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People to People in Volgograd

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Sharon Tennison shared this on June 29, 2015


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Plans for Volgograd had changed during the final weeks. We weren't quite sure how the schedule would work out. We arrived at 8:25 am on a bright sunny morning. The train came to a halt and we hurriedly got our luggage to the exit door. I was among the last to deboard and emerged to see what looked like a sea of eager faces coming toward our car. They were weighted down with flowers.[tag]

From Square of Sorrow, Mamayev Kurgan
Square of Sorrow, Mamayev Kurgan
(Image by BBM Explorer)
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Our women in the train cars ahead were already receiving long-stem roses and bouquets. Running toward our car was Alexander (Sasha) Malashkin, the raging entrepreneur pictured on the front of my book, The Power of Impossible Ideas. Hugs and exclamations abounded. We had never had such a welcome here before! Always it was warm, but nothing like this. More on this to follow.

Our Volgograd friends had rented a van, apparently not accepting our intent to travel by taxis and metros. They whisked us off to our hotel in downtown Volgograd. I'd been gravely concerned about this hotel, remembering it as a tired old rundown piece of Soviet architecture. Since inexpensive was "in" for this trip, I took the low price and hoped for the best. Pulling up to Hotel Volgograd the exterior appeared as before, drab brown Soviet architecture; upon entering I was shocked. Renovated with 19th century moldings, gold leaf, walls full of gorgeous fabric and paintings, plus two sleek Otis elevators ". it all bespoke of foreign money. Who would have invested in this old building in an outlying Russian city? Waiting for passports, I marveled at the new stained glass behind the registration desk. On inspection, the rooms were small but elegant----and all of this for $50 to $70 a night depending on occupancy.

Later I learned that a former Mayor had purchased the hotel for a song in the 90s and renovated it himself. This was during the period when bureaucrats were making lots of money off of Russia's struggling entrepreneurs -- our alums may have contributed to this elegance, but not necessarily by choice. In any case, today Volgograd has a classy hotel that operates efficiently, has excellent food, and accommodates guests in style. I recommend it highly if you visit Volgograd in the future.

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Following a fast breakfast we were taken straight to a Rotary Meeting. Since we couldn't be in Volgograd on their normal Rotary day, they chose our day of arrival! Their van drove up to an old building I'd remembered from two decades earlier. It sits in the harbor area down near the Volga River----and probably had earlier housed employees with river-related work.

The exterior was the same as in years past; however, inside it had morphed into a "business incubator" on the scale of Silicon Valley! The same types of bright techy faces peered out of cubicles similar to such incubator spaces near Palo Alto, CA. Several of them proudly gave us their product spiel. All were start-up operations ready to break into the market. It became obvious that this whole business incubator belonged to Sasha. He is mentoring and sharing his enthusiasm for micro-businesses with Volgograd's millennial generation. They couldn't hope for a better coach.

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