A few impressions of my travels in Russia. In Moscow, one of our group members, who is of Lebanese descent, was detained by police for looking "Caucasian" (from the Caucasus mountains). Our guide had to intervene so our guy wasn't taken into the police station. Yes, being dark-skinned is enough for the police to detain anybody they damn well please over there.
In Belarus, we were invited to the "house" of the local wrestling federation. After our bus wound in and out of a neighborhood most comparable to Borat's village (corrugated tin roofs, no glass in the windows, chickens all over, etc.) we came to a clearing where there stood the "house," complete with security wall all around and a guy with a machine gun standing guard. The place was opulent, a complete contrast to the neighborhood we passed through. We asked how the federation could build such a house and were told "we make business." We asked what kind of business and were told, "Yes, make business." One of our group members asked, "Like a computer business," and the answer was, "Yes, we make computer business." My take: best to stop asking questions and break out the vodka.
When we were on our way out, I had purchased a Russian army dagger with scabbard for my son in the Moscow flea market (that is a whole story in itself). At the airport, the instructions on the wall said that all items, such as knives, should be packed securely in check-through luggage, which mine was. When my bag went through the x-ray it was pulled from the conveyor and within minutes I was called over, at which point an older female security person holding my son's prize dagger began shouting at me and shaking the dagger at me. I didn't know what she was saying, and a guard with a machine gun came over and starting babbling and pointing at me as well. Our guide was busy at the ticket counter and didn't notice what was going on until things got heated. The guy with the machine kept pointing for me to go someplace off in the distance and I kept telling him I wasn't going anywhere. Things got bad when the guard tried to grab my arm to make me go with him and I smacked his hand away and told him to get his f.cking hands off me, at which point he pointed the machine gun at me. Needless to say, that got my attention. Our guide came over and, to make a long story short, the dagger was considered property of the Russian government and is not legally allowed to leave the country, which I had no clue about. The guard was trying to arrest me for smuggling. Much more to the story but suffice it to say I'm safely still alive in the good old US of A.
And as the pics below attest, always be on the look out for Lenin and Chuck Norris hanging out.