Sunday, January 23, 2011

Making the Most of January

I happened to read that it was a bitterly cold -31 degrees Fahrenheit in Grayling, Michigan last night (Grayling is my hometown, by the way). In the last month here in Moscow it has barely reached zero degrees Fahrenheit and more often hovers around 20 degrees, so I'm feeling pretty lucky. At least as far as Russian winters go, this isn't so bad.

Nevertheless, the Russian winter has been a bit of a novelty for me after living in the Bay Area for many years. Some of my new favorite activities are ice skating and jogging in parks. While Russians aren't so keen on jogging (and when I'm out they often offer me unsolicited advice, chastise me, or less frequently praise me), many of them do make the most out of winter. A fair number of people cross-country ski and the city is full of ice-skating rinks, which themselves are full of people. I find all of these activities to be a nice, wholesome counterweight to Moscow nightlife.

My first ice skating adventure was on the rink on Red Square.

I fell twice. Please refer to exhibit A: the snow residue on my jeans. (You're lucky I'm posting this picture, because it's pretty awful, but it's the only one of me ice skating so far.)

I fared far better yesterday at a different rink. These were my ice-skating companions:

Perhaps the mulled wine helped. (Refer to exhibit B: mulled wine stand on ice skating rink.) Ice skating doesn't have to be entirely wholesome, I suppose!

I too am hoping to make the most out of this winter. For example, I am bound and determined to go on a horse-drawn sleigh ride. (That was the original plan for yesterday, actually, but there were complications... The horses, apparently, got cold and so the rides stopped at 3 instead of 6 and we found this out around 3:30. This sort of thing is extremely typical for Russia...) But at least we got to go ice skating and spend a little time strolling outside of the city in Izmailovsky Park.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Moving Mayhem

My newest "adventure" features, yet again, my suitcase. When I first arrived in Europe from the US, my large blue suitcase was burdensome because its hugeness precluded me from transporting it easily from the Berlin airport to my 2-month residence in Leipzig, Germany. So I rented a Fiat. But last week the heaviness of the suitcase was burdensome for an entirely different reason: it led me to believe I could leave it unattended on the street for five minutes. Who would steal a 100-pound suitcase??!?! (You can probably see where this is going.)

When I moved into my new apartment on Saturday, I called a cab to come and transport me, my very large suitcase, and my other things (mainly books) to the new place. A few minutes before he arrived I decided to take my suitcase out to the courtyard to save some time. I didn't think twice about leaving the suitcase there unattended for less than five minutes (allow me to remind you, again, that it is very large and very heavy). When I returned to the courtyard with more of my things the driver had arrived and my suitcase was not where I had left it. I assumed the driver had already loaded it into the car, and asked him as much, and he looked puzzled, clearly not having seen any suitcase.

That's when the hot pursuit of the large navy blue suitcase began. First -- on foot.

At every dumpster on the street there was at least one homeless person sifting through the trash, including the dumpster by my apartment building. I had never noticed this in the past.

I asked one dumpster diver - a woman around 50 - if she had seen my suitcase and she started screaming profanities at me. So that wasn't going to lead anywhere. Then I asked a group of young-ish men in the adjacent courtyard if they had seen my suitcase and one said yes, he saw someone wheeling it into the courtyard and behind the building. But it was clear that he was lying, which was confirmed by wheel tracks leading in a completely different direction.

Tracing the wheel tracks was the cab driver's idea. He really stepped up to the plate for the occasion, turning out to be a real suitcase sleuth.

We continued the pursuit from the cab, hot on the trail of my suitcase tracks. But at the end of my very long block we came to a dead end. Traffic at the intersection obscured the suitcase tracks. The cab driver ran across the street, actually a large boulevard, to see if he could continue tracing the tracks or see any sign of my suitcase, but to no avail. When he returned to the car, it became clear that my suitcase was gone for good. Just as I was about to completely resign myself to the loss of the great majority of my clothing, shoes, my back-up hard drive... I looked across the boulevard one more time and...

There it was! I spotted my enormous navy blue suitcase being wheeled around by some man on the other side of the large road. It was unmistakably my suitcase: I could even see the pink luggage tag flipping back and forth as the man spun the suitcase around.

The cab driver ran and retrieved my suitcase (the man said he "found" it by a dumpster; he relinquished control of it fairly easily, saying "you're welcome" as he walked away), I made it to my new apartment with all of my things in tact, I tipped the cab driver very generously, and that was the end of my move.

Perhaps out of excitement for the move, or out of the frantic-ness that inevitably accompanies all of my moves, or because I was starting to develop an ever so faint warm and fuzzy feeling toward Moscow... anyway, whatever the reason, for the second time in Moscow I came frighteningly close to losing a major possession. You may recall the Starbucks incident in September.

I don't think this, or the Starbucks incident, necessarily reflects poorly upon Russia or Moscow. I do think it's necessary to be much more careful than I would ever be in the US about watching my personal possessions. Petty theft just seems much more rampant than it is at home. The last time I remember being a victim of theft was in 6th grade when I forgot to lock my locker and a girl stole my gym shoes and then wore them to school the next day. (It seems that I have quite the streak of dumb luck when it comes to this sort of thing.)

It's very nice to be in my new place. No longer sandwiched between two large, loud streets; no longer next to a dirty train station. Since I moved, things have been much more peaceful and I've been able to get a lot of work done. Sure, I flooded the bathroom and broke the toilet (unrelated incidents... and I actually don't think the toilet is my fault), but all in all, it's been very peaceful and uneventful.

View from my new 13th floor apartment (the park's in the other direction):

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Winter Wonderland

Happy New Year!

It's been a crazy month. I worked very hard. Then I played very hard. (I got help on that last bit thanks to a visit by Alicia!**)

The new year finds me in a new apartment. While it's been a rewarding experience living with a family, it's also been a strain on my work productivity, so I've relocated to a more work-conducive flat in a quieter region of Moscow. I'll report some more on my new pad once I get settled in.

The holidays, my move, and most of all Alicia's visit re-opened my eyes to what Moscow can be. And it's not all bad. The city is fast-paced and crazy, in areas it's gray and dingy, but there are pockets with really amazing treasures, things you just can't see anywhere else, such as a gorgeous Russian orthodox church alongside a Stalin-era skyscraper; or the embalmed father of the USSR directly across an ice-skating rink... and me in the middle:

I also started to see the forests and the trees. This huge city is packed with parks full of beautiful trees covered in fluffy white snow. I just wasn't living anywhere near one of these parks in my old apartment. But I am now.

(Technically, the park above, or rather the former tsarist estate Kolomenskoye, is nowhere near my new apartment, but you get the idea. Here are links for more winter pictures of Moscow and St. Petersburg, if you haven't already seen them on FB.)

Moscow was impressing me so much that I started to let my guard down a bit. That's when Moscow reminded me that it cannot be taken too lightly. But the story of how my 100-pound suitcase was stolen... and then recovered... during my move yesterday requires its own blog entry. I hope that one of your New Year's resolutions is to exercise patience ☺

**I dedicate this blog to one of my very best friends, Alicia, who has managed to visit me in every place I have lived for more than a month (Dallas, Italy, Czech Republic/Eastern Europe, California, and Russia! For Russia, Alicia even learned how to read Cyrillic!) and who is an A++ traveling companion. I swear that next time she gets to pick the locale! Oh, and Alicia also took many (most?) of the pictures in this blog and in the new Moscow & St. Pete albums.