Where in the world....

We have traveled for business and pleasure, with friends and by ourselves, to sing with a choir and to listen to various languages abroad. The world seems smaller now than when we first began to travel over 40 years ago. We share these adventures with grateful hearts and encourage everyone to step outside their neighborhoods to have a look around the corner, because the sidewalk never ends.

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Location: missouri, United States

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Mini-Me New York City Travel Guide - Day One, going to Brooklyn

Those who love New York City enjoy visiting at any time of year. December brings added fun as the Big Apple rolls into the holiday spirit. We visited NYC in December of 2015 and made a return trip this year early in December to experience the magic and madness of the holiday season once again.

Each time I visit New York I have to force myself not to redo all my favorites. Never enough time for repeat adventures. This year our plan included the streets of Brooklyn, the tastes of the Italian neighborhood in Carol Gardens, a walk through Chelsea, pizza, a tour of the New York Public Library, a Broadway show, pizza, homage to the outstanding Frick art collection, the department store holiday window displays, pizza, music at the legendary Iridium club, and all the ambiance around us along the way. The days would be filled with miles of walking, which is good because pizza must not be permanently absorbed on the hips or belly. Armed with a FitBit, our daily walk tallies exceeded 10,000 steps a day by the thousands. In every respect, a successful trip to New York City.

Our hotel accommodations at the Marriott Marquis meant that holiday merriment met us the moment we stepped outside the doors onto the sidewalks of Times Square. This location provides a central point to begin and end each day. The Marquis brimmed over with hotel guests this year. Fortunately our agenda kept us away from the elevators and gratis breakfast buffet during the peak hours. Our plan did not make room for lolly-gagging at the hotel. We had pizza to eat and miles to walk before each sleep.

Up and down the streets of New York and around the corner of every avenue we found ourselves fully immersed in holiday cheer. The city opens up to throngs of visitors from around the world every day, and during December the number of people standing at any given spot on Times Square seems multiplied by 10. The taxi horns honk, the car engines hum, holiday music pours out of open store fronts, saxophones weep "White Christmas" dreams, and the excited voices of window shoppers fill the brisk dry air. Nothing is silent about the Christmas season on the streets of New York.

Following the advise of friends, native to the area, we headed for Brooklyn where we could gaze across the East River with quiet wonder at the majesty of the glass and steel skyline towering above the tumult in the streets. Tourists can hop on any number of trains from Times Square for a short trip across the East River. We chose the Times Square subway station* as a point of departure and rode 2 down to Court Street in Brooklyn. From there, we enjoyed a short walk from the subway station to the Brooklyn Heights Promenade.

Coming up out of the subway station in Brooklyn Heights, we immediately noticed a huge difference from the streets around Times Square. Peacefully, the brown stone buildings surrounded us,  whispering their welcome. We did not walk far before glimpsing the pillars of the mighty Manhattan Bridge in the distance. Rounding a few more corners we had our first view of the beautiful Brooklyn Bridge stretching over the river to the Manhattan shore. I resisted the urge to back track to the bridge entrance and walk across to the middle. As this trek was not part of the day's plan, I forged ahead lured on by the promise of pizza and cannoli on Court Street.

*The Times Square station may be intimidating if you have never ridden the NY subway. Just figuring out how to buy your ticket will test your nerve. The system tries to make it simple for you with touch screen vending machines. Just read the screen carefully, make a selection, and push in your credit card or deposit the cash. We purchased one ticket a piece for the ride to Brooklyn. Unless you will be riding more than 6 times on the subway, single tickets will probably be most cost effective. If you plan to ride every where you go for days, definitely buy the metro card first thing and add multiple ticket fares to save time. I always read up on the how to navigate the subway to refresh my own experience before heading to NYC. One guide I find helpful is found here: http://www.nycbynatives.com/visitors_center/nyc_subway_instructions.php

Monday, May 23, 2016

Shoes for Paris and European Tours

I'lll skip to the bottom line right off: pay for good shoes. Makes sense, after all, because airfare, hotels, ground transportation, and meals will be a chunk of change and none of it will be enjoyable if your feet are not happy. So choosing comfortable, sturdy shoes is paramount for any traveler.

The Worldwide-web is filled with answers to the question: What kind of shoes should a woman wear in Paris? The ladies want to "fit in" and not look like tourists, so they worry about the U.S. American-look of shoes. Yeah, yeah, everyone says Parisian women never wear athletic shoes unless they are actually participating in a sport. Truth to that, no doubt. Remember, though, that Parisian women have seen the Eiffel Tower and the L'Ouvre and the Champs Elysees; they see them everyday. They don't walk from one end of Paris to the other crisscrossing pedestrian cobblestone streets for 8 hours at a go, 4 days in a row. The well-dressed Parisian woman wears everyday shoes to walk to and from her flat to the office, or to lunch, or to the park and have a sit down before walking back home.

The traveler will be out and about all day, walking, standing, balancing for photos on the top of the steps, and more walking. If the trip is worth what it costs to get there and pay entrance fees for all the museums, order off the menus, or even grab a baguette from a shop, the feet must be happy first. Forget about what Parisian women wear on their feet, unless it's for one evening at a posh event.

On my recent trip to Paris, I took time to notice what kinds of shoes pounded the pavements all day. And to settle the question of what to wear, I took photos of the shoes I actually saw while I was there.

The most frequently worn shoes are the little ballet pumps by far. Like the black and red ones in these photos. Flip flops are for younger feet and the white sport walkers are on the feet of older persons who may need super support, and they don't want to fall down.

Another shoe I saw all over Paris is the light-weight sneaker, on both men and women. Bright colors, patterns, solids, you name it you will see it. The shoe shops have identical shoes found in U.S. stores.  The top brands are the same all over the globe these days. Even the prices seemed the same, give or take a Euro. I thought of buying mine in Paris, rather than taking up room in my suitcase on the way over, and I'd have a wearable, practical, useful souvenir. In the end, I wore one pair of shoes the whole trip.
That's my shoe, the one at about 6'oclock in the photo. Obviously, the Mary Jane is the hot choice for U.S. travelers in Europe. This style comes in a wide variety of colors and shapes. Black goes with everything. Mine are Bzees. Absolutely the best shoe I've ever worn for travel. The Mary Jane style, to be honest, will probably give you away as a tourist these days.

What shoes do people in Europe/Eastern Europe wear? All kinds of shoes. Will they be able to tell I'm not European by my shoes? If you care about such things, the truth is they will be able to tell as soon as you speak, and even if you pass them on the street without uttering a word, Europeans will know. Even young children will know. It's uncanny, but they know. Unless you wear skin-tight  clothing, you will never pass for a native European, no matter what your shoes look like.

As in most major cosmopolitan U.S. cities, women wear heals to work and out to dinner in Europe. Smart women bring a pair of comfy shoes along for walking at lunch or after work. Somehow, those who wear the spike heals manage to walk across cobblestones and climb the stairs. This takes practice, so if you don't wear them regularly forget about bringing them on vacation.

Shoes must be comfortable to fully enjoy what these cities have to offer. You'll see more on foot than you will from a taxi or bus. Walk when it is reasonably possible to do so. Bring extra shoe inserts rather than an extra pair of shoes. Even when taking a taxi or the metro, you will need to walk and many times to climb steps. A lot of steps! Treat your feet to cushy, supportive stylish sneakers or Mary Janes. Leave the running shoes at home (unless you'll be out jogging) and go for a pair of light weight sneakers instead of the "orthopedic" looking black or white walking shoes (unless you have foot ailments).

I took these photos in Paris, Budapest, Vienna, and Prague and in between these cities. They show real people, real shoes, on real feet. Forget about fitting in and more about finding new experiences.

The final photo shows the ankle boots worn by our faithful tour guide, an Austrian woman living in Italy. No doubt these are well-made Italian leather boots. She wears them every day and walks more than anyone else on tour. Her walking pace never slows. I'm quite sure her shoes are comfortable.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Hawaii in the Winter

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

All Good in San Francisco

A westward journey with friends to visit the author of Late to the Haight, found us in the City By the Bay. We tucked ourselves into a well located boutique hotel right up the street from a comfy coffee/wine bar where we ate breakfast every day.
Our local guide, author, and well traveled friend led us around this great city and beyond into the Redwood forests across the Golden Gate Bridge.
When we returned to our neighborhood boutique we enjoyed the view from our friend's condo just up the hill. She enjoyes this view every day. On particularly picturesque days, she posts photos of the view out her window. Here's one from the nearby overlook.
Every minute in San Francisco held our attention with beautiful vistas, stunning art, fabulous food.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Stow Away Wife

The journey began with an invitation, when Bill received a request to speak about American coal at a conference in Jakarta (Indonesia). While not the coal center of the world, enough mining takes place in the region to warrant a conference and a business development trip. And look! It's ever so close to Bali, the island of alluring beauty and exotic culture.

I don't stow away on many of Bill's trips, what with the vacation limits imposed by employment and continual pressing family matters at home. When an opportunity to travel half-way around the world pops up, to a paradise island, though, I don't hesitate to start packing. The travel plan took shape over a three month span of time. Internet hotel bookings and airplane tickets had to be secured, along with the company's security permission to travel to Jakarta.

For me the invitation became a challenge to put down all the business and worry that I fret over constantly--and needlessly if I'm honest. Whether at home, at work, or away, I find it challenging to experience each day as it comes. This invitation, while requiring a bit of planning, also came with the challenge to have the courage to "jump" beyond the boundaries of my comfort zone.

We flew to LAX and from there to Hong Kong where we faced the challenge of finding the gate for our our connecting flight. The arrival and departure board is only in English for several seconds before flipping to Chinese again. This is where a pro-business traveler comes in handy. Not to mention that Bill has an uncanny sense of direction, is never lost, and nearly unflappable when it comes to gate changes or delays.

One more flight leg to Denpassar airport on the island of Bali from Hong Kong and the long trip half-way aroudn the world is complete. The airport in Denpassar immediately offers the sense of landing inside of a pinball machine.The feeling expanded as the skirted guide from the hotel stacked our luggage on the cart and motioned for us to follow him as he wove through the colorful noisy crowd coming and going and passing left and right in the open air terminal to the parking lot. The hotel car had arrived and waited curbside for us. Luggage stowed in the trunk, our driver sped off into the pinball traffic of Denpassar's busy streets.

Arriving at the hotel, we are welcomed by the warm tones of the Balinese GONG.
The hotel's poolside dinner and entertainment happened to be the night we arrived. We strolled the grounds, unpacked a little, and headed to dinner. The food and dancing introduced us to another world, one very unlike the one we left behind. Drugged by jet lag, our heads bobbled left and right, eyes fluttered open and closed, and sleep overcame us before the show had finished.
We awoke refreshed the next days in our soft island beds. The sea greeted us and we rushed outdoors for a walk. Scenes like this one, of colorful boats, Hindu statues and the promise of a nap in the sun, wakened our senses and drew us further along the shoreline.

The complimentary breakfast was served in this garden of Eden with reflection pools.
After a glorious restful stay at the Hyatt, we headed inland to Ubud, the art center of Bali. This amazing hotel, pictured below, could not have been more fantasy-like (well, maybe fewer stairs to get to our room).
We toured the "cat poo" coffee plantation and learned to roast the beans.
A refreshing fruit beverage chilled us down later at the foot of the volcano.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Another Day in R U S S I A

I am kind of miserable - but it's certainly not Kemerovo or even WV.
I caught site of my back in the mirror this morning and there must be 10 huge welts on it, and needless to say they itch!
I'm getting pretty used to bologna and sausage with cheese for breakfast - the good old European standard!

Since you asked, the Russian's don't speak much French, but I have heard a lot of French tourists. One couple sat by me this morning - tres bien was the only thing I understood.

Yesterday was fairly typical at work. We spent all morning talking about a potential surface plan, but the poor female engineer that V. brought in to talk to us never said a word and he hung around all day and explained things.

Then it took 2.5 hours and two tries before we were done with lunch! After waiting a half hour to order at this nice outside cafe near the office a waiter finally said that the stove was not yet hot and it would be at least 45 minutes - and it was already after 1 PM. So we took N. to the place near the Swedish consulate we had a drink at the other night and I had a ceasar salad. When we got back to the office we worked a while and then came back to the hotel to use the internet. I had to get banking information for the contract - they can't sign it without it for some reason. And I don't think they ever looked at the fax I sent them of the contract!

But the big surprises came in the evening. First - the boat is not on the calm water of the canals but on the BIG river that had so many waves I was afraid I'd get sick just looking at it rocking at the dock. Second - the jazz boat was sold out so it's a blues cruise (actually pretty good - lot's of Clapton, from Layla to his Blues stuff). BUT, the biggest surprise - V and N did not go with us, instead V "hand picked" two young ladies who work at "G" to accompany us! As it turns out they were 24 and 27 year old environmental engineers. Before we got on the boat, I tried to convince them to just leave and we wouldn't tell V., but they said they were looking forward to going. Well, K kind of said that - she spoke fair English actually, but N2. didn't say 10 words in English all night. I told S. I felt like an uncle at a wedding or something. They were actually quite nice - I told them that if V. MADE them go with us that we'd just skip the boat and buy them dinner, especially when they said that they were glad it wasn't jazz, since that's the music their parents like. Of course it is, I said, that's because WE ARE YOUR PARENTS AGE - in fact I have a daughter older than them! As it turns out, K. is married and her father taught her English at home - she has a perfect American accent. I don't know what N2.'s accent was like.
The boat held about 150 people and it finally got rocking after the band came back from their break and played "Back in the USSR." There were six other people sharing our table, three ladies about our age, one man and a daughter. One of the ladies drug me up on the dance floor - well actually just between the tables in the aisle in front of the band. Then N2 was dancing in her chair, so I had to ask her to dance. Man, the price I pay for business!

Afterwards we had sushi - well, THEY all had sushi, I had some chicken terriyaki. But we didn't get done eating until nearly 1 AM and the Japanese food just sat in my stomach all night and kept me awake!

So I'm sure there's lot's more to tell you about the boat and these two nice girls but I'll save that for later!

Day 3 – Peterhof, Russia

Another day spent listening to Y. (I think I called him V., yesterday – that’s another guy) go on and on and on and on about their great underground planning! Actually I learned a lot about the way they do things the way they do.

The first hour of the day I think I heard S’s story of the pickpocketing ten different times as we had to tell everyone the story; first N., then she translates for S., then Y., then A., then V.. It was kind of interesting hearing S’s version in detail, which differs slightly from mine. He’s a bit more of hero and I’m more of a bystander, which of course I was, but his perspective is somewhat different. Eventually S asks them to keep his airline tickets, passports and wallet in the office since there’s no safe in the room, but I’m brave with my zippered pocket travel pants and hang onto mine. S says this is a bit like “closing the barn door after the horse has fled” and we proceed to hear every equivalent Russian idiom about crows, and cows and God knows what else!

Then they bring out our “Official Program” – all typed up and signed and stamped (typical Russian bureaucracy), with what we’re dong every day and evening all laid out. So while it covers what we’ll talk about each day, we spend most of the time discussing the evening programs. Tonight it’s a trip to Peterhof, the personal residence of Peter the Great – kind of like his Versailles, I presume – and Wednesday night it’s the barge trip, but now there’s informal dinner on Thursday evening instead of the Hermitage, and I think there going to take me to the Hermitage on Friday evening after S leaves – or maybe Saturday I don’t understand, or really care at this point in time. But a long discussion ensues and N says how someone she was translating for recently went to Peterhof only to discover that they turn the fountains off at 5 PM. Well, V says that these fountains are the eight wonder of the world, and we can’t miss them so we should leave earlier this afternoon and we can always work later on Wednesday since the barge doesn’t leave until 8 PM. We reluctantly agree, but we kind of get the suspicion that they’re really trying NOT to tell us EVERYTHING. Oh, and Friday day will be spent drafting our “document” and they want me to come up with a title – like I know what in the world they’re looking for! Maybe I can just provide them with this journal and they’ll translate it and call it the “official response of the Americans/Brits to our proposed working scheme” and sign it and stamp it and make it all official. Who knows?

So we do talk about their work plan for an hour or so. When lunch time came, we tried to get Y to go with us, but he is constantly unsure of how to act around Westerners. At the end of yesterday’s meeting, he said his brain was like a lemon and we had squeezed it dry! But it wasn’t as bad as he feared – I think he must have thought that we’d come in and rip him up, but for the most part we just tried to make him explain his logic and reasoning. So today, he’s not quite our buddy, but he’s a little more relaxed – not as much fumbling for numbers (yesterday morning when he tried to make copies of three pages of tables for both S and I, he tried to get the different pages into three stacks, including the originals, and he must have arranged the pages in every combination possible before finally saying that there had been a mistake in the copying and he’d correct it while we were at lunch – poor guy).

So he’s VERY reluctant to join us for lunch, but Nfinally insists. We decide to try another place and there’s a too nice looking restaurant just next door we go in to. We sit and Ntakes a cell phone call, so we order our drinks alone (I order Coke light – “no Coke, Pesi” dialogue ensues and it’s like I’m stuck in a bad SNL skit with a fake Russian accent). I don’t understand the prices in the menus, but they don’t seem too unreasonable. When N gets back, she says that the prices are in “standard units” and that the multiplier today is 6, so all the prices have to be multiplied by this number! I say “I sure hope they take credit cards” since yesterday at lunch she acted so surprised that they did at the other place. She says that she’s sure they do, for these prices, but she’ll check and sure enough they only take cash – rubles, dollars or Euros. Well between S and I, I’m pretty sure we can’t come close to covering it, so we decide to leave (as does another group that’s at the door when we leave – and there’s nobody else in this huge restaurant – a good way to keep from having to work but a stupid way to run a business.

We then go to a little cafeteria kind of place, where the menu’s on the wall (in Russian -- very short translations in English under them) and we have to order at a counter and then take a tray of some of our stuff back to the table with a little plastic number and they’ll bring out the entries – not too unfamiliar. But it’s crowded and confusing and we’re taking forever and the line’s getting long and restless behind us, so I ask N what French beef is, and all I understand from her response is eggplant. Hmmm, she doesn’t understand my confusion so I just order it, with some rice – no soup or salad like everyone else. As it turns out, it’s like a slightly breaded beef cutlet but the top breading consists of maybe cheese, peppers and eggplant? I don’t know but it wasn’t too bad.

V joins us at lunch – he likes to eat at the cafeteria since he can get in and out and back to work in 20 minutes – and I forgot that’s he’s a big smoker. Actually ALL the Russians seem to be, but he’s the only one that lights up after lunch. I’ll have to remember that when he comes to St. Louis!

We talk work for another hour or so after lunch, and kind of wrap up the planning with Y, who seems relieved to be done! Then it’s off to Peterhof! It’s a good hour drive in terrible St. Petersburg traffic before we finally get somewhat out of town. It was kind of nice – big gilded gold cupolas on the roof on either end, a two or three story long French looking building that lays behind the formal upper gardens. S drops us off and we agree he’ll pick us up at the Hermitage and we’ll take a “fast boat” (hydrofoil it turns out) back to town, so we leave our stuff in his car. We pay 300 rubles each for Sand I but Russian citizens get in for 100 and enter behind the palace. We walk down and N tells us that the Lower Gardens are where the fountains are, and we eventually look down at them along a clearing in the trees, there’s a cascading waterfall, and big fountains, all gold statures spitting water and such, and a long reflecting pool that stretches about a quarter mile out to the sea. Quite nice actually, but a bit gaudy! N asks if we want to go into the palace, but I prefer the gardens, and S aggress when he sees the long quay to get into the palace! We’re going to get on the boat (the last one is at 6) at the end of the reflecting pool, and it’s now 4 so I suggest we take a look at the Upper Gardens first, then wind our way through the lower one and wind up at the boat dock. We eventually make our way to the other end of the palace, where we can go to the upper gardens, and N has a long conversation with the tough looking Russian lady who takes the tickets. N turns to tell us in English that while the Upper Gardens are free, we cannot leave the Lower Gardens and return without paying the admission again! We’re both aghast at how stupid THIS is, when suddenly the Russian woman tells N, never mind, she’ll let us back in. I figured we’d have to bribe her, and I still don’t trust her, but the only place there are concessions with water are outside these gates and I’m so thirsty I could die – I’m more interested in getting water than I am in seeing the Upper Gardens since it’s quite warm, especially in the sun.

We leave, get our overpriced water (N, who also said she was dying for water, just about doesn’t let me buy her a water since it’s so outrageously priced (about double what I paid in the store the other day) but when I insist on buying it anyway, she then asks if she can have an ice cream!

We walk around the Upper Gardens – they’re okay but way too formal and not really that exciting. I do take a few pics, but that’s about it. Pruned trees and hedges all in rows, some formal flower gardens, pools and fountains/statures, arbors with shade, and all lined up from the formal front gates to the palace.

We then make our way back through the nice Russian lady’s gate into the Lower Gardens again, and we didn’t have to bribe her!

We go down and see more fountains, and formal buildings and stuff. It’s all wooded, and as you go farther from the main cascades in the center of the palace to each end and the sea, they get a bit less formal and it’s more like an arboretum, with fountains and pools placed about. There’s some kid’s playing in a mushroom shaped fountain that rains down on them. Another looks like a fir tree with water spurting out, and around it are all these cobblestone size rocks. N says that when you step on certain rocks, it causes jets of water to squirt up and get everyone wet, and we watch kids (and adults) get soaked playing this game. I’m convince that there’s actually no rocks that turn on the fountains that it’s more random, but who knows.

There’s like small greenhouses filled with singing birds, but you have to pay extra to get in them and we pass on that. We make our way to the seawall, and all the kids are wading out in the water, splashing and swimming. You can just barely see the buildings of St. Petersburg across the gulf. It’s quite pleasant in the shade. We’re next to some other building – must be like a restaurant or something. We wonder around again to see the other side, but by the time we get back to the main cascade and the reflecting pool, it’s right at 5 and they turn off the fountains just as we get there. Still pretty though. So we sit and talk for a while and then make our way to the boar dock. It’s quite confusing, with about 6 or 8 different booths where you can buy tickets, and huge lines of folks all waiting to board, and even though it’s not even 5:30 yet we get in one of the long lines in the hot sun. N insists we’re in the wrong line, but she told us dock no. 3 right after she bought the tickets, but then she tries to get us to stand in line for dock no. 4. I try to tell her she’s wrong, but of course I don’t know if she is or not, I only know what she told us since I can’t find any number on the ticket. She’s sure we’re in the wrong line so she has to go and check at the booth again and sure enough we’re supposed to be at Dock No. 3.

We can see the hydrofoils pulling up about every 15 minutes and even though they hold about 100 or so, the line hardly moves. Finally, around 6:30 it’s our turn to board and we do. Stuart promptly starts snoring so load he nearly drowns out the engine. There’s a big ruckus behind me, when some English speaking lady sits in a seat where the Russian lady next to me’s 4-year old was sitting, but he’s running around the boat before we take off. The Russian’s are yelling at the English lady, I suppose telling her to move and she’s saying that she’s sick and she is not about to give up her seat to this young kid. The lady next to me, who’s probably the grandmother although she’s my age, is trying to get her daughter who’s sitting next to the English lady to push her out, and they get the boat folks involved, who really don’t want to mess with it and who don’t speak English anyway to try and reason with the English lady, but eventually it all calms down and the young boy just stands in front of his mom, directly behind me, and we finally take off.

I’m kind of in the middle of a row of four seats on one side of the aisle and another four on the other, in the center of the ship so I don’t get a great view. But about all we pass are a half dozen dredges, one tanker and one big cruise ship.

It takes about 30 minutes to get to St. Petersburg, and we kind of pull in the industrial river (Malaya Neve or Little Neva) and not the one that runs by St. Isaac’s and the great statue of St. Peter (Bolshaya Neva or Big Neva) so other than dry docks and some navy supply boats it wasn’t too interesting until we actually get to the Hermitage where the two rivers come together (the Neva splits right here at the Hermitage and the little and big ones are just two arms that flow to the sea) and you can see the Fortress of Peter and Paul across the river and these big columns that are famous and the green Hermitage building itself.

We meet S with the car, go back to the hotel and then out to dinner. We can’t find any restaurant that suits us for some reason – all the ones on Nevetsky Prospect seem a bit “not right” to one of us for some reason or another. Eventually we follow a sign for Quinsanna Restaurant off the main street into a courtyard, but instead of being a nice courtyard like the one we found yesterday near the Swedish consulate, this one has smelly dumpsters and an empty restaurant. We start to leave and S says he has to find a bathroom, so let’s pop into this little pub place, kind of down in a basement off the courtyard. It looks like the kind of place I would never go in, but S seems desperate, so down the four or five steps we go and walk into a smoky bar with a music video playing on a flat screen tv. There’s a couple sitting kind of on a cushion – booth, smoking out of a huge water pipe, another booth with three 18 to 20 year old boys smoking their water pipe and drinking beers, two 16 to 18-year old girls drinking beers and an open booth – that’s it! So we go up to the “bar” – not big enough for two of us to stand next two and order two draft beers. The young Armenian girls giggles and tells us to sit in fair English. I’m sitting there while Stuart goes to the bathroom, and the waitress brings out a new water pipe for the two young girls. It’s two to three feet tall, but only one hose. The waitress starts the fire and gets it going, and she’s blowing smoke in the patron’s faces – and they’re all giggling and laughing! There’s like three large sugar cube sized, glowing embers that they move around up in the bowl and they proceed to get high. Or at least that’s what it appears to happen. Meanwhile the waitress is now completely blitzed! She’s dancing and carrying on with this other waitress – she’s like dancing with this coat pole and what not. It’s quite a scene! S finally comes out and we watch everyone else get stoned as we drink our beers. I guess it’s some kind of hash hish or something – I don’t know. It doesn’t smell like pot, but it sure doesn’t smell like tobacco either. There’s a menu on the table but it’s all in Russian, that lists different kinds of “tobako” – S took it with him to translate later, or maybe can ask N tomorrow. Veerrrrrryyyy interesting!!!!!!!!!!

We finally leave and find a place to eat outside and watch the people walk down Nevsky Prospect. It’s painfully slow – I think the rude waiter we first had quit and the boss had to come out and finish waiting on us. Most other people sat down and leave before they’re ever even waited on.

But we finally eat – I don’t even remember what I had – the smoke from the bar must have affected my memory! And then it’s back home and off to sleep to end Day 3 in St. Petersburg! At least I finally learned that there’s a plug in mosquito killing gizmo in the room which helps this night keep the bugs down, but not entirely.

DAY 1 Trip to Russia
*blog post 8 day delay; before the liquid bomb plot

I arrived at the airport 2 hours before my 3:53 departure, almost to the minute. I checked in, and had the SAME ticket attendant that checked us in on our trip to Vancouver last year; I don’t know if you remember him, but he got us much better seats, and together, than the C’s had, and I thought he was very helpful and I told him so. He was very appreciative of the compliment, but it didn’t get me any special favors this time around, not that I was looking for any, at least not yet!

Since I had plenty of time to kill, I got money from the ATM and then headed to the chapel to pray. When I finished, I walked out of the chapel and who did I see coming down from an arriving flight and heading to baggage claim – none other than Archbishop Burke! He was in his “blacks” and all by his lonesome. It looked like some young man had just talked to him and was walking away, so I considered not imposing, but he looked so friendly and nice I just had to introduce myself. I asked if he was coming back from Rome – figuring that he had to go over there for his new court appointment, but he chuckled and said that he was returning from LaCross, “his former diocese” – like I didn’t know that! I wanted to ask if he had been on vacation, since he looked so good, but concluded that even when he’s on vacation he’s probably still “working” to one degree or another, so I just let him head down to get his bags. He made a nice point to bless me on my travels, which I appreciated.

That was about the highlight of my wait before take off. I was sitting down at the gate and they eventually announced that the gate had changed, from 17 to 18 so we all moved down a gate and I sat near a lady that had checked in at the same time I did. She had four kids traveling with her – they were traveling international too, since we both had to wait in line at the ticket counter and couldn’t use the automated check-in since it can only be used on domestic flights. Anyway, the kids were probably between the ages of 6 and 12. They were all running around when they checked in, but now were all dutifully sitting in a row playing video games and she was comfortably reading a book. I thought that perhaps she had played her ace too early with the video games and before they got to wherever they were going they’d be running amok again, but at least for now they were sedated. One of the kids had a “Gateway Academy” tee shirt on but otherwise they could have been kids from anywhere.

Eventually, just minutes before the stupid flight was supposed to take off, the United attendant gets on the intercom and says “sorry, this flight has been delayed” and some folks were kind of irate since they still had posted “on time” on the board and obviously they KNEW it wasn’t anywhere near ready to land here so it HAD to be late, but they waited until the last minute to tell us. So he says anyone with a connecting flight in Chicago later than 7 PM should come to the podium – I have a 6:59 flight but given the fact that it’s international and I’ll have to go to another terminal I figure I count.

So I wait in line and eventually he tells me that even though they think the flight will be delayed from 3:53 to 5:15, he’s still going to rebook me onto an American flight that is scheduled to leave at 5:15, “just to be sure” although I’ll only have 15 minutes to make my connection in Chicago. So I have to go back out through security and rebook at the main American ticket counter. And they have to pull my luggage off the plane and send it to American. I go and do that and she tells me that the flight might be a few minutes late, so she’ll give me a seat up front to aid in the connection in Chicago. I don’t like the sound of this, and so I go back to the United counter and talk to my buddy – he’s not much help but he tells me that even if they’re saying the United Big Blue flight will leave at 5:15 he’d bet that it will be at least 5:30 and I’m probably better off on the American flight. So back through security, where I’m singled out for a more extensive review due to my late change in flights, and eventually I get to the gate only to discover that now they’re saying departure won’t be until 5:45 which means I’ll miss my flight to Germany! Now what do I do – go back out and try my luck with the United flight? Call my ticket agent (on a Sunday!) and try and get their help? Call off the whole thing and reschedule for a day later so at least I won’t be stuck in Chicago overnight?

I’m kind of beginning to panic, when all of a sudden I hear on the PA, “last boarding call for American flight XXX to Chicago at Gate 8, everyone must be on board.” I’m standing at Gate 9, so I race to Gate 8, ask if I can possibly get on board not expecting that I can, but she says that two people have not yet shown up even though the flight’s been delayed, and I can have a seat, but my luggage will still be on the later American flight. I’m thinking it’s a good thing I have a clean shirt and underwear in my briefcase with me cause my luggage will NEVER make it and get on the plane. Of course, there’s someone in my seat. After my heart sank thinking there really wasn’t room she tells me that she had moved up since she didn’t have much time to make a connection in Chicago – I’m thinking I don’t either and I don’t’ want to go to the last row of this plane, so she goes back to her seat. I feel bad after I realize that I actually probably have a fair amount of time now that I’m on this earlier flight, but it’s too late to change.

I get to Chicago, and have to walk part way to Skokie to get to the other terminal, but I arrive with about 30 minutes to spare. The lounge in Chicago was worthless – no food but chips and not much else nice, but at least I could relax and call you and disturb you at Mass! Eventually we board and I have a pretty uneventful flight to Germany – still lot’s of World Cup promos on the plane and in Frankfurt, even soccer balls painted on the nose of most of the Lufthansa planes.

Not much food at the lounge in Frankfurt either – tomato soup and cookies is about it. But they do have Beck’s beer in a machine right next to the soda so I feel obligated to help myself to one.

After a couple of hours, S. shows up and then I remember how much easier it is to communicate by e-mail with him since I can’t understand but about 50% of what he says thanks to his thick Lancashire accent! After a while we head downstairs to the gate, get through a LONG line and then they tell us that this flight is delayed since they have to change planes. So we wait about an hour, and then they tell us we’ll be taking a bus out to the plane, but they can’t seem to find enough busses and it takes about an hour to get us all out there. Then I’m sleeping off that nice Beck’s beer as I wait for the plane to take off, and I can just barely hear in my foggy brain that they’ve now been delayed so long that the crew can’t fly any longer and they have to get a new crew, blah blah blah…

To make a long story short, we eventually arrive in St. Petersburg about 3 hours late. Fortunately, the arrival wasn’t too much of a hassle, we get through the immigration and customs without incident (I always worry that they’ll ask me some question like why the Russian Olympic Committee is the invitee for my visa!) and my luggage actually shows up! We meet N. and go out to S. the driver - I had forgotten how much of a mad man driver he was but it take long to remember!

The hotel is pure Soviet-style - not like where we stayed last time in St. Petersburg that was about a Five Star hotel. This is much more like the dive where we stayed in Kemerovo. Very bland and plain and HUGE. No AC, so it’s hot and suffy, and no screens on the peeling painted windows so you have to decide if you want air and mosquitoes or stuffy and hot! They’re supposed to have internet in the room, but I sure can’t figure it out! And NOISE, since it opens onto a busy street with streetcars, honking cars, car alarms, and anything else you can imagine. It’s on like a big corner, with a huge monument in the center with a big Soviet star on top and thousands of people walking outside.

I checked out the hotel – pretty drab. They do have a business center where I can get on a computer, but I can’ find an ATM so it’s a good think I have a couple hundred rubles from my last trip.

I walked around outside and got a couple bottles of water (unfortunately mineralized, but I’m so thirsty I don’t care) and a beer (but I need a bottle opener I discover when I get back to the hotel) so not a very exciting evening here in St. Petersburg! There were hundreds of people walking outside and even though it’s after 9:30 it’s still quite light out since we’re so far north.

I got about five hours of sleep – not bad for the first night, and now it’s Monday AM. Hopefully I’ll be able to send this either from the Design institute or the business center here at the hotel.

I’ve only been here a little over six hours and the thrill is already gone! I can’t wait to leave and I’m thinking that maybe I shouldn’t have planned on staying through next Saturday just to look around, but maybe by the end of the week I’ll be glad to take the time to visit the Hermitage and whatever else I’ll see on Saturday.

*names of Russians and other have been shortened to initials, for privacy. The Russian names are very Russian, like Natasia, Boris, Vladamir (use your imagination).

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Home Sweet Home

No travel for Bill this summer, yet. Russia plans in the works. Stay tuned.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Last year in October, Bill was in Siberia. Here are his journal entries from that trip. Names are initialed or changed for privacy of those who may not want to find themselves on this blog.

Oct. 26

Well, made it to Siberia and if we didn't get lost today (which we didn't) I don't think I have anything to worry about. Monday afternoon, before our meeting, S. and I walked in the rain down to Red Square. It we pretty impressive - the Kremlin and everything. Saw Lenin's tomb, but as you told me, they must have moved him since there was no one waiting to get in and visit. We went in St. Basil's church. You should look it up on the internet and see a picture! must have 8 onion-topped spires, each one is different colored, and each one is actually a seperate church. Pretty weird inside, really.
Then we had our meeting - big waste of time. But we met Nika our translator all week. She reminds me of Bev S. in looks. Then we sat around the airport for 4 hours and flew all night to Kemerovo.
Got to the hotel at 6 AM and took a nap and shower. Had lunch with our client then a meeting. Didn't get very far on the project. Walked around last night in the cold rain looking for a restaurant, just S. and I. Drank three BIG beers and a vodka shot, had a weird conversation with a drunk, and called it a night. Today we flew in an old Russian Red Army helicopter about an hour+ south to the new mine site they want to put in. It was a huge helicopter - more like a King Air airplane inside than any helo I've ever been in. Lots of mines, lots of forest (they call it "Tiger"). We landed on the muddy, wet ground and drove in an ex army truck down onto the property. Had a vodka toast and open faced ham or cheese sandwiches (had some type of sausage too, but it had cucs on it so I passed - although I did eat the tomotoe salad yesterday).
That's about it so far. I'm ready to come home, but alas, the work hasn't really started.
Now that I've found an internet, I'll see if I can write you messages on my computer and transfer them so I don't have to sit here and type.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Well the first week’s over, and the weekend is staring us in the face – the worst time of any trip away from home, and more importantly away from you. Although it’s already late Friday afternoon here, you’re (hopefully) sound asleep. I had hoped to be able to figure out how to phone you before the weekend started, but alas it proves impossible. Hopefully I’ll at least be able to call you from St. Petersburg on Wednesday, but that seems like a long way off.

Unfortunately the internet café here at the hotel isn’t open on the weekend, so I asked Nika to help me find another one. While we found one near the post office, it is also closed this weekend. Nika says she knows where another one is, but it will require taking a bus – an adventure that sounds appealing now but I’m not so sure how it will actually work out – looking for the stop at Octobersky Prospect, assuming that I can even get on the correct bus to begin with, although as they more or less continuously drove by the stop, it seemed like nearly every one was going the direction she said we needed to take. Well, that’s my big adventure for the weekend.

Other than tonight that is. Nika is getting tickets for S. and I to go with her to some concert in town. That will at least give us something to do.

I ate breakfast by myself the first two mornings. That was a trip, first just finding the restaurant here in the hotel, then getting a table, and ordering. Fortunately the waitress got me an English menu, and I was able to order a ham omelet, toast and juice, but it was not exactly easy. The omelet was actually pretty good, so the next morning I ordered fried eggs and ham – after I ordered it I realized it could be anything from runny to cooked solid – fried eggs was a pretty stupid thing to order. It wasn’t too bad, though, but a little runnier than I prefer. The ham, however, was much worse in a big steak than in the small pieces of the omelet – I think it was boiled or something. I wanted to puke after breakfast. And then at lunch yesterday, at the mine office, they had some kind of thing that at first I thought was a sausage, but looked more like an egg roll coated in some kind of stuff that kind of tasted like fish batter, complete with a fishy taste. I ate a few bites and never did figure out what it was – fish or meat or whatever. Then I got a bite with a little stringy white thing. I ate it and couldn’t tell what it was but hoped it was some kind of cheese. But when I took the next fork full, it was just too runny and white and disgusting for me to eat! Oh, and this was right after I’d had my first borscht. It wasn’t too bad, just cabbage soup – and real Russian borscht doesn’t have beets in it. I ate the broth and some of the cabbage and God knows what else, but left a fair amount of the floaters in the bottom of the bowl.

Last night for dinner we went to a pretty fancy place. Outside there was a big sign, something like “all honor to the coal miners” or some such thing, so I thought at first it was decorated like a mine, with hanging miner’s lamps and rounded ceilings, with lots of white drapery all about. But after I saw the waitresses garb, it became apparent they were trying for some kind of Arabian look, but failed. I did however get to watch most of Game 4 of the World Series, albeit with a significant delay and I had already found out that the White Sox had won the series so it was somewhat anticlimactic.

This restaurant was down by the River Tomb. You can walk the 6 or 8 blocks from our hotel to the river promenade down the middle of the park-like boulevard complete with numerous picnic benches and no end of monuments. The big one down by the river was one dedicated to the men lost in WW2, and there were also all kinds of small signs for soldiers that died in the 1970s, I would guess in Afghanistan. And another monument to what looked like a cosmonaut – I asked Nika and she said that the first man in space was from around here so I guess that’s who it was.

This morning while waiting in the lobby for everyone else, I saw this mother and little baby walking all around. They walked over by me, and the mother spoke in English to the child – something like “now where do you want to go?” So I asked how old he was and she almost fell over – YOU SPEAK ENGLISH?!?!?! He was 2 (although he looked and walked like Jon – which I said). The mother told me that he was quite small, that they had just adopted him – he had been taken from his mother who was an alcoholic and who kept abandoning him. They were from San Jose, CA and had been here for weeks getting details worked out but they had just gotten him yesterday, expected to get his passport photos today and then spend a week in Moscow until all the papers were completed. She said that I was the first English speaking person she’d met other than other folks staying here that were also adopting Russian babies. She said that they went down to Novoskosnyk, the town about 3 hours south of here near the mine we flew over, and there were 4 orphanages with over 150 kids that would just break your heart. She said they only let the kids outside for 10 minutes a day, and not in the winter. So I’ll have to keep my eyes open for other young parents and see if I see any more.

Okay, I’m off to try and send this to you now, before they close down for the weekend and just to make sure you get at least one e-mail from me after you get back from the weekend, regardless if I can figure out the bus schedule or not!

I visited this morning a Russian Orthodox service. Actually, I said my rosary there since it was more than impossible to follow the service. And I thought our Tridentine Masses were ritualistic - they don't hold a candle to the Orthodox. We left after an hour and a half, and as near as I could tell, they had just gotten to the offertory. My goodness, it took 10 minutes to incense the Book of the Gospel before they chanted it! But it was interesting, to say the least.

Friday night we went to the concert. As it turns out it was Siberian and Russian folk music and dancers. Afterwards they gave us a CD with the whole show on it, so you can check it out yourself later this week!

It's been right around freezing to date, both night and day, but I think today is the coldest yet - and we had to walk several blocks after church and it's as cold as I've ever been. S. has one of those Russian mink hats - he let me try it on and it was like sticking your head in a furnace! Sorry, but so far no sign of anything like the Afghan hat you want. We went to the market yesterday and I checked out lots of fur hats but nothing like you showed me.

We're at a new internet place today (Sunday AM) across town from our hotel. It's much nicer than the one in the hotel, or even the one at the Post Office we checked out the other day.

Salutations from Siberia!

Well, at least I was able to e-mail you yesterday, so now I’m going to try and write on my computer and transfer via memory stick. I never could figure out the USB port on the computer, but IF I understood the gal working there, and IF she understood what I was asking, then this should work. We’ll see.

Unfortunately, the internet café in the first floor of this hotel is only open from 10 AM (too late – we usually leave by 9) until 7 PM (so far we’ve been knocking off at 5 so that should work tonight, but that’s more than 12 hours from now – a whole new day will transpire before then).

I just got up – it’s 5 AM. That’s when CNN comes on a channel over here, and I can hear “American” English! I think it’s as difficult to speak with S., or at least understand him, then it is the Russians. His Yorkshire accent is pretty thick. I wind up asking him to either repeat nearly everything he says – sometimes it’s just a word, or some phrase I don’t know what he’s saying, and sometimes it’s the whole sentence. But at least I can usually understand Nika. She’s pretty good with her English. Actually, she’s quite good – captures inflections and emotions pretty well, but I still think sometimes she’s missing some things. I suppose idioms cause her no end of grief.

Apparently she used to teach English as a second language at the University level – one of the guys we’re working with here at Severstal, Igor (I-gore, not E-gore) had her as a teacher years ago. She found that rather amusing!

I already told you how Nika reminds me of Bev. She’s got short blond hair, and glasses and a face like Bev, although she’s quite thin. When I got up to get off the plane after our arrival in Kemerovo, I looked around for her among the passengers (we each sat several rows apart, which meant I couldn’t figure out what the stewardess was asking me – she finally just threw me a dinner at one point, after asking me the same question (in retrospect – “would you like some dinner?” about four times but I had just woken up and couldn’t figure out what she wanted). Anyway, I looked around, and saw Nika about three rows behind me. Then I saw someone else, on the opposite side of the plane, that I thought was her. And I kept looking back and forth between the two nondescript thin, short-haired blondes, each about 55 years old, each with tiny wire rimmed glasses, and finally I figured out it was the second woman – for sure. Only to turn around and see yet another person that looked like her! Obviously she looks a lot like all middle aged Russian women! By the way, the third one was her.

The main guy here at SV’s operations, which are called K............gal, is a guy named Sy. He’s about 55, not too tall or fat, but still a BIG man. In fact, nearly all these guys have huge hands and fingers, and they’re very stout. I guess wimps like me can’t live through the Siberian winters!

Anyway, Sy has a commanding presence. At our first meeting, there were about ten guys, and everyone else had dress shirts and ties on, some suits, but Sy had one of those nice long sleeve knit pullover shirt (he probably had a sport coat somewhere) with no tie. But there was no doubt he was in charge. He seemed to want to make a point during our first meeting- must have wanted to intimidate us in front of his staff, but he was much more joking and pleasant yesterday in the helicopter.

S, Nika and I, along with the two guys from the Mining Institute, were outfitted in blue winter gear. Getting dressed in the surveyor’s office was kind of a trip, because once Nika left, I had no idea what we were supposed to be doing. We took our coats off ( they always seem to get offended when we just put them on a chair or in a corner and make a big deal about hanging them in the armoirs (or whatever you call them) that seem to be in every office – I guess if you need a place to put all your coats, sweaters, boots, and other winter gear and don’t want it just sitting around. We kind of just let the St Pete guys take the lead, but otherwise they were no help. Was I supposed to put these ski bibs over my jeans? No you dummy, put the long underwear on first! Which, by the way, was absolutely the warmest long underwear I’ve ever worn – I wanted to ask them if I could keep it! The stuff was all brand new, too, we had to take them out of the packages. Including some kind of woolen foot booties (over socks, or instead of?) and huge black boots. Anyway, the bibs and the HUGE coal were all blue, with reflective stripes – we looked like five people all dressed alike and ready to head out onto an arctic expedition! But Igor just put his boots on, and a lighter jacket. Thought maybe they were just kind of setting us up as dweebs from outside Siberia!

So we make our way back down the five flights of stairs at the SV headquarters (huge massive, school-like building, long hallways with doors into each office, terrible fake wood linoleum on the “nice” floors and very well worn real wood on the others, along with vast marble stairwells (yesterday we took the back stairs – today the main ones). Never saw any plants anywhere inside, but lots of mini-shrines in the common areas on each floor, either honoring their war dead, or the awards the coal mines have gotten, or a bunch of statistics on the types of mining equipment on the surveyor’s floor.

Then take the same van we took from the hotel an hour earlier (weird seating arrangement in very “industrial” type seats facing both directions) back to the airport. We get there and meet another car with a guy in it. We have to sign a sheet and he takes all our names. I was surprised when these guy went with us – I asked Nika later who he was, and she said from “security.” Okay. Glad I didn’t make him mad!

So we stand outside behind our van on the side of the street, in the freezing rain that occasionally spitted some snow, thinking that you sure couldn’t say this was a good day to fly. Finally, Nika said that even though we were supposed to leave at 11 and it was now 11:20, we were waiting for Sergey. When he shows up, with his driver in his own car, the three vehicles go winding our way behind hangers and such and then drive out on the tarmac and there’s these two BIG army helicopters. I was expecting something like the 8-passenger, stretched Bell helicopter we had at R&F, with the bubble in front and two doors on each side, and only a pilot, but this had at least a three passenger crew, all dressed out in army garb, and the first thing I see when I get up the ladder-like stairs was a microwave and wood paneling – this wasn’t no helicopter I’d ever seen! And Sy shows up in his full camouflage outfit and fancy leather jacket – that’s when I realized he was probably a major in the army or something before he went to work for the mines. I never did figure out if this was an army surplus kind of thing, or if they actually rented the helicopter for the day from the Army, which is what I suspect since when we landed back at the airport at the end of the day it was swarmed over by other Army maintenance folks. I guess if you’re not going to get funding from Moscow, you have to improvise ways to pay for maintaining your aircraft.

The trip itself was pretty nice. When we first took off, the weather was still ugly, but it turned out to be a nice, sunny day. As soon as we took off, Sy looked at me, made the sign of the cross (backwards, the Orthodox way, I think, since I’ve seen others make it this way) and laughed. I knew what he meant – kind of a universal joke, but one I wasn’t really hoping to have to laugh at. And only about five minutes into the flight, the helicopter was facing one direction, but we were flying more than 45 degrees off that, kind of going sideways. I suppose because of the wind. Didn’t really enamor me to the whole idea, but that was the last of any funny things going on, the rest of the trip was quite smooth, but very NOISY!!!!! I wish I had brought my ear plugs along. And you couldn’t see as well as I’d hoped out side the little porthole windows, since there were two huge gas tanks hanging off each side of the plane (or were they bombs?), blocking the view downward. But after about an hour of flight we started seeing surface mines (oh my! Huge fiascos of unregulated environmental disaster with no conceivable plan, just more relatively small draglines and electric shovels in literally hundreds of tiny pits. We only saw one mine that actually looked like a real mine, with a long pit and the dragline making its way across the landscape, where you could actually see what the plan was).

And the Tiger (the woods) wasn’t as impressive as I thought it would be. It was a blend of white barked aspens and pine trees, with numerous clearings scattered about, full of heavy undergrowth. The hills weren’t anything like E KY, more like Ohio, but the actual site where they want to put in the mine was pretty darn remote. We looked at the nearby train routes, since they have a choice as to which way they might run the line to their new mine, neither of which looks very promising. And they’ll have to run power lines over the hills, and an access road won’t be easy either.

Anyway, you’re probably not as interested in the mines as other events of the day. I told you about the truck ride down to the “river” – it was only about fifteen feet wide, but they said three meters deep. The vodka was in a bottle like wine – I was hoping that’s what it was, but no, it was “hot damn” like Vodka – actually pretty smooth, but it definitely took your breath away. Sy opened the Vodka, using a huge knife to peel away the seal. Then he said how the first drink always goes to the “woods creature” or “woodsman” – Nika used both terms in her translation. Nevertheless, he took about an inch of vodka in the first plastic glass and tossed it into the woods and said some kind of toast. Then we each got about an inch and a half of vodka in a plastic cup, Sy made a toast about the team there assembled to work together for the success of the future mine, I made some stupid similar toast – “to a successful and safe mine” – and they all drank their vodka down in one gulp. I realized this as I looked down at more than 2/3rd of mine still in my cup. Oops! Well I had to take a few more swigs to finish mine – at least Nika didn’t finish hers either – in fact she poured the rest of hers into Igor’s cup, and so he and I were the only two with any left. A few minutes later, Sy and the boys were laughing at Igor for still having some vodka left – I don’t think any of them saw Nika pour hers into his cup and they were most likely calling him some kind of wimp. Boy, thank God for all those years of practice with K. – it prepared me to at least hold my own, but I was sure glad they didn’t have another bottle!

Then they brought out the sandwiches, and we stood there in the woods, next to the stream and had our picnic. One of the guys who pulled up in the truck walked with us – I think he was yet another Vladimir, like one of the two Mining Institute guys (Igor warned us that that academicians at the various mining institutes weren’t like the real coal miners, and that the XYZ folks were the worst of all the mining institutes, and he was right!).

Anyway, Vladimir carried along an axe with about a two-foot long handle with us as we walked the quarter mile through the undergrowth down to the river from as far as the truck went. Vladimir refused to take any vodka, and instead toasted with water. I suppose he’s an alcoholic, although there could be some other reason why he didn’t take a drink, but he kind of kidded with Sy, like “you know I don’t drink” kind of banter when Sergey tried to give him some vodka. Never did figure out why he took the axe, but they were all kidding him about something like he doesn’t need a gun to protect us, he just will kill any wild animals with his axe. Anyway, he went down the steep bank to the river and filled up his cup with the water. He brought it back up and showed the other guys how clear it was – someone poured a cup of bottled water, and I think the river water WAS clearer!

Enough about the trip. When we got back, after I found the internet café, S and I went for a walk in town until we met Nika for dinner. It looked much brighter and nicer in the sunshine than it did in the drizzle the day before. The buildings looked brighter and nicer, at least in this part of town, near the city center (the outlying five-story buildings we pass in the van sill look very Communist-like, ugly apartments). We walked the other way and saw the town music hall, and the town theater (not cinema, more like a classical Greek style theatre). Then we saw the big town square, with its huge statue of Lenin. S. said that these folks around here are more disappointed with Perestroika and Glastnost and still look back to the times of Lenin as the good old days, even though he forcibly moved hundreds of thousands of folks from Estonia and other portions of western Russia and made them coal miners during the War.

I took a bunch of pictures, but it was getting dark pretty quickly and I don’t know how they’ll take. But the town almost looks quaint, in a socialist kind of way. S says that this is the only town with any culture or class within hundreds of miles, and I’d say he’s probably right. Nika says that the population is about 500,000 which makes it pretty good sized. She actually grew up nearby, and her 85-year old mom and one of her three kids still lives there still. Found this out at dinner. We went to a place called E-Moe, pronounced “yow-meow”. It was a traditional Russian restaurant. All the waitresses wore these red and white folk dress, and it was decorated in early Russian wood furnishings, kind of kitchy like a Russian Cracker Barrel, or maybe more like a Texas Roadhouse. Nika said it was a good place to try traditional Russian food – like that’s really what I wanted to do! She tried to get me to order the fish soup (S did) or the cold soup that she said the broth was kind of a mix between Coke and beer, and it had all kinds of vegetables and fish in it. Hmm, hmm! Sounded so good, didn’t it? I passed. And I passed on the borscht. The English menu we had was pretty interesting. Who knew that there were a least a dozen ways to fix tongue – not I, I assure you! The food items were all named things like, “Russian hare peaking from behind a bush” which was of course rabbit under a cover of pickled red cabbage or something. The waitress, who reminded me of Marsha from the Brady Bunch, but of course not a word of English, recommended some kind of meat plate for us to share. Which sounded pretty good to me, and then we ordered tomatoes, boiled potatoes, fried potatoes, and fried fern – S’s idea. I had hoped it would actually be fried, but no, it was more like very tiny asparagus. We all got beers, and Stuart also got vodka and pickled cabbage as an appetizer. I never did decide if it was the fish soup, the cabbage or the fried fern, but something sure stank! Oh, and with the soup, he got some kind of little pastry filled with fish and onions – boy was I sorry I didn’t order that! The meat was brought out on some kind of little metal box, I guess it somehow kept it warm. It had a veal and a beef steak (which were outstanding) and pork sausage on a skewer (same as I got for lunch in Moscow and I regretted it then also, but not too bad) and the sausage, which the waitress called kelboska, but it tasted more like English sausage – yuk! We just kept helping ourselves to the meat and I ate the fries, that was about it for me. And more beer! The “standard” mug is 0.51 liters, which is a pretty good sized beer – slightly bigger than the biggest draft you typically get in the US. It was actually Czech beer though, not Russian, although I’ve like the Russian beer I’ve had so far.

I’m sure there’s so much more to tell you, but I’d better call it a day or else everyone you send this too will harass me for being so long-winded!

Salutation #2 Orthodox Mass

Since my last e-mail was not composed on my computer but on the spur of the moment at the Internet Café, I may repeat myself, but in which case I apologize.

I’ve told you about the concert and church, and those were definitely the highlights of the last few days. Oh, and we found out today that Sy, the Director of the mining company, was relieved of his duties on Friday. Seems that he has taken full responsibility for an accident at one of their mines that killed four people. So now he’s in charge of development, which by our count is at least four different folks we’ve been told are in charge of development, specifically this mine that we’re working on. Politics as usual, with a Russian flair!

By the time I send this and you read it, we’ll have gone out to one of their active mines on Monday. That’s about the last thing we have to do down here in Kemerovo, but we aren’t scheduled to leave until Wednesday morning, so who knows what we’ll do on Tuesday. They’re probably all waiting for me to make a decision as to what we’re going to do!

I think I mentioned that most of the menu times are listed with titles like, Herring under the looking glass, and so other than knowing the general idea that it’s herring, you never really know what you’re getting because very seldom are the details of the item translated. For example the other day I got a Parmesan Salad – had no idea what to expect – wind up being some lettuce, not much, with lots of tomatoes and cucumbers, with one or two pieaces of parmesan cheese, blue cheese and about two kinds of mystery meat chunks. Anyway, today on the menu was a Mister Tomato. I pointed it out to Nika since she orders a plate of tomatoes at every meal. But she read the translation and said it was olives stuffed with tomatoes and mayonnaise, so she passed, but I thought you’d try it!

More on the Orthodox mass. To start out, the church of course has no pews, just a large open area, with four big pillars supporting the huge dome. Nearly every square of the walls and columns is coated with painted icons of various saints, some of which are real paintings in frames, some gold relief artwork, but most painted on the walls. The inside of the dome, which was quite high, was a huge portrait of Jesus. And there were pictures of Jesus and Mary everywhere, with untold number of other saints. Before Mass started, everyone was going up to the various icons, putting candles in the sand candleholders, bowing and making the “backward” sign of the cross, and kissing the icons. So this was going on in about 15 sites, and off to one side a priest was hearing confessions out in the open nave. At least that’s what I assume he was doing. The people were more or less lined up (the Russians sure don’t know how to queue up, they mostly just butt in) and after they said something to the priest, he puts a gold edged cloth on their bowed heads, says a prayer (absolution I presume) and then takes it off, they each bow down and kiss a book and move on. Two different old ladies came up to us as we stood there and waited for mass to begin. One told S, well through Nika, not to put his hands behind his back or else he’ll be a widower. The other told us that men generally stand on the right side and women on the left, although this is not a requirement, but she seemed like she wanted us to go to the right side!

Nika is an atheist, so she was little to no help at the Mass. In fact, I had asked her about going to church earlier in the week and she said she didn’t think there was a church in town! It was relatively new, so I presume it wasn’t here when she was growing up.
So last night when she called to see if we’d need her to translate on Sunday (we didn’t use her on Saturday – I thought that we were doing her a favor, but S and I figured out that it probably means she won’t get paid for the day, so we were determined to use her on Sunday at least for a while) we asked her if she could find out about Mass. I had pointed out a sign outside the hotel that I thought said there was a church (it had a cross on it and seemed to indicate to me that maybe there was a church nearby) but she kind of dismissed it. Anyway, she found out that Mass was at 9:30 and she also reminded us that we needed to turn our clocks back overnight.

Anyway, we met Nika at 9 and took a taxi to the church. It was huge and construction was still being completed. The service finally started about 9:40, which gave me a chance to look around at everything. I forget what they call that wall that separates the altar area from the general public, but it was darned impressive. And there was like a communion railing that came out into the center of the dome – it had a big pillow like thing right under the center of the dome (never did figure out what that was for) and a picture on a special stand. People were lining up (more or less) on each side of the railing and entering this area more or less one at a time, bowing, making the sign of the cross and kissing this picture on like a book stand. Never figured out what that was either.

The first 20 minutes of the mass consisted of what sounded like a rather high-pitched boy chanting from behind the wall. I guess it’s the Russian equivalent of Gregorian chant. All of a sudden, it sounds like a broken record, and he sings the same words, something like “bitty canoe” over and over and over and over again before moving on. All the while people would bow and make the sign of the cross, sometimes together but more often a couple spread out around the church just appeared to do it at various times more or less at random, but there may have been some pattern I never could figure out. Then the “bitty canoe” words again, about every tenth time he’d throw in a couple of other words, then back to “bitty canoe.” Five minutes later the same thing. I finally counted them once, and he sang it 40 times in a row, with about three or four short two or three word phrases stuck in there about three or four times. I figured this was some type of Confiteor, and Nika told me later that it meant “he saves” or something like that. Finally, after 20 minutes, we heard another voice, this time the priest or the deacon, much deeper in a series of short replies to the higher-pitched chants.

It was at least 45 minutes into it before one of the doors to the side of the main door in the screen opened up and what I guess is the deacon came out with incense. I mean he spent the next 15 minutes incensing all the icons (beginning with the one of Jesus right next to the main door) and he went around the entire church hitting several of the major ones on the walls. It was interesting, that as he stood in front of the main door, which was kind of an open gold filigree kind of thing with six small icons on it, so it was probably one-third open into the main altar area – anyway when he stood there and chanted, it was very deep and booming, I guess it was going into the altar area and bouncing all around the church, because as soon as he went to the side, it completely changed and sounded more or less normal.

Later on, he came out and they brought out what I presume was the Book of the Gospels, and spent another 10 minutes chanting and incensing it, but this time, the choir suddenly responded. I didn’t even know there was a choir loft, but when they responded it was like angels. They replied to chants off and on for the rest of the service, and it did sound like alleluia in a few spots, but otherwise I understood NOTHING that was ever sung.

Oh, and finally the main doors were opened. You could see a priest in his big hat (all the folks had gold vestments on) with a big beard – obviously the man in charge. And behind the altar was a big strained glass picture of Jesus that lit up from the sun shining in behind it. I didn’t realize how dark the church was until then. It was impressive!

One of the candle bearers (acolyte?) later chanted what appeared to be the first reading. Oh, and they turned on the main chandelier before he started. It must have been 25 feet tall, hanging from the middle of the dome, right over the pillow and near the picture that everyone was venerating before Mass started. They put a book stand near the picture for the readings. After what seemed like an eternity of more chanting, the deacon changed the Gospel (I presume that’s what it was). Later on, the Deacon was at the main icon on the wall, and the priest was inside at the altar – the acolyte brought out sheets that the deacon chanted (the petitions I presume – I think they were being written down in the vestibule before Mass) and the priest would periodically respond.

By this time, well over an hour into the service, my back was killing me from standing up on the hard marble. But I’d look around and there were untold numbers of old, I mean old, small Russian women, and if they could stand, I figured I could. There was also a young mother with what looked like a 3-year old in a papoose kind of thing on her chest and stomach – I don’t know how she did it. People kept moving around, and leaving and coming the whole time. Nika and S went outside for a while. Eventually I followed, after they closed the main doors to the altar.

SALUTATION #3 Nov. 1, 2005

Maybe the massage will help delay the inevitable. Have a file on my memory stick but so far can't figure out how to install it on this computer to transfer it to you so it may have to wait. This is our last full day in Siberia.

We're off in the morning to Moscow and then onto St. Petersburg. We inquired this morning about perhaps changing our flight to today, and both Nika and Igor just rolled on the floor with laughter. Nevertheless they checked with the airline rep in the lobby and of course he said it could not be done - never mind the timetable on the window of his little booth, the computer says there's no flights today. Okay, that's Russia!

Did I tell you about the time we got to the office and everybody was walking out the door when we were walking in at about 9 AM. Igor told us that the power was scheduled to be off from 9 until noon. Great!

But we sat around in the semi-dark and made it through the morning so it didn't have too many negative affects. Today, the snow came, right on schedule (November 1).

It is snowing to beat the band, but I doubt if it will have any impact on our travel tomorrow, after all this is Siberia - these Siberian salt miners aren't going to let a little snow keep them from flying a plane! And today they completely rerouted traffic here in Kemerovo - a town of 500,000 (that's almost 5 times the size of Springfield ILL) that only has two bridges across the River Tomb that separates the town. But today was the day that they shut down one of the bridges to tie in a new bridge that they’re building - I thought that they had stopped working on it since not a soul was there all last week, but apparently they were waiting for the big day - TODAY).

So traffic was completely screwed up, with cops at every intersection trying to direct traffic, and the snow causing a few accidents just to make it a complete fiasco. We did go to a real mall and supermarket today - I didn't think they really had one in the town, but Nika took us there so S could buy vodka, cigarettes and cavier to bring home to his wife. I could only find some Russian espresso for you - but who knows if it will be any good? [turned out to be instant coffee]

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