The other end of the scale: joining Facebook

Earlier this week I wrote about why I don’t want to be a venture capitalist right now on my tech investment-specific site, Lager Tech, but I do want to keep helping selected entrepreneurs. If you haven’t read that, or my friend Mike Volpe’s related blog post, please do…

This post is about what I’m doing next, and why.

I’m joining Facebook, and I’m really excited about it.

facebook_2015_logo_detail

When I left Jana in April, I told the entire team in an all-hands meeting that I wanted a professional change. I didn’t want to just “do another startup,” even though I’ve been fortunate to work with great teams and have multiple successful outcomes in an industry where even one successful outcome is rare.

As the posts linked above explain, I spent a good amount of time learning about venture capital and participating in various parts of the process with various firms. While that resulted in several great options, I decided not to do it, for the reasons detailed there.

Positive impact at scale

I realized I want to build products that impact a large part of humanity, ideally in a positive and helpful way. I want to work with amazing teams and learn new things, both technically and organizationally, at a scale beyond what I’ve done in the past.

The thought of shipping software to more than one billion daily users, and growing, is highly appealing.

facebook-q4-2015-dau

My good friend Dharmesh Shah often talks about solving for scarcity, i.e. going for experiences or opportunities that are rare to get, that only few get the chance to do, or that fully utilize one’s “super power.” I think he’s right, and it’s a useful lens. Not a lot of folks have had the opportunity to work at this scale.

Still an Operator

I still love building products, “getting my hands dirty,” hiring folks, coaching them to become better engineers and engineering managers / leads, digging into code, learning new tools, shipping to users, and getting their feedback.

While resting on one’s laurels and taking an “easier” career path, one that involves more advice and less technical work, has its pluses, I’m not ready for it right now.

(I say “easier” in quotes because that’s far from clear. If you want to compete with top VCs, that’s a really hard job.)

I want to build more, learn more, and do more “operating” in general, especially at a new (to me, and to all but very few engineers / companies) end of the scale.

Amazing peers

It’s not like I know many folks at Facebook, have worked there before, or have unique insight into the company.

But over the last couple of months, I’ve met one amazing person after another who works there. The talent, paired with humility, put in an amazing environment, is a big pull.

It adds up, and having met dozens of them, I’m really excited to work with them. I’m looking forward to learning new things every day, both technical and organizational.

Attitude towards productivity

If you’ve worked with me at all, you know my approach to efficiency, productivity, automation, and tooling. I can be a bit fanatical about it.

It’s been refreshing finding not one, but many folks who share the same approach. Articles like this one from HBR tell parts of the story, and https://code.facebook.com/ has many examples.

startup-20-a-silicon-valley-story-23-728

This is not unique to Facebook, but it’s not that common in my experience, and it’s a big draw.

Giving back to the community

Yet another reason, and a differentiator from some other large tech companies with whom I was chatting, is Facebook’s dedication to open-sourcing and sharing important technology with the world, using unrestrictive licenses.

I love that Facebook doesn’t stop at a research paper, but often shares actual implementations, after they’ve been proven at scale, and then continues to work on them with the outside community.

Screen Shot 2016-07-26 at 12.49.33 PM

Examples like Cassandra are one of many, and I’ve personally used at least half a dozen of them in other companies. Again, https://code.facebook.com/ has many more, including innovations in hardware, telephony, wireless connectivity, data centers, and of course many software tools / components.

“The Facebook Epoch”

That’s the title of an interesting Stratechery post from late 2015. (Highly recommended blog, by the way.)

As the author notes, Facebook-the-product is exciting enough, but Facebook-the-company, with products like Oculus, WhatsApp, Instagram, and more, are even more exciting. I look forward to finding ways to work with and across these products.

Thinking ahead 5+ years, to what a VR-heavy world looks like, and the social experiences made possible, is exciting to me. As a sci-fi fan, helping create that future is awesome🙂

Monkey on the back

This last area is maybe the most personal / emotional / subjective.

I’ve been fortunate to help create some successful companies from the ground floor, and that’s great. But they’re not at Facebook’s scale, they haven’t had this impact.

motivationdemotivator

Other companies, such as Microsoft, Amazon, and Google, are very much in the same impact league. Other companies are coming up, too. But Facebook is at a sweet spot for me in other ways, e.g. family and friends using the product, and the role we could put together.

What about Operator.vc?

I’m still going to be doing angel investments with my good friend Mike Volpe, as he wrote. Investments may be subject to a conflict of interest review by Facebook, which I think makes sense. You can follow Operator.vc and my other activities on AngelList.

I remain bullish and excited about the Boston startup ecosystem. In fact, I think this job will help the larger ecosystem in multiple ways. I hope to bring and start exciting projects here with Facebook, hire great folks to build them together, build skills at a scale the likes of which we don’t have much in town.

OperatorVC_Logo

I’m also personally excited to grow my connections in California, with entrepreneurs, experienced executives, and other folks. I think this will help Operator.vc directly, Operator.vc investments, and my other angel investing activity.

We’re at an exciting time featuring explosive growth in both technology (e.g machine learning, deep learning, artificial intelligence) and business sectors where Boston has amazing home-grown talent.

I may still become a full-time investor / advisor down the road, but I’ve long wanted to work at a world-changing, category-defining technology company, so now I’m diving in.

Edit: to be clear, I will be based in Boston, though spending some time in California.

Ella is seven months old :)

It’s been a busy time, almost six months since I last posted here! I’ve spent most of my time the last few months digging into venture capital as a potential professional path. I’ve been writing about that at Lager Tech, if you’re curious.

IMG_5643

Baby Ella has been growing wonderfully, and it’s been a pleasure to watch, help, and just play with her🙂 Lisa and I are typical new parents, I imagine, although we’re trying to be fairly relaxed and do our own thing. Lisa is an amazing mom, as expected. I’m a lucky guy, and I recognize it every day.

IMG_5847

I’m going to take August off, spending all of it with family on a big trip. Besides visiting family in Israel, I’m excited to check out Croatia for the first time, and see parts of Italy I haven’t visited.

IMG_6057

I also have some professional news to share, coming soon :) But for now, enjoy the pictures of Ella, and have an awesome summer!

IMG_6299

IMG_6804

Welcome Ella :)

I really don’t blog often these days. It’s been busy, for sure, but in the best way possible. I also find myself using short-form sites, such as Twitter, more often.

On December 10th, Lisa and I had a baby🙂 Ella is an amazing, healthy, fast-growing baby girl. I’ll spare everyone the new parent talk. We’re lucky, and we appreciate it.

I took about three weeks completely off to spend at home with Lisa and Ella, then worked a couple of weeks part-time, then went fully back to work. Jana is a flexible place to work in many ways, including paternity leave. I love our mission and my colleagues, so going back to work was easy. I do, however, miss spending more time at home with the ladies.

Our parents have been here since Ella was born, in various combinations: first my mom and dad, then just my mom, then Lisa’s mom, and now Ella + Lisa are home with her family for a few days. My little sister was here too, on a school exchange program, so she got to spend a lot of time with her new niece🙂 Their help has been welcome.

We also found a nanny a few weeks ago, and she’s been a blessing. It’s helped us all find a new balance between baby duty and the rest of our lives.

Clearly there has not been as much going out or traveling, but that’s both temporary and OK. We already have several trips planned with Ella later this year. She took her first flight at ~6 weeks old, and she did well.

I’m proud to say I haven’t slacked much on training. There were a few nights where I was up with Ella for big chunks of the night, and those morning are tough. But other than that, I’ve been pretty good.

Happy new year, everyone! I hope your early 2016 has been good.

Summer 2015 update

Hard to believe it’s been almost 10 months since I last blogged: September 30th, 2014. It’s been among the best 10 months of my life, happily filled with much growth, satisfaction, adventures, and smiles.

One of the reasons I’ve been blogging less is that I’ve been using other social media tools more. Many things that would have been blog posts in the past now go to Instagram or Twitter. I think I’m actually creating more content, not less, but in smaller pieces.

The blog is still useful for longer pieces of writing, of course. But I no longer have any illusion about regular posting here, and don’t want to set any expectations.

The last 10 months have brought some significant events, all positive.

First and foremost, I got married🙂 Lisa is amazing, and I couldn’t be more excited for our future together.

At the 2015 SuperBowl in Arizona.

Silly tourists driving around Santorini, Greece.

At our wedding on Boston’s Charles River Esplanade.

I also want to congratulate my HubSpot (NYSE: HUBS) colleagues and friends on their successful initial public offering last fall. It was a great journey, with many smart folks working hard, working together, for a remarkable outcome. I feel #blessed that something I helped start grew into a world-class company. Thank you to everyone involved, now and in the past.

Picture from a BetaBoston article by Dennis Keohane.

I thought the above IPO would increase my desire to retire, or at least significantly relax/chill out. Strangely, the opposite has happened. I’m as driven and hungry as I’ve ever been, maybe more so.

Work at Jana is going well: we’re making great, measurable progress on an awesome mission/vision.

Want to know why they’re wearing wigs? Ask me. We’re hiring🙂

I’ve been working and traveling enough that I think my fitness has suffered this year. But that’s been a relatively known/calculated sacrifice for other good causes. Overall, I’m really lucky and blessed, can’t complain at all🙂

Happy summer, everyone!

#rtw2012 – Copenhagen

This is one in a series of posts about my recent round-the-world (RTW) trip, all collected under the #rtw2012 label. You may wish to read them in order for context and background.

From Stockholm, I took a quick shuttle flight to Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark.  It’s quick and easy flight, landing in a silent airport. What a great innovation that is. The quiet is really nice. Given that a few months ago I was sitting right next to the flight gate and didn’t hear the (alleged) boarding announcement, I’m a big fan of silent airports.

The silent airport is followed by a clean, fast, efficient, robot-driven tram ride to the middle of town, emerging in Kongens Nytorv. Once again, riding this tram, I was reminded how poorly the US does on public transporation😦

From there, I walked to my hotel, the Admiral Hotel right on the water. The hotel was nice, efficient, and friendly. It’s not in the top hotels I’ve ever visited, but not bad at all.

The walk from Kongens Nytorn to the hotel involves passing through the world famous Nyhavn, a canal-front area of the city, filled with bars and restaurants. Every single time I passed through it, all times of day and night, it was packed and had a great atmosphere. I really enjoyed spending time in this area.

I didn’t spend much time at the hotel, mostly walking around this beautiful, clean city. The round tower, Rundetårn, is a fun attraction. The famous hot dog stand next to it, DØP, definitely lives up to the hype, delivering one of the best hot dogs I’ve ever had.

The Strøget is probably the most famous pedestrian area in town, a long meandering street full of shops and restaurants. I walked up and down this street several times over my days in Copenhagen. It was always packed, probably thanks to the beautiful weather, and made for great people-watching.

It was this crowded all the time.

The standard unexpectedly-packed Italian restaurant.

Abercrombie, same all over the world.

As always on these trips, free wifi is a good find. This was one of the times where Foursquare came to the rescue, really showing its potential, since (sadly) ruined by the split into the Swarm and Foursquare apps. Ranting aside, I was walking down the street, when Foursquare alerted me to a tip left by a friend (thanks, Maia!) who had been there before, about a record store with free wifi.

I had to visit Tivoli Gardens, such an old and famous amusement park. It was lovely, and full of people. The rides are small and cute. It was impressive to see how efficiently the compact park grounds are used, especially compared to some far-larger parks I’d visited in the past. Definitely worth a visit even if you don’t want to ride any of the attractions.

It might be Danish, but it’s clear enough.

Really close to all the rides, including this mini roller-coaster.

Like, really really close🙂

Let’s play “guess who’s the tourist!”

Got enough cotton candy there?

Well-hidden, packed beer garden row.

The back row of beer gardens in the park is also well-organized and well-placed. It was full, needless to say, adults taking a break from their kids, presumably.

Like most towns, Copenhagen has its share of funny business names. Maybe I was more observant in Copenhagen, but I stumbled upon a few entertaining places, shown below. Spicilicious? That Corner? Spunk? Earl the Pearl?🙂

Not Boston’s Upper Crust.

Earl the Pearl?

Really?

The city hall was fine, nothing to write home about. I stopped in mainly to visit Jens Olsen’s World Clock, which was mildly cool, worth the visit.

1105 was not just my favorite cocktail bar in Copenhagen, it’s one of the top 10 I’ve ever visited. The Senor Hanzi was maybe the best single cocktail I had on my entire #rtw2012 trip.

Ruby was another good cocktail lounge. I liked their little window garden(s), where they plucked herbs to use when making the drinks.

The entrance to Ruby. Don’t ring the embassy…

One of several planters whose herbs are used in drinks.

Fugu (Freddy’s Unique Garden Union) was a bit hazy, as I didn’t get there until very late, though it was still packed. It’s safe to say Copenhagen has a rocking, world-class cocktail scene.

Leaving Fugu late at night.

Finally, Union, another speakeasy-style place, was decent. I don’t recall anything special about this place, besides the difficulty locating the right door, so it probably wasn’t amazing.

Ring the “Gold” bell for Union.

Brwpub, and its Brewfather beer, were an excellent mid-afternoon stop. They had a really nice snack menu and great service.

Running along the waterfront was great. I went for a morning run almost every day. Highly recommended, safe, wide, clean paths.

I watched the changing of the guard at the palace, and then went into Amalienborg (the palace complex) itself. It’s not big, but the tour ended up being fun because I ran into a grandfather teaching his granddaughter English, and he asked for my help. So we traded vocab, improving my Danish roughly 100x🙂

Hey, finally some guards.

Seems like most churches are under construction when visited…

Nice modern architecture here and there.

I went clubbing a couple of nights night, covering the relatively famous Culture Box, the less famous Warehouse (now closed apparently), and Karel. All had great people, and people-watching

Culture Box.

Warehouse (during the day obviously).

Dress to party with … and new relationships.

The King’s Park, Kongens Have, is really nice. Like everything in this city, it’s clean and organized. There are plenty of quiet shaded corners. There’s a small old castle, now a museum, in the middle, Rosenborg Castle. It’s not the most outstanding castle I’ve ever seen, but it’s a quick tour, worth the stop for the armory alone.

Chillin’

I wish I had a clear, focused picture of this saddle.

Castle lineage.

Stairs out of the treasury.

Copenhagen has plenty of great food besides the street hot dogs mentioned above. I did manage to dine at noma, the world’s top-rated restaurant by at least a couple of publications for at least a couple of years. I thought it was excellent, but over-rated. In fact, it wasn’t even my favorite meal in the city. Having been to Alinea before, and the Fat Duck since, among other places, I don’t think noma is in the same category.

Fiskebaren was my favorite meal in Copenhagen, one of the best of my trip overall. A really fun evening tasting a variety of items in a great setting full of fun people. I also really enjoyed the open-faced small sandwiches at Aamann‘s, highly-recommended by locals. Summerbird is also worth a mention for their chocolate balls (flodbollen), which were amazing.

Outside Fiskebaren.

The botanical gardens were OK, not amazing, but a fun little tour. More fun was the pub run tour, offered by Copenhagen Running Tours, a fun group. The Jewish museum was surprisingly excellent, not big but fascinating and well-organized.

Overall, Copenhagen was a ton of fun, and I’d love to visit again. Everyone was friendly, everything was clean and organized, I really enjoyed it.

Shaking off some rust: Happier -> Jana

It’s been almost four months since I last blogged, my longest hiatus since starting this blog in 2004 (!). That’s especially interesting since in one of my recent posts, I was trying to get back into the blogging routine.

The good news is that life has been awesome. I’ve been away from blogging for the best reasons possible.

I changed jobs, going from Happier to Jana. Both are great companies and I’m happy with the move itself, how it was done, where I am now, and how we’ve all stayed friends.

A typical Jana user.

Personal life is great. It’s been a good, busy blur of a winter and spring, including some travel and other adventures. Can’t complain.

Still running around in the early mornings.

The summer promises to be interesting as well, with some events and trips planned. But rather than try to catch up in big pieces, I’m going to try what I tell others: ease into blogging with small, “bite-sized” entries, so they don’t take a lot of time or effort to consume.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

#rtw2012 – Stockholm

This is one in a series of posts about my recent round-the-world (RTW) trip, all collected under the #rtw2012 label. You may wish to read them in order for context and background.

These posts tend to be detailed and you might find them boring. They’re mostly for myself, as a diary.If you prefer just the pictures, all the ones below (and more) are also on Facebook.

Arriving into Stockholm.

Amusing pictures at the airport.

I know those two!
From St. Petersburg I went to Stockholm, Sweden, my first visit to Scandinavia on this trip and in general. It’s a pretty quick flight, and a smooth easy train from Arlanda airport to downtown Stockholm. It’s also pretty fast: 205Km/h, or 120mph, but quiet and stable. The ride takes about 20  minutes, exactly as advertised. Why don’t we have trains like this?

Zoom zoom…

Clear signs everywhere make it easy to navigate.

Stockholm was a hotel town on my trip. I stayed at the Radisson Blu Royal Viking, right in the middle of the city, near Gamla Stan, the old town. The hotel was great: excellent service, spacious room, great amenities.

Hotel buffet breakfast from a higher floor.

Kettlebells in the hotel gym. And a sink?

It’s Sweden, after all. A gym must have a sauna, hot tub…

I neglected to use the hula hoops🙂

Heart starter?

One of the first things I did was head out for a recon trip, starting with said old town / Gamla Stan. It was a gorgeous day, like most of my time in Stockholm. Warm long days full of sunlight, I couldn’t have asked for better weather.

Walking around Gamla Stan.

The changing of the guard in the palace at noon.

Looking across one of the many canals.

Add caption

Interesting tattoo on a busy main street.

But also many empty side streets.

Napoleonic cap?

Crossing the street on the southern side.

Lots of interesting buildings.

The royal palace complex (Kungliga Slottet) has a variety of buildings. I really liked the treasury (no pics allowed inside). While walking around the royal apartments, I ran into a local grandfather who was teaching his granddaughter English, using the museum as a vocab exercise — what a great idea! We walked around together for a while, and I helped with a couple of the tougher words😉

Compound map. Note the English, again.

The guard was very friendly.

Awesome treasury. Sadly, no pictures allowed inside.

The various orders of chivalry were pretty cool, too.

One of the palace halls is where they hold the Nobel prize annual gala / reception. The Nobel museum is a short walk away in Gamla Stan, and that was my next destination.

Entrance to the Nobel museum.

Entering as a visitor is cheap. Entering as an honoree, priceless. Nice WiFi password, too.

I really enjoyed the Nobel museum. It’s not big, but it’s dense and rich with fascinating displays. Besides the picture and bio of every winner, they have a lot of research materials, such as original lab notebooks and pictures and such, all annotated with handwriting from the researchers. Really cool.

Game theory. Loved that movie.

The Penguin man.

Telomerase!

There’s a small cafe where I had a snack. Every chair is autographed by a previous prize winner, as I realized while reading about the cafe and having my snack. I flipped my chair around, only to find it was signed by an Israeli winner, Professor Dan Shechtman! Small world…

The bottom of my chair at the Nobel museum’s little cafe.

After the museum, I kept on walking south, through Gamla Stan and into an area called Sodermalm. I walked along Gotgatan, a big pedestrian shopping area, with many amusingly-named stores. There’s a subway station here called Skanstull, where I boarded the train (“T-bana”) to Fridhemsplan.

An unlikely combination…

Yes!

Taking it to the next level…

A casino?

Well-known record store.

I wonder what they sell?

Indeed, why Thai?

From there it’s a short walk to town hall, Stadshuset. The town hall itself is fairly small, not the most impressive building around. But it’s on the water and has a nice little sculpture park.

That evening was split between dinner at PA & Co, an amazing restaurant that I really loved, and hanging out with new friends at the F12 Terrace afterwards. PA had such a great menu, I wanted to go back every day to try out new things. The Kalix roe stood out as a local delicacy.

PA & Co dinner menu, (mostly) English version.

The aforementioned Kalix roe (orange pile at top left) with traditional local accompaniments.

Afterwards, the terrace at F12 had some great music, and a fun crowd. F12 also has a highly-rated restaurant for dinner, but I didn’t try it. On my way to the F12 restroom, I noticed a long line of girls waiting at a vending machine. Turns out it was a chewing tobacco machine. Weird, no?

F12’s restaurant, which I skipped.

F12’s terrace, upstairs, tent-covered section.

There was a long line of women for this machine. It’s tobacco, right? I’m not missing something?

I was pretty tired, so it ended up being a fairly early night, but a good introduction to Stockholm nonetheless. This turned out well as the following nights were late. On my way to PA & Co above, I walked by Stureplan, which looked promising, and indeed the next couple of evenings were centered there.

One of the most popular restaurants, naturally, is a TGI Friday’s?

East, in  Stureplan, has good sushi and better drinks.

1900 and Kaken, two good places under one roof.

The outdoors bar in the middle of Stureplan was hopping every night.

Waiting for the first subway train of the morning in a clean, organized, mobile fashion.

Curious tattoo choice.

Yes, that’s a McDonald’s (the one at Skanstull), packed at 5am.

Stockholm is a beautiful city. It’s a pleasure to walk around along the canals and side streets. But I thought it’d be nice to get in the water as well. Thankfully, one of the many meetup groups I joined for the trip, the Stockholm Sporty People, had a couple of good ideas.

One of them was canoe / kayak polo. I ended up playing with another group, but thanks to an introduction from an SPP meetup member. The game is what it sounds like, kayaking around and trying to hit the polo ball with your oar. I wasn’t a great player, but I didn’t flip over, and my team won, so everyone was happy🙂

Walking to the kayak polo meetup spot by one canal. Somebody had to drive…

A bar / resto on the water in one of the canals.

Kayak polo has 5 players to a side, hence 10 kayaks.

For my mom🙂

I also went for a couple of jogs around the islands. It’s amazing how quickly you can get into wooded terrain, feeling like you’re a long way out of the city, even though it’s only a mile or two.  The Rosendal palace and its gardens were a nice stop, mostly deserted and peaceful. The Vasa museum, nearby, has a recovered and restored Viking ship, and that was pretty interesting.

All good choices.

Looking for the “you are here” designation…

Another museum in the middle of the park.

The restored Viking ship.

Fun jogging paths feel like you’re far away from the city.

In the gardens of the Rosendal palace, there’s a cool greenhouse and shop.

Overall, Stockholm was great. I would gladly go back to explore more. I still have a lengthy list of restaurants, bars, and other places to visit.

Early morning at the train station, heading back to the airport.

Nice recruiting, Spotify.

#rtw2012 – St. Petersburg

This is one in a series of blog posts about my 2012 trip around the world, all collected under the #rtw2012 label. You may want to start at the beginning for context.

The way I set up my trip in Russia was two long weekends in Moscow, with the 5 days between them in St. Petersburg. I wanted to optimize for Moscow nightlife, and I’m glad I did it that way, although St. Petersburg can definitely hold its own in this area too. More on that below.

Sergei and I on the train.

I took the overnight “Red Arrow” train from Moscow to St. Petersburg. This was an adventure, highly recommended. It’s a fairly fancy train, comfortable, and a lot of fun. My cabin mate was a 55-60-year-old man named Sergei, who had a great attitude, amazing stories, and a capacity for vodka drinking far greater than my own.

I wouldn’t count on the train’s food service, though. You can get much better food for cheap from the train station stands and take it with you. That’s what I did. Sergei brought drinks🙂

Riding in the back of Sergei’s car

Sergei was nice enough to have his driver drop me off at my AirBnb apartment. The latter, conveniently, was in the same set of buildings as the US consulate. It was cool the see the marines nearby, in Russia of all places.

First view of the Neva river. Nice wide sidewalks for jogging.

The garden.

As soon as I got there, I went out for a recon jog. The jogging path took me along the Summer Garden, Field of Mars, and of course the Neva river. All are beautiful, fun places that I visited multiple times at a slower pace later.

Fun ad near the Field of Mars (to the left of this pic.)

It was immediately evident why some call St. Petersburg “the Venice of the North.” There are canals everywhere, with bridges over them, and boats traveling around.

Tempting to jump aboard…

I continued to the Winter Palace and Hermitage Museum, just to check out the queues. I had already bought a ticket online the day before, for the next day, so I wasn’t going in today. The queues were very long, as every guide book says. I don’t know why people don’t buy tickets online. This was one of the very few museums on my trip to which I dedicated a whole day in advance, and I was glad that I did.

Ticket queue for the Hermitage Museum. Buy a ticket online to bypass it.. 
Hermitage Museum directions.

The Winter Palace and museum buildings are impressive from the outside, but they blew my mind inside. The Hermitage might be the most impressive museum I’ve ever seen, or tied with the Louvre for that honor. Its collections would be incredible (top 5 in the world) even if they were housed in a dingy basement. The buildings themselves would be a top-tier attraction in most cities, even if they were empty. The combination of the contents with the buildings, how they’re arranged together, is mind-blowing.

Palace Square. The girls in uniforms are local tour guides.

I kept jogging through the Palace Square towards Nevskiy Prospekt, the main street. It’s a really fun town for walking, jogging, and biking — at least in the summer (I was there in July), when the sidewalks are clear, no ice anywhere. I jogged as far as Ploschad Vosstaniya, then back home to shower and change. It made for a nice refreshing loop.

Nevskiy Prospekt, the main street.

I don’t know what’s going on here, but it’s going on 24 hours  a day.

OK, the Hermitage. It was an amazing museum, and would be my #1 stop when I come back to St. Petersburg, I think. There’s always more to see. They have entire rooms dedicating to specific artists, e.g. some of the European masters. So instead of just one Picasso painting, they’d have a room with a dozen or more. The collection is insane. It also extends to sculptures and other types of art.

My Hermitage museum ticket, with extra sticker for photography permit.

Lucky timing to visit a special exhibit from Santiago Calatrava.

My pics don’t do the ornate ceilings, floors, or surroundings justice.

So many masterpieces they are just crammed together..

The Raphael Loggias, NBD. Yes, that Raphael.

The original of that one…

Yes, I tried to pay with a credit card, just for kicks. Bank of America, no less.

Many millions of dollars in art.

The short dude with the wings is always Cupid

I have dozens of photos from the Hermitage. I won’t post them all here. If we’re Facebook friends, you can see them there.

Trips are better with locals. My St. Petersburg guide, Anna.

i was fortunate to have a local tour guide I’d met the previous evening. She was surprisingly informed, and it was nice to tour a museum not by myself during this trip. Thanks, Anna🙂

By the Kunstkamera entrance. The “no pictures inside” rules are strictly enforced.

Another awesome museum in St. Petersburg is the Kunstkamera, and specifically the deformed “creatures” exhibit. This is gross, and makes the X-Files look tame, but it’s also fascinating to see.

Heyo fun church!

Entrance ticket!

Looks great at night, too.

Of the several excellent churches in St. Petersburg, my favorite was the Church of the Savior on Blood, which has several variations of that name. It’s a colorful church that you can tour, just a few steps off Nevskiy Prospekt. As I found out, it’s also near several bars and restaurants, a convenient location all around.

Bears outside the Admiralty.

The churches of St. Peter and St. Paul (part of a fortified complex that has little else to see), and St. Isaac’s, were both fun as well. One of them is right by the Admiralty, which was closed for renovations while I was there, but had a fun exhibit of standing bears outside the building.

Important people buried here.

Gorgeous mosaics.

the “baby Cazr” is buried there.

As with Moscow, St. Petersburg has many cultural attractions that are not religious. The Mariinskiy Theatre, for example, as well as many others.

Carmen, one of my favorite operas! Lucky timing.

The nightlife in St. Petersburg was fun. It didn’t feel quite as over-the-top as Moscow, but there still good drinks, good nightclubs, and good options at all hours of the day or night.

Is that an ad? Yes, it is.

Learning the different local beers.

Nevskiy Prospekt at 4:30am.

Solid drinks.

Shot flights? Shot flights.

Of the cocktail bars, I have a specific note to mention 22-13 here. It stuck out as having Eastern Standard-caliber drinks (one of my measuring sticks, a favorite Boston bar). But apparently it’s been bought by new ownership?

There are many bridges over the Neva river. They are closed (meaning cars can travel over them) most of the time. They have a set schedule of when they open to allow boats under them. They are also nicely lit up at night, so watching them open and close is a sort of tourist (and local) attraction. This typically happens in the middle of the night, so it’s a nice break between dinner / drinking / dancing / whatever you’re doing at that time. Here’s a schedule.

The bridge lit up on a rainy night.

Watching the bridge open up, letting boats go under it.

I was apparently there during a busy wedding season, as there were bridal parties taking pictures everywhere.

St. Petersburg’s underground train / metro system is well-known for its very deep and pretty stations. I made sure to use the subway a couple of times, and it was fun. It was easier to find your way around compared to Moscow’s subway, because the signs had some English on them.

Descending into the deep subway station.

English on the signs!

On some of them, anyways.

Overall, St. Petersburg struck me as a beautiful city. It was clean and welcoming, friendly. It was easy to navigate, and gorgeous to walk around. I’d love to go back there in the future.

And sometimes, late at night, you run into a random group of women on horseback on the main street of the city. Why? Not clear. I’m surprised they were staying on the horses at that point.

I took the “Sapsan” (Falcon) high-speed train back to Moscow. Onto the next city.

Re-plums FTW.

#rtw2012 – Moscow

This is one of a series of blog posts about my round-the-world trip in 2012, all collected under the #rtw2012 label. You may wish to read the first couple of background posts for context.

After a great few days in Istanbul, I flew on to Israel to hang out with my family. That was a lot of fun, as always, and I might blog about it later. But after that, I went to Moscow. Russia had long been on my “top 5 places to visit” list, so I was excited to swing by for the first time.

Landing in Moscow, it immediately felt unwelcome. This feeling would permeate the entire city, which is kind of bizarre. There is very little English signage, even at the standard international airport spots.

One of the few international signs at the airport.

Thankfully, I had amazing hosts in Moscow, Anna and her husband Dima. They made my visit to the city so much better. And the city itself has a ton to offer. More on both below. But my initial impression was “whoa! This is going to be interesting.” A uniquely “visitors not welcome here” feeling.

Also worth noting before I get into details: Moscow was the first city of the trip for which I still have all my pictures, not just a few low-resolution captures from Foursquare. To find out how / why I lost many pictures, see rtw2012 – Photography. Or if you want to just see pictures, here’s the Facebook album.

http://www.flickr.com/apps/slideshow/show.swf?v=124984

From the airport I took the subway, for the first of many times, to meet my host Anna. I had to change lines once and it was in the middle of rush hour. It was crowded, everybody moving fast. I love that rush, especially in a new city where I’ve never been before.

To the metro…

What station is this?

Nice train station.

There are no English signs in the subway, almost at all. So I had to improve my Russian reading, or at least trans-literation, skills, on the fly. It’s actually not that hard, thankfully.

One of the first signs I saw coming out of the metro was for a Tiesto show, and that was followed closely by an Armin van Buuren show. I was curious to hear some local DJ talent, as well. It later turned out they were pretty good.

I met up with Anna, and we walked to her apartment. She very graciously let me stay there while I was in Moscow, and it’s a beautiful apartment in a great location. Thanks for the connection, T.

After showering and changing, we went out to dinner. The open-air restaurant / bar / lounge is part of a little complex, a few places, in a former candy factory, I think? Some kind of manufacturing plant, anyways, which makes for a cool vibe. The weather was perfect, and the crowd was fascinating to watch. The thing at this place is that you pick your (meat), and they grill it for you, with various sides, Russian-style. It was delicious.

One of many impressive Moscow structures, from a taxi.
We swung by some sort of bike rally near Moscow State University, on the way to a nearby lookout.

From there we went to Strelka, a well-known bar not far away. It was a good bar with great music, setting the theme for Moscow.

Shudder.

The next day I walked around many of Moscow’s central, historical buildings. Walking past the Lubyanka was a thrill, having read so many books that mention it directly or in passing.

A little morning refreshment on my walk.

Walking around Red Square is just impressive. I’d read so much about it, but seeing it in person is something else. It’s huge and foreboding, like it’s designed to intimidate. There were many people out and about in the perfect afternoon weather. Everything seemed spotlessly clean, unlike some of the side streets and alleys — par for the course in a large town.

Hats for sale in Red Square.

Available for pictures, individually or together…

St. Basil’s cathedral, the famous dome seen in many pictures, was cool. There was (luckily) not a long line to see Lenin’s mausoleum, and I also got an unexpected treat from Formula 1 visiting town for a day or two, drawing a large crowd for a demo race.

St. Basil’s Cathedral

I stopped by the GUM mall on a friend’s recommendation. I didn’t do a lot of shopping on this trip in general, but this mall was very cool. It reminded me of Milano’s covered shopping arcades.

Inside the GUM mall / department store.
Watching F1’s “Moscow City Racing” behind Red Square. You can see one car there…

It was fun to walk around the classic main streets of Moscow, such as Tverskaya and Petrovka. I checked out the Bolshoi theatre, but did not go to a show. From there I made my way to Pushkin’s square, and back home along the “bulvar” (ring road).

Not random at all. At least it’s in English too.

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier near Red Square.
An accidental selfie in Pushkinskaya square.

I’ve only read about this place in about 50 spy novels: the Hotel Metropol.

The Kremlin itself was fascinating. It took a while to get tickets, but walking around once inside was cool. i didn’t do all my research, so I didn’t realize it was actually numerous buildings, churches, and other things to check out.

Kremlin ticket offices.
Inside the Kremlin.

My, that’s a big cannon you’ve got there. (That’s the Tsar Cannon.)

I don’t think I’m supposed to take pictures in here.

She was singing and praying.

The gardens around Red Square are very nice, too. Some people were dancing, others just walking around. They are really clean and well-kept, and everything was blossoming. (This is in July…)

Russia’s “hero cities” (Soviet names) by the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Peeps be dancing in the square.

Nice haircut, little kid😉

I also went to the Tretyakov Gallery, and it was good, but nothing compared to the Winter Palace / Hermitage museum I visited in St. Petersburg the next week (subject of the next blog post in this series.)

An interesting couple.

Time to go in to this restaurant and improve my Russian…

Petrovka street has a bunch of fancy shops…

Like this Christian Louboutin store.

Oligarch much? Compensate much?
Denis Simachev‘s store / bar / restaurant was cool.
Sunny afternoon.

Anna and I grabbed dinner at a Soviet “traditional style” restaurant near the Lubyanka, and it was delicious. I really liked the Russian country dark bread, especially fresh and hot. Overall, the food is fairly simple, earthy, and much of it (sadly) is fried. As in several other countries, McDonald’s was a popular destination for many locals, although I did not swing by.

Some typical Russian food.

Love that bread.
Yup, a Starbucks. Nope, I didn’t stop inside.

Moscow nightlife deserves a chapter of its own, really. I loved the clubbing scene here. A lot of people complain about “feis kontrol” (pronounced “face control”), perhaps rightfully, but the system is pretty easy to work, and similar to other picky parts of the world. It’s easier as a foreigner, actually.

No one complains about the “local” women. After a night or two, when I saw any non-blonde woman, I started to think she was wearing a wig just to stand out.

You know it’s a good night when you give your phone to someone to take a pic of you, and they take pics of random people.

Nice ceiling. It changed colors, too.
Many vodkas.

Ever hear a Russian remix of “Call Me Maybe?” 
The legendary “Night Flight” — doesn’t look like much from the outside…

Layered shots, again.

Why are some of us having shots with a straw?

A 5D show?!?

Pacha Moscow is inside that little alley.

I’m not going to elaborate on the Moscow nightclubs here, but if you see me in person, ask for stories. They’re solid. Krysha Myra, Fabrique, Propaganda, Night Flight, they’re legendary places for a reason.

With pickles on the side? Sure.

I was pleasantly surprised by the quality and selection of craft cocktails in Moscow. There was plenty of vodka everywhere, obviously, but also a variety of other interesting options. City Space‘s “molecular mixology” stood out, and their “Nano Maria” was amazing.

Even though it was July, not the holidays, some buildings were lit up at night.

How late (or early…) must you be at Red Square to capture it with no visitors? Very.

Sunrise in Red Square, ~5am.

One final attraction worth visiting in Moscow is a tiny museum, but a fascinating one, is the official Gulag History museum. You have to go through a small archway on the fancy Tverskaya street, past a fake barbed wire fence and guard towers, made to look like the entrance to a Gulag camp. It’s really cool inside, featuring many photographs in all their versions, “official” and real, edited and otherwise, chronicling media manipulation, and of course the gulags themselves. Highly recommended.

Soon enough, it was time for me to board the classic “Red Arrow” train on an overnight ride to St. Petersburg. Moscow was a blast. Even though it initially felt unwelcoming, I can see myself coming back.

Caught one brief rain shower — had to run to the metro. At least I wasn’t wearing heels, unlike my tour guide…
Looks like the right train.

More great books from this summer and fall

I’ve enjoyed reading a handful of awesome books the last couple of months. The sci-fi ones, in particular, have been greatly enjoyable. I wrote up some books from earlier this year back in June, and this is the next batch.

In fact, I’ve read 3-4 of my top 10 sci-fi books ever during the past couple of months. Wool, Ready Player One, The Forever War, and The Player of Games, all were outstanding.

The entire Wool series / Silo saga by Hugh Howey is excellent. There are 9 books in total, collected into 3 books (Wool, Shift, and Dust in the omnibus editions), all flowing together smoothly. What an amazingly-creative piece of work, a scary possible view of the future.

Ready Player One, by Ernert Cline, was so good that I read it twice, back to back. It also features a scary view of a future where everyone is plugged in to the “Oasis,” a world-wide massive virtual reality game, neglecting their real lives. There are heroes and villains there, naturally, and a battle to control the game, and thus life itself.

Close on its heels I read The Player of Games, by Iain M. Banks, which was also superb. It’s one of several books that take place in the same world, Banks’s “Culture” series, but the only one of those I’ve personally read so far.

Just yesterday I finished Joe Haldeman‘s classic novel, The Forever War. Wow, what an excellent book. I literally couldn’t put it down on the train / subway, and while walking around. It’s not a new book, but it was one of the few Hugo + Nebula joint award winners that I hadn’t read. The parallels to Heinlein‘s classic Starship Troopers are so clear, but the books play off each other perfectly.  And it turns out the author is a professor of creative writing at MIT!

Killing Pablo, by Mark Bowden, was a fascinating book as well. It led to a late night reading about Pablo Escobar and other drug figures on Wikipedia. Very detailed but not repetitive, and does a great job of expanding the Colombian context to Pablo’s life.

Lee Child‘s Never Go Back and High Heat, both Jack Reacher novels, were predictably good beach reads. Simple, but entertaining to read and fast-paced.

These are the best books I’ve read the couple of months — there have been a couple of duds, too, but that’s for another day.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,477 other followers