Russia - Copyright

Doing a quick search for Copyright laws in Russia bring back several sites that talk about bringing Copyright laws up to standard with other countries. I am not quite sure what they are talking about though. Here is what I've found in Russia.

There isn't really any enforcement of copyright laws at all. Well, I guess that isn't completely true. It looks like Microsoft got in with someone and so most Microsoft products are legal copies. However, most everything else is pirated over and over.

How can you tell if the movie/cd/software that you are looking at is pirated or a legal version? Price of course. Good quality pirated DVDs are around 100 rubles or just over $3. You can expect to pay about $15 for a legal version of the film. You can find even cheaper films as well but the quality is very lacking and leaves a lot to be desired.

A CD will usually go for about $2 and sometimes you will find CDs of MP3s from an artist for the same price (there is usually about 100 songs on a cd like this). You can expect to pay about $5 for a pirated computer game. Xbox and Playstation aren't really popular in Russia so I don't think I've seen any "illegal" copies before.

DVDs, CDs, and computer games for sale on the rionok.

DVDs and computer games for sale in Russia.

Shelves of pirated DVDs for sale inside a store in Russia.

Like I said, I am not sure if there are copyright laws in Russia or what but they aren't enforced if there are. If you do decide to buy films in Russia though, whether official or unofficial copies, you will want to make sure that you have the correct region encoding or else you will be out of luck.

Also, Russian websites also have lots of pirated movies, cds, and games that can be downloaded. However you have to know Russian on most any of these sites. A lot of them are locked down to Russia only as well (for good reason).

One other thing that isn't unique to Russia but I find interesting is that ratings aren't given to films. No R, PG-13, PG, G rated films. Really there isn't any rating or way to know what the film contains without doing some research on your own. It's pretty tough to explain to someone the rating system (believe me since I tried to do it several times).

Russia - Street Food

Today's post will be quite short. Also, the next couple will probably be shorter and I'll be missing a few days as we are getting ready for the long trip back to the United States. Stay tuned however.

One of the other ways to get your food and drink in Russia is from the local street vendors. Vendors range anywhere from people selling ready to go food, all the way to people selling nuts and other such products. People sell anything and everything you can think of and it can be anywhere on the street (not just at the rionok). Some of the sellers have little huts that they are in (often found at the bus stop) while others are right on the street with their stuff. Here are some pictures.

Small shop where fruits are sold.

Grandma selling piroshki (yummy russian food).

Women selling nuts on the street.

Small cakes/pastries seen through the window of a vendor.

A vendor selling russian root beer (kvas). It doesn't taste like root beer. I am not a fan.

Buying anything on the street should be done with care if you are buying prepared food. You never know what they may have put in those piroshki with meat...I've heard some pretty nasty stories about dogs and cats being used in them.

Russia - The Magazine

So obviously the rionik isn't the only place to buy things. There are stores all over the place where you can buy stuff. However, the stores in Russia have some distinct differences from those in the United States.

I am going to look at grocery/food stores to start, but I will cover a little bit about other stores as well. One thing that I love about Russia is that no matter where you are, there is almost always some type of store (in Russian the word for store is “magazine”) within a short walking distance. The nearest store to our current place in the United States is at least five minutes by car. I sure wish we had one closer than that.


Magazine in Russian.

Magazines differ in size and can be super small to decent size. Expect to find small magazines all over and larger ones more spread out. If you walk into a small magazine you can expect to find a sales person (typically a woman but not always) who will give you what you want. In other words, you don't touch anything without asking the sales person to let you take a look at it (sometimes this is a real pain and I am not a big fan of this setup). Many of the items sit behind the counter and you can say that you either want to buy it or look at it. Other things sit under glass that is the'll typically find chocolates and other treats here.

Waiting to buy meat and cheese.

Walking into a larger magazine usually entails leaving your bag behind that you have brought with you. You generally can't carry it into the store for theft reasons. Basically, watch out for the lockers to put your stuff inside or else the security guard will ask you to put your stuff in them. Once inside the magazine, it feels much like a typical American store other than the products are probably pretty foreign to most Americans.

Lockers sitting outside the magazine entrance.

One thing that is a staple in the Russian stores are alcoholic beverages. No matter where you go, you are going to find plenty of choices on what you want to drink. In the smaller magazines, expect to find from about ¼ to ½ of the magazine to be only alcoholic beverages. In larger magazines you can expect a smaller percentage but still enough to make you realize that you aren't in Kansas anymore.

The wine. Beer and vodka are on the next isle.

Magazines for clothing are much like American stores and you can usually walk in with your bags and other things, but expect to be watched pretty closely. In most magazines that I have walked into people keep a good eye on what you are looking at and what you are doing always. For some reason, magazines with food products always seem to watch you the closest...

Also magazines for other things such as electronics, school supplies, and other stuff are typically under the locked down policy as well. In other words you have to ask to be able to touch something. This isn't always the case though and there are a lot more electronic magazines showing up where you can touch what you are looking at, but school supplies are typically under lock no stealing any of those good looking notebooks you want.

Waiting to buy school supplies.

One other thing is that a lot of clothing stores our found in areas kind of like the mall in a sense (called a “torgovi center”). Basically, it is a bunch of small shops found next to each other one after the other. This is different from the rionik though because all of the stores are indoors and at night you don't have to take down your shop like on the rionok. Each shop is different on whether or not everything is behind the counter or not.

Russia - The Market

Shopping in Russia is a different experience than going to the local supermarket in America. Shopping is done in a few different ways and I will cover those over the next few days. To start off, I wanted to cover one of the funnest ways to shop in Russia as an American – the rionik.

A very non-busy day on the rionik.

In a lot of countries outside the United States there are similar outdoor markets where goods and food are sold right on the street. The rionik is just an outdoor market where lots of people come together to buy what they need. Rioniks in Russia vary in size and can serve a very specific purpose, such as only have shoes or boots, or can be a smorgasbord of anything and everything (I like to call these your outdoor Walmarts).

Most cities have one to two major rioniks (Moscow of course has lots that I don't know where to start counting), and are an exciting place to shop. The rioniks are open daily from about 7:30 until about 4:30. The rionik closes for a couple of holidays during the year and when the weather drops to -35 and below. During a recent trip to the rionik we purchased some food (halva for me), socks, and sunglasses. We checked out other clothing and looked for nailclippers as well but didn't buy any.

Shirts on the rionik

A walk down the rionik in Russia.

If you are looking for something of nice quality then the rionik isn't the place for you (I call it the outdoor Walmart for a good reason). However, if you are looking for a good deal then the rionik is definitely the place to go. You can usually get prices lowered down if you try to (however I have found that for some reason most natives don't try...Americans always do though). Maybe that is one of the reasons that I love the rionik so much is because if you want a sweet deal, then you can make it.

For example, when I was in Moscow a few years ago I was looking for some Matroshki dolls. Since Moscow is the best place to buy the dolls on the rionik or at the street vendors we started walking around. After visiting about 10 stands and having each one make some kind of offer, I finally made my final purchase of 10 matroshki for about $90. Considering the starting offer of $250 that they were asking for, I felt pretty good and I could probably sell the dolls for a pretty penny in the United States for them if I wanted.

One thing we never did though was to buy meat at the rionik. Let's just say that it looked scary enough that I never do. However, that's not to say that I don't eat the meat from the rionik because where I am staying now they normally buy their meat from there and so far I haven't gotten sick (keep my fingers crossed). Vegetables are super cheap during the summer season and you can usually get a kilogram of tomatoes for under $1 (that's under .50 cents a pound for fresh ripe tomatoes).

Meat inside on the rionik.

Fruits on the rionik.

Another shot of a row on the rionik.

Overall the rionik is a fun atmosphere and if you visit on the weekend then expect the crowd. If you plan on visiting Russia though, definitely make some time to visit a rionik while you're in the country in order to get a good taste of Russia.

Another video on the rionik.

Russia - Living Space

People who live in their apartments and homes either own or rent them. During the Soviet Union, the government owned everything including the homes and the land. While there were apartments before the Soviet Union, they were quite rare compared to the landscape now. Before the Soviet Union, most people lived in homes like the one pictured in my previous post. People built these homes and lived in them. However, the socialistic years brought about many changes. The government built the apartment buildings and replaced a lot of the regular homes. You were then given an apartment according to the number of people in your family and some other factors.

When the Soviet Union fell, people held on to their apartments and homes and thus most people own their apartments or homes where they live. In fact, most of them don't pay anything besides the standard utilities (water, gas, electricity, other) so they are quite fortunate in that sense. Prices to purchase an apartment in Russia are quite high. A one-room apartment in Moscow will cost you about $400,000 (I'll explain apartment sizes lower). For the younger generation they typically stay with their parents or rent because purchasing is almost not an option.

Having lived in America my whole life, I realize how spoiled I am when coming to Russia. I know that in Europe and other countries as well housing sizes are much smaller than the United States. Apartment sizes in Russia range from one-room to as large as five room (this is rare) and almost always have one bathroom (I am not sure I have been in an apartment with more than one bathroom in Russia). Houses are usually slightly larger, but the bathroom is usually seperate from the house so it gets nice and chilly in there during the winters :).

In the United States houses are measured by bedrooms. For example, we have a three-bedroom house in America. However, apartments/home sizes in Russia are measured by number of rooms. So, our house is a 7-room house in Russia (3-bedrooms and 4 living/dining rooms). Bathrooms and kitchens don't go into the room count. I am not sure how they'd count a garage...

Upon entering a typical Russian apartment, you will find a place to remove your coat or other outer garments as well as a place to take off your shoes and leave them at the front door (I have never been inside a Russian's living area where it is alright to wear your shoes). From there, you will typically be able to get to each room from the entrance or a hallway. Typically Russians live and sleep in the same room (which makes sense since most of the apartments are one to two rooms). This means that most rooms have large bookshelves and garderobes in each room to hold stuff. They put everything away and in closets every morning (blankets and all), so they need somewhere to put it.

An entrance to an apartment.

A standard bookshelf.

Another bookshelf.

My wife lived in a two-bedroom apartment with her Mother and Grandma. The three of them lived in one room and they rented out the second room to students (typically they had 3 students in the room). While this is usually more than people had in such a small place, it makes you realize how much you really have. If you have more rooms than you have people living in your house than you are almost always living in a larger space than Russians.

The bathroom in each apartment is typically split into two rooms. The bathroom is in one room and the bath and sink in the other room (this makes sense since there is almost always one bathroom per apartment). Typically the kitchen is pretty small and you will find a fridge and stove. Dishwashers are basically non-existent and if a washing machine is owned then it is typically in the kitchen. Microwaves are becoming much more common but usually food is reheated on the stove.

The typical Russian toilet/bathroom.

The separate washroom. The tubs are usually bigger than in America :).

A russian kitchen. The stove is new so it looks nice.

The fridge.

Most apartments will have a balcony. A lot of the balconies have been closed in with glass to make for extra space to store different things. They are too cold though to sleep in during the winter though.

A closed in balcony.

Another shot of the closed in balcony.

Apartments are heated by the water heater that is on the wall. You don't have any control over the temperature or when to turn it on or off. In the small homes, you typically are able to turn on or off the water (as long as the water is already running) to give yourself heat. The homes also usually have a wood burning stove to keep it warm for the icy winters. During the summers a fan is used to keep the air circulating. Central air is half a world away and air conditioners are also pretty rare.

An apartment heater behind the curtain.

The condition inside an apartment ranges pretty largely. A lot of people hang a rug on the wall to keep the warmth in. Walls and floors in a lot of the older apartment building is pretty bad unless the owner has done repairs (even then the repairs can sometimes be pretty “Russian”...meaning super glue and cement probably shouldn't be used together for redecorating).

I don't know if I could live in Russia in such a small area my whole life. I am sure I would be able to cope but I definitely have way too much junk and I like to keep my sleeping area pretty private and out of sight of people. I think that such living conditions force a person to better know their family (parents and grandparents since they typically share a room). After being in Russia though I am extremely grateful for the many blessings that I enjoy.

The biggest apartment I was ever in was 5 rooms. It was huge (probably smaller than our house now though). But the people who lived there were loaded which was obvious when we saw the beday in the bathroom. That was the one single time I ever saw anything on a level close to what a lot of people I know in America live in.

I found an interesting discussion on this forum about Russian apartments.

Russia - Domes and Scenery

First impressions of a country and of new experiences often stay with a person for most of that person's life. I remember my first day in Russia like it was yesterday. There were so many new and different experiences and I could practically retell the whole day down to several small details. One of the experiences that I don't think I'll ever forget occurred on my first day in Russia. As we were driving from the airport to the city, we began coming into the city and I remember very clearly two huge buildings standing on the outskirts of the city. I think my mouth was hanging wide open at what I saw. The buildings were probably 15 stories high and looked like the following.

A look up at a large building in Russia.

These huge buildings are probably the first thing I think of whenever I think of Russia. These buildings are the apartment buildings that stand row after row all throughout the cities of Russia. Each apartment building ranges in size from 2 to 20 stories (maybe higher but I have never seen one that big) and have hundreds of apartments each. If there are 5 stories or less, no elevator for you, otherwise there is one that hopefully works. I know only a handful of people that don't live in an apartment in Russia as it is the way that most everyone lives. The domes (each building is called a dome) are made of metal and concrete (pretty much they are slabs of concrete stacked on top of each other).

Standard elevator inside a dome.

A typical dome has about 5 entrances (each one called a podiezd) and on each level, 3 to 6 apartments. Just for a general idea, the dome that we are in has 6 podiezds, 6 apartments per level and 9 levels. That is over 300 apartments in this building alone. Just from outside the front door of the podiezd, I can see at least 10 domes of the same size. 3000 apartments in site from where I stand just outside. Tomorrows post will be more about the apartments themselves, but that is a lot of people in a small amount of space.

The entrance to one of the podiezds. You need a key to get in, or dial on the dom-a-phone.

A look up the podiezd.

Don't expect any important mail.

The biggest problem with the domes is how beat up most of them are. Most of the buildings were building during the USSR period and have seen a lot since then. The buildings are very run down and from outside, you definitely get the feeling that you are in a third world country. The problem is that there really isn't enough people who would want to take care of the domes by painting and doing other repairs. I wouldn't want to either up on the 13th floor of a building. I don't blame anyone for that.

A beat down Russian dome.

A typical Russian dome.

However, the thing that I love about the domes is that they leave so much space for trees and other greenery. Just walking outside of your apartment building you will find more green beauty then in most places in the United States.

Later this evening we are going up to the top of the hill here in Penza, and we are going to look out over the city. There are two things that I am excited to see that truly define the landscape of Russia – the huge domes that cover the land and that are filled in by the beautiful greenery. Don't let the outward appearance of the domes make you think that this is a torn down country. It really is a wonderful place.

View of the beauty of Russia.

A couple other notes:

There are regular homes in Russia but they are even more beat down than the apartment buildings and the roads are all dirt. Imagine what it is like in those rainstorms. I've included a picture of the outside of one just for you to see.

The funniest description I heard of the dome was from my grandmother in law who called it the beehive.

A regular home with a dome behind.

Some more domes:

Favorite Time of Year

It's Russian children's favorite time of year...when they turn off the hot water (Mom doesn't make them take a shower). As for me, I'll boil my water up on the stove thanks :).

Russia - Roads and Sidewalks

Today's entry has to do with the roads and sidewalks of Russia. I think that the roads are probably one of the scariest places in Russia. The reason for this is because of how terribly Russians obey the laws of the road. When we flew in, we were picked up at the airport and drove through Moscow, fearing for our lives. I remember the same feeling when I came to Russia my very first time as well. I myself could never drive on the roads here because of how terribly people keep the laws. One thing I must say that is regardless of how badly the laws are kept and enforced on the road, Russian drivers are some of the very best I've ever seen. There are probably less accidents on the roads here then in the United States. It's hard to explain without experiencing for yourself, but before you get on the road in Russia, either be prepared to close your eyes or else have a tough stomach. Russians can fly down the road, weave in and out of cars and get within a few centimeters of other cars without even flinching. I definitely don't have the guts for it. Too bad I couldn't get a good video of it. Winter is just plain out scary...

Another reason that the roads are so scary is because of their terrible condition. The roads range from good condition to asking what in the world they were thinking. The roads have actually gotten a lot better since I was here a couple of years ago, so maybe they figured something out. All the same, the roads are extremely dirty. People liter without thinking twice and with the huge smoking problem here, there are cigarette butts all over. To go on top of all that, the roads are just plain dirty. Anya and I decided that this is because of the non-existent sewer system.

The first few days when we got here, it rained. Without the sewer system, the streets stop looking like streets and more like small streams. The water just kind of sits on the road however and doesn't go anywhere. When the water finally drys up, the dirt just stays on the road and the roads get super disgusting.

Russian street during a rainstorm.

The small driveway up to a Russian building.

As you can see in the second picture above, the driveway up to the homes is completely destroyed. This is what I usually think of when I think of the roads of Russia. So many of the roads and sidewalks are practically non-existent. They are often so beat up that they hardly resemble roads or sidewalks for that matter. When it rains or the snow melts it can be pretty tough to find a place to walk that isn't muddy or filled with water. No complaints from me though. This is what makes Russia such a unique place.

A typical Russian sidewalk.

Video of the sidewalk in Russia. (Sorry about the really bad quality)

Russian Transport

Getting to and from the city is only the first part of the battle. Next up, you have to get around the city. Over the past couple of years a lot more cars have shown up on the streets of Russia with the big credit boom that was going on. However, there is one big problem for everyone with cars in Russia – parking. There is hardly anywhere to park for all of the cars that already are on the road so I don't expect everyone to own a car, like in the United States, anytime soon without a major rethinking of how cities are lain out.

That being the case, there are 3 primary modes of transportation that are in basically every city and used by everybody daily, 1 form of transportation that is in every city but used rarely, and 2 other forms of transportation that are less common but still fairly prevalent.

The first mode of transportation is the bus (aftobus). The bus system is very intricate and will get you basically anywhere you need to go. I have never seen a bus schedule, or any other schedule for that matter, for what time the bus is going to be at the stop or anything like that. Transportation comes when it comes and it doesn't wait for anyone, literally. The biggest thing I dislike about the bus is that it is only so big. However, don't think that stops people from trying to cram in like sardines. At the busy times of day, you should be prepared to get real close to your lovely smelling neighbors, who if you're lucky have showered within the past couple of days and don't wreak of some form of alcohol (more on that to come). The bus however will get you where you need to go in a decent amount of time and was the form of transportation that we most commonly used as missionaries.

Anya getting on the bus.

Inside the aftobus.

Next up is the trolleybus. This isn't the bus and you will get corrected quickly if you call it the bus. It's the “trolley”bus because it runs on electricity which comes through the overhead connection it has, just like a trolley. The trolleybus is extremely slow and mainly older folks use it to get to their destinations. The trolleybus is slow because it can't go to fast or it will get disconnected from the overhead connection. If you want to take a nap, then the trolleybus might be the way to go (I have already ridden on the trolleybus once since we've been here).

The trolleybus - you can see the connection above the bus.

The last form of transportation that is in every city is the gazelle. No, these aren't little gazelles running around the city that people sit on, but vans, usually yellow, that sit from 8-14 people. Obviously, this mode of transportation is much quicker than the first two, but with so few places, often you will have to wait for awhile to get a spot and the cost is higher. However, if you want to get somewhere in about half the time, then a gazelle is the way to go. Be ready to tell the driver when you want to stop though because unlike the buses, the gazelle only stops when needed and not at every stop.

A picture of a very nice clean gazelle.

Inside the gazelle.

Me inside the gazelle.

Next up is the most expensive way, and that is by taxi. There are plenty of taxi drivers around, but be prepared to pay a good price. If you are super late though, a taxi driver is the way to go as they usually know the fastest way, and they will get you there quickly (more to come). You can usually just stick your hand out to flag down a passing by driver or actually call and order a taxi. You can get a great deal if you catch the right driver who is passing by.

Next up, the two forms of transportation that are not in every city, but still common. First up is the tramvai. This is another form of a train and if you live in salt lake, you can think of it as the 30 year old version of TRAX. It runs throughout the city and gets you where you need to go, but once again is pretty slow so make sure you've planned your time ahead.

A typical tramvai in Russia.

Finally, one of the coolest modes of transportation is the metro. The most intricate metro is found in Moscow and is has the smartest layout that I have ever seen. The metro has several levels in it and you can get pretty deep down into the earth at some of the stops. Other cities in Russia have a metro as well, but they are nowhere near as complex as the Moscow Metro. The Metro is one of the quickest ways to travel as the trains fly and there is no traffic to worry about. It still takes about 1 hour to get from one end of the Moscow metro to the other, which goes a long way in showing how big Moscow is.

A metro stop in Moscow.

The Moscow Metro map.


I have had so many Russian experiences in 3 days. It has been great. Russian life is so different. My first post about Russian life and culture is about the primary mode of travel from city to city in Russia, the train.

There are train stations in every major city and in almost every other little town (деревня) throughout Russia. Trains primary purpose in Russia are to get people from one place to another, unlike in the United States where the primary purpose is to move goods from one place to another. The most famous train is the Tran-Siberian which travels 6 days from one side of Russia to the other, however I have never actually ridden on this train.

The train station is always a busy place and you can think of it like the airport in America, because literally that is what it is. The train station in Moscow is a melting pot of nationalities, dominated by Russians of course. It is the starting and ending point for many people. We got there a few minutes early and I had time to snap a few pictures.

The train station (vokzal).

Conductor checking tickets and passports.

In order to get on the train you must show your passport and ticket upon which you go to find your spot on the train. Each spot is a bed, with two beds to a wall (one on top and one on bottom). Most people prefer the bottom bed because the top spot gets unbearably hot at night usually.

The next part will be hard to understand for most who have never been on a train in Russia, but there are two different car types where people can sleep. One of them has kypes, which are like small rooms, with 4 beds to a room. As missionaries we always traveled in kypes and we always paid for all of the spots in a kype even in we were only going to use 2 of the 4 spots. Each bed/spot is long enough to stretch out on for someone like me and the room gives you privacy since you can close and lock the door (however, locking the door usually isn't a good idea if you have other people in the room with you that you don't know).

The more common car that Russians typically travel in is called platscart. The plats cart is divided up also into rooms but the rooms don't close off and there are two additional spots at the end of each “room.” In other words, as you walk down the car, you walk by everyone and see them and what they are doing. It leaves no room for privacy, but is cheaper and since you are usually only traveling over night, it isn't usually too big a deal. I have traveled platscart 3 times now and never had any problems, and during this past trip met some very nice people who shared their food with us.

The two main car layouts.

A view from our bed.

The thing I love most about the train is that you can lay down and sleep. Yes, the train takes longer to get to your final destination, but catching some winks on the moving hotel is better than losing your lunch on the flying bird. Don't take my word for it though. Experience it for yourself!

The metal toilet in each car.


Subscribe to Front page feed