I know that I just published an update, but this weekend was one of the best yet here in Moscow. On Friday, Yasha, Trevor and I went bowling, or “bowl-ink” as the Russians say. It goes without saying that we had ourselves a good old time. I was expecting a hole in the wall, decrepit, and distinctly Russian place, but it turned out to be the classiest bowling alley I have ever been to. That said, it also turned out to be way more expensive than I thought it would be. Don’t go thinking it wasn’t worth it though, we had an awesome time.
It was tough to take some really great pictures at the bowling alley for lighting and skill-less photographer reasons, but I think you get the idea.
The bowling alley is in a kind of inconvenient spot, as far as simple transportation goes. It’s too far to walk, but it’s only five minutes by car. So, in order to get to the bowling alley, we had to hail a gypsy cab, which is an absolutely common and everyday facet of Muscovite life. Basically, it’s hitch hiking, but you agree on a fare beforehand with the driver. They make 100 extra rubles, you get a quick ride, everyone wins. Stand on any street in Moscow with your hand outstretched, and nine times out of ten, you’ll get a gypsy cab instead of a legit cab driver.
In America, the idea of getting in a car with a stranger is a serious taboo, and we’re scared to death of each other. In Russia, however, gypsy cabs are a common, accepted and reliable way to those places in Moscow which the metro doesn’t reach.
This particular gypsy cab also fulfilled another of my goals for my time in Russia; ride in a Lada. Lada is the quintessential Russian car, and protectionism and trade barriers in Russia are pretty much the only thing keeping them alive. They are, for all intents and purposes, pieces of shit, but they are absolutely everywhere and a true staple of Russian life.
On Saturday, Trevor and I headed to Измайловский Парк (Ismailovsky Park) to check out the enormous flea market there. It was a bit touristy, and it always pains me to see the amount of Soviet kitsch for sale. But, all told, it was a cool place to walk around, and we did end up purchasing some pretty cool stuff. It’s also fun to haggle, and the traders are all too willing to do so. We purchased two huge metro maps, an old atlas from 1955, and another book for 950 rubles, after talking the guy down from a total of 2100 rubles. Not too bad. At the end of the transaction, he asked where we were from and was very impressed with our language and negotiating skills.
Ismailovsky is also a great place to have a few beers and people watch.
There’s a hilarious phenomenon that occurs whenever non-native designers try to experiment with foreign languages. In Russia, we’ve come to call it “Ringlish,” and it can be seen on t-shirts, bags, signs, really anything that is rendered in English.
I’m not sure what “JOOP!” means, but I am sure that it makes me laugh every time I look at this picture. JOOP!
After Trevor and I had had our fill of the market, we had worked up a mean appetite and headed to our favorite Georgian restaurant to meet up with Adam and Steve for some dinner and drinks. After some delicious Georgian food, we headed to the bar to meet up with everyone on the trip for Andrea’s 20th birthday celebration.
The party was originally supposed to have karaoke, but it turned out to be something like 500 rubles (about $17 USD) more to do karaoke, so we decided to just entertain ourselves sans karaoke.
This was really the first time that I have gone out with so many of the people from the program, and I’m glad to say that we all had a pretty good time.
After the bar, we all needed to head home and get some rest before heading to Tolstoy’s estate the next day. We had to meet at the metro station at 8:30 a.m. the next day for our trip to Ясная Поляна (Yasnaya Polyana). I have another update on our trip to Ясная Поляна, complete with a good number of pictures, already in the works, so don’t stray too far.
For now, the Internet is not working at home, so I’ve moved into the Кофе Хауз (Coffee House) for the time being.
I hope you all are enjoying the updates, and if so, leave me a comment so I know how much you miss me. Stay tuned.
May 3, 2010
Ой! We have a lot to talk about. The past week was quite busy, and a number of ridiculous events transpired. First of all, I got my debit card eaten by an ATM in my metro station. Now, I don’t know about you, but it would have been a hassle for me to retrieve my card in the States, let alone in Moscow. So what do I do. First, I called the number on the ATM, and spoke with a Росбанк (Rosbank) representative for about 10 minutes, figuring out where I need to go, when, and what I have to do to retrieve my card.
In order to make sure that I have everything correct, the next day (Friday) Vera (my teacher from OU, who is actually native Russian) calls the bank with me to make sure I understood everything the teller told me. Lo and behold, I was totally correct on what I needed to do; Vera was very impressed with me. And ultimately, at the appointed time on Friday, I stroll into the bank and retrieve my card like I had done it a million times before.
Which leads me to believe that the silver lining in having my bank card eaten by an ATM in Moscow, is that I was able to navigate the entire situation using only my Russian vocabulary.
As I mentioned earlier, there were plenty of other interesting events in the past week. For example, on Wednesday we had our weekly excursion at the Applied Folk Arts Museum. There were a number of really interesting lifestyle pieces from the 18th and 17th centuries. But there were also a number of plates from the 20th century that included what were known as,”Propaganda Porcelain.” For the most part, the collection was made up of plates with Lenin’s likeness on them, and many of them included former Soviet slogans. Unfortunately, the museum charges 150 rubles to take pictures, so I had to sneak in a picture or two to avoid getting charged.
The museum was a success, and on Thursday we headed to the Moscow Conservatory to take in some classical music in the form of a trio. The trio was incredible, and afterwards on our way back home, Trevor and I stumbled upon a fleet of tanks lining Тверская Улица (Tverskaya Ulitsa), preparing to perform a dry run of the May Day Parade.
While waiting for the tanks and artillery to roll, we ending up getting the chance to meet some really interesting people. While standing by the gates on the street, we heard some English over our shoulders, which is a pretty rare occurrence in Moscow. Within minutes, Trevor and I struck up a conversation with a Singaporean businessman named Nick and his wife, Nora. They were in Moscow for the first time to work out a deal with a publishing house at which two wonderful Russian guys, both named Dima (a diminutive of Dmitri), worked.
They were truly interesting and sweet people and we talked for nearly an hour and a half waiting for the tanks to roll.
After keeping us company for about an hour and a half, they got tired of waiting and decide to get some dinner. Unfortunately, not 10 minutes after they left, the tanks started up and bore down on us in a display of Russian military strength.
I know I need to buy a flash for my camera, and I want to apologize in advance for the quality of these photos.
After the demonstration, Trevor and I headed home to finish some homework. Despite my debit card getting eaten, it was a pretty solid night, and we still had the weekend to look forward to. I have an update that I am already working on, so stay very nearby for that one!
April 25, 2010
Зравствуй Друзья (Hello Friends)
I can’t believe that it’s already Sunday and another week and weekend have passed here in Moscow. I’m swamped with homework and papers and tests that I should have been working on all weekend, so to take my mind off of all that for just a little bit longer, I thought I’d give you an update on things here in Moscow.
Friday night was the fist of what I’m guessing will be plenty more nights at a German beer hall on the north side of town called Вокзалъ (Train Station). Trevor, Adam, Steve and myself all headed up to Вокзалъ and more or less killed the night there drinking liters of their house brew.
I slept pretty late on Saturday, and spent most of the day doing homework and hanging out at home until I had to head to the far north side of Moscow for the Локомотив (Locomotive) vs. Томь (Toem) football game. By football I mean football by the rest of the world’s standards. My host brother Саша (Sasha) set us up with the tickets, and we were right at the top of the Локомотив fan’s section. We rooted for the home team, Locomotive, and we were all quite pleased that they won.
There are some differences between American sporting events and Russian sporting events that are immediately clear.
- Games are dry. You can only buy beer between halves of the game, and you have to drink it at the place you buy it. Even the kiosks around the stadium that normally sell beer don’t sell it on game day.
- No one wears jerseys. Nearly everyone had a Локомотив green and red scarf.
- There is an overwhelming military and police presence. Football fans can, and often do, get completely out of hand, especially if Локомотив might have lost.
- The games are cheap. I’m not talking cheap like $20, our tickets were 150R. That’s $5. When was the last time you made it to a Browns or Cavs game for $5?
After the game a couple of us headed out to the bar once again for more liters of beer. We also decided to have a shot of Absinthe, which is cheaper than Malibu Rum at this particular bar. Despite the Absinthe shots and soccer hooliganing, it was a pretty calm night.
That’s pretty much it for the weekend, I didn’t take very many pictures unfortunately. I did get a picture of this pretty intense anti-smoking ad that I’ve been seeing around town, though. Russia is still very much a smoker’s country, and the most expensive cigarettes I have seen (Parliaments) top out at around $2.
I really need to get on this homework at this point, but I hope to have a few updates this week. Wish me luck, this will probably be my busiest week so far.
April 23, 2010
I only had one update planned for this evening, but I wanted to give you another brief update about my safety. I’m not sure if the American press will pick it up or not, but there was another bomb scare today that was absolutely too close for comfort.
Two students with explosives were arrested at the mall to the immediate left of my apartment building. When I came home from class at about 5, I walked the way I normally do from my metro stop to my building without incident. When I left my building to meet up with Trevor at his stop, about 150 yards of the sidewalk on my side of the street was taped off, the mall was being evacuated, and милиция (militsiya, the Russian police force) were lining the street and directing traffic.
Where the diagram says “Здесь обранужено два подозрительных пакета,” it means “Here is where the two suspicious packages were found.”
When I returned to my stop at about 11, the street was still blocked off and agents from the FSB were now on the scene. The FSB is the successor of the KGB, and is the Russian equivalent of the CIA. From the other side of the street I watched with the other onlookers as the agents finished clearing the area.
When I got home I asked Яша (Yasha) if he knew anything about it and he told me about a news brief he had seen. You can click here for a story about the threat. I couldn’t find anything about it in English as it only happened a few hours ago, but I’ve given you the gist of the article. It’s worth checking out to see pictures of the students, agents, and video of the mall.
This is the same mall Trevor and I often go to, so this is especially unnerving for us. I just wanted to let you know about it before you hear anything from the English speaking press if you hear anything at all.
Everything will be fine, and we are in no immediate danger. It’s worth remembering when faced with these kinds of threats that they are freak occurrences over which we have no control, and are purposefully designed to make us believe that they can or will occur at any moment and at any place. The reality of the situation is that I’m infinitely more likely to die in a car accident or other freak accident.
I’ll keep you guys updated. Let me know if you hear anything about this in the English-speaking press.
April 22, 2010
Hello everyone and welcome to another installment of my riveting travelogue. Yesterday, yes Wednesday, was probably one of the most fun nights on record here in Moscow. Following our excursion to a famous artist’s house/museum (Viktor Vasnetsov if you are so interested), Trevor, Steve, Graham, Adam and myself made our way to a Georgian restaurant called Шеф Повар (Chef Povar) for some dinner.
Once we arrived at Шеф Повар, we decided to start off with a round of Балтика (Baltika is made in Petersburg, and you can find it in some grocery stores in the states if you want to live vicariously. For the Athens crowd, I know they have it at Bella Vino). Ordering is always an adventure in Moscow, because you’re not really ordering so much as you are making a suggestion of what you wouldn’t mind having.
Our waitress was fantastic though, and she made certain that we got everything we actually asked for. Following the feast, we decided to get a bottle of vodka and a plate of veggies that serve as chasers in some way. The plate was filled with potatoes, cabbage, string beans, cucumbers and other cool refreshing fare to soothe the burn of the vodka. We promptly killed the bottle and veggie plates, and headed to this bar called Кружка (Crushka) to continue the merriment. When all was said and done, we had all had our fair share of spirits and called it a night around 10 p.m.
It was a really great time, and I’m sure that more trips to Шеф Повар are imminent.
But now, another of the moments you’ve all been waiting for; the premiere of my host dad, Vladimir. He’s a really interesting guy and a very smart one as well. He is also quite proficient at English even though he hides it in my interest of speaking only Russian.
Well that’s all for now, but stay tuned and I will keep the pictures and updates coming. Пока давай!
April 18, 2010
Дорогые Товарищи (Dear Comrades)
Moscow is quite an exhausting place to carve out a living. Whether it’s because I constantly have to live my life in Russian, expressing myself only in a tongue I still barely understand, or because of the general hustle and bustle of life in Moscow, I rely on my Sundays to be a day of rest.
Today I started off pretty late, made some breakfast and headed to meet up with Trevor. Unlike most Sundays, today I had a mission; purchase a spring jacket. My original plan to rely on my hoodie for the spring turned out to be a no go, because wearing a hoodie in Moscow makes you really stand out. Not that it makes you look like an American so much, but in the eyes of Russians (and Russian girls especially) my age, it just makes me look like a scrub. With that said, clothing in Moscow is unreasonably expensive and unreasonably tacky and ugly for the most part. This means that I had about one option, H&M, to find a cheap Swedish-designed Chinese-made jacket. With this in mind, Trevor and I made our way across the city to the enormous mall known only as Метрополис in order to find such a jacket.
I had remarkable luck in finding a jacket that was reasonably priced and at the same time reasonably European-looking. Given that the trip on the metro takes about 45 minutes and is completely on the other side of the city, we decided to do some exploring.
What we found were some interesting American imports. During our prep for Russia class last quarter, we had to read articles in Russian and give a brief presentation on the gist of the article. I vaguely remembered doing one of my presentations about the first Burger King in the Russian Federation, and had completely forgotten that it was located in this very mall!
We wandered around the place for a little while looking for something to do, and happened upon a couple of other interesting American things. It’s always interesting to me which things get translated into Russian and carried over the chasm between our two cultures. In a country in which no one recycles, scarcely anyone is a vegetarian, and health and wellness are pretty low on the priority list of your average Russian, I was pretty surprised that this movie had made it to Moscow.
After perusing the mall for a while, we had worked up quite and appetite and also conveniently noticed a restaurant called “Cantina Mariachi.” The menu lacked some pretty important staples that you would expect to find at a Mexican restaurant in America, which led us to our biggest ordering fail yet. I asked the waitress which dishes were vegetarian, and when she got to one that looked good and cheap enough, I pounced. I ended up ordering jalapeno poppers, which is not exactly what I was going for, but they weren’t too bad.
After the Mexican popper things and some nachos and beer, it was time to start our long trek back home to southern Moscow. I had accomplished my mission of finding a reasonable jacket, and it was time to catch up on some work and relax for the rest of the afternoon. On our way home however, I saw a couple more things that I thought picture-worthy.
One of the things that has surprised me the most about Moscow, and Russia in general, is the ways in which it’s just like America. Something as simple as seeing a father and son dozing on the metro on a Sunday afternoon can really reinforce this sentiment.
Now I’m back at home, and the day is winding down. I need to get to work on some homework, but I would say it’s been a pretty successful weekend.
One last thought. Even thousands of miles away, oceans apart, I still cannot escape this face:
I hope you enjoyed the update and I’ll be sure to keep them coming. Have a good week everyone.
April 17, 2010
It’s Saturday night, and before heading out on the town, I figured I’d give you guys a quick update. Today we made a special trip into school to meet with some of the Russian students there. The meeting was mutually amicable, but unfortunately most of the students are like 30, so it doesn’t really help our hanging out prospects. It was a lot of fun though, don’t get me wrong!
Before heading out though, we decided to play with Gavrik for a bit.
And I think with that, it’s time to get out of the house. I hope to have some more pictures of the family sometime in the very near future. Don’t go far!
April 15, 2010
I have missed you. The rest of the weekend was fun and relaxing, which is just how I hoped it would be. We went to Park Pobedy on Sunday to kick back and watch the throngs of rollerbladers, take in the glorious monuments and generally kick back before another intense week of class.
After a long day of relaxation, we went our separate ways and got ready for the week ahead. There really isn’t a whole lot for me to tell about this week, which is why the updates have been slow in coming.
The highlight of the week was our trip to the Tretyakov Gallery of Art on Wednesday. We oohed, we ahhed, but there were no pictures allowed in the interests of preserving the works’ integrity. Many of the pieces were quite incredible, and it might interest you to know that the largest painting in the gallery took Andrey Ivanovich 20 years to make; and it was unfinished when he died. Pretty strange life, no?
The gallery was quite impressive and really gave us a deeper understanding of what is and was important to Russians.
After the gallery, we headed to the REAL attraction; Пицца Хат. That’s right folks, just a short walk from one of the largest and most important collections of the some of the most priceless art in Russia, you can have yourself a slice of home from brought to you by the good people of Yum Brands, Inc.
A little aside about Russians, they love mayonnaise. And sour cream. Like you wouldn’t believe. And they are also not too aware of the difference between what we might call catchup and tomato sauce for the most part. Hence, if you order a pizza, or pick up a slice at a cafe (such as the one that at which we eat on days we have class) you could very well get a slice of pizza with catchup, or, worst case scenario, mayonnaise (Yes, I’ve eaten one). Needless to say, I’ve never enjoyed Pizza Hut like I did on Wednesday.
Don’t go thinking that all Russian food is confused and backwards, because there is some really delicious stuff. But in the event that you travel to Russia, know your pizza.
I think that’s about all I’ve got for now. I’m looking forward to this weekend, and I will have some new and exciting pictures I’m sure. My only plans so far are to get to this Georgian restaurant that is supposed to be exquisite, and most likely make a trip to Park Pobedy. I’ll keep you posted!
April 10, 2010
Здрвствуйте из Москвы (Hello from Moscow),
All is well in Moscow. The days have been picking up speed, and I think I’m finally getting fully adjusted to life in Moscow. There is nothing too terribly exciting to report from the first two days of the week, but Wednesday was good old Trevor’s birthday. We decided to do most of the celebrating Tuesday night, and because I needed a stable internet connection for a job interview, we started things off at GUM. It’s a little embarrassing to be recognized by the guy who serves beer at the enormous mall on Red Square, but what can I say, it’s a quiet and comfortable place and the beer is cheap.
Afterwards, we hopped on the Metro and headed towards Trevor’s stop, and promptly bought more beer once we made it to Akademecheskaya. It was a pretty uneventful night, and the best I could do for my friend on his birthday was to buy all his beer for him.
For our weekly Wednesday excursion, we visited the Novodevichy Convent and Cemetery. The convent was kind of a snooze. It was beautiful of course, and it was interesting to hear about its unique place in Russian history, but there are only so many churches and icons you can see before you get sick of them. Despite this fact, I did take some pictures of the place.
The much more interesting part of Wednesday’s excursion was the time we had to wander around the Novodevichy Cemetery. Novodevichy was constructed in the 15th century, and it’s cemetery is the final resting place of many of the most famous Russians. The Cemetery has everything you’d expect in a Russian cemetery filled with Russian war heroes and former party brass. The place is filled with huge busts of former party members, overgrowth and thin paths, and the words “hero of the USSR” are on many more stones than they should be.
On Thursday, Trevor’s host mom took us to an orchestra performance at Moscow State, which featured a famous guest viola player named Gibbon Kramer. I really can’t stress enough how huge Moscow State is, and it was incredibly fortunate for us that Trevor’s host mom could get us into this thing. I didn’t have my camera with me on this day, which is a huge disservice to you, and I’m sorry. The auditorium is absolutely surreal. Flanking the stage are two enormous busts with two enormous quotes below them. On the right is Lenin, and on the left is Marx. The backdrop of the stage is a sprawling mosaic of red and gold with waving communist flags, prominently featuring the hammer and sickle as well as the revolutionary star.
The place is truly indescribable, and if you know anything about Soviet history, it’s amazing the number of these symbolic reminders still fly in today’s Russia. I’ll make sure to get back and get some pictures.
I’m looking forward to just relaxing this weekend. I don’t have any plans to speak of, but we did have the idea of heading to bars around Moscow State to try to meet some Russians our age. I’ll keep you in the know.
April 10, 2010
Last Sunday was Easter for all of you, no doubt. But here in Moscow, it was Пасха (Pass-cha). I passed on the opportunity to go to church, but I couldn’t turn my host mom down when she asked if I wanted to dye eggs. I wasn’t sure what I was getting into, but it’s an opportunity I’m glad I didn’t miss.
Instead of dying eggs with cheap store-bought chemicals, Russians start with a huge batch of hard-boiled brown eggs and a pot of onion skins. First, we wrapped the eggs in old pairs of pantyhose with cilantro leaves and rice. Once the stuff was firmly against the sides of the eggs, we let them soak in the pot of onion skins and water until the acidity of the onion skins burned an imprint onto the eggs.
It should be noted that the wrapping of these eggs is a very difficult process. You can’t really tell what your finished egg is going to look like, and the process of wrapping can be extremely tedious. However, mom, Anya wanted me to let you know that I am quite skilled at this wrapping procedure!
It was quite an experience coloring eggs this way, and I think you can really appreciate the finished product more than when it’s simply dipped in dye. It was also a good chance for me to get to have some quality bonding time with my wonderful host family. I have a lot more updates on the way, so stay tuned!