Trip to Russia 2004

Ladoga lake

It was kind of a memorial trip. My friends and I used to visit Ladoga lake many times a long time ago and we loved the lake and nearby forest. The Ladoga lake was favorite place of my friend LG, who recently died from cancer. It was on Ladoga where he broke his toe during  soccer game, and broke my nose with his head during another rough   soccer game.   We were pretty reckless. It was not just our group habit, it was generally accepted approach to life in Russia and still is. If you put a safety belt in car for example, the driver will feel insulted.  Once  our recklessness resulted in tragic death, on Ladoga lake also. We took abandoned boat and tried to sail on it to the city of Priozersk. Boat sunk and one guy, VM, drowned. 

I visited  most of  our favorite places on Ladoga. I camped 3 nights. My new camping equipment (tent and sleeping bag) are  OK. I was sitting near the fire in one of our favorite places Gysinoe (Goose) lake and thought about LG and about life. I did not feel happy for being able to visit these, our sacred places, while he lost his chance forether, but I was not sad ever. I felt rather emotionless and meditative. I spent too much time in Buddhist countries and get contaminated with Buddhist approach to life. Christianity is full of emotions for the suffering death of Christ. Jewish religion is also full of emotions. But Buddhism is not. You don't have to know Buddhism theological dogmas to understand Buddhist mentality. It is just enough to take a look on Buddha's face. His face is always quiet, emotionless and full of wisdom.   Buddhism is rather approach to life then religion. Buddhism is not  apathetic like some people think. Buddhist approach to life however helps to overcome difficult moments of life such as death. And as a result it helps to live.

My trip took 4 days. I rode bike from Rail Road  station Sosnovo to Ladoga, I rode North along Ladoga lake to Priladojskoe. Than I rode West to Gromovo  and returned to Sosnovo. Karelia is beautiful as it always was. One terrible change happened. There is intensive logging. If not stopped, they will destroy this gem of North Western Russia in a few years. If something like this would have happened in America, the  people would fight to defend their forest... not in  Russia. Somebody told me that the loggers are connected with the mafia and if somebody will try to protest, he quickly will disappear.   

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1. Lake Gysinoe (Goose lake)

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2. Camping on the moss

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3. Camp fire

Alex Mumzhiu
St. Petersburg, Russia
July 9 2004 6pm

PS: I would like to remind you that you can find links to all my Internet publications in Englih and in Russian at:

Daniel Mumzhiu

My Dear readers,

You may remember that I planned to ride bike from Helsinki to Saint Petersburg. I was stopped by torrential rain on second day of my trip in town of Porvoo, Finland and return to SPB by bus.  Soon my son came and we took a trip across Karelian peresheek (land bridge?) and to Priozerskie skali (rockies).

Attached is my son's Trip report.

Alex Mumzhiu
SPB, Russia
Aug 23 2004 4pm

Privet (Hi in Russian),

I arrived in Helsinki after three flights from DC.  I was pretty tired and went straight to the hostel that I always stay at in Helsinki.  Helsinki is a simple, clean little town and though it isn't very spectacular, its a charming place and it grows on me a little bit more every time I visit.  After a quick stop at an internet cafe, I went walking down the main street at 10pm (it was still very light out).  Street performers were all about and there was a group of guys with various musical instruments playing nice tunes so I stopped to listen.  The next tune they struck up was the song that Al Pacino danced to with that beautiful girl in "Scent of a Woman" (I think its the Tango).  It created such a jovial atmosphere that I wanted to grab one of the many gorgeous Finnish woman that were walking by and dance the tango with her right there and then.  As I saw it, the only problem was that I don't know how to Tango.  I continued my stroll and passed the super luxurious hotel where I had a cup of tea last year... the only difference was that I didn't see Bruce Springstein this time.

I took the train to St. Petersburg the next day... though the ride itself was of little note, I did have one story to tell about it.  There was an American girl on the train who was chatting with some German guys.  I didn't speak to her (she was rather unsavory) but I did overhear their conversation.  They were talking politics and she said that because of various American policies she was ASHAMED to call herself an American.  This ticked me off to no end.  I can understand that people from time to time disagree with their country's policies, but to say you're ashamed to call yourself a countryman/woman of your homeland seems atrocious to me.  I don't always agree with American policy but I'm proud to call myself an American.  The Russian girl that I was chatting with on the train echoed this sentiment.  Anyway, enough political rhetoric from me.

Shortly after coming to St. Petersburg, my Dad and I set off on a week long camping trip to the forested areas north of St. Pete.  My bag held a tent, mattress, sleeping bag, a few other minor things and ONLY 2 pairs of sock and 2 pairs of boxers (1 pair of each was already on me).  Since we biked most of the trip we had to pack light.   I have to give a little  background about these bikes.  They are my Dad's foldable bikes and the wheels are about 15 or 18 inches in diameter.  The seat and handlebars are full height but everything else is miniature.  Being 6'2, I'm sure I look rather funny riding this child size bike.  Anyway, with our toy bikes in hand, we set off biking first along paved roads, then not so paved roads, and then roads that resemble more of a slight path through boggy marshes.  The first day we biked in pouring rain and I was becoming miserable.  At one point, I was near the end of my rope (tired and wet) and the last straw was a giant truck driving through a lake sized pot hole and splashing about 100 gallons of water on me.  That was it!!  I threw down my bike and started yelling and huffing and puffing about.  Well the sun finally came out and we made camp in a picturesque forest in the middle of no where.  The next few days the weather was much better and we camped in several beautiful places.   We cooked our food on the fire and brushed our teeth with bottles of water we'd pick up along the way.  This way of life is a lot of fun, but can be a little rough, especially when you are used to good ol' city life.  Be the 4th day, you could imagine that I stunk rather badly.  Believe you me, I love to shower... not taking one for 4 days was a bit trying.  I reeked of BO, campfire smoke and garlic (ate lots of it).  Our last camping site was extremely difficult to get to.  We walked our bikes for several kilometers but the pay-off was extraordinary.  We camped on high cliffs above a very pretty lake.  After setting up my tent, the first thing I did was grab my bar of soap and jump into the giant bath-tub that was the lake.  We camped there a couple days and spent our time climbing, swimming and hiking around.  That was a great culmination to the trip.

After returning to St. Pete, I walked around the sites that I've seen a million times but they're always nice.  For those that don't know, I was born here and have been back several times.  This time however, the city seemed a little different to me for some reason.  Not as homely as it always feels.  The people seem a bit different (i can't figure out why).  Either way, its a pleasant experience.

Tonight I board a night train for Moscow to see my uncle and my cousin. I don't quite feel like I'm on my trip yet... maybe
because I'm in familiar places with familiar people.  I'm really looking forward to being my own guide in strange lands.

... oh, and one bit of news... for those that know I spent most of spring studying for the CFA exam... I passed Level II and now only have one more exam (next June).

Till next time, paka (bye in Russian)




1.  My little toy bike and me


2.  Cooking dinner on the fire


3.  The lake we camped on (a view from where we set up camp)

North Western Russia

Hello my dear readers,

After long stay in St. Petersburg I resumed my traveling and writing Travel Notes.   But now I have to compete with my son, who started his round the world trip. His Travel Notes are at: Yahoo does not archive pictures, but these who will subscribe to the Yahoo Group will receive messages WITH PICTURES to their email addresses. This is Yahoo policy.

When I was young I tried to travel to far remote places. There is Russian expression "wind of far travel" (veter dalnix stranstvii)  This wind blew me as far as possible from the home. Now, when the most of far remote places are already visited, I feel interest in traveling to these places which I always ignored: North-Western corner of Russia: Pskov, Novgorod and Veliko-Lukskii Region. I expected that it may be sad and even masochistic experience. But anyhow I decided to go there.

From SPB I took a bus to Novgorod and as usual slept on rear bus seat, even the sleeplessness should try it, as the best remedy for this disease.  In Novgorod, I took the boat tour to the lake Ilmen, where one well dressed man offered me a drink. He was Russian representative of American company looking for the local sales representatives. He was very disappointed to learn that I live in the Washington. For some reason people all around the globe consider me a local, maybe with exclusion of China and India.

Novgorod is nice, especially oldest churches built in modest and romantic pure Novgorod style, like Church of Our Saviour-at-Ilino (Spasa-na-Iline)in attachment. Unfortunately later this style was replaced by more bulky  Moscow style.

From Novgorod I took early morning bus to Valdai, another old Russian town. My friends recommended me to visit Valdai National Park and they were right. It is real good area, nice and ecologically clean. Putin's dacha is located there. In Russia you will not be wrong if you will go to president's dacha neighborhood.

From Valdai town I rode bike around the Valdai lake and Uzhin lake, through villages Shuia, Uzhin, Borisovo, and Dolgie borodi (long beards). I camped in forest and had mushroom soup for the supper. There were plenty of white (portobello) mushrooms there.

I came back to Valdai Sept 1 in the afternoon. It was first day of school and children already were going home. High school girls were dressed in high heels and stockings. Some boys were already drunk, some barely kept balance. Probably they started drinking in recess.

I took late afternoon bus to Tver, another old Russian town. Tver is located on Volga river and there are several churches beautifully situated on the Volga shore, one of them is in attachment.  I found a place to stay in train station hotel but in luxury loft for $17. Hotel manager gave it to me only till early morning. They normally keep it permanently "reserved" for railway executives and do not rent it to ordinary customers. So I had a chance to experience nomenklatura (high management) luxury. It was a lot of rugs there, but towel was slightly large than handkerchief.

From Tver I took bus to Ostashkov, the town on the Seliger lake. My father took me to tyrbaza (campground)  "Seliger"  in 1947. I remember lake shores were filled with fun loving campers and lake was filled with canoe and small yachts.   Unfortunately, they built military plant producing rocket fuel (or something like this) on the island located in the middle of the lake. Once  upon a time they spilled radioactive beryllium in the lake. Dead fish was floating all over lake. According to locals radioactivity level is still higher than normal. So Russian tourists prefer to go to the Turkey. Fortunately Turks  do not built nuclear facility on the Aegean shore. But gem of Russian nature, as Seliger lake used to be called, was not abandoned but definitely is out of favor. There are many abandoned buildings in Ostashkov and city doesn't have a single ATM machine.  

From Ostashkov I took a train to Velikie Luki. I stayed at train station hotel (komnati otdixa) for $1 per night. It was OK. What was really difficult, it was difficult to find a restaurant there.  While it was tons of new restaurant had been open in SPB and Moscow, in province-towns, it is still almost none.

From Velikie Luki I will go to Belorussia, than to Ukraine to see birth towns of my grandparents.



1. Church of Spas-on-Iline, Novgorod.


2. St. Ekaterina nunnery on Volga shore, Tver.


3. Camping on the moss.


4. Street parking enforcers, St. Petersburg.

Daniel Mumzhiu

5. My son Daniel is ready to go  around the world.

PS: Of course I follow the sad Beslan story. And I felt like it is not a good idea to sent my stories, which I try to make funny and entertaining, in such times.    Eventually I decided to sent it anyhow.

Alex Mumzhiu
Minsk, Belorussia
Sept 8 2004

Trip back to history

Through all my relocations I managed to save my grandfather's printer's license of year 1914. It is  large colorful piece of paper with a wax seal, which certified that he graduated from the printing school and can legally work as a printer (naborshik- compositor). It mentioned his birth place: a small town of Chashniki, Belorussia. I decided to visit this town.

From Russia I came first to Vitebsk, Belorussia. I noticed a big difference with Russian provincial towns, which I visited before. Vitebsk is very clean, efficient, everything is working. There is no pornography in every newsstand kiosk, like in Russia. No myriads of kiosks selling beer and not every second person in the street is carrying an open bottle of beer, like in Russia. It was very visible examples of limited democracy, managed by Belorussian President Lukashenko.

Later I heard his speech on referendum matter in which he spoke to his people like father would talk with his basically good but not very clever children, who are unable to make right decisions for themselves. What he said basically was this: "Do not trust anybody except for me. All these presidential candidates are crooks and want to sell your lovable country to enemies, you know to whom... Trust only me. Let me take a third term."

Well, this is the two sides of a coin, called a  totalitarian state, which I observed during my short visit to Belorussia.

City of Vitebsk is known in the West mostly as the birth place of painter Mark Chagal. There are two museums of Chagal in Vitebsk, but not a single picture. Chagal offered several of his picture as a gift to his hometown in 60-ties. But communist authorities did not accept the gift from the painter surrealist, they prefer Socialistic realism.

City of Chashniki turned out to be an un-impressive Soviet style small town of standard concrete 3-4 floor buildings. Entire town was re-built after WWII. There was heavy fighting in that area and the old town was completely destroyed. Lady in local museum was very impressed by my grandfather's license and asked me to send her a copy for placing it on display in the museum. Museum was closed for renovation at the time of my visit.

The city of Minsk is preserved as a time piece of the old Soviet Union, complete with all slogans, statues and names. These who feel nostalgia for USSR, go to Minsk

Kiev is again becoming city of golden domes. Most of the 400 churches were destroyed in 1935.

Odessa, my love! It is dirty, polluted, but I love it anyhow. I wanted to buy a small fish (bichki) on "Privoz" market and asked if they are from the bay. Sales woman exclaimed: "How can you ask that! You are from Odessa, right!? You should know that this particular type of bichki is from the sea, not from the bay!" I am not from Odessa, I was born in St. Petersburg, but my father is from Odessa. How could she know this?

My next destination was my other grandfather (on father side) hometown. I have list of government employees of city Bolgrad, Ukraine for year 1914. See it in attachment.   My grandfather is listed there as the manager of military draft department. Bolgrad was founded by people, who came there from the Varna region of Bolgaria in 1806-1824, upon invitation from Russian government.

It was people of different nationalities between emigrants. Last name of my grandfather   fits to the pattern of last names of Gagauzas, a small ethnic group.

See for comparison other Gagauz last names:

Mum-zhi (candle maker, mum is candle)
Gaidar-zhi (Flute player, gaidar is flute)
Kuind-zhi  (Jeweler, kuind is jewelry)

I found several people with name  Mumzhiev there. Mumzhiev is obviously Russified version of Mumzhi. Last name Mumzhiu is not as common but also exists. 

I visited also city Komrat, the capitol of Gaguzian autonomic region in Moldavia and learned a lot about Gagauz national character. Gagauzas are freedom loving people, who are not easy manageable. They are also  known  for their short temper. These Gagauz national character features were recognized even by authorities. Gagauzas are not drafted to army! This trip to the history helped me to understand my own character better. I have 1/4 of Gagauzian blood from my grandfather.



1. My maternal grandfather printer's license issued in1914.


2. Mark Chagal statue in Vitebsk.


3. Kiev golden domes.


4. My paternal grandfather listed in Bolgrad city government employee list of 1914.


5. Map of my trip

Alex Mumzhiu
Bucharest, Romania
Sept 21 2004 8pm


Last trip report from summer 2004 trip.

My dear readers,

I would like to remind you that my last trip report was from my grandfather hometown Bolgrad on the border of Ukraine and Moldavia. From the Bolgrad I went to Moldova, then to Rumania's capitol Bucharest.  I was in Bucharest in the summer of 2000. According to  my observation at that time, the Bucharest was  plagued by the  gypsies who attacked the pass-byers, the wild street dogs and wild prostitutes who also attack pass-byers, but unlike dogs they attacked  males only. Times changed. I did not noticed any of above mentioned spices, but pollution became terrible now, too many cars. This is probably the sign of progress.

From Bucharest I went to the Belgrade the capitol of former Yugoslavia, now what is left from Yugoslavia called Serbia and Montenegro. After Belgrade I went to Zagreb, Croatia; Ljubljana, Slovenia and eventually to Venice, Italy. Nowhere in a world I had observe such dramatic  gradient of changes as I moved from the East to the West in Eastern Europe. After  the still pretty wild Bucharest, the Belgrade looks like  fine European city. There are many people sitting in the outdoor cafe and drinking coffee. Ljubljana is even more European. It looks like entire population of this city is sitting in the outdoor cafes and drinking coffee. Actually they pretend that they are drinking coffee. That they have in front of them  is a half cup of very small cup of coffee.  I usually drink it in one sip. How can they drink it for an  hours, I do not understand.

And eventually I came to Venice. Nobody waist time on drinking coffee in  Venice. People are walking and staring at the beautiful sites of this most beautiful city in the world. It was hurricane when I came to Venice. At one moment strong wind blown off the large pieces of plaster from the tall building. These pieces hit the ground  around me with terrible noise, but none of them hits me.  Even in such bad weather I barely found a hotel room and it was pretty expensive. Next night I camp on the Adriatic shore near the Cavallino Triporti, just half an hour NWW from the Venice by ferry. These who are scared off by high hotel price in Venice, keep it in mind.

I camped many times during my trip. I do not like to be seen when I camp. You never know if it is against the law in that particular country, or you may be on the somebody's private property or your tent may be seen by wrong people. You never know. In order to sleep peacefully you should be sure that nobody have seen you. So I have abandoned the idea of camping near the lake or on the river shore, like in old good times. These places  usually are already occupied by somebody. What I normally do, as the night approach, I buy the large  bottle of water and look for hidden place away from the inhabited places. After erecting the tent I make little fire and prepare food in the twilight. The twilight time is best, because the fire is visible during the night and smoke is visible during the day. So far I never was discovered by anybody during my camping. While camping in Balkans you always will find plenty of dry wood, but bushes are full of pricky plants and therefore sometimes impenetrable.   Especially I remember one camping high in the hills above the Venice-Dubrovnik freeway. It was in the aromatic coniferous forest with beautiful view of the Adriatic sea below. None of five star hotels can be compared with good camping.

From the Venice I went along the Adriatic shore to the Dubrovnik through Slovenia and Croatia. From Dubrovnik I took the bus to Sarajevo, Bosnia; where I finished active part of my trip. From Sarajevo I took the train to Budapest and then to Moscow.

Highlights of my 2004 summer trip:

1. I love Karelian isthmus, land bridge between Ladoga lake and Finnish bay. However it is definitely the matter of personal choice. I love Karelia because I spent my youth years there. But objectively speaking, Karelia is the less developed and less touristy than other forested parts of European Russia. And the Northern parts of Karelia, which recently was prohibited area are the best. Finland is clean, safe, environmentally friendly and so convenient that you don't have to prepare your own food while camping. You can go to nearby McDonald's. I am not sure exactly why, but I have lost interest in Finland.

2. Odessa is my love. I rented one bedroom apartment near the "Privoz" market with tiny yard in front of it. It reminded me my grandmother apartment in Odessa. I would be ready to spent entire summer there, going  to Luzanovka beach, or to Big Fountain beach, or to the limans... . Odessa also can be a good base for the exploration of Turkey and  other Mediterranean countries. There is ferry to Istanbul two times per week   It strikes me how little money I would need to have such a good time in Odessa. My apartment costs only $3 per night. It is pretty typical for Odessa. I found an apartment through "kvartirnoe bureau" at the train station. It would have cost even less if I stay longer. Food is  very good, especially at the "Privoz" market. It is also dirt cheap, in dollar equivalent however. For the information of my American readers: Ukraine, unlike Russia, does not require invitation to get visa anymore

3. Dubrovnik, Croatia is amazing  medieval  city-island surrounded by tall wall. It is really great. It is  sparklingly clean and polished and  very touristy. It looks so "like new" that  sometimes it is hard to believe that it is not a theatrical decoration.

4. Venice. It doesn't matter how many tourists are there. It is the most beautiful town in the world. I feel really sorry for these who have never been in the Venice.



1. Map of my 2004 summer trip.

st marco.

2. St. Marco square, Venice, Italy Sept 25.


3. Venice is beautiful.

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4. Russian street musicians from Saratov singing in Trieste, Italy.

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5. Most frequently displayed commercial in Croatia.

Alex Mumzhiu
Washington, USA
Oct 22 2004

PS: In Budapest I bought the round trip train ticket to the  Moscow. They sell only round trips. And now I have left ticket to Budapest valid for 2 months. It doesn't have passenger name on it. Is anybody wants a free ticket  to Budapest from Moscow?