Thursday, February 28, 2008

Putin's Legacy

(Photo courtesy AP via Yahoo! News)

From Battered to “Island of Stability” is how Catrina Steward describes Putin’s legacy in today’s Moscow Times. She says, These are extraordinary times. Less than 10 years ago, Russians were looking bleakly into the future, their savings wiped out and their confidence shattered in their country's government and banking system. ..

The Best of Putin: A video showcasing photos from his life.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Alphabet of Sleep: IKEA

IKEA poses the question, А КАК СПИТЕ ВЫ? That is, So how do you sleep? Clever little rhyming phrase at the bottom: There's an idea. There's IKEA.

So, which letter most resembles the way you sleep?

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Source: American Clothing

American Club and City Clothing, says the sign. Thanks to the nice passersby, a man and his son, who agreed to stand there for the picture, to give it some sense of perspective. But American clothing - what would make it unique? Besides, isn't American clothing Made in China?

Monday, February 25, 2008

IKEA and More at Rostov-on-Don's New MEGA Center

Today I visited Rostov's new IKEA store. It opened Thanksgiving weekend. Nice to avoid the opening rush.

IKEA and several other stores are in the new MEGA center. It's a whole indoor shopping center. And it's here in Rostov. I'm thrilled to bits.

What I really have been needing are file folders. If there are file folders in Russia, it's a well kept secret. Pioneer woman that I am (hahah) I've taken to making them myself out of poster board. Our MEGA has an ice skating rink but no office supply store. Looks as though I'll continue to make file folders.

A MEGA employee allowed me to shoot her t-shirt. Here's the logo, it says MEGA: Shopping for the whole family.

I say that shopping is straight from English into Russian. But dear Sveta in Moscow and Ludmila the Linguist will insist that the word is originally Greek or German or something. And they would know!

MEGA has figured out all the angles, including transport from Rostov to the store. Since most of us rely on public transport, they're got free shuttle buses that run between the MEGA and Rostov center, which might be 20 kilometers away.

A SUBWAY food shop in Rostov. Oh, life is good. Also a Sbarro's Italian place. Oh boy oh boy.

How about you? Ever been to an IKEA store? Ever made your own file folders? Enjoy shopping? How about ice skating? Have you managed to find file folders in Russia?

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Happy Holiday, Defenders of the Fatherland!

Today is a big holiday in Russia. Earlier called Red Army Day, now it's the Day of the Defenders of the Fatherland. The holiday has evolved into a Men's Day of sorts, on which to congratulate men of all ages including little boys. Even if all they're defending is their toys.

Appropriate gifts include cologne, chocolates and even flowers. Today vendors on the street were selling tulips especially for the holiday. I wanted the little boys at the orphange to feel honored, so took several big chocolate bars that their caretakers will break up into little pieces and share. Cards are always a hit. Below are several from the local post office.

23rd of February. . . (Congratulations). . .On the Day of the Defenders of the Fatherland.

(Congratulations). . . on the Holiday.

23 of February. . .You chose a difficult task, to be a defender of the nation. May courage suffice and the will to serve Russia with dignity.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

A Husband, a Pilot and Easy Credit

This billboard caught my eye recently, reminding me of World War II, Soviet-era artwork, bold and powerful and simple.

In a nutshell, it’s from SKB bank, publicizing easy loans. The two bottom lines in black print are about that, easily translated, He can get credit without a problem.

But the top two lines, in red, had me puzzled for a while. Say, perhaps you would like a glimpse into the always intriguing world of translating? Made even more interesting because I know just enough Russian to be dan-ger-ous!

1) Here's the off-the-cuff version I developed there on the street: Maybe you can’t leave with your husband the pilot, (But he can get credit without a problem). . . Hmmm. On second thought, this didn’t seem realistic. I'm not seeing pilots exiting en masse. Besides, pilot needs to be the subject of the sentence. On to version 2.

2) The chew-on-it-at-home version: Got a photo of it, brought it home and got out the dictionary:
*Может - maybe
*не (not) вышел - Has gone out; has got out; has appeared; etc etc etc)
*из мужа - from; of; out of. . . husband
*пилот - pilot – This is the subject of the sentence.
Maybe the pilot has not gone out of the husband. Hmmm. . . On to the next version.

3) Version using an on-line translation service (babelfish): Maybe, pilot did not leave the husband, then he will take credit without the troubles. (Huh?) This is wackier yet. Just wondering, could there be an idiom in the phrase?

4) Version 4, based on the on-line translation program but adding a twist of personal color, : Maybe your husband has not gotten piloting out of his system, regardless, he can get credit without any trouble. (or…maybe your husband is still a pilot at heart….). Well, moving right along. . .to native speakers of Russian.

5) Version: Checking with dear Lyda, with 5 years experience translating:
Maybe the husband is not good enough to be a pilot,
BUT he is good enough to take a loan without efforts.

Diplomat that she is, Lyda suggested going with this version:
The husband needs efforts to become a pilot,
But he doesn't need efforts to take a loan.

6) Well, let's confirm with dear Nadya, who has been translating 15 years. She hooted aloud, by the way, when she heard the version from #3, above, from babelfish. Maybe the husband wasn’t able to become a pilot, (Literally, maybe a pilot didn’t come of your husband), But he can get a loan without any problems.

8) Based on all that, I'd like to go with this:
Maybe it didn’t work out for your husband to become a pilot,
But he can get a loan without any problems.

Okay, we've got the main idea here. Need a loan? Zip on over to SKB Bank.

Oh the joys of translating. Okay Sveta in Moscow and Ludmila wherever you may be, have at it! I'm betting that you two have lots of experience with translating, not to mention first-hand experience with personal loans.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Tram Troubles

Tram troubles this evening. Lucky for me, I was getting off at that stop but there was a bit of a tram jam this evening around 5:30, Moscow Time (as this time zone is called), which is 9:30 a.m. Central Time. (What were you doing at that time?)

One of the nice new trams in Rostov. Several of these the last year or so. Lovely. Off come the fur coat ladies and the driver. Just happened to have my camera along. Nice that nobody squawked about my snapping a few photos.

Driver heading up ahead to check on things. Pretty sunset. How nice the days are longer, eh? Like an hour longer than the 4:30 pm sunsets of December.

Ah hah. It's one of these old clunker trams that's backing things up. Fixed and about 15 minutes later, no lines and no waiting on the tram line. The joys of public transportation. Pay 7 rubles (24.5 rubles to the dollar so, nearly 30 cents) and enjoy the electric snail. Actually public transport has its own special charm.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Fireworks, Flares and More!

Here's a fireworks store that I ran into Saturday while downtown at Central Market. On the red sign, we have more English cognates brought into the Russian language.

Fireworks is that last word there and I'll bet that's straight from English. (We'll let Sveta in Moscow have the last word on this. She seems to have access to a super-duper dictionary with the etymologies and such.) But I'd say all three of these words come from English. The first word is Salutes (pronounced very similarly to English), the second is rockets (pronounced closely) and last of all is fireworks, the last word (pronounced similarly). That's the view standing on the tram line, looking straight ahead, south.

From here, pivot right and. . . what beauty! Of construction soon to obstruct the view of the cathedral, from this vantage point at least. But that's progress for ya. . . Say, do you hear that noise. . . it's getting closer, closer. . . Oh my goodness Here Comes a Tram. Let's get off these tracks so we don't become fireworks, ourselves!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Alexander Pushkin: Beloved Poet of Russia

On a recent Sunday morning, I commented to my taxi driver about the beautiful morning, so cold and crisp with brilliant sunshine. He smiled in the rearview mirror and said Oh yes, Mor-OZ ee SOLN-sa (that is, Frost and sunshine) and I thought nothing more about the description he had right there at the tip of his tongue.

Shortly thereafter, in our children’s Bible class, I commented about the beautiful morning straight from God’s hand. Dima, 11, piped up and said, Frost and sunshine, day so wondrous, in Russian of course, repeating what the taxi driver had said earlier. But Dima he kept on going. And kept going, reciting some verse that he knew by heart. I just sat there in awe.

Dima, was that a poem or what?

That was Pushkin.

But, of course. Alexander Pushkin (1799-1837) is the most beloved poet of Russia and many a school child has memorized a favorite poem or two. Besides that, I’d wager that in every community across the land, there would be a statue or street or square named in Pushkin’s honor. Having lived seven years on Pushkin-skaya (the proper noun transformed into an adjective by the fancy suffix), the pedestrian-only boulevard that bisects downtown Rostov, I myself feel a special affinity for Pushkin.

That evening, I did an internet search on Pushkin and that poem and up came the original poem, Winter Morning, 30 lines long as well as the English translation. Of course it flows so majestically in the original language.

Above, memorial to Pushkin on after a heavy snow that downed tree branches on Pushkinskaya Boulevard.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

In the Shadow of the Cathedral: Potatoes Galore

Rostov's biggest Russian Orthodox Church is surrounded on four sides by Central Market, an outdoor market similar, perhaps, to a farmer's market. Here's a shot from the potato section.

Across the way, another shot of potatoes, looking toward the east. Imagine so many varieties.

Here's a shot looking toward the west. It's important you know, that we give adequate coverage to the entire potato department. The one lady there got herself all in a tizzy about having her veggies photographed and said that a person needs purchase a permit first. We could call it a Permit to Photograph Potatoes. Hold on while I look up the Russian word for malarky. . .

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Furs, Furs, Glorious Furs

Cold Russian winters and fur coats go together birds of a feather. Some are simply absolutely breathtaking. One neat thing about the fur coat ladies, they're always quite pleased to pose for a photograph. Certainly can't blame them. A few years back, someone who would know (Tatyana in Brest, Belarus) said that a mink coat easily runs a year's wages and that it's meant to last for a lifetime.

This could be mink. On the other hand, maybe not. It's definitely not lamb.

This also could be mink. I'd say we could rule out fox on this one.

This one is not mink. Hmmm. She told me but how could I write it down when I was busy with the camera? Maybe you know what fur this is? We can safely rule out ermine on this one.

Anybody out there got a fur coat? Want one? Want to buy me one? Well, actually I have a respectible Republican cloth coat. It's exactly 10 years old and looks like new.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Soviet-era Photos: St Basils, Babyshkas

A couple of black and white photos from the Soviet era when life was itself was monochrome. Photos courtesy of English Russia: Life in Soviet Russia.

A grandmother sweeping snow from Red Square in Moscow, using a broom made of twigs. St Basil's Cathedral looms in the distance.

A gaggle of babyshkas, the Russian grandmothers. These ladies look sweet and huggable and they are, in a certain context. But I've heard it said that the babyshkas run the country. In a war of words, the babyshka will come out on top. Heaven help the young security guard, for instance, who messes with a babyhska. Or even a grandchild or neighbor child. She will let the offender have a tongue-lashing -- loud, shrill and non-stop. Every adult today has memories of his own babyshka who tried to teach him the right way to be. That's the nature of the Russian babyshka.

I myself am occasionally on the receiving end of a babyshka and her rhetorical questions about my clothing choices. Why aren't you wearing a hat? Why aren't you wearing a heavier coat? In general, I say thank the good Lord for the babyshka patrol. On the one hand they help teach the young. On the other hand, seems to me that for many men, their only escape is alcohol. Because to a babyshka, everyone is a child. Mercy me, have we digressed here or what?

Anyway, the picture above is rich with content. I'm still trying to determine the occasion although the mood is pleasant enough. Everybody's waiting but yet there doesn't seem to be a line. All are sensibly attired in wool coats, scarves tied around their heads. But have you noticed the one person who is very different. Spot him? And then in the upper left corner are a couple of younger women, wearing furs. I like the babyshka, lower right, with her war medals and cane. Some are looking this direction, yet they don't seem to be aware of the camera.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Importing English: Signs on the Street

Hello from Rostov-on-Don. Care to join me for an afternoon stroll through the city center? Here are photos taken Sunday afternoon, shots of some Russian-English cognates, words pulled directly into one language from another. We've done this before together and it was fun. So let's get going...

On the sign above, Сити is lifted from English and its pronunciation approximates City. Translation: City Footwear. Oops, poor sign dropped a letter. Well, we know what it means. And besides that off to the left is posted another sign, that white one, that says the same thing. Footwear is like that though, isn't it. Sometimes things fall off. Such as heels. Oh boy have you ever had that happen?

If you drool just reading the sign, it's no wonder. It says Juice and that's exactly how it would be pronounced in Russian. This sign is in cursive font, so that's why the first letter is д rather than Д. In print it would be Джус. They have drinks and stuff there.

How about taking a Jaguar on a test drive? On the back door above, the last two words are test drive, тэст драйв, pronounced very close to the English. At the bottom, the same words are under the Jaguar emblem, but written in cursive. And so you see that the Russian letter T (formed same as in English), in cursive is written т. (Got that?) =)

Here is a ATM. At the top of the blue section, банкомат is bank-o-mat. At the bottom, you see something familiar, the number 24. I'm sooo glad that numbers are written basically the same. I mean, what if the idea of two were represented, say, by a star? Or four by a. . . smiley face? Oh my, oh my I shudder to think about translating number symbols. This says 24 hours , referring to the bankomat.

Well here's something quite familiar! Western Union doesn't even try to look Russian. Those folks who transfer funds, the things they get away with. Well, this says money transfers.

So thank you for join me on a little walk through town. Actually, these shots were taken along one street within three city blocks. So there's lots more! always, a standing invitation to Sveta in Moscow - who blogs with her husband at Windows to Russia - to correct me on any of this! (And Sveta don't even try to persuade me that Test Drive comes from Greek rather than English! =)

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Clever Russian Calender

Here's a clever calendar published by a Russian firm. January is a Russian scene, what you would see out a windshield driving in Russia. Each month features a view from a different country including Italy, Germany and Japan. But you have to guess at it.

Thanks to English Russia for this entertaining post. It's worth a visit and perfect for children too.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

What Would Condi Do?

Condoleezza Rice, U.S. Secretary of State with Victor Yushchenko, President of Ukraine. (Photo courtesy of Yahoo!)

One snowy afternoon in January, I took the tram across town to my former neighborhood and went to the post office to renew my P.O. box there. While waiting in line, I watched for the young clerk with whom I had butted heads almost two weeks earlier.

I would recognize her immediately. She was taller than average, streaky blond and loud. After finishing my business, I waited in the lobby area in hopes that she would come along. Sure enough, soon she emerged from a back room and strolled through the lobby, heading outside for a smoke.

As she came toward the door, I caught her eye.

I need to talk with you for a minute. Last time I was here, we had an unpleasant conversation and I was impatient with you. Forgive me please.

Oh it wasn’t all that bad, she shrugged.

That’s one thing I love about Russian folk. They’re so quick to forgive.

And that was that.

Back out on the street, I felt such relief.

That feeling was so different from how I’d felt ten days or so earlier after our confrontation. That day, I kept asking myself, how would Condoleezza Rice have handled all that?

That had been my third trip across town to renew said post office box. The first two times, one clerk or another said something like, Oh come back another day. It’s only 30 minutes until closing time and we really don’t want to haul out that paperwork again.

I probably said something such as, Well, it’s not all that easy for me to get here. I live in another neighborhood now and so it’s not as though I live around the corner.

But I did come back again the third time and was making progress. I waited dutifully in the fill-out-the-renewal form line and the clerk there – to her credit – went far beyond her duties, helping me with the paperwork. Next, in the pay-for-the-box line, when I got to the front, my progress came to a screeching halt.

You’ll need to come back another day. I’ve already put away that stuff. Come back tomorrow.

So I explained that we’ve been through this before and all this was quite unnecessary. That it really would not be hard to take my rubles, write me out a receipt and stamp it in five places to make all official as they’re wont to do here.

The clerk was pleasant enough but she shrugged and turned to the next person. During our conversation, a teenage clerk was standing at the other end of the service counter with a gaggle of her clerk buddies.

She’s American isn’t she? she asked just loud enough for all to hear.

Next time, I’ll just ignore that.

Yes I am. And at least in America there is decent customer service.

Next time, I'll direct my best withering gaze in her direction. (Note to self: Start practicing this look in the bathroom mirror.)

So there was a little back and forth between us there, mostly her laughing with her friends. As I started to leave, I decided it was time for some eyeball-to-eyeball conversation with the Miss Mouthy and headed in her direction. She saw me coming, let out a loud shriek of laughter and fled to the back room.

Is your friend okay? I asked her co-worker. Was she was laughing at me?

Oh of course she’s fine. No, of course she wasn’t laughing at you. We were laughing about. . . about something here in the newspaper.
She motioned to the tabloid open there on the counter.

That’s a typical response. People can lie in a heartbeat, without blinking an eye.

So I left and felt pretty good about all that for about 30 seconds but then it dawned on me that I’m the first American many of the other customers have ever encountered. And while it may be true that most of them would have a complaint or two about customer service, I was uncomfortable with the tone of our conversation.

How would Condoleezza Rice have handled that? Her diplomacy and grace come to mind quite often. It doesn’t hurt that she specializes in Soviet studies and is said to speak fluent Russian.

* * * * *

We learn a lot about ourselves when immersed in another culture. We see how we handle stress of smashed expectations. We see how we deal with the frustration of communicating at a child’s level. Cross-cultural living is a magnificent growth opportunity. But only if we use it as such.

After an unpleasant incident, it’s important to mull it over, ruminate on it and analyze it. First, what happened? How did I feel about what happened? How did I respond to what happened? How will I handle it differently next time?

I have no control over the twerpy behavior of a 17-year-old postal worker. But I do have control over myself. As long as there aren’t any sweets involved, that is. I can choose to ignore a verbal jab. Or I can respond with humor.

So, let’s rewind the whole scene.

She’s an American, isn’t she?

You’re close. Actually I’m from Antarctica. And believe me, your customer service here is far superior.

Who knows, Condoleezza Rice might be so impressed with such diplomacy that, in an historic move, she would appoint me first U.S. Ambassador to Antarctica. No lines and no waiting for that job!

Friday, February 08, 2008

The Serpent at the Carwash: A Most Embarrassing Moment

This morning I happened upon a favorite site, Confessions of a Pioneer Woman and noticed a sort contest for Most Embarrassing Moment with 2,993 responses overnight. That site, and it's companion, Pioneer Woman Cooks both are quite entertaining although occasionally a bit earthier than I'd prefer.

Anyway, I didn't make the deadline for submitting my little story at 9:00 pm, Pacific Time. But hey, there's nothing stopping me from sharing it here with you! Many of the entries there involve bodily function or clothing malfunctions - and we've all been there, haven't we? So my story is quite different, about an adventure at the carwash.

If you have ever had an embarrassing moment, please share it. Or, I should say, please feel free to share one appropriate for polite company. And considering the nature of this blog, stories involving travel or cross-cultural experiences will be a great match.

* * * * *

The Serpent at the Carwash: A Most Embarrassing Moment

Late one snowy evening in a land far away, I was returning home from some fancy function dressed to the hilt in my new black coat with raccoon collar and high-heeled boots. Problem was, my new Chevy Cavalier was a salty mess from the sloppy roads and I decided that cleaning it could wait not one minute longer.

Lucky me, I happened upon a spray-jet car wash, no lines and no waiting. The floor was a frozen slab of ice but I’d be careful. I fed a handful of quarters into the coin slot and started with the foaming brush, washing through the grime to the enamel, metallic sable, they called it. I had still managed to be ladylike, keep my hands clean and remain upright. So far so good.

Next for the high pressure wash. The wand had been left on the ground by the previous customer and, because in those days I was keen on time and motion management, rather than retrieving the wand and retracing my steps to the control panel, I simply turned the control to high pressure spray as I headed toward the wand.

To my absolute horror, before I reached it, the spray wand sprang to life, not unlike a snake – a cobra, perhaps – writhing back and forth as if charged by high voltage electricity.

It whipped from side to side between the wall and the car, pummeling the car door and spraying water everywhere. Subduing that evil serpent was no easy task but eventually it was I who stood triumphant, sort of, soapy water dripping off my hair and nose.

I looked around ever so casually, hoping-hoping-hoping that no one waiting at the nearby stoplight had observed my gyrations. I glanced at the car door, now dimpled and felt absolutely sick.

In a quantum leap of logic, I imagined being observed by a bus full of Japanese tourists waiting at the stoplight there in Warren, Ohio. I could hear the tour director with her narration, And now ladies and gentleman, on the left we have a popular American innovation, the do-it-yourself carwash. Look, even now a young lady is there washing her car. Oh my. Poor dear, she seems to be having some difficulty.

Ladies and gentlemen, please don’t judge all American women by the one you see here. As for this young lady, I understand that alternative plans are in place. We hope to send her to a land far, far away. To Russia perhaps. And there she can use public transport and never again will we have to worry about her abusing a car at the carwash.

* * * * *

Okay, now it's your turn. What adventure or misadventure have you brought upon yourself over the years. . . ;)

Thursday, February 07, 2008

In a One *Horse* Open Sleigh

Wanted: Your caption for this photo. We could have a contest with this! Please submit your entry -- and I'll pick one! (Photo courtesy of English Russia: Life in Soviet Russia.)

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Meet the Border Birds

Last week, these little sparrows were hanging out in thickets along the Ukrainian-Russian border, apparently unsure and unconcerned as to which country they should pledge their allegiance. What a simple life. These little birds have the right idea though: They’re loitering in front of a building that says Little Snacks, a sign that's seen better days.

When I see a sparrow, what comes to my mind is the refrain from the old hymn, . . . for His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me. Often the timing is perfect and I have to smile and relax a bit because usually I’m hurrying along somewhere, out on the street and a bit anxious about whatever.

The words are from a hymn of the same name based on Matthew 10:29-31. Following is one of the verses.

. . .Let not your heart be troubled,” His tender word I hear,
And resting on His goodness, I lose my doubts and fears;
Though by the path He leadeth, but one step I may see;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.

(Words by Civilla Martin, 1905)

As I edged closer with my camera, dozens of birds darted off the bushes to the building. (Chick-ens!) Can't help but think that there's an analogy in there somewhere. . .

But my favorite of the bunch is the sparrow perched solo there under the Russian letter H, which is the letter N in English. Sometimes I feel like that little bird: Perched in transition. Sort of belonging to the building birds, sort of belonging to the bramble birds. But living in-between and flying solo when need be.

Please help with this. What analogy might there be here with these sparrows? Feel free to fly by, provide a comment and enlighten the rest of us. . . hanging around at the border.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Welcome to the Black Sea: A Bit of Geography

I've been deluged with requests to provide blog readers with some geography of southwest Russia (maybe true, maybe not) and so I'm quite pleased to offer a quick tour, a bird's-eye-view of the area thanks to Google Earth (absolutely true). So please buckle up, we're heading many miles above the earth...

And suddenly here we are, nearly 4,000 miles above the Black Sea (1) which is fed by the Sea of Azov (2). The Caspian Sea (3) is off to the east.

Here the same perspective with political boundaries added. Note that each of the seas is surrounded by several countries. As above, the Sea of Azov (2) flows into the Black Sea (1). And the Caspian Sea (3) is over there east, toward Siberia.

Let's zoom in a bit closer. Here we are, only 1000 miles above the Black Sea. Look carefully and you might spot exotic sea creatures such as sharks and octopus (maybe, maybe not).

Admittedly, this little map won't win the Miss World Map beauty contest but she does offer great information. Think of the Black Sea as the face of a clock and the Ukraine is at 12:00 position, Russia at 2 and 3 o'clock positions and Turkey at 6:00 position. In between is Georgia at 4:00. Off on the west are Bulgaria, Romania and Moldava but we're not going thata way today.

Now let's have a look at some favorite cities. Rostov-on-Don (1), at nearly 2 million, is the largest city in southwest Russia. From Rostov, it's an overnight train trip south to Sochi, pronounced SO-chee (2), known as the Miami Beach of Russia. Imagine, palm trees in Russia! Come summer, thousands of folks head toward the Black Sea coast and Sochi. As you may have heard, Sochi is the site of the 2014 Winter Olympic games.

An overnight ferry runs from Sochi to Trabzon, Turkey (5) and I took it back in 2000. It was my quasi-brillant idea to escape Russia during the Y2K uproar and head to Trabzon which, quite conveniently, is home to several special friends whom I met in graduate school at Texas Tech, Lubbock. There was only one problem: After I arrived in Sochi, the ferry was cancelled a day or two because of Ramadan, a religous holiday. And then it was cancelled a day or two because of stormy seas. And so the big escape to Trabzon ran about five days after the so-called crisis had already blown over. I went anyway and enjoyed most of all being with dear friend Hamiyet, meeting her family and seeing Trabzon. Istanbul (6) is way west, spanning the mouth of the Black Sea as it flows toward the Mediterranean.

Hold on while we zoom north across the Black Sea to the Ukraine. Last week I was in Mariupol, originally a Greek colony and it's right on the Sea of Azov (we pronounce it a-ZOV in Russian).

From Rostov-on-Don to the Ukranian border is around 65 miles. In recent years, as the Ukraine softens its stance toward the west, the country has relaxed its visa policy. Visas are no longer required of U.S. citizens or of folks from several other countries. Still, I do have stories to share about that and the run-around, even recently, from local officials who still apparently still haven't gotten the memo on that. But such stories can wait.

Well, that's it for today's look at a few geographical highlights of the Black Sea and southwest Russia. Thank you for joining me! And now it's your turn: Have you been to the Black Sea or Sochi? Please share where you've been and when! you plan to come to Sochi for the Winter Olympic Games, 2014? As a spectator or as a competitior?

Sunday, February 03, 2008

I'm Ho-ho-home!

Tonight fresh off the bus, waiting for a taxi at the station, glanced around and what a magnificient billboard that says *I'm home!* This sign is huge -- it covers eight stories of a 10-story building.

This is how I felt tonight arriving in Rostov - just like the photo. I managed to resist hugging the person who met me, though. That would have been the taxi driver. And as wonderful as was my little jaunt over to Mariupol, Ukraine, it's always soooo good to be back in ones very own nest.

See the Frozen Sea

Standing on the Sea of Azov, the northeastern corner of the Black Sea. Hoping to work on my sea standing technique until I can walk on water. Just like Peter did for a half a minute.

View straight south across the Sea of Azov.

View out over the Sea of Azov from stairway leading down.