-hard fans.  But none of those teams are as vital to the city life as the Severstal team is to Cherepovets.  For in this steel-town north of Moscow, I found real Russian hockey.

We thought it would be fun to also video me trying to train with some hockey players.  The Severstal press service, ever so diplomatically suggested I start out with their ten year old team.  This is how that training event went:

In Russia, whether it be art, music, or sport, the children often have to choose one discipline to focus on and become excellent at.  The guys in the Severstal boys team were a lot of fun, and also not only happy to share their opinion on my budding hockey skills, but also give me some quick pointers on working as a goalie.  I found it interesting that they pay nothing to be a part of the team; from what I understood costs are covered also by the steel factory.

We enjoyed walking the streets and talking with the locals.  We had done a video last year in the city of Vologda, and were later inundated with comments that Cherepovets is better than Vologda.  We decided to ask folks why they think that Cherepovets is better than Vologda, and I was sort of surprised to find that Cherepovets has some of the most positive citizens from any city I’ve ever visited in Russia.

Of course, coming in from the outside, this city rivalry was mostly amusing.  I think Vologda is a fantastic city with tremendous tourism potential, and Cherepovets is an industrial city with investment opportunity.  But in both cases, I really enjoyed getting to know a couple cities that are a bit off the beaten path in Russia.

Now, I’m thinking where to travel next.  Any ideas?

Just Some Zhigulis Winter Drifting In Russia

I always knew that driving a Zhiguli during the winter was a sport.  But I didn’t know that the Russians had taken it to this level.

Wikipedia statesDrifting is a driving technique where the driver intentionally oversteers, with loss of traction in the rear wheels or all tires, while maintaining control and driving the car through the entirety of a corner.”

And winter drifting in Russia is mainly a sport for Zhigulis.  While visiting a drifting event in St. Petersburg, I found out why.

Снимок экрана 2019-01-28 в 9.40.46.png

They (fortunately) didn’t allow me behind the wheel, but the view from the passenger seat is fantastic.

The track was a figure eight.  And I learned that drifting has everything to do with technique, not speed.  And for winter drifting in Russia, the track is prepared to be icy and the Zhigulis sport studded tires.

My Zhiguli driver Aleksey is a professional driver, and while during the summer he drifts with a much more modern car, his team still puts together a Zhiguli for participating in the winter drifting events.

Снимок экрана 2019-01-28 в 9.49.00.png

A shot from inside Aleksey’s car while summer drifting.

My first impression was something like “you mean we all get together in a field on a freezing winter day to see who can spin out the best?”  But as I observed, it seemed that although the drifting itself was the highlight, the hidden treasure here is in the process.

Снимок экрана 2019-01-28 в 9.11.43

Not everyone made the turn on the first try.

The drivers love to fix and prepare their cars, paint them in vibrant colors, and cover them with stickers.  And as I also learned, they love to blog, particularly on Instagram.

It seemed to be a point of pride among several of the drivers how they build the cars from various car parts, and the number I heard more than once was that they had kept the total cost under 45,000₽ (roughly $670 USD).  There is a joy in the process leading up to the events.

Снимок экрана 2019-01-28 в 9.56.38.png

Anton showed me his rear-wheel drive VW Golf, with (you guessed it) a Zhiguli engine.

Anton showed me his rear-wheel drive VW Golf with a Zhiguli engine and car parts from a list of cars of the world.  The only items on the instrument panel in the car were the oil pressure light and temperature gauge.

Снимок экрана 2019-01-28 в 10.01.44.png

Dmitry took me for a ride in his BMW (with a Toyota engine)

As far as I saw, there was only one non-Russian engine at the event.  This was Dmitry’s car:  a BMW with a Toyota engine.  Dmitry told me that he is “trying to break the stereotype that you can only drift during the winter in a Zhiguli.”

The ride on the BMW felt smoother than in the Zhiguli, but as I learned, the Zhiguli in winter drifting has the advantage because it is lighter than most foreign cars.

Whether it be traveling to Kamchatka, visiting a harvest combine factory, or winter drifting, I’m loving not only observing, but joining the Russian people.  Because we might be having more fun over here than you are over there.

Here is the video (with English subtitles) that I made of the winter drifting event:

American Blogger Reads Soviet Children’s Book in Russian For 9 Hours 50 Minutes On YouTube Live

In which this blogger writes a headline about myself in the third person.

Yes, it’s crazy how the Russia New Year holidays can give you some bizarre ideas on how to pass the time!

I wasn’t one to waste my time try to ride the entire Moscow metro system in one day.  Indeed, I thought I was above that manner of tomfoolery, until I chanced upon this pointless video on YouTube:

I mean, I’m not even sure this guy is counting half the time.  Preposterous… right?

But then I felt myself oddly inspired.  And I thought what kind of YouTube Live Marathon challenge could I do in Russian?

I thought of reading a book in Russian, but after my friends heard me reading Dostoyevsky, they suggested it was best not to defile classical Russian literature with my accent, and instead, suggested that I read a Soviet children’s classic, “Незнайка в солнечном городе” (“Know-Nothing in the Sunny City”).  I instantly agreed.

download

Our hero Neznaika

Here is the result.  Feel free to watch all 9 hours and 50 minutes of me working through the Russian text, or just skip around and shake your head at my YouTube stunt.  Thankfully, my teenage kids helped a few times.

 

What I learned while reading “Neznaika in Sunny City”:

  • It takes longer to read 388 pages than I expected.
  • Russia literature’s love of detailed descriptions did not die with Tolstoy.
  • The author of Neznaika, Nikola Nosov, was some sort of futurologist.  There were driverless harvest combines and automated taxis, for example, in Sunny City.
  • The problem with living in a revolving building is you would lose your sense of time because your position in relation to the sun would constantly be changing.
  • Nikolai Nosov enjoyed giving the books heroes humorous last names with creative root words.  Svistulkin (root word “whistle) was the policeman.  And, if my memory isn’t failing me, a man who wrote an editorial for the local newspaper that the police were responsible for the hooligans’ behavior had a last name that had the root word for “Cockroach”.
  • My voice hurt the next day.
  • If you have a magic wand, you had better use it correctly.  Neznaika failed on this point countless times.
  • A Russian teacher once told me that reading out loud in Russian would improve my pronunciation.  I am unsure if that (or the opposite) happened in this experiment.
  • I sort of felt that there was a Soviet propaganda push for eating at cafeterias.  The futuristic apartments in the revolving buildings had automated food deliver, but eating at cafeterias was more interesting, from what I gathered.
  • People can turn into donkeys.  And they can be turned back into humans by reading the right books.  But donkeys can never be turned into humans, no matter how much they read.

The book was actually surprisingly interesting and did a fantastic job of taking the reader into a fantasy world and also reminding children of the importance of being good, washing regularly, etc.  And clearly, this book was meant to be read over multiple evenings, as there were descriptive details that repeated themselves throughout the book.

What more obscure Russian books have you read and enjoyed?  Maybe I’ll need to do another Russian book reading marathon … someday.

Why My YouTube Channel Is In Russian

The vast majority of Russians are proud of and love their homeland.  The paradox being that Russians also find it strange, and even suspicious, that any foreigner could fall in love with their nation.

Last spring I was sitting across from six or eight Russian journalists.  Whenever I speak to a journalist, I promise myself in advance that I will keep my cool.  I am rarely successful.

We were discussing the Amerikanets YouTube channel and these journalists were gushing with flattery as we watched a video clip from the city of Kostroma.

But then they began challenging the fact that I had decided to do the channel in the Russian language.  Of course, I had thought about this before, and the default choice would be to do video blogs in English, for the folks back home.  But I found myself simultaneously more comfortable and passionate about addressing a Russian audience.  It seems 20 years in Russia will do that to a man.

But the journalists didn’t stop at flattery.  One of them began to strongly recommend that what I was shooting needed to be shown to the West, in English.  That’s when I broke my promise to myself and lost my cool.

Снимок экрана 2018-12-31 в 13.26.44.png

I’m enjoying Russia, so shouldn’t everybody? I drag this Russian guy around his homeland and show him how awesome everything is.

You see… Representing Russia to the West is not my job.  It is the Russian people’s responsibility to represent themselves.  I laid out these points a bit passionately and then the conversation continued quite amicably.

Representing the beauty, creativity, and value of Russia is too large a task for any single person.  There is no nation in the world that expects a single entity to represent it.  Ok, North Korea might be an exception to that, but you get my point.

I published a book in Russian earlier this year where I outlined some of the points for Russian businesses to better represent their products, services, and ideas to the world.  Here are a few points I have found to be fascinating with my small experience with this book.

  • I am being approached from time to time by Russian businesses asking me to represent their interests to Western clients or partners.  At times I agree to this gainful employment, but I remain surprised, that when we get into the details, many of these businesses’ lack the basic belief that their products or services could be interesting to anyone outside of Russia.
  • I certainly agree that there can be an advantage to having an American in the room, representing your company, but I also believe that Russian business is more than capable of representing itself.  This point has been proved countless times over the years.  Perhaps just a little training would help, that, after all, is why I wrote the book.
  • Getting back to YouTube:  When I have chosen to highlight Russian businesses on YouTube, there has been nearly no interest from viewers.  I believe that there are absolutely fascinating Russian businesses with incredible ideas that will both add value to their local communities and bring international investment interest.  This is why I find it strange that there is such a low interest for this subject on YouTube.

Because of that third and final point relating to the book, we are now doing very little business content on the video blog and focusing more on travel, and specifically visiting lesser known Russian cities.

It is always fascinating to read the comments after a video has been published. 🙂  We are generally accused of being:

  • Too positive.  I think whining and complaining requires no creativity (or real life action!) and is already more than covered by other blogs
  • Too negative.  The latter happening recently, much to our surprise.
  • We are also consistently chided for not visiting some of the local tourist spots that the local citizens think would be interesting to us.  But this is the secret of much of international business and tourism:  One man’s (nation’s) trash is another man’s (nation’s) treasure.  No, I didn’t see the statue or the building, but I jumped in the freezing water with the “walrus club” and that has created a lifetime memory for me.

Despite its challenges, Russia is bursting with opportunity, and I hope that these YouTube videos will serve in a small way to show the Russian people the beauty and value (yes, even in business) in their cities and businesses to the world.  Because when they see it and believe it, they will begin to represent their nation to the world.

Are you ready to watch a few videos?  To give you a taste of some of the video work I have been doing, I made a playlist that includes the videos with English subtitles (just be sure to click on the CC button on the bottom right hand of the video!).  You can watch the whole play list in about an hour, and be introduced to parts of Russia, and some of it’s most colorful citizens, that are most likely unknown to you.

By the way, it’s been cool to hear from folks learning Russian about how they are watching the videos with subtitles as a fun learning tool.

Here you go:

In 2019, I am super pumped about the places around Russia that we plan to visit with our little Russian travel blog.  I hope that the cities we visit will be unexpected for our Russian audience (and you!). And I’m also stoked, about some of the Russian business that I will have the opportunity to represent with their partners and clients, and I hope that some of their cool and creative products and services will somehow slip into the YouTube channel.

A micro-history:  I stumbled upon the idea of doing videos via my Amerikanets Facebook page.  I had always thought of myself just writing about Russia, but when I did a few Facebook videos, the subscribers told me that it felt more natural.  And although I plan to continue to write in Russian, I understand their point:  after my writing has been worked through with a Russian translator, it loses some of the “flavor” (shall we say?) of my accent and ever so occasional (haha) grammar mistakes.

Which brings me to one of my main New Year’s resolutions for 2019.  Because I was focusing so much on the YouTube channel, I sort of let this Planet Russia blog slip a little, but in 2019, I plan to write a whole lot more.  Please let me know if you have any questions about Russia or perhaps areas that would be of interest, and I will work to include those in future posts.

What parts or details of Russia do you find particularly enjoyable or endearing?  Or maybe there is a Russian product or invention that you find fascinating? Let me know, and maybe I can include that in one of my future videos for my Russian audience.

Thank you for joining me in this blogging journey.  Let’s continue to enjoy Russia together!

Rostselmash: The Legendary Russia Harvest Combine Factory

2018 was a good year. I see many of my (Russian) Facebook friends writing lists on social media about what they did this year. I think that’s a cool idea.

It’s funny though what you remember at the end of a year. For example, perhaps my biggest accomplishment this year was publishing a book in Russian or maybe some of the work I did with the World Cup.

But even with that, one of my favorite memories of 2018 was the visit to the Rostselmash harvest combine factory for the Amerikanets youtube channel.

maxresdefault.jpg

In 2018, I took a ride on a harvest combine for the very first time

Somehow I found it to be super fun and I’m ready to now go to just about any factory anywhere now. Perhaps that’s because there are 3 things you can watch for eternity 1) Fire 2) A waterfall 3) Other people working.

I think Russia has so much to offer the world, and it was cool to get a glimpse of this factory that is playing a part in the development of agriculture in Russia.  The factory is also working to export its machinery to the world, with a particular focus on South America and they surprised me by telling me that they already have production facilities both in the USA and Canada.

 

Check out my visit to the Rostselmash factory in the city of Rostov-on-Don, and I hope to visit some more Russian factories in 2019.  Because, as I’ve learned, watching other people work is wildly entertaining, and a surprising highlight of the year.

 

 

 

Dolgoprudny, just another Moscow suburb?

“Moscow isn’t made of rubber”, they say.

Russia is certainly no stranger to the worldwide trend of urban migration, with folks from around the nation and neighboring countries, flocking to the capital city lured by the promise of better jobs and a higher standard of living.

And with Moscow rapidly losing any space for residential construction (it isn’t made of rubber, after all), the metro area and suburbs have also been growing at a mind-boggling pace over recent years.

Снимок экрана 2018-11-23 в 10.11.03.png

A bird’s eye view of Dolgoprudny

These Moscow city suburbs have names like Krasnogorsk, Mytischi, Khimki, and Balashikha, and although they have populations of 150,000+, you probably have never heard of them, unless you have spent time in Russia.

Dolgoprudny is one of these Moscow suburb cities, located just a stone’s throw from Moscow’s Sheremyetovo Airport.

To be quite frank, cities like Dolgoprudny are probably best known as a stepping stone to Moscow.  For example, if you are moving from Siberia to Moscow, you could sell your large apartment in Siberia and buy a one-room studio in Dolgoprudny (of course, depending on exactly where you are coming from).   This is because real estate prices in Dolgoprudny are less expensive than in the capital city.  In this quite typical scenario, you could then take the 27 minute commuter train ride from Dolgoprudny to your new job in Moscow.

Снимок экрана 2018-11-23 в 10.20.59.png

You can view cities like Dolgoprudny just as suburban residential communities… until you get to know the people

It’s quite easy to begin to see these Moscow satellite cities simply as a place for cheaper real-estate and a concrete jungle of new high-rise apartment buildings.  That is, until you get to know the local people.

With the Russian language video-blog project The Amerikanets, we are often known for trips to the far-flung regions of Russia like Kamchatka, and our subscribers are often suggesting that we visit Baikal or Yakutia.  But when some folks invited us to Dolgoprudny, we decided to give it a try.

And we were again reminded that the greatest thing about Russia is not the mind-blowing beauty of Kamchatka (although we love that), nor the architecture found in little known places such as Vyborg.  The greatest thing about Russia is the people.

In Dolgoprudny we learned of some folks who won a Nobel prize for their discoveries surrounding two-dimensional graphene.  Then I had my first attempt at playing rugby, being trained by a member of the Russia national rugby team, and that was followed by a dip in the river with the local “walrus” club.

In short, it was an unforgettable day… because of the people.  And if learning about physicists, playing rugby, and “walrussing” weren’t enough, in the evening the day was topped off be what was (for me) the most difficult part… cooking.  Watch to the end of the video to see me try my hand at making khachapuri, a traditional Georgian dish:

Vyborg: Where Russia Really Meets Europe

I have heard that St. Petersburg is Russia’s most European city or that Moscow is Russia’s most Western city.  Both are absolutely fantastic cities, but what if you are looking for a slower pace over a weekend?  A city for tourists, that isn’t overrun by tourists… at least for now.

If you are driving to or from Finland or if you are in St. Petersburg and feel you have seen all of the sites and are looking for a change of pace, I highly recommend a day or two in the ancient city of Vyborg.

Tracing its roots back to the 13th century, Vyborg was at one time ruled by the Swedes, then was a part of Finland, as a largely autonomous area of the Russian empire.  Following the Soviet Revolution of 1917, Finland declared independence, together with Vyborg.  During the Winter War between the Soviet Union and Finland, Vyborg became a part of the Soviet Union, and then Russia, after the fall of the Soviet Union.

This certainly isn’t a history blog.  But the broad and rich history of the city, boiled down to one paragraph above, has left its indelible fingerprint on Vyborg today, making it one of the most unique cities, and yes the most European city, I have visited in Russia.

Снимок экрана 2018-10-09 в 18.41.05.png

Standing in front of the Vyborg castle while shooting a video blog

There are the narrow cobblestone streets of Vyborg, the heavy influence of Finnish architecture, and the only medieval castle in Russia.  You might be mildly surprised, as I was, that much of the city is still being renovated.  I found this to be a welcome alternative to St. Petersburg or Moscow, where everything was renovated long ago.  Vyborg today is a photographer’s paradise, and I also look forward to visiting again in a few years and seeing the changes.

If you are traveling from St. Petersburg, there are many trains to Vyborg, most of which will take between one and one and half hours for the journey.  The Vyborg train station is a stone’s throw from the old city.  And if sightseeing and photography at a slower pace are your cup of tea, you certainly won’t leave Vyborg disappointed.

If you know that you will never be able to visit Vyborg, but would like to check it out, never fear.  I visited Vyborg recently and shot some video for my Russian language blog.  But I found the city to be so fascinating that I made English subtitles.  Take a ten minute walk around Vyborg with Zhenya and me (Click CC on the bottom right of the Youtube screen for English subtitles).  Enjoy!

RUSSIA, STOP RENOVATING IN “EUROPEAN STYLE”!

My Russian friends, perhaps the AK-47 does shoot better than the M-16.

This point has not affected the past 19 years that I have spent in Russia in any way.  But in any case, Russia is more than capable of producing not just great weapons or handcrafted wooden souvenirs, but also educational systems , technology and much more.

With so many great ideas and technology, I sometimes wonder why Russia talks so much about bringing things to “a European standard”.

I am referring, of course, to remodeling and renovation in Russia.  It seems that “European-style”, which is referred to locally as “Evroremont” is still a selling point in Russia.  It is also more than awkward that when I mention  this term to my real estate clients from Europe, they have no idea what on earth I am talking about.

Russia has its own path.  And to go on its own path, it must stop comparing itself to others.  This path includes its own architectural history.  I found it fascinating, earlier this year, to meet a European in Moscow who was heavily investing in renovating apartments back into a Russian style, together with a local architect and designer who valued Russia’s history.  Where are the Russian investors in Russian design?

RussianPod101.com – Learn Russian with Free Podcasts

Certainly the Soviet Union went overboard with its cookie-cutter 5-story apartment buildings, but there is also something charming in the Soviet interior design that we are now losing under so many layers of drywall.

five story

Yes, I agree that there can be too much of a good thing.

I would love to see a modern twist on Soviet interiors.  And with that, we must not forget the history.  Many of these same real-estate clients specifically ask for apartments in “pre-revolutionary” buildings.  And it is too bad that many, if not most, of these apartments have not kept the interior true to the history… to put it lightly.

Because here’s the thing with “evroremont”:

  • By trying to hold to some “European standard” you are walking away from any responsibility to be creative.
  • This “standard” is making the interior of every building and apartment once again look exactly the same (!)
  • When it comes to foreigners who come to Russia, they want to see Russian-standard.  No one wants to come from Europe to see a replica of what they just left.

When visiting the city of Kostroma earlier this year, I saw the incredible potential for tourism in the city and region, but when I saw the renovations in my hotel, I had what the local newspaper later referred to as a “fit of irony”.

Perhaps I need to just relax and let Russia coat itself in drywall . Or maybe I don’t.  Judge for yourself.

To watch with English subtitles, hit the “CC” button on the bottom right hand of the screen.  My evroremont tirade begins at 2:30.

My Russian friends, I have written in length, even in Russian, about what you have to offer the world.  But for many of you, finding your own path begins with putting an end to comparison.

Ok, I feel better now.  What Russian architecture inspires you the most?  What needs to be bulldozed?  Do we have any defenders of evroremont out there?  Comment below.