Archive | July, 2003
July 31, 2003

I’ve traveled the world to learn, I must return from Russia with love

After 5 weeks in Russia, I’m finally back in the US.  I really didn’t want to leave…Moscow is so incredible.  On Tuesday, my last full day in Moscow, I woke up early to get some last minute sightseeing done.  Sadly, Red Square was still closed, but I did walk down to Lubyanka to see the former KGB Headquarters and notorious prison.  In the evening I had dinner with some friends at the Georgian restaurant and then we went back to Shabalovka for cake and ice cream.

On Wednesday morning I checked out of my dorm.  It is kind of an odd process.  The dzherunaya checked my room to make sure I wasn’t stealing anything, for instance a desk or bed.  I had to turn in my propusk (entry card) which I was hoping to save because the stamp they used on it said “MGY – CCCP”.  She handed me another card which listed the number of bags I was taking out of the building.  I thought this part was really odd…when I left the building I had to turn in that card to the security guard, who checked it against the number of bags I was carrying out.  Very, very odd.  When I said goodbye to the dzherunaya she kissed me on the cheek like 10 times…no joke, it was crazy, because during my 5 weeks at Shabalovka I had only seen her one other time before I checked out.

A driver from MGU picked me up at the dorm to take me to the airport.  Liz and Luke skipped class that day and asked the driver if they could tag along to the airport.  We finally got to Sheremetevo-2 just in time for me to check in.  Russian airports are odd, as you can only check in/clear customs 2 hours prior to your scheduled departure, not any earlier.  I got in the line that was listed next to my flight number, but it changed, so I had to get in another one.  When I finally got to the front of that line, the customs officer told me to get in a different line.  The entire process was extremely annoying.  They finally screened my luggage and I was allowed to check in and get my boarding pass.  After that you stand in another line for passport control.  I am happy to report that this time (unlike last year) I went through the entire process without being yelled at by an irate Russian border guard.  By the time I got through this process, I didn’t have any time to check out the stores or, more importantly, exchange my Russian Rubles for dollars.  So now I have $70 worth of a currency that I can’t get exchanged anywhere but in Russia…excellent!  My plane from Moscow to Paris was an hour late taking off, and I was sure that I would miss my connecting flight to LA.  When we finally landed in Paris I had to wait for 15 minutes for the stupid terminal bus to transfer me from Terminal B to F.  The other passengers were really pissed off at having to wait…they kept screaming that they were going to miss their flight, but the airport staff would just shrug their shoulders and say something in French.  Charles De Gaulle Airport really sucks…the layout just seems really stupid.  My plane to LAX was about 45 minutes late taking off and was probably one of the most annoying flights I’ve ever been on.  It was a fun filled 12 hours of little French kids running up and down the aisles screaming their heads off, the lady in the seat behind me kept putting her nasty feet on my armrest, and one of the male flight attendants kept hitting on the girl sitting next to me.  Well, at least the food was decent.  We finally landed in LA around 11:15.  On the way to customs they have a huge sign that says “Welcome to the United States of America” and under that is a tiny framed picture of George Dubya…haha great.  U.S. customs was even more annoying than Russian customs because the lines are longer and you have to go through like 5 different checkpoints.  The passport control officer spent 2 minutes talking to me about Russia and then I got my bags and went through the USDA check.  The USDA officer asked me if I had any food and I said “no” because I’m sure by “food” he didn’t mean chocolate, turkish delights, tea, kasha, and instant borscht.  I got into Palm Desert around 2am.  It feels good to be back, but I wish I was still in Moscow!  I had a great time there and made some good friends.  Pictures will be up in a few days…now I gotta unpack.

July 28, 2003

Such was life in Leningrad

We had a good weekend in St. Pete.  Took the midnight train and arrived Saturday morning.  We stayed at the Herzen student dormitory and it was really nice…good rooms and the location was perfect – right behind Kazaan Cathedral on Nevsky Prospekt.  Since we only had two days there we tried to hit all the major attractions.  We went to Peter and Paul Fortress, the Kunstkammer, Hermitage, Church of the Spilled Blood, St. Isaac’s Cathedral, and the Bronze Horseman.  We also took a sightseeing cruise on the Neva River.

It was nice to see the city without all the scaffolding.  They really spruced up the main areas for the 300th anniversary…there is so much new stuff on Nevsky, too.

Liz and Luke were caught jaywalking by a militiaman and they had to pay him a 100 ruble on the spot “fine”, which most likely went straight into his pocket.  Ah, you gotta love the cops here.

I leave Wednesday icon sad Such was life in Leningrad I wish I could stay here a few more weeks.

July 25, 2003

Stuck around St. Petersburg when I saw it was time for a change

Today was my last day of class, yay!  We are leaving for St. Petersburg tonight.  Our train leaves at around 1am.  We are returning back to Moscow on Monday morning.  Should be fun, although 2 days is not enough time for a city like St. Pete.

July 20, 2003

Red Square is closed!

I didn’t believe it at first…yes, the Russians have closed Red Square.  They put up fences around all the entrances to the square, so you can’t walk on it.  How sad is that?  A security guard at GUM told me the government closed it because they were afraid that a terrorist might try and bomb St. Basil’s Cathedral.  Supposedly it will be open on Monday or Tuesday.

Not much else has been going on…yesterday we went to see Khruschev’s grave.  It was interesting, as he was the only former Soviet premier that was not buried along the Kremlin wall. 

We bought our train tickets to St. Petersburg.  We leave Friday night and get back Monday morning.  I can’t wait to see that city again!

July 13, 2003

That Georgia’s always on my mind…

This was definitely a good weekend.  On Friday my class got out at 1pm (instead of 3pm like it usually does).  After class we went to a place called Stockmann’s – it’s kind of like Harrod’s of London, but not as large.  Nonetheless, it is definitely a place where only “New Russians” and expats shop.  We were mainly interested in the grocery store, which stocks Western delicacies such as Goldfish crackers and Pace Picante Salsa.  The grocery prices aren’t too bad…they are about what you would pay in the US, but the other goods are extremely overpriced.  We wanted to buy a spatula for pancakes, but there was no way in hell we were going to pay $40 for it.  After Stockmann’s we had dinner at TGI Friday’s (turns out there is a small one located within walking distance from our dorm).  I had the chicken tenders…very tasty.  All of the waiters spoke English, which was a plus, and also made us wonder if it was some sort of requirement that TGI Friday’s has.

On Saturday we went to Tsaritsyno Park, the site of a former palace that belonged to Catherine the Great.  It was never completed though, and was just left to the elements, so all that remains is the shell of the palace.  There is a large lake there, so Liz, Luke, Chris, and I rented a 4 person rowboat and went out on the lake for an hour.  The boat was uhhh…well, it didn’t tip over…I’m not quite sure it would pass a US Coast Guard check, though.  We docked the boat just in time, though, as it started raining extremely hard (it’s been doing that a lot lately).  I definitely didn’t want to be out on the lake in that boat during a rainstorm.  We ran for cover and ended up at this tent outside a church that was selling icons, bibles, etc.  I bought a cool looking icon, and the lady that was selling them told us that some guy started a Russian monastery in California.  Crazy…I’ll have to look that one up when I get back home.  Chris was sitting under an awning of the church and a priest came out and started yelling at him.  Then the militsia came over to Chris and asked for his documents.  We went over there to see what was going on, and when the militsia asked where we were from we told them the USA and they said “Oh, fine” and left us alone.  I didn’t expect they would just leave us alone like that, but hey, I’m not complaining.  Nonetheless, Chris has the honor of being the first in our group to be hassled by the militsia.

On the metro leaving the park I was sitting on the end of the bench in the middle of the car when I looked down and saw a large duffle bag just sitting there…no one around it or anything…and there were only a few people on the car, since our stop was pretty far out from the city center.  When we transferred trains Luke told a metro worker and she started yelling at some guy on the phone to stop the train at the next stop and check the bag.  Some moron probably just forgot his bag on the train.  They have been pretty conscientous about security due to the current suicide bombers at the concert and Tverskaya Street (and the metro car bombings a few years ago).

We ate at the Georgian restaurant again…the food is so incredible (the Georgians call their cuisine “table scraps from heaven.”)  I’d like to go to Georgia someday…seems like an interesting place.  Back at the dorm we had cake and ice cream because it was Luke’s birthday.

Today we went to Victory Park, which has a huge monument and museum dedicated to WW2.  We were going to check out the outdoor artillery and fortifications exhibit, but it started raining very very hard…the rain here is insane.  Now I gotta go back to my dorm and study Russian…class tomorrow!

July 10, 2003

Moy adres nye ulitsa ii nye dom, moy adres sovietskii soyouz

On Wednesday we played basketball at the MGU main campus.  We had a good mix: 4 Americans, 1 Russian MGU student, and 2 Pakastani Diplomats.  We played for about 2 hours and have a game on for next Wednesday…yay!

Today in class we learned to sing some Russian songs.  They have this crazy karaoke setup that has tons of Russian songs you can sing along to.  The video is rather odd, though, as it displays scenes of New York City, Venice Beach, Chicago, etc…not exactly places you think of when singing “Kalinka” or “Moscow Nights.”  One of my favorite songs was “Moy Adrec Sovietskii Soyouz”, which went kinda like: My address is not my home or my street, my address is the Soviet Union.

Yesterday we ate at a place called Piccadilly’s and I had some chicken fajitas…some of the best I have ever had!  Quite surprising…good fajitias in Moscow?  Who woulda thought?  Today we ate at a Georgian place and it was sooo good.  Georgian food rocks…I wish I could find a place in DC with lamb shashlyik, khachipuri, and lavash.

Not much else going on here.  The dorm administrators have had to check our passports and registration for like the 50th time since we got here…typical Russian red tape.  The Russians also have a lot to learn about “The customer is always right”, as yesterday Liz and I wanted to buy a caramel ice cream cake for 50 rubles (a little less that $2) but the saleswoman refused.  She told us to instead pick one for 60 rubles because those ones were “far tastier and larger for only 10 more rubles.”  So yeah, we ended up with a 60 ruble cake even though we wanted the caramel cake…oh well.

July 8, 2003

When it rains, it pours…

The weather today was HORRIBLE.  We were walking back to the metro station after classes ended and out of nowhere it just started pouring rain.  I don’t recall ever being in such a heavy downpour. We had one umbrella between the four of us, and were thus soaked right through. The weather is supposed to be like this for an entire week…ugh!

So apparently if you want to call me on my cellphone you have to drop the 8 from the number.  Don’t ask me why, I know nothing about the telephone system over here…if you are calling from the states it is +011 7 (903) 565 – 8687.

We found a McDonald’s within walking distance from our dorm.  Hurrah, fried cherry pies and cherry McFlurrys for all!

July 7, 2003

Ya gavaru pa russki ochyen ploha!

Have I mentioned how difficult the Russian language is?  Yeah, probably about 20 times already.

My teacher is pretty cool, though, and so are the kids in my class – 2 Americans, a Brit, and a Spaniard.  That’s what I like about studying here – the students are from all over the world.  Today we had tea with three diplomats from Pakistan that are studying Russian here.  We are going to play basketball with them and some Korean students at the main MGU campus, so that should be fun.  Too bad I suck at basketball!

July 6, 2003

Riding on the metro

We finally made it to the Kremlin today.  Saw all the usual stuff – Cathedrals, Tsar Cannon, Tsar Bell, etc etc.

The security around here has been tripled.  There are tons of militia men everywhere due to the suicide bombers.  They stand at the top of the escalators in the metro and pull aside anyone who looks remotely Chechen so that they can check their documents.  I saw one cop pull over 3 guys in less than 2 minutes.

In other news, GW Webmail continues to suck.  We took the metro all the way to the mall to check our email and it’s not even working.

The metro here is pretty sweet.  It’s supposed to be the largest in the world and have the most passengers per day than any other metro system.  Check out the map – it’s insane.  Our dorm is located near the Shabolovskaya metro station, so we’re not too far from the city center.  The metro stations themselves are works of art – marble everywhere, hammers and sickles carved into everything, statues of soldiers, workers, and peasants.  At the Izmaylovsky Park station they carved AK-47 rifles into the marble columns.  My favorite part about the Moscow metro is that that the trains come every 1.5 – 2 minutes…the metro also has a circle line, so you don’t have to go out of the way to get where you need to.  I think DC could learn a thing or two from the Moscow Metro Authority.

July 5, 2003

Independence Day in Russia

Well, we didn’t have any fireworks, but we did have hotdogs, apple pie, deviled eggs, Russkii Standart, and Baltika.  Good times, good times…

I finally got my passport back from the registration department, and was thus able to get my cellphone.  Yes, kind of annoying that you have to show them your passport to them in order to buy a cellphone.  I’m using Beeline GSM.  It’s a pretty nice setup…you buy the phone, then pay them about $3 to activate your simcard.  There are no contracts – instead, you buy scratch cards and add minutes to your phone.  No monthly contracts, etc etc, and you keep the number forever.  So, if you want to call me my cell phone number is 8 (903) 565 – 8687.

On Thursday I saw Rabochy i Kolkhoznitsa (“The Worker and Collective-Farm Girl”), my favorite statue of all time.  Afterwards we went to the omipresent symbol of America - McDonalds.  We also went to VDNKh, which used to be a huge park dedicated to the achievements of the Soviet Union.  Now it is a large outdoor market and amusement park…a bunch of mini stores surrounding the statue of Lenin…ah, irony.

I think tomorrow we will make it to the Kremlin…