Archive | August, 2007
August 30, 2007

A little R&R in the Golden State



I’m sitting at George Bush Intercontinental whatever airport waiting for my connecting flight to the Great State of California, where I’ll be spending a few days at the beach.

I’m really just thrilled to get the hell out of DC. I returned home from work yesterday to discover that the power on my block was out AGAIN (second time this month. WTF?). I went for a run and figured that by the time I got back PEPCO would have it all sorted out. Yeah, right. It didn’t come back on until 3am, so I packed and showered by flashlight. I think I really need to invest in some camping lanterns and headlamps for when this happens next time (and trust me, it will). I did miss the A/C as well, not because it was very hot inside, but rather the noise tends to filter out the wannabe gangstas yelling and fighting directly outside our house at 2am. Ohhh, I can’t wait to leave this city forever.

Gonna find the breakfast burrito place now. Texans make ’em quite well.

August 26, 2007

Starbucks to open in Moscow

I guess it was inevitable:

Starbucks, the world’s largest coffee-shop chain, will open its first cafe in Russia next month after a decade of delays that included losing its trademark rights in the country.

The first store will open in September in the Mega Mall north of Moscow, a Starbucks spokeswoman, Kate Bovey, said last week.

Starbucks joins the retailers Wal-Mart Stores and Carrefour in seeking to enter Russia, where consumer spending rose 24 percent last year, the most in Europe. Russians are expected to spend $12.5 billion eating out in 2009, after annual increases of more than 7 percent, according to Rosinter Restaurants Holding, which operates the T.G.I. Friday’s and Benihana restaurants.

“Russia is hugely important as a region, it’s a primary market for us,” Carol Pucik, a spokeswoman for Starbucks, said from Amsterdam on Friday. “It gives a lot of opportunities.”

IKEA, Starbucks, McDonalds, TGI Friday’s, and Wal-Mart? Wow, I can’t wait to get back to Moscow.

August 24, 2007

Cold showers build character

The NYTimes reports on a topic familiar to anyone who has spent time in Russia during the summer months: a lack of hot water.

For all its new wealth and aspirations, spurred by a boom in oil and other natural resources, Moscow remains saddled with an often decrepit infrastructure. Around now, an apt symbol of its condition is the city’s hot water system, perhaps one of the more exasperating vestiges of Soviet centralized planning.

Buildings in Moscow usually receive hot water from a series of plants throughout the city, not from basement boilers, as in the United States. By summer, the plants and the network of pipelines that transport hot water need maintenance. Off goes the hot water. And in homes across the city, out come the pots and sponges and grumbling.

When my classmates and I first arrived in St. Petersburg in the summer of 2002, our program adviser gathered us in our dorm’s common room to go over some basic information – nearest metro station, class schedule, safety, whatever. At one point he added, “Oh, and they just turned off the hot water…yesterday. So that’ll be about two weeks without it.” We were perplexed by this. A centralized hot water system? The buildings don’t have individual water heaters? WTF? Still, the announcement didn’t really phase me. I mean, how cold could the water possibly be?

I regretted that thought the second I jumped in the shower and directly into a stream of teeth-chattering, goosebump-inducing, oh-my-god-did-I-just-jump-into-the Bering Sea COLD water. And so it went for two and a half weeks (until the pipes were cleaned and the faucets once again magically dispensed hot water). Some students preferred to boil water and use wash basins, but I was much too lazy to wait for water to boil and instead became quite adept at two minute ice-cold showers. One of my friends who was staying with a Russian family attempted to do this as well, until her homestay “mother” rushed after her, basin in hand, screaming that she would die of pneumonia if she took a cold shower. Thankfully, our class experienced no cold water-related casualties. The food, however, was an entirely different story.

August 21, 2007

Poland Photos: Krakow / Auschwitz-Birkenau / Wieliczka Salt Mine

Finished uploading the photos from Poland:

A few Poland-related posts on the way.

August 20, 2007

Kiev Pechersk Lavra (Kiev Monastery of the Caves)

Kiev Pechersk Lavra

Kiev Pechersk Lavra

I’m accumulating a rather impressive collection of head scarves due to my travels throughout the former Soviet Union. It’s not that I actually collect head scarves, or even wear them, but I always forget to pack one and am thus forced to purchase yet another before heading into an Orthodox cathedral/church/monastery/whatever. While visiting the Monastery of the Caves in Kiev, I opted for a cheap, boring yellow scarf. (Nothing will ever top the head scarf I purchased for our trip to a monastery in Novgorod a few years back…it was bright pink and covered with several large flamingos. I think the monks were duly impressed…or appalled.)

The Kiev Monastery of the Caves is one of the most famous sights in Kiev, primarily due to its complex system of underground tunnels. Upon entering the tunnels, you are surrounded by worshipers prostrating themselves before icons, lighting candles, and kissing glass coffins that contain the remains of monks. I was convinced that, while navigating through the narrow passageways, I would bump into a member of the candle carrying faithful and my cheap, yellow headscarf would soon be in flames. I do not recall seeing any fire extinguishers down there. If you’re claustrophobic, you might want to avoid the caves.

Kiev Pechersk Lavra

Kiev Pechersk Lavra

Kiev Pechersk Lavra
Seriously, how unbelievably cute is that little onion dome?

August 19, 2007

Make sure to secure the door when I am gone. There are many dangerous people who wanna take things from Americans, and also kidnap them. Good night!

our apartment in Kiev

I love Eastern European apartments. Where else would you find such an awesome bedspread? (Except, of course, perhaps in a certain genre of movies produced in the San Fernando Valley during the 1970s?)

our apartment in Kiev
Yes, I slept here.

If you are looking for a place to stay in Kiev, I’d recommend checking out The apartments are decently priced, especially when compared to a hotel, and it’s much more comfortable than a hostel. We really couldn’t have asked for a better location – our place was about a 2-3 minute walk to Independence Square.

our apartment in Kiev
The building’s exterior could use a bit of work…

our apartment in Kiev
Ryan loved his inflatable bed

I stole the title of this post from the movie Everything is Illuminated. If you haven’t seen this film, and you’ve spent some time in Eastern Europe, you need to put it on your Netflix queue ASAP.

August 1, 2007

Kiev: You’ve seen one Rodina Mat, you’ve seen ’em all

Rodina Mat statue in Kiev

One thing the Soviet Union excelled at (besides sending dogs into space, building intercontinental ballistic missiles, and producing awesome holiday cards) was designing some rather impressive war memorials. Due to my interest in the Eastern front of World War II (or, as they say in the former USSR, The Great Patriotic War – Великая Отечественная война), I always feel obliged to visit these memorials, even if it means dragging myself and my friends up whatever hill the memorial is situated on. The Kiev memorial, Rodina Mat, more or less follows the standard Moscow decreed blueprint for war memorials (highest point of elevation, stern-looking woman holding sword, various military vehicles scattered about the grounds). At a height of over 200 feet, however, Kiev’s Rodina Mat does not disappoint.

Rodina Mat statue in Kiev
Rodina Mat statue in Kiev
If only I had a plastic sword, I could look even more foolish

Rodina Mat statue in Kiev
Close-up of the shield (thank you, 12x zoom)

tanks near Rodina Mat statue in Kiev
I’m positive this wasn’t the original paint job…

Rodina Mat statue in Kiev
Sculptures throughout the grounds

Rodina Mat statue in Kiev
Rodina Mat statue in Kiev
Rodina Mat statue in Kiev
Ryan and I

There is also a small outdoor exhibit containing a variety of Soviet aircraft, tanks, and artillery pieces. And you already know how much I love Soviet military pieces

Soviet plane in Kiev
Could use a new paint job
Katyusha in Kiev

missile in Kiev
tanks in Kiev
MiG in Kiev
tank in Kiev
This ain’t a scene, it’s a goddamn arms race