Friday, September 29, 2006

Saturday, Sunday, Samara

On our first Friday, we ventured around the neighborhood by ourselves. We went to a market with different rooms selling different things, of course and to a supermarket in the basement, but it was rather disappointing. There was, however, an electronics store full of kitchen supplies we will undoubtedly need. We then tried a supermarket closer to our place and found it full of basics for meal prep. Still, some odds and ends eluded me. I couldn't help but think of Korea. It took us a couple weeks to find the local supermarkets and a few months to find the foreign food markets! At least things are a bit easier here in some respects.

Sorry, I'm looking at my notes and I think this will be a four day post. Turns out the above was really Thursday, like you care!

Anyway, on Friday we met the landlady. She has fire red hair, which is obviously dyed and she loves pink! I thought it would be a good time to give her some souvenirs from the states since we had finally unpacked. She was super thankful and told us we should come to her dacha in the spring! They say in our Russian culture book that if you are ever given the opportunity to go to a dacha, take it! What's a dacha Jenevieve? It's a little house outside "the city" where you can grow some food, enjoy nature and take a rest. Many people have one. Yuri says the range in size is quite broad considering how big your wallet is.

Friday was also the day for our first communication "failure". A man was suppose to arrive that morning, hence the landlady's visit, but like we have come to learn in Russia, things may not turn out the way you planned. The man had to come and measure the place for some legal reason, although it didn't seem to apply to us. We said we would stay around the place until he got here. Eventually he showed up sometime in the afternoon. Try as we might to welcome him in, he wouldn't leave the stairwell area. We asked for his telephone number so Yulia could call him, but he just kept repeating things in Russia we obviously couldn't understand. We tried to gesture to him to come in, but that didn't work. In one word, he was completely unwilling. Once I realized this, I waited with Jeremy until the man saw it was a hopeless cause and left. I called Yulia afterwards so she could call Boris, our landlord, and explain to him the situation, so that he could take care of it. This is one lesson I learned quickly in Korea. At times, as much as I tried to be understood, some people were unwilling, even when I was speaking Korean! That's when I realized I don't need to take it personally or think I've actually failed. I did what I could; I can't change another person's stubbornness.

On Saturday, I made my first Russian meal- Pelmyeni (Siberian meat dumplings). I bet Kate (S) is salivating right now! I sauteed some garlic and onion before adding the dumplings. We topped it off with a bit of sour cream and were instantly sent to heaven! After lunch, me met Yuri so we could get a cell phone which was a very simple process- Thanks, Yuri! Afterwards, the three of us headed out to see other parts of the city. First we went to the largest bookstore in Samara. You have to go up a crummy stairwell to get there, something else I didn't expect, but I am getting used to. I thought they'd have some nice cafe connected to it like in the States- what was I thinking (Coffee?!) Anyway, it was definitely big. They even had an English section. There weren't any current bestseller's but plenty of classics and even some Russian works translated, of course. I was very happy to see them since one of our culture books had a list of must reads in Russian Lit and they practically had them all. We also picked up an extra map of Samara, but in Russia, unfortunately. Next, we walked along the streets to see the railroad station- a bizarre glass domed "Metropolis"-like structure situated between some older European buildings. Sorry I forgot my camera! The day had become quite chilly, so after more walking, I pointed out an Italian restaurant that looked nice inside. I was really eyeing the cappuccino sign! Once inside, we could tell it was a place for New Russians (the ones with money). The eatery ended up being more Middle Eastern than Italian, but we didn't mind kebabs in the least. It took an extraordinarily long time to get our food, but the waitstaff was pretty nice. The coffee maker wasn't even working, so I had to get Nescafe with milk. :( Anyway, we had great conversations. When Yuri found out I liked jazz, his jaw dropped. Turns out he's a huge jazz fan and that there was going to be a jazz concert that Thursday. So he said he would try and get us tickets. Maybe it's possible...

On Sunday, Jeremy and I braved the cold (it was in the 40's!) to find a super supermarket Yuri had circled on our map. The long walk there warmed us up, luckily. Hmm.. it seems that's all I wrote about Sunday. Guess it was a dull day spent inside. Anyway, that place had everything we were looking for- herbs and cheese we had heard of, even frozen pizzas and red lentils!

Stay tuned for the Internet Fiasco!

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Samara, our home away

Continuing from the last post...
The next morning we met the landlord at the apartment with the two real estate agents, and of course, Yulia. After signing a very reasonable contract, we were told Vasili, the landlord's driver (this dude must be loaded!) would be our super, as in, we do all bitching and moaning directly at him.

We paid all the fees and rents and then headed downtown to get our fist peak of the bustling area of Samara. On the tram, we saw the only strip of road that would look anything close to new and modern in the states. It was kind of like a colorful main street with higher-end shops. Sadly, most buildings in Samara are dull in color while others are truly dilapidated. All around us were signs of a past, but few of the future. Even though Samara is growing in leaps and bounds economically, transition takes time, I suppose.

Our first stop was a traktir restaurant that I believe may have been mentioned on Jeremy's blog recently. Just for those too busy to check out both our blogs, it's a traditional Russian restaurant with a menu full of all foods Russian. We first got the salad bar, which, of course from all the salad bars we've seen outside of the states, is nothing like you would imagine. It was actually a salad bar of salads with many types of slaw and potato , but a few fishy ones we stayed clear of. We ordered Shchi for our main meal. It's a cabbage and dill soup teaming with vegetables which I have a feeling Nicole would really enjoy. Maybe I'll make it the next time I'm in Madison...Anyway, the soup came with buckwheat pancakes, but they, again, are not what you would imagine. They are much flatter, and disappointingly just plain funky. I don't know what it is about the buckwheat here, but it's a little weird. Instead of being like any other grain (tasteless) an aftertaste appears that's just not right to my taste buds. I'm rambling...We also got dumplings we didn't have room in our bellies to eat, so we brought them home for dinner. Lastly, we had the dessert bar which was obviously full of sweets. Most countries seem to get that right although sweet azuki beans in Japan took some getting used to!

Afterwards we visited the English Language Center and met two of the employees. One was Yuri who was interested in giving us a little walking tour of the downtown. So we walked a bit downtown, had some money exchanged and got a first grand view of the Volga. From the beach, you can see the Zhiguli Mountains which are like a large wall straight across the horizon. We learned Yuri had been in the FLEX program a few years ago. If you've ever been to a typical summer vacation spot, you've probably been served by a FLEX student. They're mostly form the Eastern Block countries and Russia. We even met one at Wisconsin's Devil's Lake this summer. Yuri said he worked at the McDonald's in Virginia Beach. He thought it was incredible that the average worker there makes 7 bucks an hour. At the one in Samara, they make about 30 cents! But the prices for things here are somewhat comparable to those in the states. I swear, I don't know how anyone can survive here

To end this blog, I'll leave you with a view from a bedroom. I love how the sky eats up half the view! You can see the Zhiguli Mountains from our place too, but can you spot the Volga?

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Day tour part 3

Once back at the apartment, I tried ot stay awake, but my concentration was shot. Jeremy came back around five and told me one great piece of unexpected news- most of the trips he has to make outside of Samara I'm welcome to accompany him! I imagined I'd be home alone when he had to head for lectures, but thankfully that's not so! At 7 we met up with the rest of the fellows and ate at this building that looked like something out of a Miyazaki movie. On the second level, to our surprise, we found a Georgian restaurant. I got a hot pot of pork, tomatoes and onions which was very nice. Plus, we all got a kind of fried bread with cheese inside. I'm guessing it was on the house. Jeremy ordered a little jar full of mutton stew that had a bit of a curry taste to it. In Russia, we've learned the restaurant experience is usually drawn out. We didn't leave until 9 something, so we were all very ready conk out.

Ok I am cheating and moving on to the next day, but you don't mind, do you?

The next morning, we had lunch at our favorite little cafe. Then Jeremy headed for the embassy and I took a very dirty bath. I had already been warned not to drink the water, but with my own eyes, I got to see why. The water looked a nice tan color for a pair of khakis, but quite alarming for a bather. I just imagined it was a mineral bath like in Turkey. I'm positive the color came from just their rusty pipes. They're infamous in Russia.

After Jeremy returned we made our way to the airport for Samara! (You can all applaud here) I made a nice list of things to do like just pay for someone to move your luggage and the extra weight fee when you get to the domestic airline area, but I won't bore you with the details, since most of you won't be coming to see us. For those that will, you'll get plenty of info from me when the time comes! Let's just say the plane was definitely Soviet Union era, so expect bumps and no leg room, but the snacks were definitely an unexpected treat!

At the Samara airport, Yulia, Jeremy's counterpart, met us. She is like a somewhat younger version of Maude from Harold and Maude at least from a physical perspective. She took us to a teachers' compound to spend the night there until we had settled on an apartment. To her surprise and to ours, we said we could handle seeing some perpspective homes that night. The first one was right on the corner of a tram line and a slight walk to the Volga. The inside had plenty of furniture with curved doorways and even an enclosed balcony- maybe big enough for two chair, but great for a little greenhouse. I was very partial to the place, but just for a comparison, we wanted to see how the other available apartment looked. It was quite dismal and so we felt secure in grabbing the first one before it got away.

The next day we were able to move in, but I'll tell you that boring story later!

Monday, September 25, 2006

Day tour part two

After walking through the park, we made our way to the entry of The Red Square. First we looked at some souvenirs while I tried to discourage the compelling pull of St Basil's at the other end! Incidentally, and really just a note for my own sake, the next time I go to Moscow, I'll have to pick up a St Basil's snow globe (finally a globe that's realistic!) and a St. Basil's tea cozy (I don't think I'll find one of those here in Samara!)

Next, we lunched in an outdoor cafeteria. I got some potato salad that looked fine until they the cafteria guy reached over and begun to put an large mayonnaise peak on my mountain of salad and I also got a kebab that I thought would have a mustard sauce on top, but turned out to be curry which was no problem since curry is fine in my book.

Our next stop was a small chapel with icons in it permeated with the best smelling inscence to ever reach this lady's nostrils. Then it was off to a posh shopping mall where your needs for Louis Voitton and Joop! can be sated. I enjoyed the inside architecture with grand layers and a central open air strip in the middle. The opera music piping throughout the mall didn't hurt either. After getting some coffee ( how can I explain who I was dragon?), we finally made our way to St. Basil's! I would have run inside if Shawn hadn't decided to just circle the outside grounds, which I was grateful for since I had told Jeremy I would wait to see it with him at a later date. Besides the gorgeous cupulas (onion domes), fantastic folk art decorated the stairs and sides closer to eye level. Said designs will make great future embroidery projects I predict!

We were beat from all the wlaking, so Shawn and I decided to make a casual direction to our hotel. On the way, we saw what looked ot be a little grotto on the top of which sat two lions. Someone had come along and painted their toes with polish. I realize that's defacing property, but so cute!!!!

Wait shortly for the installent of part 3!

One day tour Part 1

After breakfast on our first full day in Russia, I met up with Shawn, Sally's husbancd. Sally is a fellow fellow. Since Old Arbat Street was so close to us, we decided to investigate it a bit. This street is similiar to Insadong for all my "Korean" friends with its artists peddling their masterpieces and loads of souvenirs on display.Some oddities float down the lane like an alien on top a store with his humanoid companion and a clothed monkey ready to get her picture taken with you. for a small fee of course! I was told to wait for any souvenir shopping sicne most of the smae merchandise can be found outside of the city on towns where they won't robb you so blind.

It wasn't long before exiting Arbat that we came to one side of the Kremlin. We walked along the park next to the famous fortress where I found fantastic water fountains and some statues that I predicted had something to do with Russian folkatles. Later, I checked my Russian folktales bible to concur. One scene had a frog with a crown talking to a man. Turns out the story is the Frog Princess Here are some dramatic horsies taking a shower above.

Ugh! Since I am kind of new to the whole adding pics part of a blog, let me start a new entry to show off some other lovely pics!

Monday, September 11, 2006

In Moscow, almost to Samara

So we're here! Actually as I write this, I'm in a hotel at 9pm trying to stay awake after an extended wussy nap and Jeremy is out painting the town. His secret is that he only drinks water. Who would have thought one of his "Monk"ish quirks would be so handy? Anyway, we're safe and are getting acclamated to our new home. Since arriving I have noticed two things. One, 90% of the people are white. Two, a lot of men don't feel the need to use deodorant. The latter could just have caught my attention because of the stress of flight. Anyway, for most of the year everyone will be wearing winter coats- no armpits exposed to smell!

Above is a view from our hotel window

Focusing again on impressions, the lobby of our hotel is standard but our room on the 10th floor smells like a greasy diner, weird huh? I was super cold since a cold front has come to welcome our arrival, so my bed felt extra stiff and my hips hurt from trying to stay warm while sleeping. Another impression is that Moscow is in some ways like Europe with it's elaborate buildings speckled throughout the city and Japan with these said buildings' first floors flashing garishly like a pachinko parlor!

I have to get a few things under my belt now that we're here. One, get down and dirty with basic Russian phrases. Two, stop smiling! Actually it's easier since I'm tired. I've only smiled once at a taxi guy and I think he though I was joking because after I said, "no" he just stood there like he was waiting for some mysterious punchline. I suppose I should explain this whole nonsmiling issue. Most Americans think of Russians as being pretty stoic, especially with first encounters. This is mainly due to the idea that smiling makes a person look pretty ridiculous when interacting with strangers. I've been reassured by an actual Russian that once a person gets to know you, they're all smiles. Any grins by chance can be treated with a content sigh, atleast that's what I will be doing.

Friday, September 08, 2006

So Long, Westminster Hello, Samara

So, this is it. We are here a mere 24 hours before jumping on a plane heading to Moscow via Frankfurt. From the looks of things, I will have 3 days to roam this city while Jeremy is in "orientation." I suppose I should read up on places to visit besides St. Basil's which is a spot I believe Jeremy will want to see along with me. Maybe I'll wait for the Kremlin later when someone I love comes to visit us...

I think I am finally into the whole life-is-beginning-put-on-your-seatbelt-mode. Last weekend we had a little sayonara shindig where many people I love came to see us off. It was during that time I realized I was too anxious about the trip, although everyone's well wishes seemed to buff my worries. Now I am into it. I am so ready I want to bite something hard- grrr! My Russian is puttering about, but once I get to Samara, I will hunker down on more than just the basics. Actually my plan is quite blissful. It seems everyone is encouraging me to make it MY ten months, as in, spend every minute doing whatever the hell I want to do, be it join a choir, take Russian lessons/ jog on the Volga, tutor, work on my book, do anything crafty, run around with all my new Russian pals (my only goal is to make some buddies!) or make a great meal for Jeremy. I can't help but think of such a prospect as anything but decadent. But as my buddy Andy Cady says, "Viva La decadence! "

Here are my buddies Erica and Dena. Hopefully they'll come visit me in Samara!