Russia- Day 11 (and 12)

April 14, 2010

Well everyone got up and around on time and left for the Moscow airport at 8 a.m.  The traffic was, once again, unbelievable.  I’ve developed nerves of steel and look forward to driving the lazy streets of Tulsa again!

The flight to New York was started with a delay on the tarmac in Moscow as air traffic was backed up.  After a very long 10-hour flight we arrived in New York at 3:30pm and sat on the taxiway for another 30 minutes because there was another plane at our gate.  After disembarking the plane, we waited approximately 45 minutes for our bags.  Once we got our bags, we had to go through customs.  With all of the combined delays, we were informed that we missed our connecting flight to Detroit and had been re-routed to Atlanta where we would need to spend the night.  At first, Delta decided it wasn’t their fault and were NOT going to cover the expense of meals and hotel.  Well…after 10 hours on an airplane, my fuse was pretty short and I would up “convincing” Delta that the expense was theirs and we got to stay at a very nice Renaissance by the airport.

As I write this final blog about our Russia trip, I am on the flight from Atlanta to Tulsa and we are scheduled to land at 10:30 a.m.   We plan on stopping by the office briefly and then going to home to unpack and decompress.

We took ten different planes on our trip and traveled 15,678  miles.  We saw what was left of a society that Lisa and I were brought up to fear.  It was fun to see the differences between our cultures.  Honestly, I was surprised at how hard I had to look for the similarities.  It bears repeating how blessed we are in the United States.  One of the favorite things I’ll take away from the trip in watching the boys SEE and EXPERIENCE the cultural differences.  I think they had a blast.

Well…we’ve started our descent into Tulsa; the captain has turned on the fasten seat belt sign, our seats and tray tables must be stored in the locked and upright positions, all electronics turned off and put away and seatbelts securely fastened.  Gotta go!

P.S.   I’m having a huge Diet Coke right now with ICE, wonderful ICE!!

PEKA!

Russia- Day 10

April 13, 2010

We traveled back to Moscow today with Alex, landing around 9:30am.  After arriving back at the hotel, we took a nap until 1:00pm and headed out to check out the local market places.  These places are absolutely fascinating to me.  If you really want a glimpse into how Russians live, check out these places.  This particular market place that we visited was laid out in rows of small, prefabricated metal buildings.  In one, there were fresh nuts and spices; in another there was fresh baked bread.  One had dried fish of every shape and size while one had fresh meats and cheeses.  When I say the meat was fresh….there was an entire freshly skinned pig on the top of the counter.

Before leaving, we hit the candy and chocolate building.  Wow…the Russians like their chocolate.  There was always someone coming in or leaving this small store.   We bought a LOT of chocolate for family and friends and made the shopkeeper very happy indeed.

From there we went to a local mall and finally found some cool soccer (football) jerseys for the Russian National team.  Mr. Parsons is gonna be pumped!  The malls are laid out similar to ours but with a minimum of three to four levels.  We wandered around checking out the local sites until early evening and went back to the apartment to relax and get ready for our massive travel day back to the States on Tuesday.  My cold has gotten a lot worse and I plan to hit the rack early.

We have a 7:00 a.m. wake-up call.  We need to leave the apartment by 8:00 a.m.  in order to arrive at the airport by 10:00 a.m. Our flight leaves at noon and I must say that I am looking forward to my arriving back in the United States.  It has been a wonderful trip, full of experiences that we will not soon forget, but it really makes you appreciate your homeland.

For our family, Russia has earned a playful nickname.  “The Land of Nyet” (no).  Everywhere you go you are being told, “no, you can’t do that”, “no, you can’t take that photo”, “no, you can’t stand there”.  I mean no disrespect; it’s just very different and hard to comprehend the limitations that are placed on daily life.  The one thing I have missed most is being able to look someone in the eyes, smile and say hello.

Russia- Day 6

April 8, 2010

Russian Orthodox CathedralWe are sitting in the airport waiting on our flight to Nizhnevartovsk.  From now on I will refer to this city as Nizh because it’s much easier to type!  The time is 11:40pm and there is not much to report for today’s events.  We have spent the majority of our time in transit.  We did have the opportunity to do some laundry, re-pack our suitcases in order to bring the bare necessities to Nizh and to take a nap.  The flight from St. Petersburg was uneventful (just the way you like them) and Alex was waiting at the airport to pick us up.  Alex has been a terrific host and has anticipated our every need.

After a nap and shower, we went to dinner at a Tajik restaurant less than a mile from our apartment.  The food was fantastic as usual.  Every dish was new to us so I cannot begin to define them.  The salad was a shredded turnip, lamb meat and a very light mayonnaise dressing.  The soup was a pelmeni of sorts and the broth tasted very buttery.  One of the dishes was similar to a cabbage roll but was wrapped in grape leaves and stuffed with lamb.  The entrée was a rice pilaf served with lamb and a huge dumpling stuffed with lamb.  Are you picking up a theme?

Alex and I in Red Square

There are at least five major airports in Moscow and we have now seen three of them.  The one we are currently in is VERY nice and has the latest of all appointments.  QUICK SIDEBAR:  When we were waiting for the plane to take us to St. Petersburg, we were at a smaller and older airport.  I decided to visit the restroom before the flight.  Man…I wish I hadn’t!  There were approximately a dozen men sitting on the floor of the bathroom that measured maybe 20 ft x 20 ft and they were all chain-smoking.  I literally gagged as I was taking care of my business.  The smoke was extremely dense and hung 5 feet from the ceiling.

As  I type, Alex’s friends from his University have arrived for their flight with us.  It appears that we will have at least 12-15 people on the same flight headed to the wedding.  While I was very excited to see the sights in Moscow and St. Petersburg, the best part of the trip is beginning for me.

As I haven’t taken much pictures today, I will post some of my favorites from the days past.  More posts to come (wi-fi permitting).

The Whole Gang

The Whole Gang

PEKA!

Russia- Day 4

April 6, 2010

Statue outside KremlinHello from St. Petersburg! Words cannot express how tired we are but it is worth it! It is now early Wednesday morning and I have finally got some wifi in the hotel that we are staying at. We started the day yesterday in Moscow, getting up early as promised. We got couldn’t resist the temptation to have a bite of McDonalds! I have to admit that I will try to adapt to just about every custom but this “no ice” thing is for the birds!! I ordered a Diet Coke (Coke Light as they call it) with LOTS of ice. It was the absolute best feeling to finally drink something cold besides the occasional beer.

Alex took us back to the Kremlin and Red Square complex so that we could take pictures of St. Basil during the day and go see Lenin’s Tomb. This dude has been laying in a glass coffin since 1926 (I think I got that date right) and he looks surprisingly good! There were many people and activities going on in the square so we just walked and took in the sights. I stood in the “Middle of Moscow” and made a wish. This is a brass inlay at the entrance to Red Square from which all distance measurements are taken.

St. Basil's Cathedral

St. Basil's Cathedral

From Red Square, Alex took us over to see a walled, working Monastery. While it was beautiful, it was closed! So we decided to walk around it instead. The walk was nice and we were able to observe many locals feeding the ducks around a frozen pond. Nice to see average daily life.

We headed to the airport around 6pm to meet up with Camille who made the trip to St. Petersburg with us. We arrived around 10:00pm and were met by a friend of Alex’s father. He and his wife drove us all to the hotel in the central square called M Hotel. Very nice accommodations that were arranged in advance by Serge (Alex’s dad). We decided to stay up a bit and walk around the central boulevard and take in some sights. The traffic is just as bad here but at least the roads appear to be straight and not curvy like Moscow.

We are headed out today with our own guide and bus to check out the “must see’s”. Gonna be a VERY busy day! I’ll give another update in the morning!

OBSERVATIONS:
– You cannot put your hands in your pockets while walking thru Lenin’s tomb. You also cannot stop to take a closer look.
– No eye contact is made in public unless absolutely necessary and everyone looks either sad or angry.
– The public restrooms store the toilet paper on the outside of the stalls. Be sure and bring enough for the job!
– Most of the restaurants that we visit do not expect tips when you bring the bill.
– The traffic is an absolute nightmare. The lanes are merely suggestions as are the speed limits. I’m a pretty brave guy but I will confess that there is NO WAY I would drive in Moscow.
– The beer is amazing. Most of you know that I consider myself a beer connoisseur and I have tasted some pretty good beers, but they have a beer here that I’m hoping I will have access to in the States. It translates into “Siberian Crown”. Very tasty indeed.
– Passengers clap on the plane when you land safely.
– You are taken to the plane on the tarmac via a bus and expected to walk up a large flight of stairs into the airplane.
– I was at least a decade older than both pilots.
– Street car racers are popular here. We saw many cars racing down the middle of the city center that were traveling at LEAST 120 mph. Amazing to see.

Russia- Day 3

April 6, 2010

Well…the path to hell is paved with good intentions! We were supposed to get up early and head out to see the city but wound up staying up until past 3am talking, eating and of course…drinking vodka with Brett and Zina. The kids went to bed around 11:00pm and it was so quiet that we took advantage of processing all that had transpired so far. We are on sensory overload but at least we have had a chance to get our bodies back in our sleeping rhythms. (for the most part!).

We had breakfast around noon consisting of a pancake-like crêpe covered in a sweet yogurt sauce along with fresh fruit. We then left with our trusty tour guide (Alex) and headed into the heart of the city. We visited the Kremlin and took a lot of photos within the walls. The cathedrals are spectacular! I got scolded by one of the staff for trying to take a picture. I’m blaming it on the language barrier. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it! It’s hard to wrap your mind around how old these churches are. One of the cathedrals was packed with the sarcophagus’ of all the czars of the past. One of the wooden coffins dated to the 13th century. The amount of adornment on the walls, floors and ceilings boggles the mind.

Moscow Kremlin Wall by clurross

Moscow Kremlin Wall by clurross

We stopped at a sidewalk café and had hotdogs for a mid-afternoon snack. We also visited some of the tourist shops set up on the sidewalk around Red Square. Hayden decided to buy a traditional Russian hat with Fox fur trimmings. Very posh!

From Red Square we headed to the northern part of the city to a place called VDNH. This part of the city is like a forgotten area from Soviet times. The buildings and monuments are all large and beautiful but are in a state of disrepair. Most of the buildings are now used for various exhibitions for farmers and other agricultural crops. There is an actual Russian rocket on display in one of the courtyards as well as a very impressive statue of Lenin.

After walking around five miles, we were tired and met up with Camille (Alex’s other sister), Dennis (Camille’s husband), and Zina for Sushi. Zina and Kate (Alex’s fiancé) headed to the airport after dinner to fly to Nizhneyvartovsk a few days early. Our intention is to head to bed early so we can have a full day in Moscow on Tuesday. We leave for Saint Petersburg around 8pm. More to come tomorrow!

Paka!

Russia- Day 2

April 4, 2010

After going to bed at 2:00am, we had every intention of getting up around 8am and hit the city hard.  We got up at noon!  It’s been a long time since we have felt this exhausted.  After having a wonderful breakfast of breaded pork chops, cheese, eggs and smoked meats, we headed out to the market to buy some food for an early dinner.  We are told that at most family events, small meals are served every two-three hours.  I could get used to this!

We visited a small market where fresh meats, cheeses and vegetable are sold, a small store that sold nothing but freshly brewed piva (beer) and a small grocery store.  Two observations….the vodka isle is an entire length of the store and there is a large section of the store devoted entirely to tea.  We also stopped and bought a vobla (a salt cured and dried fish).  Zina promptly skinned it upon our return and we had another snack meal before heading into the downtown area for site-seeing.

Alex is a GREAT tour guide!  He brought us to Arbat street to check out the sites. (picture Bourbon street without the drunks and Beale Street without the blues).  Very cool but only about 5% of the people are Russian.  The rest are tourists.    
We went into a Russian Orthodox church during an Easter mass/ceremony of some kind.  The church was the most adorned I’ve ever seen and the chorus was wonderful.  The resonance of the voices was fantastic.  In the late afternoon, we rode the Moscow Metro (terroists be damned!).  We ate at a Japanese restaurant for dinner (insert joke about traveling half way around the world to eat Japanese here).

seven sisters building in Moscow, Russia by pixelhut

Seven Sisters Building in Moscow, Russia. Photo by pixelhut

After dinner, we drove around the city watching the nightlife from the comfort and safety of the car.  One of the buildings that sticks out in my mind is one of the “seven sisters of Moscow”.  These buildings were built in various locations around Moscow and incorporate very similar if not identical architecture.  Beautiful!

We are now hanging out at the apartment with Brett and Zina having late night conversation and snacks.  These people eat a LOT!  It is almost 11:00pm local time and we are heading to bed soon.  More to posts (and maybe some pictures)  tomorrow.

Russia- Day 1

April 3, 2010

I am sitting in an apartment that belongs to a friend of Alex’s.  After an amazing dinner at a local restaurant, we ar sitting in the kitchen drinking a beer at 11:30 pm local time.  Here is a brief recap of the day’s events.  For those of you keeping track of time…we left  for the airport at 5:00am Tulsa Time on Friday morning and arrived in Moscow on Saturday morning at 10:00 am Russia time.  The kicker is that we have yet to go to bed.  So if you do the math, it is  3:00 pm on Saturday afternoon Tulsa time.  That’s a long time without sleep.

A brief recap of our day…..we met Brett, Zina and their two girls in New York around 1:00pm.  After a quick lunch at the airport and a visit to the duty free shop, we boarded a very large plane (one step below a 747) and departed for Moscow at 4:05 pm.  The flight was absolutely brutal!  One cool thing about it was that when it got really late, a handful of  Russian citizens on the plane congregated in the rear galley and drank beer and wine all night.  Needless to say, Brett and I had a blast.  I will say that regardless of the amount of alcohol flowing, there is no way to shorten the flight in your head.

Customs was non-existent.  We weren’t even asked one question!  We were immediately met by Alex and a couple of his friends and wisked away to an apartment on the south side of Moscow.

Apartment Building in Moscow

Apartment Building in Moscow

After unpacking, having a wonderful lunch (prepared by Alex’s fiance, Kate) and a quick power nap, we went on a tour of Moscow University, Christ the Savior Cathedral, Vorobievi gori (an overlook of the Moscow skyline).

We returned to the apartment around 6:00pm and met up with Alex’s sisters and extended family for the most amazing Azeri meal you could imagine at a restaurant across the street from the Moscow Zoo.  The meal consisted of at least 5 courses along with an entire bottle of vodka.  Very nice indeed.

After dinner, we went to Red Square to take in the sights at night.  Wow…what a truly amazing experience.  St. Basil’s Cathedral is everything I imagined and more.  I am having trouble posting pictures as we have limited Internet coverage.  I will post pics just as soon as possible.