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. ;)