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Russian Misadventures

May 23, 1999

We traveled last summer through 11 European nations, visiting universities, libraries, museums and family. Our adventures were exhilarating and cordial in Western Europe and in several former Soviet Bloc nations. The lone exception was Russia, where, at every turn, we were the subjects of bribery, extortion, threats, thievery and intimidation.

On a 20-hour train journey in a first-class compartment from Warsaw to Moscow, we were informed at the Brest border crossing, by armed Russian soldiers, that our visas would not be effective for five hours. To avoid removal and waiting for another train 24 hours later, the soldier in charge suggested, an arrangement could be made for $100. We paid, hoping to forestall further harassment.

During the night, our locked compartment was entered and one piece of luggage was stolen, together with a watch, camera, visa and passport.

In Moscow we stayed at the Rossiya Hotel, a 6,000-room monstrosity directly across from Red Square. Three phone calls from our room at the hotel, two of them to an 800 number (to report a stolen credit card) and one to the U.S. Consulate in St. Petersburg--less than 10 minutes' phone use--totaled $212.



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