Wednesday, June 29, 2005

It sounds like English

This picture is the interior courtyard of the Rossia Hotel.
The hotel is supposed to be the biggest in Europe or something like that. It was kind of a joke, because we saw a picture on the internet of it when we were researching Russia. It occupies a whole city block, so we wondered what the interior rooms must look out on, and figured they were buried in the building with no view. I didn't think the company would put me up here, because they usually use hotels closer to the office, but when I came in there were no rooms available anywhere else - so guess what. That is where I stayed. It wasn't bad, a little old, and the beds were on the small side, but it was ok. The people were nice as well, and the hotel was clean. The inside of the square is like a mini park. You could get your exercise just walking around the block on a single floor - it's a block on each side!

Culture shock.
It is so strange - I don't quite know how to explain it. Russians seem so much like Americans - so it is a little shock each time they speak and it is unintelligible to me. It is more like going to California and trying to understand why they different from Tennesseans than going around the globe. In England, the people were different - culturally. Similar, but noticeably different. In Latin America, or most other places, the people look different, as well as speaking a different language. So it is a little cultural shock several times a day to be walking around and hearing this strange language intruding unexpectedly.

Another thing has happened several times as well - someone will say something in Russian and it will sound perfectly sensible to me - but it isn't. The Russian words have formed a verbal pattern so similar to an English phrase that it sounds sensible. A guy said something to me in a store yesterday - I thought he said "Drinking whiskey?". It caught me completely off guard, as it was a computer store! I just responded "Excuse me?" and instantly realized that he must have asked me a question in Russian, and said nothing in English about whiskey at all. Either that or I'm hallucinating.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Shaving, electronics, and travel tip stuff

Some nitty gritty about travel to Russia - what is needed, what is not.

Batteries: you can bring em with you or buy em here. American brands are expensive here - at the level of high US pricing. The local varieties and the Asian imports are cheaper, about the level of cheap US pricing. You can find rechargeables locally too, and I have seen recharging units for AA's and AAA's. The trick to the recharging units is being able to find them. It's not like you can ask for the local Target store.

Electronics: razors and computers are often able to accomodate the higher voltage. Most other appliances are not. But, most appliances are readily available here, and reasonably priced by US standards. I have seen both adaptor plugs AND voltage converters in street side shop here. I don't know if they work, and I would still bring an adapter plug with me. You can't be shopping about on your first day in town. The voltage converter said it was good to 100 watts - not enough for a computer, but enough for most other consumer electronics - like boom boxes, hair clippers, etc.

Laundry: I've only priced shirts so far. About $2 ea, or a little on the pricey side by my standards in the US.

I'll add more to this post as I discover it.

The Bolshoi and the bakery

Tuesday, June 28, 2005 5:06:04 AM

I actually got a straight 8 hours sleep last night - but my timing was still off a bit. Went to sleep about 6 PM, and got up at 2 AM. Now it is dawn, and I am in the office.

Haven't written about the Bolshoi yet - and we went Sunday night. The theater is neo-classical on the exterior - complete with an entirely nude Apollo with 4 horse in giant bronze atop the entrance. The entrance portico has the Atheneum look - Corinthian columns with the angled roof. Inside the theater is a typical older theater - limited walking space in the entrance and hallways. They are meant to convey people in and out without much dallying about. Then you enter the theater proper. Wood floors throughout - real wood, and real hardwood at that. The Czar's box dominates the space dead opposite the stage. There are six sets of box seats, five in balconies. I realize that a modern "nosebleed" seat in an American coliseum is higher, but these really look high up! The seats in the middle are chairs. That's right -chairs. Plush bottom, wooden, armrests and wooden ladder-back chairs. They are fastened in rows on metal frameworks. The frames are very unobtrusive tho. And, the chairs are quite comfortable. While we got cheap seats (1850 rubles, or about $65), we are actually in a very nice position - straight out from center stage, and a little closer to the stage than the back of the theater. When the dancers come out we can hear their steps clearly.

The orchestra and acoustics are lovely - warm, balanced and friendly, not overpowering or thin or favoring one range over another. I do wish the orchestra were a little louder, but they are fine, and top quality musicians. The dance pieces are very entertaining, and the audience is enthusiastic. Almost all of the numbers are accorded bravos - and instead of standing ovations, here they clap rythmically, all the audience together, until another bow is performed. We saw quite a few bows, and many bouquets of flowers presented to the primary ballerinas, and even a couple to the men.

I sit through 3 and one half hours of dance. Two intermissions, on the second I have to locate the bathrooms. That was an interesting problem, since I don't know the Russian - either print or spoken - for bathrooms. However, I once again find a gracious and concerned hostess who perceives the probable direction of my wandering, and points me in the right direction with a couple of English words. It was a lovely night, and I think I could do that every once in a while. Given the human dimensions of the theater, and the attitudes of the audience and the company, I think I would enjoy this occasionally.


John had told me of this little French bakery a few days ago, and last night I walked by while they were still open. I buy a few mini-quiche, a couple of brown bread rolls (which turn out to be a mild rye/pumpernickel/wheat mix), and a brown flat muffin looking thingy. The brown muffin thingy turns out to be an apple cake - quite good. The bread is excellent, as are the quiche. While I got two varieties, they both have ham. However, they don't have that somewhat ugly flavor/aftertaste I usually associate with ham in a quiche. Very enjoyable, a nice evening snack, and breakfast the next day.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Sunday morning? or late Saturday night!

Sunday, June 26, 2005 7:06:10 AM

Sunday morning - this is the first time that the sky has held some of the brown haze I expect so much in any city I've known. The temperature is pleasant, just on the edge of cool, and slightly humid. In degrees it is probably about 25 C.
I walk the couple blocks to the soup cafe for breakfast - after washing my socks and underwear in the sink. I'll talk about laundry in a minute. On the way I see the dregs of Saturday. A middle aged bum-looking man pries himself off the sidewalk as I pass - he is either disabled or drunk. He needs to grab on to a railing to pull himself into an upright position, levering one leg at a time, to the knees, then half upright, then three/quarters, and before he is fully upright I am past and heading down into the terre haute - the walkway underpass to go under Tverskaya. I see socks and electrical extension cords in the stall windows, and stop to examine the offerings and their prices. The socks are reasonable - 60 to 80 rubles a pair. Thats $2 or $3 ea. Not bad. Labeled made in Russia, 100% cotton. The electrical shop has batteries and extension cords. I notice some rechargeable batteries. I will have to look aroung to see if I can find a recharger for the batteries.
I saw AA batteries in the grocery store yesterday. The Everyready coppertop alkaline battery two pack is about $4. A price you could find in the US. The Hong Kong made equivalent brand is $1 for the 2-pack. The 4-pack with only Cyrillic writing on the pack is only $1.25. Big difference. I have to presume the Cyrillic offering is one, Russian, and two, alkaline. But, they are AA, and they would work.
I haven't tried the laundry/dry cleaners yet. They are reputed to be expensive. Instead I nabbed a bottle of dish detergent in one of the little grocery/supply stores I've been through, and have washed clothes in the bathtub. It works, but drying is a matter of hanging stuff from every available spot in the bathroom. I can see this morning when I put on a pair of socks that they are wearing out, and will be the worse for the wear they will get here. All the walking I am doing seems to be pretty hard on 'em. That is why I stopped to look at the socks in the window of the stall. I wanted to know what prices socks go for around here, and what kind of product you get.
The markets here are vigorous. There are market stalls all over in the streets, in the walls of the underpasses, carved out of the metro passages. They are open frequently, and many small gorcery stores - and larger ones - are open 24 hours. It seems to me to be more wide-open than even New York. While I am sure that some of this is because this is Moscow - a major European capital, it seems to me that it is locals mostly who use these services and stalls. Tourists are everywhere I have been, but they don't seem to use the stores so much - except perhaps the French. I hear French spoken with regularity, followed by US English. I've seen one party of Japanese, and perhaps a few Chinese and a couple other SE Asian countries represented. Quite a few Germans, (or people who sound German to me!)
Once in the cafe for breakfast I am not sure that Saturday night ever ended. This is a hip and trendy underground cafe. But they had 4 kinds of hot cereal on the menu for breakfast, along with omelets and pancakes. John said they have good breakfasts, so I am checking it out. The atmosphere is bohemian/punk. But it is stylish in a fun sort of way, not the depressed singularity or hyper-snottyism that I would associate with this style in the states. The music is on 24/7 - recorded. It is US stuff, but not like what I've heard at home. Talking jazz, semi-gospel blues. Really fine tunes. Much more original and fresh than anything I hear on the US radio - even KPIG. I haven't the faintest idea who the artists are, but I've been sitting under a speaker for over half an hour, and I've neither gotten bored or annoyed. Now the tune is a Brazilian samba vocal. I know there is a more accurate style name, but no matter. The tunes are fresh, melodic. The talking jazz was an interesting piece - reminiscent of the NY dj, the one who talked those long poetic compositions in the middle of the night, some rapp influence in the vocal patterns, but melodic, not monotonal, nice jazzy light instrumentation to tie it together. I find myself listening to the words a couple of times. Not necessarily something I would buy - or go see, but definitely good music for the radio/background/cafe kind of listening. As I leave there is a tune on that will characterize the feel for most - "Pastime Paradise". Who did that? I forget, but it is the popular version.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Just another night out for dinner

Went out for dinner again tonite. This time it is John and myself. A bit unplanned, we started out to find the Bolshoi ticket booth, which we did. It was closed, however, so we redirected as we still had time and were downtown, not by the office. We had taken the metro downtown, but we walked back, up Tverskaya street. It was a lovely evening, Friday night, in a major city. People out everywhere, on the town. We stop in a trendy upscale Italian cuisine restaurant. The food is excellent and pleasing. I do miss not having water for free - I must pay for mineral water to have water. The traffic is quite busy and Tverskaya is packed with cars. The sidewalk is packed with people - girls, boys, couples, parties, and a few drunks and beggars, but not many.

We stop for a few groceries. I buy some water and yogurt to take back. We stop for ice cream at another cafe just by the office, then head on back to our hotels.

Friday, June 24, 2005


The credit cards are kind of a pain to deal with. Apparently there is massive fraud in the region currently tho, and the card companies are even more nervous because of the continued revealings of massive losses of account details.

I'm finally feeling less than strung-out. The foodhere is actually quite good. A surprising amount of variety in the Russian cuisine. Pastries are extremely common, mostly stuffed. For stuffing there is all sorts of stuff - cabbage, meats, sausages, fruit fillings, cheese, just about anything you can think of.
Did you read my journal post about the cafeteria food? Yesterday they had two main dishes at the cafeteria: stuffed green peppers, and veal tongue. LOL. I had the peppers - quite like what we are used to when we get stuffed peppers at home. They offer boiled white rice, and a variety of potatoes as a side. The cafeteria also has boiled split barley as a side with every meal. Plain rolls are uncommon. Replacing them is a thinly sliced heavy bread very much like what we are used to as bread, but heavy and dense. Not bad heavy, just different. It's like an American loaf condensed into a quarter the size. But otherwise, white, rye, or pumpernickle - all the same. Prices are reasonable on food and wine. Moldovan wine is priced a bit like 2-buck chuck.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

My bags are here!

Yes, yesterday morning my bags caught up with me! Clean underwear and shirts! Ha!

I also used the subway for the first time - learning enough Russian writing to recognize words will be essential to finding my way about. The rain has stopped. The Kremlin rings real bells to mark the hours in the morning. And there is much more to talk about. -- Later.


Tuesday, June 21, 2005


Tuesday, June 21, 2005 11:58:24 PM
What a trip. Bumped flights, irregular procedures, lost luggage. And the language difference. Vive le difference - with major tongue in cheek. But I should not complain too much. So far many people speak at least some English, and I still speak no Russian. I am in their country, and I am getting better reception - by far - than would a visitor to the US who didn't speak English.
In Moscow it has been raining, and the Muscovites are commiserating that I have been unlucky - it does not normally rain at this time of year. Regardless, I am not bothered, as it keeps the temperature cool and pleasant. Our latitude is quite far north, so the nights are very short. The rain, I am sure, also cleanses the air, and I suspect that the pollution here is quite bad. Cars are not as prevalent in the city as say Mexico City, Rio, or Caracas. I think the economy here still prevents a lot of automobile ownership or usage. Still, rush hour is bad enough, and when we are driving down the street I smell the auto fumes in the air even in the middle of the night.
Signs of economic prosperity and growth are everywhere here. New building construction, new road maintenance, new automobile and boat dealers. The shops are well stocked with a wide variety of goods, and there are 24 hour shops open. New billboards and street advertisements are everywhere. They are in many places you would not find them commonly in the US, but this is Moscow - perhaps a comparison would be better made to Manhatten than elsewhere. As a matter of fact, the major roads that my hotel, and the office, are on, remind me of nothing so much as Broadway in New York. There are many many lanes and the traffic is nuts, with drivers crossing several lanes frequently to make a destination turn.
Drivers here follow the central/south American driving school more than the American or British. You drive where there is space, with the occasional disregard for the rules of the lane lines, etc. Pedestrians have a certain right to the right of way, but they must in reality believe that they have nothing of the sort. It is much safer, and the driver may easily disregard any rights the pedestrian has. Or, perhaps the driver is paying attention to the traffic coming in on his left, who knows. Better to run and dodge than to be flat meat.
Food: the food so far is pleasantly surprising and quite good. I have seen so far lots of fish, and it is cooked attractively. At lunch in the cafeteria I see cold fish salad with tomato sauce and rice - not a good description but a very pleasant dish. Fish medallions for a main lunch course, fish soup with potatoes slivers. A lovely soup - at first I think it is a chicken soup, clear and inviting. After eating it though, I think it must be a fish stock. There is a light flavor of fish - not strong or overpowering, but light and pleasant. In the evening I leave the hotel to find a 24 hour store, and they stock smoked fish and French table wines. The smoked fish is quite marvelous, although I haven't the faintest idea what it might be. Since it had a leathery skin, with probably large scales, perhaps something similar to a carp, or perhaps a sturgeon. Who knows? It was good. Dannon yogurt is on the shelves too - but they do not have plain yogurt, it all has flavoring. Anyway, yogurt and some thinly sliced rye bread served with the fish as my dinner. This all costs me - with bottled water - about $10, I add a bottle of French Merlot, one step above a table wine, for another $12. I top this with Cookie Crumble Smush from home as my dessert.
So far I have seen: fewer smokers than I have feared, but still plenty. An open and freewheeling economy - in some ways less restricted than in the US. The food is better than I expected, and better than British food used to be. Now, please, lest anyone take offense, I am comparing this to British food as it once was, and now how it is now. But once, and not even that long ago, it was bland and poor, focusing on fats, meat pies, ad nauseum for variety and taste. Not my way to go. It was, at my last visit, often not that way, although traces of that eating pattern were still evident. So here I have variety, with rice, beans, many breads (including stuffed pastries with meat), not too much sugar ( a la USA), meats, fish, and cheeses. I am sure there is more, but this is what I can see. Now, street vendors in Dublin and London had a wider variety of continental European fruits and vegetables available when I was last there, but not by so much, and I have not seen many places here yet.

Oh yes, and my electrical adapters all work, so I am set there.

But off to bed for me. Good night.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Oh, man, more of what happens.

Monday, June 20, 2005 6:11:02 PM
The clock time is currently Moscow time - GMT + 4. Sometime after dawn we overflew Ireland and England. I didn't get to see much. I was the last seat on the airplane - and it wasn't a window. My window side rowmate was sleeping and the shades were down, so I didn't disturb him. When we rolled the shades up, about 8 AM local, we were a little over an hour out from Paris. And, we were very soon over the fields and farms of France - completely new land. Ah, gee, ma, it looks just like it does back home. When we get to the airport - Charles DeGaulle, I feel something of the same emotion - it looks just like the news pictures. Of course, this is in part because this trip has been very tiring - I swear everything that can go wrong has, short of an actual crash. Knock on wood when I say that - we are still in the air heading to Moscow. So let me catalog our incidents to date: Inquired what could be done to make visa happen sooner, told all we needed was HIV test. Got HIV test done early. Doctor didn't receive the fax he was supposed to. Nobody told me until I inquired. Requested resend. Got HIV test - sent visa app out. Visa received, but now I am told we need med results too before going over. All pre-reqs rec'v'd, and all systems go. Request and receive res for Thursday. Get our butts up and to airport at ETD -1.25. When I get to counter, the agent cannot find me in system. She checks res printout - flight is for next Thursday. I am without cell phone now, and it is prior to Pasadena office hours. Since I have previously been told that we only use Delta, I go home, as this is the only Delta connex to SVO. I arrive home after walking 2 miles with bags from airporter stop at Dunbarton. Time is 11:15. Two messages on answering machine to call Pasadena. I call Najat - she rebooked on Lufthansa, but there is no way I can get back to airport in time. We agree to resked on Sunday. Sunday we leave more time to get there and all, arr airport ETD - 1.8. Line is just as long as last time but there are many behind me. I get to counter and agent has trouble with checkin. Following the letter on everything. Bicycle bag is oversize, must charge. No problem, I say, and whip out the new Diner's Club. It refuses charge. Ok, we use another cc. No problem so long as we get done and on board. But soon all the people behind me in line have been processed and we aren't finished yet. An agent is asking if anything else is required before she closes this flight, my agent doesn't answer so that she can hear. At the time it appeared to me that she might have, but that she didn't soon becomes clear. They close the flight and my agent is still checking me in. He calls the gate, and the gate refuses me - they have a full flight. So once again I am stuck in SFO without a flight. This time Pasadena will not be open for me to call, and I don't have the 800 number to call 24/7. So, we rebook for the following day. As we leave, I remember that I can use internet to get 800 travel number, and perhaps make other arrangements. We know that we can book on other than Delta. We stop at the SJC airport to find internet connex. Guess what! SJC, of all the places, does not have a wireless hot spot. They only have wired dialup available. I don't have a modem wire. After searching some alternatives, I locate a spare phone cable and hookup. Unfortunately, I can not get an SBC operator to find the dialup numbers that are valid for my home acct. This takes 30-45 minutes dancing with the operators. I give up and fortunately MS has an automatic connex to a list of local ISPs - wonderful. I pick SBC, can't find my account, so buy a new dialup account. My new The speed is so slow both browsers time-out trying to connect to Parsons and Yahoo pages. I am online, silent, unable to accomplish anything, and increasingly frustrated. This eats up another hour or so. I take another tack, and go to the NWA counter to see what they can do for me as non-rev. They can issue a ticket for that day on Airfrance, out of SFO, connecting in Paris. I take it. However, this is still non-rev = standby. I want to make sure that I have exhausted regular channels.
I retry SBC operators. No go there again. I give up on SBC dialup, and sign on for Earthlink dialup. This gives me a bit of a problem intially, but no more than could be considered normal. After these couple of glitches I am online and communicating. I get 800 number. The 24/7 emergency center has no opinion as to whether non-reving is appropriate, and I know I have a flight. However, I do not know the load factors. I decide to return to SFO to get load factors and sked something else if they are bad. By the time we get back it is 2:10 prior to ETD, and it takes 1:30 to get to counter. Flight is closing, and they want me to standby. About 15 minutes prior to departure, I get the last seat on the airplane. Now there is no time to call 800 travel center or company. I give what contact numbers I can to Suzanne to call. It is a 747, and there is no inflight telephone service.
In Paris, they seem to have lost my bags - although this is a false alarm, it takes 20 or 30 minutes to clarify and find the bags. I attempt to call the 800 travel number to cancel the Delta ticket so that Parsons can get the refund. The French telephone system foils me - I can make a credit card call to a toll number, but not to a toll-free number. It is the middle of the fricking night in CA, but I call and wake Suzanne. I ask her to call the 800 travel center for me.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Departure delayed - again.

Saturday, June 18, 2005 6:18:26 AM

So far the Russia trip has been a comedy of errors - or at least nearly so. This past Monday I got the word - late in the day - that all systems were go, the medical results and visa were in order. We then agreed on a Thursday AM departure.
On Tuesday my Quicken program suffered a major crash, and that took me 8 hours or better to repair the problem. This greatly reduced my time to pack and prepare. I also forgot to order my prescriptions that day - leaving that task to get done on Wednesday; which of course caused great consternation at the pharmacy, and also produced an inability on their part in filling the prescription.
Thursday we get up late - at 4:30! Ya, that's late, tongue in cheek, but we should have gotten up at 4. We had been up till well after midnight preparing and all. I was up after 1 AM. Getting up at 4:30 caused a late departure from home, and the trip to SFO was a bit lengthier than we had planned. Arrival time at the airport was approx 0700 for an 0800 departure. And, once inside, people were packed to the rafters - of course.
Good news, bad news. The good news was that the Delta counter had the rush well in hand, and moved people through with amazing organization and rapidity. I got to the counter to check-in in record time, even though I was hampered by toting 3 bags and my bicycle bag. The bad news arrived after I got to the counter and the agent checked my reservations. "Hmm, sir, you aren't in the computer. Let me look again. Nope, may I see your reservation? Oh, dear, did you realize that this if for next week?" Sure enough, it was.
We had asked for a Thursday departure, and seeing Thursday on the reservation from the travel center, we didn't check to see which Thursday they had booked us for. Oh, great, but no crying over spilt milk now, it won't do any good.
On top of this I no longer have my cell phone. It gave up the ghost last week and Verizon won't replace it. To get a new phone I have to pay for it AND sign a contract for another 2 years. Forget that. Since I can't use my cell in Russia, I was going to cancel anyway. By the way, they won't let me cancel - but that is another soap box and story. Anyone care to comment on cell phone provider greed and bureaucracy? Don't get ME started on that one. We won't hear any happy comments for longer than a nuclear submarine can stay under water. The dang things are so handy - if only they lived up to what the companies tell you you'll get. It is legal, but it is still fraudulent in my book.
Back to this day's adventure - the airport. I am without convenient communication. Pay phones still exist, however, and are easier to use than ever. They just are tied to one location. It is still earlier than business hours, so I can only leave a message for the home office. I know Delta is the preferred carrier (my understanding is the only carrier) for the Moscow destination. They are overbooked today, and have no more flights this day. So, I decide to go home.
Later I find that if I had my cell phone, I would have been rebooked to depart on Lufthansa in the afternoon. By the time I gain this knowledge, I am home, and at least an 2 hours from being able to get back to SFO, and it is 2 hr and 45 min before that flight's ETD. Forget that.
I catch the airporter bus back to Aromas. They drop me off at the corner of Dunbarton and 101, closest to my home. This is a great convenience, since the regular stop - Prunedale - is another 5 miles down the road. I walk home with my laptop bag and courier bag over my shoulders. The hike is 2 miles.
The gas station was kind enough to let me leave my bags inside their store until I could get back with my car. I offer the station attendant $5 when I get there with the car but he insists no. I appreciate this courtesy, believe me. I get home at 11:15, 3 hours after I left the airport.
I suppose I can't say its all bad - I do get a couple more days to pack and prepare - and rest. The preparation for this trip has been hectic. A lot of the home prep is catch-up. For instance, my home bookkeeping was 2 YEARS behind on details. We kept up with enough stuff to keep running, but the nicety of balancing accounts got put aside. Closing the Memphis project, going to Georgia, being sick. Then going to California. In California we moved 2 more times, and this further hampered playing catch-up. I managed to bring things in to line for the departure. Now I spent some time with the family before I leave. This has been nice.

Wednesday, June 8, 2005

Not Gone Yet.

I'm starting this weblog to cover one thing: life in Russia. I'm going there to work for a year or more, and there is very little information on Russia that is current. Heck, there isn't much information on Russia period. I went down to the used bookstore to look in their travel section - stuff on New Zealand, Mali, the Maldives, and lots of small and remote locations. Nothing for traveling in Russia. I'll be working in Moscow for a month or three, then on east to a little town called Shchuch'ye (shoot ya). Try and find a good road map outside of Moscow. Go ahead! Not much there! FYI, this place is about 60-100 klicks outside a city called Chelyabinsk. If you search diligently, you can find some online data about Chelyabinsk and Ekaterineberg to the north, but not much. Road maps are nearly nonexistent.

Maybe I'll change some of that.