Sunday, October 31, 2010
We didn't see anything spectacular while walking down Arbat it was still enjoyable to check out. There was stand after stand of sketches and paintings. People were selling all sorts of tourist items including table after table of nesting dolls. The street was busy with tourists and travellers - It was Halloween weekend and there were several college age Muscovites in costume celebrating the holiday.
There were also several buskers along the street - one was playing a Metallica song, another older man was playing a pan-flute - In Russia I think this may be referred to as a Kuvytsi. Further down the street we ran into a duo with guitars that could have been Evelyn and Kris, or John and Dave except that they were singing all their songs in Russian.
Arbat Souvenir Stand (click to enlarge)
The sign pretty much sums it all up "Souvenirs, Vodka, Caviar".
Arbat is a good area to catch tourists and on the day I spotted 3 baseball caps - 2 Yankees and oddly one Braves - some sort of funky Orange on Purple cap.
New York Yankees 4
Boston Celtics 1
Elliot Sadler 1
Atlanta Braves 1
The Starlite is a 1950s American Style Diner - is there really any other era the American Diner is styled in - It has the whole Arnold's thing going on. The diner has stainless steel plating throughout. The counter has malt shop stools - Pictures of Classic Cars, Elvis and other Icons adorn the walls. The Menu is big on Burgers, Sandwiches, and the Classic Milkshake - and of course they serve breakfast all day and they even have Bacon.
To properly celebrate the Halloween weekend the Starlite dressed itself up with Jack-O-Lanterns, Blood, Cobwebs and Caskets. The festive Staff was costumed as well - Waiters and Waitresses were dressed as Vampires, Cats, Nurses, and Nuns. There was a TV near our booth that had one of the Scream Movies playing - It had a bunch of the principals but we never figured out which one it was.
I am not sure has an entire grasp of what Halloween is, but they do know how it is portrayed in Movies - and they also have a grasp of how adults celebrate Halloween. One of the Moscow Alt-Weekly's (yes Moscow has at least two Alt-Papers that are in English) had a full page of Club party listings for the big weekend. An article described Halloween as a Holiday designed for Women to dress up in outfits they would never wear in public...Unless they were a Muscovite.
Saturday, October 30, 2010
The State Museum-Reserve Tsaritsyno is a huge park with a collection of gothic style buildings that was originally built during the reign of Catherine the Great (late 18th century). The original plans were abandoned - due to a lack of funding/ change of plans on the part of Catherine.
The buildings were refurbished recently with re-construction beginning in 1984 and completed in 2007. The park is an oasis roughly 20-30 minutes outside the city by metro. I rarely am disturbed by city/urban noise, but instantly noticed the quiet once we emerged into the Tsaritsyno area. It was almost eerie quiet.
Catherine the Great
The last weekend in October was fairly warm for Moscow and there were many Moscovites exploring the park. The park is particularly popular site for taking wedding photographs and we saw plenty of brides - perhaps 20 - while exploring the grounds.
There is a bit of irony with all of the Wedding Bliss occurring at Tsaritsyno. I was looking up information on wikipedia about Catherine the Great who I may done a history report on her during Middle school....
At any rate, in addition to being a great leader whose reign oversaw great developments within the country of Russia it also turns out that Catherine was quite the hussy. I definitely don't remember that from my middle school book report.
Once again Wikipedia proves to be very informative.
Tsaritsyno Park Ponds
The Ponds at Taritsyno are the largest in Moscow. The Palace is located atop the Hill.
The Grand Palace
Diorama of Tsaritsyno (click to enlarge)
The diorama gives you an idea of the layout of the grounds. The Palace is at the top right of the photo. It had rained recently and you can see puddles of water where the Ponds are located.
Billie Jo at Tsaritsyno
1 Yankees Knit Cap.
New York Yankees 2
Boston Celtics 1
Elliot Sadler 1
Friday, October 29, 2010
Google Maps: Red Square (click to enlarge)
You will need to Enlarge to really get all this but here is the summary:
-In the Yellow Box is the Lenin Library - The Dostoyevsky statue is the dark spot in the top right hand corner of the box.
-The Series of Green Boxes is Alexandrovsky Garden
-St Basils's Cathedral is in Blue
-The Kremlin is the many buildings in and around the Red Circle
-The Red Dot is just Right of Lenin's Tomb
-The State History Museum is just below the A Balloon. This is also where Google Maps locates the center of Moscow - more on that later.
You can map this on your own by typing Moscow Russia into Google Maps and going in to the 3rd closest magnification.
Google Maps: St Basil's Cathedral - Lenin's Tomb (click to Enlarge)
Check these out. I have manipulated the orientation on both locations but these are each available by drilling down to Google Maps closest magnification. If you enlarge these you can make out the blue and white onion on St Basils and you can actually see individual tourists getting a close look at Lenin's Tomb.
The Complete Red Square Postings:
1 - Russia State Library
2 - Alexandrovsky Gardens
3 - St Basil's Cathedral
4 - Lenin's Tomb
5 - The Kremlin
6 - Russia State Historical Museum
7 - Red Square ReCap
The State Historical Museum of Russia resides at the Northern End of Red Square. As the name implies the museum documents the history of Russia. The museum contains a series of rooms each of which represents an era or region both in content and in decor.
The first couple of rooms deal with cro-magon men and probably don't differ from any such museum in the states. There are several rooms dedicated to different churches and religions. There is a heavy dose of a French influenced period during the 1800s.
Among the highlights was a 6 foot tall globe and an incredible 360 degree panorama of Moscow taken from the Church of the Savior in the 1890s.
The last room was dedicated to jewelry and medals where I unexpectedly found something.
Russia State Museum - Athletic Medals
The two medals on top are from the 1980 Olympics (the ones boycotted by the Americans and many other allies). #10 and #11 are (non-olympic medals) for Greco Roman Wrestling and Fencing respectively.
#12 is interesting in that it is a Women's Basketball Championship Medal from 1959. Apparently the Russians were way out in front of Title IX.
Above you can see three of the Red Square's most important residents. In the distance and on the left of the photo is the aforementioned St Basil's Cathedral. Running from the center and off the right side is the Kremlin. Lenin's tomb is the shorter building that lies in front of the Kremlin wall. You can also see Spasskaya Tower left of the photograph center.
Spasskaya Tower (click to enlarge)
The Main gate into Red Square from the Kremlin is through Spasskaya Tower or the Kremlin Clock Tower. The clock weighs 25 tonnes and the hands measure 3 meters in length. The clock chimes ever 15 minutes, and if you are not within earshot of Red Square you can tune in to various radio stations across the country to hear them.
You are not allowed to take pictures within the Tomb, but this is the structure within which the mummified remains of Vladimir Lenin reside.
This is pretty simple - The upside down "V" is an L the two "H"s are "N"s and the backwards N is basically corresponds to the English short I.
St Basil's Cathedral (click to enlarge)
This is St Basil's as you approach the Cathedral from it's less familiar southern side. On the far right of the photo you may notice a blue affixed to a lamp post above incoming off ramp. That is one of several advertisements for MacDonalds, complete with meterage information (MacDonalds 500m, MacDonalds 300m)
St Basil's Cathedral (click to enlarge)
This is the Cathedral from a different angle where you can see its distinguishing blue and white "onion". I like this angle because you can also see a very pretty studientka sporting her Ready-for-the-Russian-Winter Parka.
Alexandrovsky Garden (click to enlarge)
The park is not very colorful this time of year. I am sure it is much brighter in the summer. On the Right hand side of the above photo you can see a Red brick wall. That is the western wall of the Kremlin.
Russia's tomb of the unknown soldier (WWII - 1941) is at the north end of the park, which would be beyond the far end of this photo.
It is my first Friday in Moscow. I have Fridays off for the duration of my stay in Russia. Typically Billie Jo will work on Fridays but she has this one off.
We take the day to go out on our first serious sightseeing jaunt.
In the late morning it starts to snow. This does not alter our plans - we have decided to check out the Red Square area and it may be interesting to experience it in the snow.
Almost immediately out of the train station next to Red Square we stumble into the Russian State Library. This is the largest library in Russia and third largest in the world. The Library was formerly known as the Lenin State Library of the CCCP (USSR).
Russian State Library Name Plate (click to enlarge)
I am not sure what the top line says - I will check with Billie Jo. The second line opens with Biblioteca - which I remember from my high school Spanish days as "Library" - bless you Senor Flood y Senora Conley. The CCCP is of course USSR. The Last Line is "LENIN" - I will get into more of this later but the backwards N is not either of the N's in "Lenin" - actually the two H's are the N's. The third Line in smaller font is "ILYICH" which I think is actually Lenin's middle name.
Fyodor Dostoyevsky (click to enlarge)
A statue of the Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky stands guard outside of the Russian State Library. Dostoyevsky is one of Russia's most well known writers. He authored dozens of Novels and novellas - Among the most notable are "Crime and Punishment", "The Brothers Karamazov", and "the Idiot".
Thursday, October 28, 2010
It is an exciting first game match up with both teams featuring their aces - Former Phil Cliff Lee goes for the Rangers while the Giants send out their own "Freakish" looking #1 in the person of Tim Lincecum.
I am watching the first couple of innings fast forwarding through some dull parts then while watching the Giants bat the screen freezes - At that precise moment, the ugly mug of Cody Ross is filling the entire screen. I wait a few seconds, half minute, an entire minute - finally I can't take it - of all players to freeze on - why the one who single-handedly demolished the Phils pitching staff during the NLCS? Why Why Why!!!
I finally log out of the session and try again - when I do this I notice a cool little feature on the game time scroll section - it allows you to skip to a specific inning. I check this out - UNFORTUNATELY when you go to pick an inning the selection area it displays the Stinking Line Score. There it is--the Giants win 11-7 with big chunks of scoring in the 5th and 8th innings.
Sadly Cliff Lee had a rough start and took the loss. I am mixed on the outcome as I am pulling for the Giants, but want to see Lee perform well.
oh yeah I did have class today and that means that I did get out and about - on my way to school, I see somebody wearing a jacket with the M&Ms candy logo on it. It also has the number 38 boldly printed on the front. I am no NASCAR aficianado but I think I see a connection.
Later in the day I check on line and there was indeed a #38 M&M car driven by an Elliot Sadler a few years ago. Unfortunately Mr Sadler is looking for a ride as of press time.
Ok I wasn't counting on seeing any NASCAR branding while abroad, but I will add this to the tally although I sort of believe that may have been Eliot Sadler himself - I mean who else would wear that jacket??
Boston Celtics 1
New York Yankees 1
Eliot Sadler 1
You knew it had to happen, I have composed an entire entry dedicated exclusively to sports.
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
We travel together on Wednesday - save me some worrying about the Metro or running into any language snafus and I spend the extra few hours either studying, catching up on email or ahem in the Kafe.
I spent my early extra hour going over some notes in the Kafe, Vladimir - my teacher from Wednesday spots me and ask me what I am doing there. He says I don't have class for another hour and then he says - "You have Class Today With the Old Woman" - I hold back a chuckle and explain to him my situation. Vladimir will use the term Old Woman to describe this teacher any time he refers to her. At some point I will probably explain to him that in American English this is not customarily said, but I am enjoying it to much.
The Old Woman's name is Ludmilla and she is somewhat Old School - although, thankfully she does not have an affection for cursive writing. Our class is more conversational as she rehashes the classes I had with my first two teachers. She pays particular attention to phonetics.
She encourages me to build entire sentences. We go over some of the "Dialogs" in the text and use real world examples.
At some point we discuss work and she asks me my US salary - I explain to her that this is not a topic discussed by American's. She explains that this is often an important part of Russian Conversation. Fortunately I knew this was true - and this is something about Russian Culture that I picked up not from Billie Jo but from my early SMS days (1991) they were hiring a lot of Russians.
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
I enter the school and have this remote hope that my teacher will look like Anna Kournikova.
She does not.
She looks more like a shorter version of John Goodman in a big dress.
She asks me a question in Russian - I give her a blank look - she says "Nyet?!?!, nothing you know nothing?!" I politely nod my head yes - I know nothing.
We go to a classroom - she hands me a small text book and we open to the beginning. Page one lists the alphabet - mostly similar to English with a few oddities mixed in the Backwards R and Backwards N, The goofy D, and the Extra Y.
We turn to a page that has a small drawing of a family - we go over the words for Mother (Mama) Father (Papa) Sister (Sestra) and Brother (Brat - go figure). We go over some other pretty simple stuff and everything goes well - and then the teacher starts writing things in my notebook in Russian Cursive.
I am having trouble enough learning and pronouncing the block letter alphabet which appears everywhere - The cursive is not helping me at all.
Then she decides I need to know how to write in cursive. She writes down three words for me to practice "Mama" - easy - the cursive "m" and "a" are the same in English and Russian. "Papa" sort of easy - their "p" is basically our lower case "n". The third word is trickier it is "eelie", the Russian word for "OR". The trouble is that it is made up of a series of letters that all look similar to me and all look like squiggle marks.
I don't see the purpose in the exercise - It is not like I am out to write the next "Crime and Punishment"
Billie Jo tells me this is all about Old School Russian teaching methods. I mope and sulk about it, but halfheartedly commit to the exercise - it is only three words and I scribble them about 20 or 30 times. I never do really get "eelie" correct.
The other portion of my homework is vocabulary - I memorize 25 common words - mostly nouns many of which are the same in English and Russian. The Family ones above, restauarant, Telephone, Bank, Magazine(store), Machina (car), Film and a few Russian Greetings and pleasantries - which are not so simple but definitely useful.
I have three hours of class in the AM followed by an hour break and an hour of class in the afternoon with another teacher.
Now we get to the Kournikova part of the day!! I take my lunch break in the atrium/kafe which is busy with students (and studientka!) having lunch, coffee and socializing. It is like an American college campus - lots of young people and most of them are very attractive.
There is no microwave available to me and my language skills are not up to ordering at the Kafe yet so I have brought along a peanut butter sandwich for sustenance. It will get me through the afternoon.
Vladimir teaches my 1 hgour afternoon class. He strikes me as traditional Russian of the educated set--he is bearded, a bit burly, and smokes like a chimney. He is very friendly and speaks a lot of English when dealing with specifics of Russian language and grammar.
I am worn out for his class but he works with me and helps the hour go along quickly.
Metro the Return
This leaves getting home from school to the safety of my apartment as my final task of the day. I quickly get my neurons and gusto fired up for the trek home during Tuesday rush.
I have no trouble getting back to our home metro station, Kievskaya. Perhaps at this point I let my guard down. Within the Kievskaya metro station I made a Left rather than a right at some juncture - this leads me to a hallway that leads to the mall.
I decide this is not a problem - and follow the hallway - at the entrance to the mall is a giant revolving door - The mall is big on these - Moscow like Chicago needs them to offset the wind and the cold. The revolving doors are typically not a problem - unless they lead from the metro to the mall just after school gets out and are swarmed with teenagers with nothing to do but aimlessly text, chatter and loiter while creating a flustercluck at the door.
Navigating the revolving door of teens proves to be as difficult as venturing through the Metro.
Alas, I persevere and find myself inside a huge mall I have only been in briefly once and have no clue where in that mall I am. I circle my head a few times - sort of gain my bearings and see an exit. I take the exit - emerge on the sidewalk and now gain my outdoor bearings and can see my way home.
I get to my building - I remember my pass-codes to get through the doors, the elevator is thankfully uneventful, and I unlock all the locks successfully!!
My first day of school is complete - although most of my days education happened outside the classroom.
Spotted some guy sporting a white knit cap w/ the Yankees Logo. Thats the first of what I am sure will be the branding winner for my 2 months in Russia.
3) Passport - including Visa and Immigration papers
4) Metro Card
5) Student ID
6) Small Notebook including a map
Number 1 and 2 are pretty easy - I typically carry them at home.
The Visa is permanently affixed to my Passport and I keep this information along w/ my immigration card inside of a money belt - carrying a Passport is fairly common practice throughout Europe, but it is just a pain because they are so large.
The Metro Card I keep in a hard plastic sleeve that I typically use to protect baseball cards - my hobby finally comes through for something useful.
I travel with my Student ID even when not going to school because it is good for Student Discounts throughout the City especially at Museums and other tourist locations.
And I keep the map in case of some sort of emergency where I get dropped off at the wrong metro stop or some other craziness happens.
My most pressing issue right now is for one of the above items that I do not yet have - My Student ID. Billie Jo told me to call a person I have not yet met to talk to the guard if I am stops. The person is named Jon Smith - sounds like she is making this up.
Thankfully Jon answers the Phone and he talks to the guard. The Guard never smiles - nor will he remember me on subsequent trips - he pushes a button and the turnstile unlocks.
I am off to class.
We have reached the moment I have been prepping for.
I am at the Metro.
I have my Metro card out - 60 rides for 1000 rubles I think ($30). I enter the station and pick the right train to get on - Belaruskaya - The trains are always pretty full but they are always running. I have to get used to the Russian custom of pushing and shoving, but this task is relatively easy to pick up. I ride the train for two stops to Belaruskaya, without losing count. While on the train and riding the escalators to and from the underground I read the Russian Ads. Mainly I just read letters and look for transliterations.
Once off the metro, I need to navigate Belaruskaya Metro station and Vokzal. This involved leaving the metro crossing some sort of square where a lot of work is being done, entering the Beleruskaya Vokzal (train station - different then the metro station) crossing underground to the other end of the station and emerging on Leningradsky Prospect. A Prospect is a large road (six lanes perhaps) similar to Broad Street in Philadelphia I suppose. Leningradsky is one of the main streets through Moscow and if you take it the opposite direction it leads directly to Red Square (after some name changes). Going the direction I am currently traveling it leads to my school.
At this point it is just a straight shot to the school - about 5 blocks in the freezing cold.
Once I get there I am told to enter the school just like I know what I am doing. Things here get done on Russian time - and I have yet to receive my student ID. Billie Jo tells me that only one of the guards is a jerk and I should be able to enter the building without an issue.
Well guess who gets the Jerk.
I am nervous.
I am scared.
Fortunately, I have been training for this moment for the last couple of months. Billie Jo has been prepping me with some key words that I need to know. These include the names of the two stations I will be traveling between, Kievskaya - where we live, and Belaruskaya - which is where I disembark for school. I also need to know about the Vokzal - which is a Train Station - which is different from a Metro station (Stanzia). I only travel via metro for this trip but I do need to pass through the Belaruskaya Vokzal on the MIU end of the trip.
I have made the trip twice over the last couple of days and should be able to do a lot of it from memory - although that is failing me more often these days.
And of course I need to deal with this whole crazy key system just to leave the apartment.
As I mentioned on my arrival Billie Jo went over all these odd nuances regarding the various locks needed to get into the apartment. Well I don't know if I mentioned this but it is almost as complex to get out. The first door can be locked one of two ways (deadbolt or key) depending on who is in or not in the apartment. of course, If the key lock is used there is the question of how many times it must be turned to unlock the door - typically 2 or 4 - but then I may discover that I had inadvertently locked the deadbolt - the permutations are endless. The lock on the 2nd door is a bit simpler and need only be turned 1/2 to 2 full rotations. Oh, and did I mention all the locks work in the reverse direction from the US.
Yes, if I am home alone and set off a kitchen fire because I forget to convert 375 F to Celsius, the smoke inhalation will surely kill me before I get through these doors.
And then once I have figured out how to unlock the door - I will also have to figure out how to lock the door on the other side - I will forgo this step if there is a fire.
Monday, October 25, 2010
I can tell you much about MIU - To me it is basically one building plus a dormitory. There are six floors of classrooms that all seem to be small in size - basically starting at conference room size up to 20-25 seaters. The classrooms are on the perimeter of the building which surround a good size atrium which contains a cafe and about a half dozen tables for students to dine socialize and I suppose study. There is a computer room on the first floor which I use to check email frequently. On one of the upper floors there is a small theater for the schools arts programs.
Billie Jo has class from 12-5 on Mondays so I have brought some books along to read and tour guide book to check out while she is in class. I ask her where the men's room is and she doesn't know - she has been here 3 months and has no idea where the men's room is - I suppose that is a good thing maybe - anyway, She asks me if I need to go now. I tell her well not now, but you know in the next FIVE HOURS - maybe I might want to go - especially in the condition I am in - from traveling, lack of sleep, strange schedules and strange foods. And if I do need to find one it is not like I know how to ask someone.
Billie Jo asks a professor where the bathroom is - of course it's a Woman - and she doesn't know.
We do finally find a Men's room. If you have traveled enough I am sure you are aware that public facilities can be dicey - The bathrooms at MIU are no different. I go to the far stall (I always do this - it's a habit) - no seat - 2nd stall - no seat no hanger(for the parka I need to wear everywhere) - 3rd Stall - Seat check, Paper check, Hanger Check. Perfect - plus as a bonus there is Graffiti in English w Loopy letters "TAKE SOME HITS FROM THE BONG BITCH ASS" This message is apparently directed at someone named Josh.
Sunday, October 24, 2010
After we finish watching the Phils debacle, Billie Jo and I ventured out on our my first tourist jaunt of the trip. We check out Patriarch's Ponds which is a small park in Moscow that served as the setting for the opening scene of the celebrated Russian novel "The Master and the Margarita" which was written by Mikhail Bulgakov.
Note the photo above as well as the Krylov Photo below were both taken on Billie Jo's first visit to the area in the late summer.
The park features this statue of Ivan Krylov, author of many Russian fables. The are also a handful of additional well done sculptures detailing some of Krylov's stories.
Krylov Fable Sculpture
I have no idea what fable this is referencing, but this sculpture is particularly interesting - the oval is an open ring that from this angle creates the illusion that the monkey is pointing at his own image in a mirror.
Within Moscow, the statues and sculptures are definitely significant - both in size and detail. Every building and park seems to feature some sort of Russian hero, tsar, king, artist, diplomat, tyrant, hipster or slacker.
After the park we visit one of Billie Jo's favorite restaurants "Cafe Botanika". They feature small plates at reasonable prices. One of the dishes we have is Varenyky which is a basically Russian/Ukranian Pierogi. Billie Jo tells me not eat the Pelmeni - apparently over the summer they were filling them with some sort of bad horse meat and there was an anthrax scare. Horse meat, Anthrax??? not sure the two are connected, but I will stay away.
While in Moscow I am going to be tracking American professional sports brands. And on my second day in Moscow I spotted my first logo - And it happened to be from one of my favorite teams - The NBAs Boston Celtics. There was an adult man wearing a Celtics jacket near the School that Billie Jo and I will be attending - that's right I said School. More on that soon.
One of the things that I knew that I would be missing out on while in Russia was the World Series. Once again the Phils had a strong squad who were championship caliber.
Billie Jo was sweet enough to pick up the MLB.com international package for us – probably really me – and we were able to watch games via our laptop while in Moscow.
The package allows you to watch live streams or via delay ”on tape”. Rather than stay up even later the night I arrived in Moscow, we got up Sunday morning and watched the game via –Net.
This was game six of the NLCS. The Phils were down 3 game to 2 to the San Francisco Giants and were facing elimination. We watched the first couple of innings – after that we fast forwarded and watched most of Utley and Howard’s At Bats as well as Burrell and Ross for the bad guys. Then we watched the crushing final 3 innings. Ugh. As you are likely aware, Phils relief pitcher Ryan Madson gave up a deciding homer to Juan Uribe which eventually gave the Giants the 3-2 Win and the Series.
I have mixed emotions on the Phils Season – as with any baseball campaign it was filled with ups and downs. The ending was disappointing but I wasn’t going to be Stateside to enjoy the Series regardless. I was able to go to several great games this season including the Home Opener and Roy Halladay’s No-Hitter – while the Phils season despite it’s successes can only be considered a failure, my season went pretty well. And Congrats to the San Francisco Giants who would eventually beat the Texas Rangers 4 games to 1 to capture the 2010 World Series.
Saturday, October 23, 2010
Other sights include the Kremlin, The Krasny Oktyabr Chocolate factory and a gigantic statue of Peter the Great (double the height of the statue of liberty).
Mercedes Benz also has an office in the area as their logo towers over one of the office buildings that casts a shadow on nearby Red Square.
The bridge itself crosses the Moscow River which flows through the city. The location is somewhat helpful in getting oriented in this new town, but I am still in a fog from the travel hangover.
Cafe Lebedev near Arbat (click to enlarge)
metro (pronounced MITRO), Taxi, Salad, Salon, Restarant, Menu and many many more.
We grab a drink and a small snack at the cafe. This is only a warm up for my dinner as Billie Jo was smart enough to prepare a delicious and comforting potato and vegetable soup for my first dinner in Moscow. She also has me try a syrniki, it is sort of a miniature cheese pancake - pretty sweet with sort of a cheesecake texture and taste.
I finish my dinner and head for bed - I make it till almost 10p - I have been up for roughly 30 straight hours. That is enough - my first night in Moscow I sleep well.
Truth is we were only at the building - As with any urban apartment there are numerous levels of security. The doors and locks involved in getting from the front of our building to within the comfort of the actual residence surely rival that of any tightly sealed Greenwhich Village walk-up. Anyone familiar with the opening sequence of the 60s era sitcom "Get Smart" can visualize the trials involved in entering our Moscow abode.
To enter the building one must first via keypad enter a code involving a bunch of numbers and one of those special characters. This garners one entry to a small foyer whereupon you reach a 2nd door. There is room next to the foyer where a guard sits. The 2nd door requires a second and different access code - this one involves both letters and numbers.
Anyone who has traveled internationally is likely to have an elevator tale - Russia is no different. The first thing Billie Jo tells me is to "Always use the second Elevator". I don't even bother asking why - I take the advice as earned knowledge and proceed to nudge Billie Jo, myself, a stuffed Suitcase and my carry-on into the cabin which is slightly larger then a phone booth.
As with any other elevator that likely dates back to Stalin, this one creaks, wheezed, tugs and pulls. Even weary with travel (and knowing this is about to happen) my heart skips a bit as the lift rises in sporadic fits before depositing us at the sixth floor.
Billie Jo notes that we are lucky - I give her a squeamish look and she calms me and mentions - no it's not that bad - apparently the elevator occasionally ignores your floor request and takes you do the top floor (10th) and then you have to run through the process of pressing 6 again to return to where you wanted to go - so yes we are fortunate to not have to travel the lift for meore than the requisite six floors.
We have survived our first elevator experience in Moscow but we are still not yet in the apartment. Maxwell Smart still has two more doors to navigate. Our door is at the end of the hall - I note that there is an upright piano sitting outside our door for some reason - I don't ask why. I have traveled to foreign lands before and I know that asking such in this situation typically returns nothing more then a sincere shrug.
Billie Jo takes a key and places it into the lock rotating it several times - she tells me that you must turn it two three or possibly four times depending on who locked it previously.....ok - I reply with a question mark in my head. on the inside she turns around and manipulates the reverse of the lock which is similar to a small gas cap. She tells me to give it one full turn - this way when the next person comes, they will only have to turn the key two rotations (OK? I nod again). Apparently if everybody did this - entry would be consistent and flawless.
And then I am confronted with the flaw in this logic. There are now two doors before us. Apparently the door we just passed through is shared by our apartment and another. So if anyone from the other apartment messes up the sequence we need to deal with the whole 2 or 3 or 4 rotations problem. Couple this with the fact that Billie Jo is sharing her apartment with another person and now we are throwing me into the mix - there could be any number of permutations to the way that door gets locked.
Billie Jo then pulls out a key - a big key - the kind that you see used by an cranky old Wizard in one of those Fantasy Films based on some epic tale written in olde English during the 17th century. Billie Jo takes the Wizard Key, she places it into the lock twists it about a half dozen rotations and proceeds to tell me that this one also goes either 2 or 4 times depending on who locked this door most recently - then Voila! the door opens!
Do you Believe in Miracles?!?!
We have Arrived!!!
We take a largely vacant train from the airport to the metro - an older woman asks Billie Jo to watch her bags while she uses the bathroom - Billie Jo handles the conversation seamlessly. I am proud of and happy for her.
Once on the metro we take a maze of trains, stops, transfers, escalators, passageways, and stairs (many, yes, many stairs) that finally lead to our destination - the Kievskaya station. While on our journey I occasionally recognize letters and signs - a twinge of giddiness runs through me.
Kievskaya station emerges at one of Moscow's busiest malls "The Eurocenter". The mall's emblem is a semi-script lower case "e" - there are four foot tall ones at the corners of the mall rotating inside a globe that has a ring like Saturn. On one corner of the mall is an automoblie ad that features an what looks to be a near full scale replica of a Kia hatchback climbing the wall to "kick" a giant futbol into a net.
We exit the metro pass the Kia and cross a busy street and make a Left - Billie Jo explains to me the walking portion of our trip it is easy pretty much all Left-Right-Left-Right-Left till we get o the apartment.
On the way we pass a great Russian Icon. A Moscow MacDonalds. Yes there is an extra 'a' in "Mac" for pronunciations reasons I suppose. I have been told I have to have the Russian Mickey D's experience, but even in my exhausted jet lag stupor I can tell this Muscovite MacDonald's has the same expired grease stench of it's American predecessor.
Once past the golden arches we take a few more L-R-Ls and I have my first experience with a "Perry-Hood" . PerryHood is the Russian term for an underpass used to cross a busy street. They are common in Moscow where Jay-Walking is frowned upon and uhm monitored much more closely than in the states.
The Perry-Hood is the last landmark as we approach are building. We have arrived at our apartment in one piece including baggage all the way from the United States/DC in - I don't know - maybe just little over 11 hours.
Well when I say arrived at the apartment - I should say sort of arrive...
I hand my immigration card to the person attending the station and she asks me to remove my glasses - I am in Moscow all of 20 minutes and the first woman I meet is flirting with me!
The officer hand back my immigration card - this is an important document - I will need to carry with my passport and visa at all times - loss of the immigration card will incur a $2000 fine.
Next up is baggage claim - I am looking for a burgandy suitcase I borrowed from my folks. I win the luggage lottery as my bag emerges relatively quickly - I easily identify it by the orange plastic bag my father had tied around the handle during a previous trip.
one final line for Customs. This time I know not to bother any conventional American line rules and expectations. I jam into the funnel of travelers readying myself for the customs process....except there is no process. I go through a door and possibly a metal detector and through another set of doors and I am in Moscow.
There is a fence around the arrival area, where I spot a few dozen people awaiting friends, family and colleagues. I do not spot Billie Jo.
I exit the arrival area - several men approach me barking "Taksi" "Taksi" "Taksi" - I take a quick glance around still no Billie Jo.
I position myself by a pole with a good view of the area. I remind myself that Billie Jo may not make the first train to the airport, but she definitely expects to be on the 11:47 or 12:15 trains. it is now 11:15.
Then I see a pretty girl in line at the newsstand. I know that pretty girl!! - she turns around and almost walks right by me - It's Billie Jo!!!
Friday, October 22, 2010
I close up the apartment and set off for my journey to the foreign land of Moscow. It is my first trip there and I will get to see Billie Jo for the first time in 3 months.
My friend Steve is my escort to the airport - we enjoy the roughly 3:30 to 4 hr drive from Wayne to Dulles. We stop for lunch at a restaurant south of Baltimore - I have a BLT - Billie Jo has told me that bacon is in short supply in Moscow, so I take advantage of the opportunity. The barmaid gently harasses a patron next to me for sporting a Denver Broncos T. It is the last time I will here Football (American football that is ) talk for the next two months. I also remark to Steve that the days warm weather will likely be something I don't experience until March.
At Dulles I procure some Rubles in case of an emergency - my $108 nets me 2500 Rubles - which is a poor exchange rate but worth it if needed.
The Flight goes well - I sit next to a Russian PHD candidate who is attending school in Pasadena. He speaks English well and we exchange pleasantries - his Name is Ivanye and he will be presenting a paper at his home school in Moscow. There are several pretty young women in my section - this somehow cushions my fear of spending the next eight weeks in alien territory.
There is a soul searching Canadian Art-crap movie titled "One Week" on the plane. I watch it intermittently while dropping in on an episode of "the Office" - It is the one where Michael defies corporate by creating his own Dunder Mifflin commercial - and sneaking peeks at the pretty girls in my section.
After dinner I try to sleep overnight but don't.
There is a light breakfast as the sun rises - The stewards hand out immigration cards - I carefully fill mine out before landing.
The plane touches down - we are a half hour early - it is 3 degrees Celsius and I am in Moscow.