October 23, 2012
Pulkava 2, Saint Petersburg’s international terminal, is just a decade old, yet it looks much older, in fact, desperately antiquated. It’s hard to imagine a more inefficient system of processing passengers, and the absolute worst was after being cleared through customs, passport control, and security, you end up sitting in a small stark waiting room with seats for 75, yet on a flight with over 250. No toilets! No food! No shops! Nothing for a two hour wait! In my case the majority of the passengers were French and American so you could hear the gasps in French and English. “C’est terrible! This is terrible.” It was the first time I’d heard decent English in two weeks. Without exception everyone was in horror at substandard facilities and poor treatment. St Petersburg is the second largest city in Russia, which means it ranks with a Chicago or Atlanta and Pulkava 2 is the best they could do? Where were the travelers? What is Chicago’s airport like on a Tuesday morning at 8am. Jammed and packed with passengers going everywhere. Saint Petersburg looked like the backwaters of the world! I just don’t get it. Russia is sitting on a gold mind of tourism. It has wondrous sites, yet it has no clue how to invite, receive, and send guests home with a smile. I had my passport confiscated within 15 minutes of arriving, and now this? Two hundred and fifty wealthy foreign tourists stuck a tiny stark waiting room with no restrooms!? Both coming and going you get the icy stare from the government officials. In so many ways they are saying, we don’t want you here, don’t come, and don’t return. They make you feel like a criminal.
So I write these words while sitting on my Air France flight to Paris from St Petersburg and it is with utter relief to rejoin the West. It’s nice to be back in my own paradigm again. I wanted so much to say nice things about Russia! It’s a rich and wondrous culture, yet it’s like an old drunk man shooting himself in the foot.
My prayer is that country, which is struggling to embrace the modernity, will give up its fear of the world, become sweet and learn to welcome tourists. Russia is am amazing place full of a rich and unique history. The tourists of the world are wealthy and we want to come and enjoy your culture and see your treasures, but you must give up your fear of the outside. Follow the lead of your first great Peter with his desire to modernize the country. Sign the international agreements that would bring your country to the standards of the rest of the world.
Arrived in Paris. Wow!!! I can’t describe the contrast. Charles de Gaulle is alive, full of color and shops, and packed with travelers. Leaving Russia is like leaving mud huts and coming to a royal palace. Wake up Russia!