Saturday, December 18, 2010

Visa Adventures in L'vov, Ukraine

Greetings from Ternopil, northwest Ukraine and a quick post before I hop back on the train and head back to my beloved Rostov-on-Don. A few favorite sights of the last two weeks. Came to L'vov, Ukraine to renew my Russian visa at the Russian Consulate there. Here are a few quick highlights.

This building warms my heart. It's the Russian Consulate in L'vov.

The Russian flag a little closer. I do love this flag. Actually what's most precious is the many wonderful folks who live under this flag.

Always fun to catch up with dear Larisa in L'vov. We met on the train in September 2008 and have kept in touch. Larisa is a university professor and psycho-therapist. She's a walking encyclopedia about local history and such a lovely person. Larisa's son studies in Canada and so she understands the gypsy life quite well.

Decided to wait a week for my visa, a way to save $$$. Actually, more than that, wanted to spend time in Ivano-Frankovsk with beloved Christian friends there.

Ivano-Frankovsk is 2.5 hours south of L'vov by train. Dear brother Bogdan met me at the station. Bogdan was a priest in the Russian Orthodox church in years gone by. He has a great wife, Lydmila, and three neat teenagers. I appreciate his love for God and his deep love for the little flock he serves in Ivano-Frankivsk.

Oh, here's a familiar face. Time out for a quick photo at the Ivano-Frankovsk station. Oh, it's nippy outside. Glad I'm an Ohio girl ~ so freezing temps were part of childhood!

Apparently, it was walk-your-child-in-the-snow week in Ivano-Frankovsk. People are into getting some exposure to the sunshine, regardless of the temperature. Here's Little Miss Pink with her grandpa. Have to smile at his patience, letting Little Pinkie do her own driving.

A public beating in progress. Heard a whacking sound and saw this fellow was beating his rug in the snow. This is a common way of cleaning a small rug. Guess it works. They say it's more effective than vacuuming. Well, Mr Whacker caught me taking his photo. What could I do but wave ~ and he waved back. Seems folks are more accustomed to being photographed nowadays. Glad for that. . .

But the dearest sights of all, are seeing the faces of beloved Christian brothers and sisters. Here with dear sister Alina Timofeyovna (meaning Alina, daughter of Timothy). Loved being with her because our first names are nearly identical. More than that, she reminds me of my beloved Grandma Bauman.

Sisters in Ivano-Frankovsk were happy to tromp through snow and cold for a ladies' Bible class. So I pulled together a lesson ~ about the value of keeping a prayer journal and the blessings of memorizing scripture ~ and we had a special time together. Dear sweet Larisa, left back, baked this magnificent cake from scratch for the occasion. Larisa also walks 40 minutes to church on Sundays when the buses don't run from her neighborhood. Now that's heroic.

Back to L'vov for 2 nights to pick up my visa and wait for the train back toward Rostov. L'vov has so many historical buildings. Larisa tells me that Nazi invaders spared L'vov during WW2 in an effort to charm the locals into helping as they invaded the former USSR. So, many buildings are hundreds of years old.

Lots of new life in L'vov of course. Including this computer center. In fact, the sign above the door is basically transliterated directly from English into Russian - and says Notebook Center, pronounced almost the same as in English.

The road to Ivano-Frankovsk is that-a-way, as is the road to Ternopil, the next stop on my little trip, two hours s'east of L'vov.

So thankful for an open door to return to Russia. This is the answer to many prayers. There is never a guarantee that my visa will be renewed. That the door has remained open for me is simply the answer to so many prayers.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Tehran 1943: The Rostov Youth Who Saved the Big Three

On this date in 1943, Joseph Stalin, Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt came together at the Tehran Conference to plan strategy in the war against Nazi Germany. Hitler had learned about their plans for a secret meeting and plotted to have them killed or kidnapped. His efforts were thwarted thanks in part to Gevork Vartanyan, a Russian lad born here in Rostov-on-Don, who moved to Iran with his parents.

Just happen to have a photo of The Big Three taken two years after Tehran, during their Yalta Conference in 1945. This, their final meeting together, was at Livadia Palace, the Crimean Republic of Ukraine.

Okay, back to Tehran in 1943. . .

Russia Today (RT) interviewed our hero, Gevork Vartanyan, the legendary spy, now retired. History buffs will enjoy this interview in English. He's quite loyal and diplomatic too as shown when the interviewer asked for his candid opinion about Stalin and his leadership in the war.

This interview is in Russian and conducted at a Moscow university. Here Vartanyan is shown together with his wife. As I understand it, Vartanyan says 75% of his intelligence efforts were thanks to his wife.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Russian Teens Baffled by Communist Holiday

Back in the days when the Communist Party ran things around here, November 7th was the Day of the Revolution, a major holiday. Today the party faithful still parade through town, their ranks a only remnant of earlier strength. But to the teenagers I ran on a recent afternoon, November 7th was just another day. In fact, they were clueless that it had ever been a holiday. Here's how that went.

Sure, you can take my picture, I said. Just make sure I'm the youngest, thinnest and the most beautiful one in the photo. (Whahah!)

Well, they did try. ;)

I'd been downtown an hour or so already, perusing souvenirs from sidewalk vendors in Gorky Park and hoping to target some Communists. With my camera, of course. November 7th is their big day so they were making their presence known. They were celebrating the October Revolution, when Communist forces lead by Vladimir Lenin took over the Russian government. That was shortly after Czar Nicholas II was booted out of office and summarily executed.

Well, November 7th no longer a public holiday and the Communist Party has faded considerably. But to the die-hard party loyalists, the day remains sacred. Earlier that morning, en route to church, we had spotted a few dozen celebrants gathered near the Stella statue, waving their red flags with gold hammers and sickles. Their usual routine is to march through the city on Pyshkinskaya Boulevard making considerable racket with bullhorns and a brass band and then gather at the statue of Lenin.

Later that afternoon, I managed to catch several stragglers who were lingering after the festivities. I was still watching for Communists and sure enough, there at the Lenin statue was a faithful komrad, pleased to salute for a photo.

The placard says something about 93 years since the revolution. And that is of such significance to the three-plus generations of Russian folk who lived under Communism.

See the teens on the street would have been born after the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, after Russia opened up in the early 1990's and after the USSR dissolved soon thereafter. They don't remember life before McDonald's. Their parents and grandparents would remember the fanfare of November 7th, of course, up through the 1980's. Girls would remember getting new dresses for the parade and the masses were released from school and work to celebrate in the city streets.

So then, I wanted to know what these youth were thinking. And they wanted to take my picture so we got to chatting.

Me: Is today an important holiday to you?

Them: Today is a holiday? (giggle, giggle) What holiday is it? Maybe Men's Day?

Noooo, Men's Day is in February.

Is it Russian Independence Day?

Nooo, Independence Day is in June. . .

See the man over there at Lenin's Statue? The guy with the red flag? Today's the day of the October Revolution, when Communism came into power.

Ohhh. . . (giggle, giggle)

So that was the end of that. And then it was on to questions about the America, the usual questions. Another topic entirely. . .

Oh, you need to meet Komrad So-and-so. We met earlier in the park when I was looking for souvenirs. Seems that he's a local officer of The Party.

He was chatting with the coin and pin vendor there at Gorky Park, near the statue of Lenin.

He was kind enough to let me circle around as to get a better shot at him. I didn't mention that I'd been hoping to photograph folks of his ilk. . .

The statue to Lenin. It's amazing how many Lenin statues are still standing throughout Russia and Ukraine. Probably interesting to know how many have been pulled down, too.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Of Billboards, Elephants and Snickers

Advertising is so interesting. Especially when it's about eating. Especially when it's about eating nutrient-loaded candy bars.

So what's with this Snickers? Let's zoom on in a wee bit closer. Say, can you smell that yet? As for me, my nose is still processing the men's after-shave that just wafted past. . .

Have you ever eaten an elephant?

Snickers Super: The Very Biggest in History.

No connection ~ either implied or inferred (whatever that means) ~ between plowing through Snickers Supers and turning into an elephant.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Schwarzenegger Charms Moscow

In recent days, California Governor Arnold Schwartzenegger made good on a promise to visit Russia. The video shows him braving the Moscow metro, a feat which earned him major bonus points with locals.

What a charming conversationalist. The governor tells about being inspired as a child by a Russian weightlifter, noting the athlete's name in perfect Russian.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Back in Rostov, Lots to Celebrate

Switched into gypsy mode on a recent Wednesday morning and headed Dallas to Atlanta and then on to Moscow. Caught an overnight train Moscow to Rostov-on-Don, arriving that Friday afternoon just in time for the Day of the City, Rostov's birthday. Oh, and here are some sights from along the way, especially for you. . .

But first, Happy Birthday Rostov! The city celebrated its 261st birthday that weekend, September 17-18. The bank building above overlooks Theatre Square and often sports the biggest poster in town, 14-some stories high.

Oh, but hold on, hold on. . . let's rewind a bit.

First in Atlanta, encouragement to the troops who pass through that airport. Ah yes, would that every soldier who returns would come home to big hugs and yellow ribbon.

Then there's AT&T who offers the Best coverage worldwide. Say, these teapots are worth a closer look. . .

How clever is that! But pity the hand model. Imagine, going through life with such stubby fingers.

Or. . . not.

I hiked from Terminal A to E versus catching the train and finally, here's it is: the escalator up to heaven. . . or maybe up to the departure level. There's a food court up there. And a bookstore. And an interfaith chapel. I ended up visiting two out of three of those spots. . . Not saying which ones. ;)

Two hours before flight time, there's my Delta 46 getting prepped to head east across the big pond. Watching this plane being fueled and fed, I had no clue as to the surprise awaiting me. . .

But first, time to fill, pandas to shoot. Clever, those nifty little leaves in there. Wonder if these pandas are related to that of Eats, Shoots and Leaves fame?

Back to the gate, waiting with 206 of my closest friends for our 4:15 departure for Moscow. I asked the gate agent for a seat, preferably an aisle seat, preferably row F. He worked on that for several minutes which was kind of him, considering the queue.

Later on the plane, I headed through first class back to steerage and couldn't find my seat, 3F, in coach. That's because ~ and this was an absolute surprise to me ~ the gate agent had upgraded me to first class. I was positively euphoric for hours, probably the least sophisticated passenger in first class - it was old hat to everybody else.

I was so overcome that I didn't manage to photograph a single thing. Not even the fine dining with the cloth tablecloths and tray covers. Not even the fully-reclining seats with 75 or so controls and the big fluffy pillows and cottony comforters. And I certainly didn't get a shot of my traveling companion, the guy between me and the window who was in zombie mode the entire trip. You'll forgive me for that, won't you please? Who knows, maybe ~ just maybe ~ someday I'll have a second chance. ;)

Anyway, after 10-ish hours aloft, we landed at Moscow's Sheremetevo Airport, northwest of that city of 13 million people, last I heard. Next, I needed to get from Moscow to Rostov-on-Don. Not the first time I've done that, for sure. But this time. . .

I decided to try something new for Moscow to Rostov-on-Don leg, 650-miles south. Instead of taking Aeroflot and forking over thousands of rubles for my last minute ticket, for my excess baggage, I took the train. It's a time versus money trade-off. I enjoyed having nearly 24 hours to sleep and read, not to mention saving buckets full of rubles. Aeroflot, my condolences. . . I had this whole wagon nearly to myself. I'm not quite understanding why, especially because they said the 3rd class wagons were packed. Oh well, as for this nice, quiet wagon, I'll take it!

Met this cheery four-some at a stop along the way. Asked the fellow in black where he found his t-shirt (click photo to enlarge). In Holland, he said, and his companions burst into laughter. They had been drinking their way south, I rather suspect.

On the road again. Somehow now my wagon is at the end of the train. Glad somebody else is keeping track of adding and subtracting train cars. Guess it's included in the ticket price.

Heading into southwestern Russia and the distant mounds are signs of coal mining.

Another train station, the shashlik lady. Reckon these two are kin? Chicken shashlik, sounded so good and looked so good that I bought it. It was way too expensive, of course, but the chicken was tasty, what there was of it. Still, they gave me this nice photo.

Then there was the potato lady who scrubbed, peeled and packaged this herself. Later, the guys squatting in the background decided to be friendly, shouting out Hello America, or some such.

Back on the train, the attendant lady ~ I like to call the attendants stewardesses and that makes them laugh ~ brought me this pod-sta-KAN-chik with hot tea. Reminiscent of the era of the Russian czars, nowadays, on long-distance trains, hot drinks are served in these. Podstakanchik means literally, under-the-glass-thingy. Works for me.

Welcome to home to Rostov-on-Don!

Friend Misha is so good about meeting me at the Rostov train station. Here he's bumping down the steps with my biggest bag. Why are we heading down this stairway when we're within two feet of an escalator?

Here's why. . .

Some things tend to be more decorative than functional, such as this escalator. Actually, seems I do recall a time or two when the escalator was working. So come on komrads, let's buck up and head on down. . .

Happy Birthday, dear Rostov. . .

As mentioned earlier, Rostov was in a celebratory mood when I arrived back. Had nothing to do with me, I eventually realized, but rather with the Day of the City, the 261st birthday of our wonderful Rostov-on-Don. I love the philosophy here, that if something's worth doing, it's worth doing on a large scale. There's exhibit #1.

A wider view of the Stella Bank building, set in Theater Square, Rostov-on-Don. Oh, is it ever wonderful to be back in my favorite adopted city. Thank you, dear blog readers for joining me in this journey spanning 9 time zones and thousands of miles.

Credit to whom it's due:

Each time I pass through Passport Kontrol in Moscow, am admitted into Russia and end up here in Rostov-on-Don, I'm mindful of the doors that opened for this to happen. This time, thanks goes to my new best friend, Desiree of FedEx. On the Tuesday before I was scheduled to depart on Wednesday, she delivered my passport and new visa into Russia. Without that visa, there's no even getting on the plane. So thank you FedEx and Desiree!

Seriously, I'm so grateful for the opportunity to live and serve here in Rostov-on-Don. Each time the door opens, I'm thankful for an answer to many prayers.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Kesha: Cockatiel a Great Distraction

Ever try to concentrate on something important ~ Russian vocabulary, for instance ~ and have someone in the same room who insists on chirping? Meet Kesha, my aging cockatiel.

Can't imagine where he learned this song. Seems to be part of his DNA because he's been singing it for years. Do you have a pet who likes attention? Even when you're doing something important? Please do share. . .

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Panning from the River Don

Dear Friends, today I was thinking about you as I was standing on the Voroshilovskii Bridge over the Don, fiddling at length with my camera. Oh, let me tell you, thanks to a generous friend, I have a new camera. It's a nice combination of versatile, capable, light and unobtrusive. Step by step, I'm learning to use it. And today, today was panorama day. I've been dreaming of sharing with you wider shots of this wide, wild wonderful world here in Rostov-on-Don. And now, thanks to this jazzy little Sony Cyber-shot, here's a couple of pans plus a surprise.

Click to enlarge image. Bounce up and down in your chair and you'll feel the bridge shake. Turn on a fan and you'll feel the wind blow. People with any sense were wearing close-toed shoes and socks. Now don't ask me what I was wearing. Because I was thinking mostly about you, and you and. . .you and how to capture these sights, sounds and scents. So anyway, here's what we managed to capture of the Don River flowing west toward the Sea of Azov and then on to the Black Sea.

Now here's a really wide pan, starting from the left bank of the Don - which geography experts say is technically Asia - and looking mostly northwest. (Click image to enlarge.) I was wishing it would have been easy to capture the other side of the bridge, facing east. But there were minor details such as heavy traffic and a couple of thigh-high walls to vault and such. And I needed to protect my camera from traffic injury, you see. . . and besides, panning is fine, but let's not try dead-panning, okay? ;)

Now here's the surprise: How would you like to work and travel in the USA? See, here's your big chance! Please consider it, what a wonderful opportunity it could be. As the blue, diagonal text says, Open your America with Star Travel!

Friday, October 01, 2010

Peanut Butter Supplies at Critical Lows

Peanut butter. Do you take it for granted? I can almost guarantee that if you're an expat, you do not. We hoard the stuff and it is difficult to find in Russia. For me, a spoonful of peanut butter helps the oatmeal go down. That with a few raisins thrown in is a comfort food from childhood. But peanut butter is out of stock at the moment. Except for the one choice, below. . .

Sad isn't it. Here we are in the ice cream section, where peanut butter is stocked but there's one lonely little jar sitting there, left. It's from France. It doesn't even speak Russian. We. Or Wii. Or Oui Oui. Nor do I. But there it is. See that's $7.70 for that jar (235 rubles w/ 30.5-ish rubles to the dollar) and it has a different taste. It reminds of peanut butter-flavored icing. Say, let's go check in the honey section.

Here we are in the Department of Honey. Click to enlarge because of course you want to see this yourself. ;) It's mostly honey but at the bottom left, there is some peanut butter squirreled away. But it's that French variety again. They call it pate because they're kind of fancy, even with peanut butter.

Seems as though twice a year, this big supermarket gets a shipment of peanut butter from Kentucky. It comes crunchy, smooth or light. I go for the crunchy, thank you for asking, komrads. So I stop by regularly to see if they're restocked so I can hoard. It's not inexpensive and it's not light to haul it home but, boy howdy, it's so good stirred into that bowl of steamy hot oatmeal. And in breakfast burritos with mashed banana and raisins. But to each her own.

Well, this honey is reminding me of something back across the store. Come along, please. May I call you Honey? Oh, that was my mother's nickname as a child. Honey. And according to family legend, that's the only name she would answer to at home. Funny though, we got away with calling her Mom. Come to think of it though, I'd gladly call her Honey, if that meant having a few precious moments together. . . Just realized that if my dear mother where still in the land of the living, I wouldn't even have to think about peanut butter, she'd be sending it to me regularly. Now that I'm complaining, you understand, just wistful.

Here's the Department of Honey from the Don Region, not to be confused with that commercially canned stuff from who knows where. Seems as though the Queen Bee of this little department has zipped on home for the evening but that doesn't stop us from looking. Look, all different kinds of local honey made from various flowers in the area. And I had to take this picture pretty fast because, well, there were reasons. . . let me just say that sometimes in these parts, we gotta be surreptitious about things.

Honey or nyet, there's no real peanut butter to be found in this store, and if it's in any other store, that's a well kept secret. You know, I used to haul jars of it from the US back to Rostov, back in the days when we were allowed two 70-pound bags on international flights. And I remember bringing back lots of peanut butter, thanks to cousin Earl who's with Smuckers, and they do peanut butter in a big way. But those days are history because can you believe, there are things more important to pack than peanut butter.

Interestingly, over the years, several packages sent me from the US have never arrived. Mysterious, yes. Those packages had one thing in common: They each contained a jar of peanut butter. Hmm, maybe the guys at the customs office have started adding peanut butter to their oatmeal, too. ;)

Friday, September 24, 2010

Random Russian Sights on an Autumn Evening

Glory be, tram fares in Rostov-on-Don have gone up from nine rubles to ten. So with the current exchange rate - 31 rubles to the dollar - that's from 29 cents up to 32. See, I leave the country and inflation runs rampant. Which it does, regardless. But anyway, we're on the tram now, so let's enjoy the sights.

The main sight here is. . . folks getting on and some major discussion between the driver and lady about her transport pass.

Grabbed this picture quick like with my new little camera (Thanks dear JTO!) that's rather unobtrusive and easy to whip out in seconds. I was hoping for a quick little shot that nobody much would notice. Shortly thereafter, I spotted a police officer standing just two meters behind me and he was quite aware. I like to think that he was off-duty, anxious to get home to dinner. . .

Oh, here's my tram ticket. With the increased fares, guess they're giving out tickets again. Reminded me of an amusing Russian tradition I'd heard about years ago. I turned to the lady behind me to confirm. She smiled and explained that back during her childhood it was a fad to add up the first three black numbers. And if that sum is equal to that of the last three numbers, you're in for some good luck. But, only if you eat your ticket. That's right. Open wide and down the hatch. See, feels lucky already, doesn't it? Oh, well maybe next time we'll win. . .

Down off the tram and heading toward the Rostov Regional Library. In its shadow is this collection of used books: think Half-Price Books a la Rus. And look what we have here, the magazine, *Америка,* all about America circa 1978. Let's zoom on in.

Well my stars. . . and stripes. Here's our Abraham Lincoln. Never know who you're going to run into here in Rostov. Excuse us Abe, but we've gotta hurry along. Continuing on into the library, we head to the Department of Foreign Language where the English Discussion Club meets. Oh, what an interesting evening. . .

After our meeting, about half the group tromped together down Pyshkinskaya Boulevard and here we are. These young ladies are all quite fluent in English and they want to practice their English. They need to practice their English, but not nearly as much as I need to practice my Russian!

Welcome to McDonald's. It's quite the place to go, brimming with tech-savvy college students using the free WiFi. Besides that, the menu regularly features new menu items. Here McDonald's is introducing two new sandwiches to celebrate Mediterranean Weeks. On the left is Fresh Italian with crab, on the right is your basic Fresh Italian. Hamburger, that is. Which will you be having today? Myself, I went with the crab and it was pretty good.

Thank you dear friends for sharing a glimpse into life in Rostov-on-Don. I'm so grateful for the privilege of being here and serving as your tour guide from time to time.

Just wondering: Have you ever eaten a ticket for good luck? Or for additional dietary fiber? Have you ever run into a US President overseas? How do you plan to celebrate Mediterranean Weeks?