Locked Doors, Gleaming Cathedrals, And Impossibly Sweet Wine |
Dec. 11, 2008
Panama City, Panama
- Russia Travel Secrets...
- The Best Retirement Play On The Continent...
Escape To Mexico's Riviera Nayarit...All Expenses Paid
- Final Dates Have Been Set For Our Premier Live & Invest In
Three days in one of the world's most beautiful and romantic beach
Dear Overseas Opportunity Letter Reader,
"'Russians don't feel safe without at least three locked doors between them
and the street,' explained my guide Anna as she unlocked the brown steel
door to the apartment building on the very central but pleasantly quiet
Millionarskaya Ulitsa ('Millionaire's Street') in the middle of St.
Petersburg only five minutes walk from the Hermitage Museum and the Winter
Correspondent Paul Lewis, writing from Russia, continues:
"Sure enough, across the entrance hall was a second, identical brown steel
door, then a wooden one, until we were finally in the small, well-equipped
apartment Anna had found for the first leg of my trip to St. Petersburg and
"Borrowing other people's apartments is the smart way to visit Russia these
days. The country is not cheap, with day-to-day prices already at roughly
west European levels, though the ruble's recent fall has helped dollar
holders. But hotels are particularly expensive, as few were built under
Communism and those put up more recently tend to be top-of-the-line and
"To get a sense of Russia, you need to visit St. Petersburg
and Moscow. St. Petersburg because it was Peter the Great's
'window on the west,' a spectacularly beautiful baroque city he built on the
Baltic as a symbol of his desire to westernize Russia and escape from
everything the Kremlin stood for.
"Moscow because it is home to the Kremlin, symbol of that dark, mysterious,
medieval Russia Peter was fleeing. The two cities encapsulate Russia's
"An Internet trawl throws up firms offering private apartments for
short-term lets in both cities. The one I
chose-- russiatourguidefamily.com--is run by a young American, Timothy
King, and Anna, his Russian English-teacher wife. They arranged everything
in advance, including tickets to museums and sites, travel within Russia,
and guides. And, as you want to travel to Russia in summer, now is the time
to book for 2009.
"St. Petersburg is such a tourist Mecca that visitors can tour its sites on
their own. But tourism is highly regulated still in modern Russia, which
means a Russian guide armed with pre-purchased tickets can save you a lot of
hassle and delay.
"For instance, some sites are reserved for foreign tourists at certain hours
of the day and for Russians at others. Getting hydrofoil tickets to the
Peterhof--Peter's opulent seaside hideaway a half-hour boat-ride away from
St. Petersburg--involves a lot of waiting if you haven't bought them in
"In the Hermitage Museum, visitors can only see its gold and silver
treasures in pre-arranged groups with special guides who don't speak
English, so your own translator is useful. And getting out to the Great
Catherine Palace, the unbelievably magnificent green and white pile that
Peter's daughter erected at Tsarskoye Selo, involves trains and buses unless
you have a private car.
"Of course, having your own apartment means feeding yourself. Restaurants
are plentiful in the center of St Petersburg but few and far between only a
little farther out. They also cost much the same as in London or Paris, so
cooking for yourself is an attractive option.
"But in the city center what pass for supermarkets must be searched be for
with care because, under Communism, few shops had display windows. They
could offer only what was available. Today's food shops are better stocked
but still usually hidden away in the basements of large buildings, with few
external signs. The word for a grocery is Magazin; an up-market
fast-food place is a Gastrodom; a pastry shop a Konditer.
You will have to get someone to write those words out for you in Cyrillic
"A word about wine. All these little basement superettes sell alcohol. But
bad relations with independent Georgia mean little wine from the warm Black
Sea coast makes it into Russia. Meanwhile European imports are expensive and
Russia's own wine often impossibly sweet.
"If you arrive in St. Petersburg, make the journey on to Moscow by train to
see something of the countryside. And vice versa. Around cities, there is
nothing but rusting factories. Farther out are lakes, expanses of empty
grassland, and pine forests but remarkably little cultivated land.
"Make the five-hour trip in what the Russians call Business Class, which
offers comfortably first-class airline seats and a hot meal served where you
sit. Don't be scared by the posse of armed police who meet this train at
Moscow. They are looking for illegal immigrants sneaking in from Kazakhstan
and other former Soviet 'stans,' who, typically, don't travel Business
"Our borrowed Moscow flat was very different from the one on Millionaire's
Street--a small functional place on the 13th floor of a hideous Soviet-era
tower on Ulitsa Novaya Arbat, itself one of the capital's most hideous
concrete thoroughfares. Again, a bevy of keys is necessary for entering or
leaving. But we got splendid views across a city punctuated by immense,
ornate, Soviet-style skyscrapers. We had a problem on arrival, as there was
no soap or toilet paper, so we had to rush out and shop.
"Luckily there was no problem getting food here because supermarkets abound
on Novaya Arbat. There is even a Western-style full-scale supermarket. Even
better, this featureless street is right next to its much more interesting
little sister, the pedestrianized Ulitsa Arbatskaya, one of Moscow's
favorite tourist haunts, an attractive street of restaurants, cafes, old
houses (some of which had famous people living in them), and antique shops.
"Again a guide is useful to navigate Moscow's excellent subway system, which
takes you to most major sites, or to negotiate entry tickets, needed for
Lenin's yellowing, embalmed body in its Red Square mausoleum is a site we
opted to miss. But St. Basil's Cathedral, with its steep winding stairways
and gloomy, labyrinthine chambers, represents the mysterious, old, creepy
Russia that Peter sought to flee.
"By contrast, the Kremlin's public chambers are not so different from West
European palaces, large elegant rooms where silver dinner services and all
the other accoutrements of court life are displayed. You cannot tour the
Lubiyanka Prison, which is now being turned into a toy store.
"The gleaming, larger-than-life Cathedral of Christ the Redeemer is a
reminder of religion's importance in Russian life despite 90 years of
virtual abolition. Stalin blew up the original in 1931 to make room for a
planned thousand-foot-high Palace of the Soviets to be topped by a giant
state of Lenin. But it never got built, and instead a public swimming pool
filled the site. Then the cathedral was rebuilt in the 1980s by public
demand and largely by public subscription.
"A car and driver are helpful to reach sites just outside Moscow and notably
the Novodevichy Convent, one of a series of fortified religious institutions
defending the capital's southern edge. Peter kept his half-sister Sofia
locked up here after grabbing the throne from her in 1689. Later its nuns
stopped Napoleon blowing the place up by spitting on his fuses.
"The convent's cemetery is Moscow's equivalent of the Pantheon in Paris--an
overcrowded last resting place for Russia's artistic and intellectual heroes
and inevitably a few pushy politicians. Here lie Chekhov, Gogol, Mayakovsky,
Prokofiev, and Shostakovich but also Khrushchev, Yeltsin, and Raisa
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This just in: We've had to change the dates for our premier Live &
Invest in Panama Conference. Key speakers couldn't make it in
March, when we'd been thinking of hosting this important event, so we've
rescheduled for May.
These dates are firm: May 14-16, 2009. The three
heavy-hitting meeting days will be followed by three days of touring in
Panama City and beyond (including an excursion to El Valle, our favorite
Panama mountain town).
We'll be holding the event at The Bristol hotel, another local favorite.
More details to follow soon.
"Kathleen, a few weeks back you wrote about buying and renting
property in or around Paris, France. Is there a French
government-managed program? How can I get more specific details,
requirements, and recent listings?"
-- David H., United States
To clarify, the French leaseback isn't government-managed,
government-backed, or government-guaranteed, but it is the most efficient
and can be the most cost-effective way to buy in France, including in and
Indeed, a French leaseback can make more sense right now than ever. Buy an
apartment in France through this program, and you're not only investing in
your eventual retirement pied-a-terre, but you're also guaranteeing
yourself a reliable annual yield. The amount of the yield depends on the
leaseback you buy. Typical yields today are in the range of 3% to 4%. And,
right now, a yield of even 3% to 4%, if you can count on it, sounds pretty
Furthermore, you can finance your leaseback buy. Plus, when you buy, the
value-added tax (VAT) is rebated, meaning you save 19.6% off the list price.
This is a long-term play, as you must commit to lease your property back to
the rental management group for nine years. However, in the current climate,
locking in nine years of guaranteed yields doesn't sound like such a bad
idea, does it? And, again, at the end of the nine years, you walk away with
your own retirement home in France.
"I have searched for the dates of your conference in Panama,
but can't find them. Would you please send the dates and what we have to do
-- Bobby R., United States
See above, dear reader. The dates are set: May 14-16, 2009. To get your name
on the list for early-registration discounts, contact us today at:
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