Sunday, July 31, 2005

Shopping again, last go-round

Today may be my last weekend day in Moscow. I am finally getting "on my feet", so the timing could be worse, I suppose, I just can't think how. Since it may be my last opportunity before returning to the US, I went shopping and bought a bunch of stuff. I bought myself a winter fur hat for one. Fox is what the man said it was. Pretty nice fur, and the hat is HUGE! Should be warm when it's cold. As I was shopping and looking for stuff for Graeme and Suzanne, I saw something that caught my fancy. More than caught, it was something I've loved for years and years - a bloody mechanical clock. Wooden case, you know, very traditional, not really a big deal, but you can't get 'em new unless you spend a bundle. Nobody makes windups anymore. So this wall clock is hanging there, and I like it, and the man says $50. I practically choke and shit at the same time. If it works, this is an extraordinary value - the clock is an antique. It wasn't a great one, just a plain one, but it was probably manufactured before 1940. The vendor tells me 1936. I wouldn't really know. The works appear on quick examination to work, so I close the deal. OMG, what am I going to do with this thing for a year? If I keep it in the dorm in Shchuch'ye, my neighbors may end up killing me (bong, bong, bong, bong, bong, bong, ad nauseum). So I'm carrying this clock - a full 2 feet high plus and inch or so - all through the market. It has beveled crystal with leading for the bottom window, and a wood that looks a lot like oak as the primary case. The actual works frame is a darker hardwood - haven't the foggiest what it could be. But to me it is beautiful. I'll come back to this clock - after I get around to getting back to my apartment, and we see what it actually can - or can't - do.

I shopped amber, I shopped jewelry (stones from Kazakhstan), I shopped tablecloths - Russian linen, and I shopped chess sets. On the way I also saw figurines - little metal dojobbers like you could do panoramas with. I saw exactly one set of these that were antiques, could o' been from the fifties or earlier. Not later than the fifties, I'm sure of that. They were like some I had and loved when I was a kid. I thought of buying them for Graeme, but no, they are fragile. There was a cannon - and the wheels would get broken for sure. It's just amazin' that this set was still in one piece, and if I were an antique buyer with regular shipments, I would have bought the set. They would have surely gone for at least twice what I could bargain 'em for here. But, the shipping, and only one item, and I don't know my arse from a hole in the ground for antiques? Naw, fahgetaboudit. Go have a beer and enuff of the pipe dreams.

I end up pricing linen all over the market, and discovered not much difference in prices. And, not much flexibility. Ok, no problem, that just tells me the merchants are being fair. In the merchant stalls I see at least 3 or 4 nationalities regularly. Some of them are prone to asking twice the "fair" price and bargaining quickly. Some of them go the "Saturn" route - offer a fair price and stick to it. The preface is often "This is my first price". Then you get to offer the "2nd" price. This is the most difficult stage for me - I usually have no desire to spend half of what they are asking, and I also do not wish to insult these merchants. But when the merchant tells you this hockey jersey will be $70! Well, even if it were $30 I wouldn't buy it! I am not in the market for a $70 hockey jersey, unless the hockey god was signing it in person right in front of my very own eyes, by gaw! And even then I would have to know who the "f" the hockey god was! So, you see, it's kinda hard, for me, to break off when the merchant is bustin' his butt to make a sale. I always forget that its not personal. I mean, 30 seconds, and they've established a relationship! Fred would probably have a gas here! (Fred, r u listening?). For all you other folks, Fred was my mentor on sales relationships, and as far as I'm concerned, when it comes to that subject, is one of the most expert people in the whole goldarned world.

Me? I want to shop a whole bunch of stalls until I feel comfortable that I am asking, and being asked, a fair price.

Amber was way too expensive. Military goods were way too expensive. Now, don't get me wrong, they weren't expensive compared to anywhere else, but I just wasn't ready to spend $100 on an amber necklace (that might not be amber), or $50 on a gyenuwine Soviet military belt. Now, as for the military belts, I can guess that the ones I saw were genuine. The leather was the right age, the brass had all the appearance of being genuine, etc. etc. But $50? For a present for a relative whom I didn't have the FAINTEST idea if they would like it or not? Give me a break. It was like the hockey jersey, which was a present for the same relative. WAY too expensive for a gift that I didn't know would go over well.

I spend about 6 or 8 hours shopping, and I'm sure I've gotten the best price on most items when I leave. I take the metro home with all my bags and my clock. Yes, it is kinda in the way. I know the stops I need in Cyrillic now. I'm even starting to have some recognition value with the Cyrillic spelling. Of course, dear reader, to understand what that means, you must realize that Russian spelling is, by and large, phonetic. Not entirely, but mostly. The Cyrillic alphabet is only a few hundred years old, and was invented by Peter the First, I think, or at his behest, to fit the actual Russian language usage of the day.

There are some fine handicrafts in the market (FYI: the Ismylovov Park market, which is now the Partisanskaya Metro stop, they just changed the name from Ismyalovov Park station to Partisanskaya). And some of the finest are shown by people who are at least part of the production process. Which means that you won't find better products at lesser prices by going to the source. Sometimes, these people are the source. This is still a TOURIST market, folks, don't forget that. Which means that MOST of the stuff you see is for TOURISTS, and involves a high level of profit!!!! You can also find beautiful handiwork in textiles, wood (some terribly intricate creations, really quite impressive), painting (think eggs), ivory (my god - elephant, walrus, mammoth, and whale!, and exquisite work!). Furs? I'm sure you can't take some of these home. I saw LYNX for gawd's sake! And gorgeous furs!!!!! I also saw pretty bad furs used for cheap hats. I don't even think I could take a lot of this stuff home! Ivory? Animal furs (which ones are from endangered species?). But the handiwork you can find is absolutely breathtakingly beautiful.

I found boxes with secret compartments, made completely out of wood, with the only metal being the springs to activate the secret drawers, the screws to hold the springs, and the pin of the hinge being metal. Amazing stuff. Eggs - like the Faberge eggs, painted with duplicates of Klie paintings and decorations. Fantastically georgous. Then there were the chess sets and inlaid wood. As one vendor said in English "extremely professional". Ya, you bet. How about the ivory work? Perhaps some of the most amazing works I saw. Carving a feather, curved, from a single piece of ivory. Or half an apple, from a mammoth tusk. Folks, this was some carving, no shit. Of course, the prices matched my amazement, these folks are not dummies!

But, I finally found the bargains I wanted, or as close to them as I would ever get - so I bagged my purchases, and made my way homewards.

I get home, I put the bags down and take off my shoes. My feet are exhausted and my calves are haunting me with pangs of "shin-splints". Immediately after taking care of urgent necessities, the very first thing I pay attention to is the clock. I wind it - it seems already wound. I try to start it - it doesn't want to start. I run it without the pendulum - it runs fine that way. To make a long story short - it finally works - but not the way it should. At least everything seems to run, the bonger bongs, the ticker ticks. Howsomever, it does NOT run the way it was designed to run. Either the springs are weak, or it needs lubrication, or something. It will not run with the pendulum, it does run without. This means it runs very fast, but I'll run it down and then find a clock man. The bonger bongs, but softly. It is a deep BONG, but not loud at all. If I were in another room and the TV was on loud, I wouldn't hear it. So the neighbor thing is not a worry. At first, when I was trying to get it running, I thought it wouldn't run at all, but I am satisfied that it is just a tune-up thing, or perhaps a new spring at the worst. LOL, I should laff at myself --- IF I need a new spring, then we have a real big IF I can FIND a new spring!!!!!

FYI, I got the clock fixed later. I liked the clock shop - a real mechanical clock shop, filled with nothing but. It costs me more to fix than it cost to buy the clock, but I later discover that the works are from Gustav Becker of Austria, made in 1926. So I got a good deal still.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Russian Red - Hair, and sore feet

Russian red - the hair color

There is a hair color here I just have to call Russian red. I don't think it is completely virulent, but it is slightly noxious. I don't find it entirely offensive, just obnoxiously electrically amazingly red. Kinda like Kool-Aid, it just ain't a natural color folks. Amazingly to me, it is quite popular. I find it humorous - otherwise Russian women show reasonably good taste. The best way to describe this color is to say that it would look good somebody styling punk, or a goth type. However, the ladies who use it here seem to think it is natural in appearance. A-maazin'.


Sore feet

I've got to put one other minutiae in here - my feet. They are killin' me. My feet and calves are just not tuffening up to the demands of walking everywhere. Maybe it will take a year or so, but for the short term, they are in pretty regular discomfort. Enough so that I am being careful how I exert myself. It really kinda burns me, coz like the most I've walked is 6k.This is not that far folks! What is that, 4 miles? Dang, that is nuthing!!!!!!! Pitiful. That's what, just p-i-t-i-f-u-l.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Playing Runescape - A "normal" activity

Aleluja. A nice evening spent doing more or less normal activities. Judging from tonite, I have to say that has been a major part of my blues. I hate not having time to enjoy myself, and not being able to do things I can lose myself in. That usually means a good game of some sort, cards work. Poker is better. Computer games do the trick for a while too. I played Runescape for a few hours tonight, and found some new stuff to entertain me on the map. AND, nobody was at work to make me feel like I was at work. Everybody else went home, so I had the place to myself. Damn good, thank you very much. Y'all just go away now and leave me alone! Heha!

Graeme and Aaron were both on rs too. Good times. Graeme gave me a bunch of red and black dragon armor for my birthday, better than any real life present! And meanieweanie (Aaron) gave me a bunch of runes and some dragon hides. Woohoo!

It really was nice being able to do something "normal" for me. I have been getting more and more stressed over being in a city, in a strange city, not speaking the language, and having little or no opportunity to get the hell out of town. O, I could get out of town, but everywhere I go I am a non-native, non-speaker.

Sunday, July 24, 2005


Ah well. It had to happen sooner or later. I have just got the blues from traveling, dealing with traveling problems, missing all the conveniences of home, etc etc.

Moscow is a lot of fun, and nothing like what I expected, but I am still a long way from home in a place where I don't speak the language. So, problems are bigger, movement is restricted, and nights are lonelier. Moscow is also still a big city, and I will have to move again - out to "the site" in the next couple of weeks. I'm tired of traffic noise all night, and not having my "stuff" set up the way I like it. Not to mention the heat and humidity. Of course, I have seen much much worse, but 80' and humid is enough to make things less enjoyable, and that's a fact. In my opinion. Ha ha.

I went to visit the campus of Moscow State U, and nearby - the site of the Moscow Olympics. Would have been a great venue to watch the ski jumping for sure. Right in the city, and on a hill next to the banks of the Moscow River. Went to a major church that was rebuilt after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Huge, beautiful, real bells. Nice.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Beautiful parks, and Hincapie's Tour

Well I spent all day on the phone, going to the markets, and walking in a park. The park is beautiful, on the Moscow river. Has some old brick edifice being restored. Don't know what it was, looked like 19th century, palatial. Lots of vendors with tchotchkes in the park. Food vendors, people picnicing, having a beer, couples smooching, babushkas enjoying the sun and the park benches. It is hot out - close to 30 C, and somewhat humid. My feet are really dogged by the time my day is done.

I missed Hincapie's day on tv. Too bad, it really sounded like an exciting day, but there was too much to do, and I can't do it all. Once again, Lance put time on the big rivals, including Rasmussen. So Rasmussen will do the Virenque thing - take the polka-dot jersey.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Lance put the exclamation point on it now!

Well, tomorrow is a harder Tour stage, but everything is over except the fat lady singin'. T-mobile got down to the last of today's stage, a couple of major climbs, with 3 guys in front and just Lance. And, they couldn't, or didn't, do it. I think they really could have used a bit better teamwork, as Ullrich just hasn't been taking advantage of Vinokouritz when he could. Instead he pulls Lance up to Vino. "What's up with that?" Phshew. So Lance puts the exclamation point on the tour. He didn't win the stage, but he hammered the big rivals but good. He put a little more time on everybody, including Rasmussen - who was close enough to be a wild card threat in the mountains. So, barring a major accident, or a completely out of character bonk for Lance, this should be it. I don't see anywhere that another rider can take back enough time to be in the running for number 1.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Bargaining in the markets

Bargaining: I haven't talked about bargaining here yet, I think. Bargaining is fairly common, if you speak enough of the language. A couple of quick rules a' de thumb: How formal is the sales setting? The less formal, usually the lower the price - and a little more flexibility. Marked prices are a sometimes a sign of less flexibility. If it is a tourist market there will be more price gouging and more flexibility. The honest ones show up though. They won't bargain, and don't seem too insulted when you ask. And all this may hold and may not. For instance, some street produce sellers will bargain a little, some won't. You just have to ask. Typical of competition, where there are more vendors, you can shop price a little more.

We have a gamut of merchants here, from American style department store settings to babushkas and dedushkas setting out a box with stuff by the sidewalk. Sometimes not even a box or a table to set the stuff on - they might lay out their items on a cloth on the ground, or even hold what they have to sell in their hands. I saw a babushka near the metro entrance today selling band-aids and bottles of antiseptic. She held a box, with an assortment of band-aids, in one hand and the antiseptic moved from the other hand to a tricky sort of single hand presentation when she needed a hand. I was tempted to buy something just to get her some money. I mean, she was out there obviously making an honest attempt to offer something for sale - quite enterprising. But, the fruit selling babushkas do better from me, I'm afraid. I bought more rasberries, and widened my horizons to what appear to be blueberries today. There seems to be a consensus among the babushkas on what the value is for a given amount - they get $50 rubles for the same plastic beer cup - about an 18 oz-er.

I saw what I believe are the same gooseberries I first met in Wales - a large grape-sized green-white pale globe of a berry, sweet and delicious (tastes like chicken, hehe, yes that's a joke!). These were pale green with white vertical striping. Bought a watermelon today, too. $20 rubles per kilo, so a 15 lb melon cost 140 rub, or about $5. Not a great price, to be sure, but not real expensive, either. And, it is a damn good watermelon, too. Very sweet.

I went back to the CD market by myself - starting to recognize the Cyrillic alphabet combination in the Metro station names. Of course, when I got there I couldn't find the merchant from whom I bought the CD I wanted to return. I did find the stall that I THINK sold it to me, but then of course it worked perfectly when I tried to show the guy. Ok, no problem, I just copied all the stuff from that CD on to my hard drive. Then I went to find a coffee grinder. I'd bought coffee a week or so past, and I thought it was ground. I was wrong, it was whole bean. BTW, there is no problem finding coffee and tea in the groceries here. AND, there is a wide selection of both. Coffee in American and European roasts, whole bean, ground, instant; tea in black, English varieties, green, and herbal blends. Prices vary widely but seem to me to tend toward the American price range. American tea blends by brand name will get twice their Americal retail here, I think.

Ok, so I was on about finding a coffee grinder. I can use this as an example of three things - the multitude of merchants here in the markets, the pricing range, and the availability of goods. Number three first, I actually could find a coffee grinder for the home. Number one, I could find the same grinders in a multitude of stores in the market I went to. Just as I have described the other markets and vendors, they tend to have many many small stores, 6x6 to 20x40, and locate them all in one big location. So I could have bought at least 10 coffee grinders from different stores, and that is only considering the ones I found in a bewildering array of hallways and glass window displays. So, number two, the price range was from 480 to 550 for the same Braun coffee grinder I buy at home for around 15-20 bucks. Run the numbers yourself. If you can find any difference between pricing ranges in the two countries you can knock me down with a feather.

Which brings up another point I've mentioned. If you're coming for a longer spell, like me, why bother bringing your electric appliances? You can get the same goods here for about the same price, and they work with the local voltage already. Some of our stuff, tho, is OFTEN already compliant with a 220 V system - shavers and computers are 2 examples.

As for shopping, I think I have described that to my satisfaction. Most people will probably think I've beaten the horse dead, but this is all the kind of stuff I would have found interesting and possibly useful before coming over. And even if I wouldn't have, I HAVE had a lot of fun getting this knowledge so far. But, I've got a feel for it now, and it is time to move on to other kinds of travel stories.

Do'svyadanya for now y'all.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Wowie zowie - Go Vino!

The excitement is far from over. Vinokourov has pulled back some time, and I do not think the yellow is a sinecure for Lance. The Discovery boys have been working hard for days now, and they must be losing some freshness. Man, they were strong today! But Vino? GREAT job there! Who knows what will happen now? This is a Race! The trick for Vino will be just like I said for Voight - he will have to be consistent. AND, he will have to do this trick again, and better! He is, after all, still over 4 minutes down on Lance. I would like to see Vino on the podium with Lance.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Some new and interesting Russian links

For the metro pictures:

Other Russian architectural impressions:


Traveling in to Moscow tips and techniques:

A Bilingual metro map

General Info

The official Metro site - in Russian.

Our walking tour of Moscow - finished!

More walking tour of Moscow. Let me see, where did we stop last time? At the Red Gates, weren't we?

Ok, then, let's start on the outside of the Red Gates then. Just a short walk away is GUM, Moscow's famous "department" store.

It isn't a department store now, and I don't know if it ever was. It is an indoor shopping center - gorgeous, and high-priced. Arched, iron-framed skylight ceilings let in the sun on small shops, fountains, and cafes. Not to mention letting in the sun on the tourists too. Background noise is a dozen languages.

From there we'll walk a block or so in the other direction back to the Bolshoi theater. We buy our tickets and go in to see the Bolshoi company dance. All the seats in the house are good seats. The floor seats are chairs, fitted with red velvet cushions, and held in place by iron frames. Quite comfortable, actually. You can see the six balconies of box seats. The "czar's" box is quite elaborate and large. This all looks as though it was designed and built before the Bolshevik revolution, but then was altered to reflect Soviet design themes. You can see the Soviet emblem over the czar's box, and woven into the luxurious stage curtains.

From the Bolshoi we go to the Metro - Moscow's subway system. We'll get on at the theater station and go get some dinner. Street musicians are common in the Metro and in the street underpasses that Moscow uses rather than mix pedestrians with cars for major thouroughfares.

The metro is a remarkable
underground rail system. Many of the stations are to me surprisingly beautiful. I recall some very beautiful details in some of the older stations in the New York subways, and the Atlanta system is kind of interesting, but these stations are marvelous. The floors, and often the walls are stone. Cream colors, red colors, black colors, many colors of beautiful stone. The ceilings and walls have designs and decorations individual to the station - with a theme for that station. I think the themes may reflect something that the station once served or was located near, but what do I know. I know there is a link that will show you some of the stations, and more of Moscow, too. The trains run frequently and are quite busy. I've included a photo of a Soviet era bronze that I particularly liked. There were some art-deco era lamp fixtures in this station that looked a little abandoned. They would bring a fortune on Ebay. But, I do think the gov't is proud of these stations, and I did see signs of maintenance and upkeep. The cars often looked nearly ancient, but are also obviously kept up with good paint and maintenance.

There are some signs of graffiti and trash, but also it is apparent that this stuff gets fixed. So, it is a city, like most others, and once again, I see signs that the economy and the city are healthy. Speaking of healthy cities, I think I have mentioned that so far Moscow has seemed to have less air pollution than I would expect from a city of this size. In speaking with one of our locals at the office, it turns out that Moscow used to have quite bad air pollution, but the government took measures to either shut down or control industrial polluters. The end result is that automobiles are probably the major polluter now, and the condition there is probably as I noted earlier. Today you can find Mitsubishis, Subarus, Mercedes, and Hummers. Five or ten years ago, the number of automobiles was certainly fewer though.

Anyone for dinner? Traditional Russian dinner! The soup is kvas soup - a chilled summer soup with a fermented non or lo alcohol Russian beverage as the base. Nice fresh veggies go inside - radishes, onions, etc etc and cilantro! Cilantro turns out to be a popular spice here. Next for an appetizer, I have stuffed eggplant. I think I had pork for the main dish, also quite good.

So now I say dobroya noiche - good night - I feel like I'm talking like one of those stupid travelogue films!

Later, y'all.

The Tour resumes normality - for the Tour

The Tour - well well. It has been a bit unpredictable at the start, but now we are back to the Lance performance. Taking the yellow jersey so soon - it was too soon, or would normally be considered too soon. Sure, his team is probably the strongest in all of cycling, but the race is young. And, this shows in the first of the mountains, when all of a sudden Lance is alone, on a climb, with three T-Mobile riders in the same group. And, each one of the three is considered a threat for the yellow. But no Discovery riders are there! Where are they?

The next day the Discovery team is there, at the front, making a show of riding the pace, and they are not slow. They are riding strong, but we have to wonder if it is just to regain lost face from the day before. Even though they are riding strong and fast at the front, they are also doing more work than other teams this day. And in spite of this there is an escape group - a group with at least one rider who has been in yellow before. Jens Voight is not considered a threat, but he is a strong rider this year, and the Tour always has surprises. When the day is done we see a new name for King of the Mountain - Rasmussen, who has been powering over the first climbs to gain KOM points. When the last climb is done he feels like his legs are good, so he goes for the stage win - and takes it. But Voight picks up enough time to be 4 minutes ahead of Lance. This is a risk for Lance, but he doesn't seem worried, and the Discovery team doesn't try to reel these guys in.

Normally this would be the strategy - let these early guys go. But the mountains have started early this year, and the number of mountain stages is changing the pace of the race. Jens is a strong rider. If he can keep up with Lance through the next few mountains, he will be a real threat. Four minutes could turn out to be insurmountable as a lead. But, too, Voight is not his team leader, he is there for another man who is his team captain.

Today's race though - now we see the Tour come around to it's usual style. Voight could not stay with the lead group and lost his 4 minutes plus another dozen or more for good measure. One rider said it well - now we will see the contenders and the pretenders. Today's stage has shaken the picnic blanket, and the hangers-on are away and off on the grounds below the feast. Sure, things can change, but now I think it is down to two, and perhaps three, men. The strongest of the strong, the Names, are too far back. Vino, Ullrich, Kloden, Basso, Leipheimer, Julich, take your pick. They would have to get a real break, and somehow manage to take big time out of Armstrong. Nobody will let them get that far ahead, and the Discovery team has shown their usual strength and teamwork today. Today, we feel assured that Lance will take the yellow in Paris, and his position as the strongest bicycle rider of all time. At 6 Tours, he was close to Eddy Merckx. Now, it is Eddy Merckx who will have to be close to Lance Armstrong. Of course, we are playing with dreams and mirages, comparing riders from such different eras. Both riders were so dominant, though, and both for so long.

It is a good Tour. Rasmussen and Valverde look great. I think we may see them again next year. And perhaps we will see Voeckler again next year too. He hasn't done much this year, but he is still young. Next year Ullrich will be a little older. I think Vino and Kloden will have a better chance at the podium next year. We shall see, and this year isn't done yet! There is plenty of room for surprises and attacks, even if you won't find my money anywhere but on the Lance spot!

Monday, July 11, 2005

Babushka rasperries

Monday, July 11, 2005 10:32:18 PM

I swear, Moscow right now has more than a little bit of Wild West / Las Vegas flavor. The economy is absolutely wild. Officially I think it is "stagnant", but this must be due to the manufacturing sector. The streets are busy, the markets are busy, street musicians are busy, stores are busy.

I go out to find a particular restaurant. I don't find it, and walk too far. I can't find the restaurant in the crowd of strange business signs, street stalls and vendors. The babushkas (grandmothers) can be seen in the street vendors sometimes. As I'm walking I go through an underpass, and on the other side, next to the train station, are a group of babushkas selling produce and some other things. I would think they've grown this stuff themselves in their garden areas. One is holding two large plastic cups full of raspberries. I think she picked the raspberries herself - her hands were all purple with stains! This lady was with another babushka - and I swear, I could have seen their like in Santa Cruz or Ft. Lauderdale. They were that universal in their dress. One in pants, with a green cloth floppy hat - the crush type hikers tend to like. Could have come from REI. The other in a long dress, but still dressed like a gardener. I can't understand the numbers they say, so I just show them some rubles. They point to the fifty as reasonable for their raspberry container, so I get both that they have. They are in plastic cups the size of beer cups at the football game. I probably paid them more than they were expecting, but it was still cheaper than the stalls, and the stalls are cheaper than the berries in Watsonville, which are cheaper than the in rest of the US. Huh, a good deal, I guess!

Yup, I think it was a good deal, but it wouldn't have been if the berries were no good. But, when I eat them I know I had nothing to fear - these raspberries have an intense flavor - much better than any others I have tasted this year. This has been a berry good year. (Cough, cough, huh!) It really has been a rich year for berries. When I left Aromas we had been picking the nicest blackberries I have had in so many years - since I was last picking blackberries in Oregon, what, in the early 70's? Anyway, they were absolutely ambrosiac, and I know they weren't even among the best of years for blackberries. But they were soooooo good. Now, I am in Russia, eating fantastic raspberries. And I don't recall ever liking raspberries so much. The blackberries here are small, and only good, not great. But the raspberries! Whoooaa! They have other berries I haven't even tried yet - a couple of kinds of blueberries, and some types of smaller berries, perhaps they are currants.

Saturday, July 9, 2005

Moscow weather

I did move to an apartment Friday, and I spend the whole weekend just being lazy.

Russian Weather:
I haven't been well-prepared for the weather. But not badly prepared either. If I repacked my clothes, I would pack a couple more polo-type short sleeve shirts, a couple more dark dress-type long sleeve shirts, and a couple more pairs of dark pants. And, an umbrella! In Moscow the weather has been much cooler and rainier than I expected. We did quite a bit of research before coming, but somehow I didn't seem to find a wealth of info on what weather to expect. Shades of memory, the same thing happened when I went to Ireland to cycle across the country! Blast from the past, they had the coldest and wettest summer for 50 years in the history books. Snow in May in Dublin, snow covering the mountains in Wales. Now, I'm not seeing snow here. Someone told me it would be hot and humid in the summer. Well, it's not hot and humid. There have been two days when it has been warm and somewhat humid. Now I've been told - by Russians - that this summer is either exceptionally cool, or is like a more typical Moscow summer than the last few years have been. Hmmmm, the truth lies somewhere in there.

I was able to find out a lot more about other major cities than I could about Moscow. Things like average monthly humidity, average monthly precipitation, and temperature (including highs and lows), average days of sunshine, all those things that will tell you what to expect. I think I found one place with average temperatures for Moscow. I know now that this is the search engines, and not me. When searching for "Moscow metro map" I found more sites with Moscow weather than when I searched for "Moscow weather"!

Here is what I do know - it has been cool. Not jacket cool, but just cool. It has rained several times - enough so that I had to buy an umbrella at the market/bazaar. The rain has not been massive dramatic thunderstorms, just regular rain, but a couple of times there has been plenty of water comin' down. A couple of days have been warmish - say gettin on 80, but not more than that. Some humidity, but not like the central US like I feared. So, overall, so far, extremely pleasant.

This weekend, though, it is warmer for the first time. Temp is 25 C - high 70's F. The sun makes the apt a bit warm, the outside air temp is still nice. It's just the sun and the windows building up indoor heat.

Thursday, July 7, 2005

Walking, traffic, and exercise.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005 7:30:57 AM

Well, I have learned Russian words for two, well (as in oh well, or "well, yes"), yes (hehe), no (not always nyet), what, thanks, and some others. "You're welcome" seems to be an all purpose phrase with more meaning than just where we use 'you're welcome'. It will also be used by a merchant to invite you to look at his goods. So it holds more connotation in the more traditional sense of 'welcome'.

I haven't even unpacked my bike yet. I'm getting plenty of exercise, and haven't had much spare time. There is plenty of walking, and space for walking if I wanted just to walk for exercise. But the sightseeing walking is providing some exercise, and certainly as much as my feet can stand. I see a very few tourists exercising, and no locals. However, I am still primarily in the downtown area. Locals frequently get more exercise as a part of their daily lives than Americans. They walk more to get places. The hotel provides a couple of treadmill type machines - boooring. But they get used by the hotel residents.

In addition to the walking I am doing for sightseeing and exercise, there is one other reason I haven't unpacked my bike: the traffic. As I've mentioned before, the drivers follow the Latin American driving style - aggressive. They are, quite frankly, a bit intimidating. At first I noticed that they do make way for pedestrians, but they do not always do this. If the pedestrian can stop and avoid a collision, the driver may take the space. One has to pay attention. It doesn't do to walk and daydream or let your mind wander. In addition to automobile hazards, there are the sidewalk hazards. Scaffolding will be constructed without any barriers, and may have protruding sharp edges. Sidewalk construction, street construction - no barriers. Some building construction has minimal screening as a barrier, but frankly, this may be more to keep people out and protect the site than to protect people. Ok, so you have to pay attention. Well, I can do that.

At least for a while longer, I'll still be walking for exercise, as I sightsee. One can use the metro to advantage here. I want to put the bike together soon, though. Oh, and it's a good thing I brought my fenders, eh? I have seen some parks on the map that look like good destinations to do loops, ala Central Park. I'm going to ask some of the locals about this, but the difficulty here is that they are not bicycle riders, and therefore have little idea of what will work and what won't. No changes from the US there. I haven't seen a whole lot of bicycles here. An occasional mountain bike being used for transportation, a few freestylers riding somewhere on the metro - that's it. Maybe because of the winters? Or maybe because the Russians haven't any good bicycle factories, or a combination of the above.

I think I'm moving again this weekend, into an apartment instead of the hotel. That will give me a bit more room to lay things out.

What's really available to buy?

Monday, July 04, 2005 7:27:36 AM

Russia's economy:

The economy here, as I have said, appears robust. According to one of the expats working here, it is much more so than even as recently as 2000. Apparently they had a currency devaluation about that time. One must also remember that the whole Russian Federation is so new that it is nearly still in the baby stage of being bottle fed. But this economy is much more vigorous than a bottle fed stage. The expat relates, for example, that there were only one or two groceries in 2000. Now there are 4 that I know of within a couple blocks of the office. And, most of those are open 24 hours. The street stalls are everywhere. If one is to assume that this large number of stores indicates profitability, then they indicate a very healthy economy. I'm told that in the smaller cities the bigger retailers are moving in, and the smaller stall vendors are dieing out, but this is a known progression, and would indicate a more stable and stronger economic atmosphere.

Here in Moscow, construction and renovation are evident and frequent. Several tall buildings are under construction, with large cranes visible and active. Stores are busy and well-staffed, as are restaurants. While I do see many tourists, it is hard to say how many. Most of the buyers I see seem to be Russian, rather than tourists.

There is a wealth of products available in the stores that I have seen. Apparently, where choice is less readily available, and computer gear is an example here, internet stores are available, and in sufficient number to create competition. Really though, computer stuff follows the same pattern in the US. The local stores carry some stuff, but a lot of product choice is only available through internet stores. So, the same thing happens here. But the subject of product availability leads me back to:

Products available in Russia:

As far as I've seen, while there is somewhat less choice available, there is no shortage of products available for one's day-to-day needs. Detergents, soaps, toothpaste (they have Colgate, among other brands), shampoos (I actually found the brand I usually buy in the States), etc. I haven't looked for some things - like dental floss, but we are talking pretty far down the scale of urgency, eh? The groceries have wide selections of products. Many are European, a few American brands. So would I change how I packed to come over? Hmmmm. Maybe. Not in terms of personal care items, but I didn't pack lots of extras, either. I packed my favorite brands of products, and they would still be hard to find if they are available at all. But, there are plenty of options, and certainly more options than even 5 years ago.

Soaps, detergents, shampoos, etc.
You might not find your particular brand, but there is plenty of representation by American, European, Asian brands. They might not be cheap, but they are available. Often a Russian equivalent is available, and it will be much cheaper.

I don't need to ship my surge suppresors and UPS (uninterruptible power supply) units, my electric toothbrushes, coffee makers, teapot, or mini stereo, what-have-you. Prices are similar to the US, with a reasonable variety of brands available, at least in Moscow. I am told that choices are not so good in Chelyabinsk, but that IS "in the boonies" - even if it is a city of a million. Think Little Rock, AR, or Memphis TN. If you know where to look, you can find it. Earlier I talked about AA batteries. Russian AA brands are cheaper, rechargeables are available, and not badly priced, and recharging units are commonly found. The prices are pretty much the same throughout the stalls and markets. The grocery stores range from a little cheaper to much more expensive on some of these items. But anyway, this was a concern for me, but it didn't need to be. If I need something I can get a local variety, and not have to worry about the electrical outlet and voltage business.

Plenty of fresh fruit, and not expensive by my standards. Not much cheaper than US, but sometimes you can get a deal, and generally prices run less than US. Lots of European products and US brand names in the grocery markets. Yogurt is hard for me to identify, and peanut butter is available, but if I can judge from the ingredient list I don't think it is up to the standards I'm used to in the US. I'm not buyin' it. Oh, well, I'll just eat other things. Eggs are nicely priced (about $.70 doz), and I think chicken is not too bad (whole is about $3.25 kilo). Salmon is well priced, but is still expensive - just maybe a little less expensive! Fresh fruit is the thing, along with some other produce. Oh, I actually found some raspberries from Watsonville in the grocery store. Our local fruit brand! And EXPENSIVE here! Probably twice US price. On the other hand, for local raspberries I paid 50 rubles ($1.75?) for about a pint and a half of garden rasberries. The stalls have them for 150 to 190 rubles for a kilo. I think a kilo is just about what I got from the babushkas who sold me the local ones.

In terms of clothing, the weather has not been what I expected, nor have the clothing styles matched my expectations. I packed a few pairs of chino-like pants, since in my experience they fit in everywhere. Men wear lots of dark clothes, pants, suits, and even shirts. Not exactly tasteful or stylish by American standards, but it is also not particularly unstylish. Generally, the range of clothing in Moscow is very similar to an American city. A little less branding, the suits are a slight bit different, the colors, as I said, are different (but then, look at Boston). The textures of the cloth are slightly different. But all in all, Moscow could be an American city, and feels as much American as European. I do say that I felt a greater cultural difference in the clothing when I was in Dublin than here in Moscow. Can't say if that is still true - it was a long time ago that I was in Dublin. But that is how I call it.

As for buying clothing and woven material goods, there seems to be plenty of choice here. I think that reports from even 5-10 years ago are seriously dated. That is not to say that everything you could find in the US is here. It's not, but neither do towels, blue jeans, or plain white work shirts seem rare or valuable as they are often purported to be.

Tuesday, July 5, 2005

Stage 4 - and time to post

Haven't had time to post folks, but I've got to stick in a note about Stage 4 or the Tour. Now Lance is in yellow - and I think he knew his team had to go for everything they could on this one. Too many teams were close, and CSC started last. It was quite obvious that several teams were taking this TTT (team time trial) very seriously. Phonak for instance - dropping riders like flies trying to stay in the running. Discovery - working like a machine, but the effort was visible. And CSC - what a run they had. I could see the effort was costing them, and I had just been thinking to myself that they looked near the ragged edge where - cough, cough - 'things' happen. And, a few seconds later - they did. Zabriskie went down, and it was just a miracle that the riders after him didn't also. My heart breaks for him and the team, because they were right on target, and they were all in on this one. They put everything on the line - they had no reserve of energy - they were spending it all. I think if Zabriskie hadn't gone down, they wouldn't have lost to Discovery. Two seconds? A mere blink of the eye can cost nearly that much. Even if they only lost one second, and the HAD to have lost enough concentration to lose that much, they would have kept Zabriskie in yellow another day.

I will post more photos and comments soon!

Sunday, July 3, 2005

The Tour!!!! You know which Tour I mean!!!

Well, it has started, and Lance looks great. The first stage - a time trial. Lance blows out of his pedal at the start to lose a couple seconds, but still passes his minute man - Ullrich. We know Ullrich is still recovering from a bad crash, and this can definitely impact performance. Lance comes in second by a couple seconds to finish number two.

Nothing we all don't know yet, right? Ok, how about this: Lance was quicker at the halfway mark than the winner. He also appeared to slow in the last couple of klicks, but he didn't look blown when he finished. So you can tell me what you think, but here's what I think: Lance slowed to let Zabriskie win. Sound outrageous? Radio communications are so good Lance would know exactly where he stood, and how much ahead of Ullrich he was, and probably how much ahead of all the other riders he was. He started last, remember, so everyone else had finished and times were known. Maybe that extra effort to pass Ullrich took that little bit out of him - maybe. But maybe he figured "let Zabriskie have the Yellow Jersey for now - let him take the pressure, let him get the rewards, I know I will be there in Paris". He is tremendously competitive, but he has acted like this before - remember the Pirate and the mountain?

The market at Izmalovsky Park

We went to a local market yesterday. It was a bazaar! And, I don't mean that in the sense of bizarre, it was literally a bazaar. Just like the street shops, each merchant has a small space - from a few items laid out in front of themselves - or a 12x12 canopy with hangers or tables, or a section of counterspace in a prebuilt section - up to a 20x20 freestanding space in a section of prebuilt wooden booths. Just about anything you might want. Lots of suits and bikinis and women's underwear, plenty of shoes and jackets, a few booths with some boom boxes and a few electronic goodies. There is a complete section for groceries and foodstuffs. We see quite a few Chinese merchants here with fresh produce of the more Asian persuasion - daikon radishes, Chinese cucumbers, bok choy, etc. Food booths are generously sprinked throughout. We buy a couple large stuffed pastries for about $.75 - cheap. They have a tiny amount of meat and cheese folded inside a tart shaped dough packet. The consistency is like a pizza dough - that the cook stretches before putting in an oven to bake on a hot surface, pizza - like. But the other choice is fried, and I choose the baked.

There is a section with the more touristy geegaws and souvenir stuff. There is a lot of it that is not just geegaws tho - but good stuff. We see typical items - fur hats of many types of furs - fox, sable, wolf in 3 varieties, and more; hand carved chess and backgammon boards, lacquerware, and Soviet souvenirs.

There are also other wood carvings - from lathe-turned tourist stuff like wooden maces, spoons, candlestickes, eggs, bowls, and covered bowls - to really fine examples of joinery and woodworking made from birch burls. This last example - the birch burl woodworking - is a series of boxes, ranging in price from $15 to $500. Their complexity corresponds to their price. The least examples have one compartment. Next their is one compartment with a secret drawer, and wooden hinges. The drawers are exceptionally clever, spring loaded, and worked so that the box must be opened first. And they are disguised so that I would not have expected a secret drawer. The most expensive example is large enough for a generous jewelry box, and it has about 6 secret drawers available when the top is open, with two more on either side of the top itself. The wooden hinges are remarkable, too. The hinge pin is metal, but the hinges themselves are part of the wood. Amazing work.

There is more - linen cloth of exceptional quality and design. Very nice stuff. I am told that they really wear the fur hats in the winter, so I shall have to shop for one - but I will do that later, when I have a better idea of prices. I stop at one as the fur catches my eye - and the shop owner is glad for an audience. He has command of a little English, and well-pronounced, but his vocabulary is quite limited. He tells me that hat I am looking at is fox. Typical of a bazaar, when you catch an owner's eye, or stop to look they are immediately with you making offers and haggling. "This one" "that one" "20 dollars, 40 dollars, 100 dollars, what you want?". The hat stall owner is no exception. Almost all of the stall-keepers are polite, some are more insistent than others. The fur hat stall owner is on the pleasant and polite, but insistent side. The hat I am looking at is nice, the fur is good, but I think it is not a fine example. It appears a bit thin, with not so much undercoat - perhaps a spring fur, or the animal was just not a really strong one. Anyway, I think the fur good be a better quality. The owner doesn't understand me when I try to tell him "later". Since he is quite nice, I finally borrow a phrase book and communicate "later week" to him. Pitiful - I must learn some more Russian words so I can at least communicate some basic concepts.

Speaking of Russian words tho - I am beginning to recognize some of the words and names. The metro names are becoming usuable, as I begin to achieve some recognition of the Cyrillic alphabet.

A post for pictures

A post just for photos of Moscow.

I'll take you on a little walking tour, eh? Start at the first hotel I stayed at: the Rossia. The anglo spelling can vary, but this is fairly close to the pronunciation.

This place is huge, occupying one full city block. It sits right on the edge of the Moscow river. As we leave from the east entrance (or maybe the north, I forget), we see the old British embassy, established in the 1800's. Worth noting are the brickwork and the wooden shake roof.

As we walk uphill, within a halfblock we see the walls of the Kremlin, with their watchtowers of brick.

We turn from our view downhill to the river, and I note the street through here is cobblestone. The cobbles continue up the hill, through the Red Square, which is completely paved with cobbles. As we approach the entrance to Red Square, St. Basil's is on our left.

Now we are in Red Square, and in front of St. Basil's we see the workmen erecting a scaffolding for the 60th anniversary celebration of the end of WWII (or one of the events, anyway).

The main tower of the Kremlin rings out the hour - with real bells.

And, as we walk north across Red Square, we see Lenin's tomb, by the wall of the Kremlin.

On the north side of Red Square are the Red Gates, or at least I think this is their official name. Once again, made from brick. The iconic paintings are remarkable. In front of these gates is the Kilometer Zero marker, from which all roads in Russia are measured. It is a big brass design inlaid into the cobbles, and tourists are supposed to stand on it and toss a coin over their shoulder for luck or wishes or whatever.

By now this page will probably take forever to load, so I'll continue this tour later.