Off to Spain!

After not much sleep last night, Zhenya got me up to finish my packing (clothes were hang drying) and have some breakfast before we headed out for the airport. My flight was scheduled at 11:15, and we wanted to leave the house around 8am. And here began our stressful journey to the airport—Russian style.

Enter Russian Bureaucracy & Rules. Grisha needed to be brought to the kindergarten this morning to be taken care of during the day. Zhenya headed out 20 minutes later than we had planned and took Grisha to the kindergarten. We then got a phone call that he had arrived at the kindergarten but Grisha was not being accepted because he didn’t have a receipt of medical history stating that he was healthy during his two week absence. It was a different teacher than normal, so she wouldn’t budge. They tried to call a different teacher to have her vouch for Grisha’s health—especially since he looked like such a healthy boy. Finally, they bent the rules to accept him based on the previous teacher’s ‘recommendation’, but are required to bring documentation of his health tomorrow AM—meaning that he will have to be brought to the hospital tonight to get his receipt of health –OR—simply buy one for 500 rubles.

At this point, I was getting nervous as it was already 8:30 before I headed out to meet Zhenya at the station. Luckly, we met there shortly after I arrived and we started on our journey. Our original plan was to take the Aeroexpress but it only leaves once an hour so we changed our plan to ride the metro to the end of the line and get a bus to take us directly to the airport. This made me nervous again because of traffic jams during morning rush hour. It did seem like it would be ok since we were leaving the city instead of coming in.

After we got into a shuttle to the airport, we headed off and were making good time. It was about 9:45 at this point and I was feeling a little calmer about being on time since I could check in. Though, getting through security, and the entrance was in the back of my mind. Right when I was relaxing I hear a strange noise, and look at Zhenya thinking, you have got to be kidding me. Was that a flat tire I hear? We start pulling off the road and voila, a pancake flat tire. Everyone out of the van and let’s hang out on the side of the road until the next van comes.

Enter Random Russian Hitchhiking. All of a sudden we were out of the van and a nice car pulled over letting a woman from our van in—Zhenya ran over and apparently worked out a deal for us to get a ride with them and we were back on our way to the airport.

Once we arrived, we ran for the door and went through security and to the checkin counter. Luckily not one person was in line, and I was checked in and baggage taken all within about 5 minutes. Now we said our goodbyes and I went off to the gate to make sure I’m there on time for the flight.

The Last Supper

Today we spent the day relaxing and enjoying the weather. Zhenya Grisha and I went to the park with his bike in tow, along with his new scooter he got for his birthday. It was a nice day, but still some clouds in the sky. After a few hours in the park we went home and got changed to go to our last supper.

We went to an Italian place in Novogireeva and had some really great food—honestly probably the best I had in Russia. We ordered several drinks and dishes, and finished with some great desserts. Risottos, carpaccio, pizza, salads, and cheesecakes, ice cream in a coconut, and an ice cream sundae. It was a great way to spend our last supper enjoying and recounting the events that had happened during the week.

We then walked home and spent the evening playing PS3, Angry Birds (which thanks to me now everyone is addicted to), and I was getting my backpack ready for tomorrow to leave to Spain.

Off to the Dacha (Summer home)

This morning we got up late after our night out on the town last night. Today is also when we planned to visit Masha’s mother’s home and Dacha (summer shack) where you spend time in the garden having fresh vegetables from the garden and barbecue pork over the fire. To get there, we had to take a train which left at around 1pm.

We got to the station on time and played some games with Grisha, laughed and chatted, all the while, the train had sneaked up at a different platform without us knowing. Finally when it was past the time of us to see the train prepping, we asked, and they said it had changed platforms. (Thanks for the notice!) So we ran to the other train and found that almost every seat had already filled up. Luckily we found some semi-together which at least provided us with a comfortable ride to the country.

As the train left the station, we stopped at the next and the train became more and more crowded. I was thankful that we got seats because a lot of the people were on the train for quite a while and had to stand the entire way. I felt a little guilty as we were relaxing and listening to ipods, playing Angry Birds on the iphone, and overall laughing and chatting while others had to painfully stand during the long journey.

We then made it to Dorohoga and left the station to look shop for drinks/food. It had rained so things were muddy, and we made our way to the market. While going through the muddy streets, there were slats of wood laid down to create a bridge between puddles that we were all lined up to use. The fruits and vegetables all looked really fresh and rural and we then went inside a shop to buy more drinks.

With foodstuffs in hand, we went to find a car to drive us to Masha’s aunt and uncle’s house where the Dacha is. We arrived and we went straight to the garden and began munching on some pizza cooked by masha’s mom. We then took a little break and I helped Zhenya cut some wood for the barbecue (by axe!) and then retired to the daybed with Katya to relax while everything was being prepared (King Ben!) :D

Katya and I had funny conversations and then Grisha came to show me around the garden. He took me to each fruit in the garden that you could eat from the vine/bush and taught me the Russian word, and I taught the English word. Grisha has been great. Despite not being able to directly communicate with me, he’s been interested in teaching, laughs at my pronunciations, actively repeats when I teach him English, and actively listens asking what I’m talking about. It’s been really fun to see how he’s grown.

We then had our first round of amazing pork barbecued, with fresh cucumbers, tomatoes, potatoes with dill, and of course chocolates and other sweets. The family then presented Grisha with a couple of presents, including an air pellet type gun. After round one of dinner, we went and shot the gun at bottles/cans as a game. I came in 2nd place to my amazement.

After this, everyone sat down to eat again—I was already about to burst that I felt I couldn’t eat anymore. I laid down for a little bit and gained my strength to at least a little bit more. It was delicious so hard to resist.

After more relaxing, while it was still light, it was about 9:30pm and we needed to get back to the station to start our way back to Moscow. Katya and I did a little walk around the town and then we were ready to leave. We got to the station and started our journey home.

I had wanted to do some night photography but the weather hadn’t been agreeable so on our way home from the train station, Katya mentioned that we were near Red Square and that it was a nice night for pictures. I was so tired from the mounds of food we’d eaten all day that I said no, but in the end when the station actually arrived, just before the doors closed Katya and I jumped out to go walk around the Kremlin and Red Square for some pictures.

Of course as we approached, we noticed the gates were closed, and there was a special event going on that prohibited people from walking on Red Square while they deconstruct the stands and stuff that had been erected for the event. I could make a couple of pictures from the front, but I was a little disappointed that we weren’t able to walk around the square freely. We decided to go around the back of the square to see if we could get in, but again it was blocked off and we continued down towards the river which still offered a spectacular view of St. Basil’s cathedral at night. We continued on walking toward Tretyakovskaya and took pictures along the way. We then made it home exhausted and well fed from the day.

Day in the city and night on the town

Today, Zhenya’s father was leaving so Zhenya Grisha and I all headed out for a day together. First we went down to Tretyakovskaya to meet Katya and Sasha for lunch together. We went to Pronto again for a quick lunch. I had a pizza that was pretty good.

After our lunch together, Zhenya Grisha, Sasha and I took the train to see him off at the train station. It was really great to see him again…to think that I first met him in 1996 at the airport in Atlanta where our parents were able to discuss me and Zhenya’s first trip the next summer. To see him again in 1997, then 2003 for the wedding, and now. I feel tremendous love from the Baryshev family as a whole, and seeing the father off feels like I’m saying goodbye to my own relative.

We then decided to go up to the panoramic view from Moscow State University. We rode a bus up the hillside where MSU looks down at the city below. I’d been here just 4 years ago yet in the cold freezing weather—so cold that my fingers were unable to operate my camera buttons due to lack of feeling. Yet here I was standing and getting pop sickle  from a vendor.  Which, by the way was the best pop sickle I’d ever had. It was a tropical flavor, but in the core was a sweet center filled with something that popped like the old candy Pop Rocks. It was such a great refreshing taste.

After looking around a bit, we headed for the gondola that took us down to the river for us to get on a boat ride. Weaving through the Moscow River, it was really great to see the city from a different vantage point. I didn’t realize how much of the city was really nearby this river. After a nice ride with some great pictures, we then headed back to the metro yet all of a sudden a huge downpour came complete with thunder and lightning.

We found a Subway Sandwich shop and got a bite to eat while we waited out the rain. While we ate though, such loud cracks of lightning were happening all around us. Finally the rain stopped and we made our way to the metro stop to head back home. I wanted to do a little shopping at the mall before going back home so I sent Zhenya and Grisha home ahead of me while I went to Kurskaya.

While in the mall, I found some good deals at Celio, a French brand I hadn’t seen in a while—seemed like a lot of things are on sale throughout the mall touting 50-70% off, yet the prices still seemed regular. I then got a call from Katya saying that she wanted to go to TGIFriday’s for dinner. I wasn’t super hungry, but since it was where I was, I agreed.

Of course by the time we got seated, I was hungry and ready to order J We had our dinner along with some WiFi time and decided to go out to a club in the evening. We went home to go get ready and took the subway back basically to where we were to hit the club.

Unfortunately, everyone smokes here and there’s still smoking and non smoking sections in restaurants—given that cigarettes only cost about $2 a pack, I can see it’s a cheap habit to stop. In any case, when we weaved our way through a neighborhood block, we heard the music of the club we were going to. We paid our entrance and headed upstairs in this warehouse type venue with great Russian pop/and Top 40s type songs. We got our dance on and it was fun to see how young Muscovites spend their clubbing evenings. Funnily enough, it’s practically the same…

After a couple of hours of dancing, we decided to head home. We got a car and were driven all the way back to Novogireeva while our drive Vitalik shared to us his interest in the US.

It was an extremely eventful day!

Around the City

Today I went to Izmailova Markets which is a huge bazaar full of souvenirs and crafts. As I walked through the stalls, I saw the same tshirts, trinkets, soviet gear, and stacking dolls that I’d seen each time before, so it was less interesting. I did find a few things that I did like and got, but overall prices make me feel like a poor American. Things are not cheap, nor overly expensive rather, but they are simply a metropolitan prices.

I went through the stalls for a while weaving up and down and came across the BBQ stands, so I had lunch. The guy cooking spoke pretty good English. Later in the afternoon as I was looking at another stall, I heard, oh hey friend! And I looked up, and there he was again hanging out behind a ‘lighter’ stand helping his buddy sell the ‘best lighters in Moscow’. Actually, that’s one thing I’ve noticed here is how cheap the cigarettes are. They’re about $2 a pack. No wonder everyone is a chain smoker.


After Izmailova, I headed for Park Pebedi which is a huge war memorial plaza. They were setting up for a volleyball tournament that was coming here soon. Walking along the paths to the big obelisk at the end, people were swimming in the fountains and eating and enjoying the warm weather. Thankfully today was sunny so it was good to be outside. It was about 3:30 at this point, so I had a snack of a hot dog. The woman who sold me the hot dog was funny. She didn’t speak a word of English, but knew ‘ketchup and mayo’. When she went to dress the hot dog, she said, ‘Garchitsa’ (mustard), I said ‘Da’. Then she moved to Ketchup? ‘Net’. Mayo ‘Net’. Puchimu (why). Ya Ne Hachu. (I don’t want it). So she went back to Ketchup and smiled and said it again. I said ‘Net’. She then went to mayo again, so I said Garchitsa, ‘da’, and waved my hands together  trying to signal—that’s it! She was laughing which made me laugh and reminded me why I enjoy traveling so much. These interactions in a foreign country, with a foreign language are really priceless and precious.

After Park Pabedi, I headed for another park Tsaritsyno, which was the vacation place of Tsar’s apparently. I’ll need to look up the history, but it was a huge Germanesque type architected castle perched on a hillside overlooking a lake. Everyone was out enjoying the weather and music provided near the fountains. After walking around the lake, Katya told me to meet her near her work so we could go have dinner. I then went to Tretyovskaya Gallery to meet her. My legs and feet at this point were ridiculously tired for my backpack was the heaviest it’s been. Stupidly, I brought my netbook, my thermos, my big camera, my small camera, an umbrella, etc so it weighed a bit.

Once Katya and I met up, the evening was so nice that we walked, despite my feet not wanting to anymore. We walked almost an hour to the restaurant. I was parched and hungry. When we entered, a tray of food with the most amazing fries went by, so I was salivating to order. We got seated immediately since Katya had reserved our table. However, that’s where the service ended. I got the menu, and right when the girl came to speak to us, I asked Katya to get us a huge water as I was ridiculously thirsty. We also ordered a smoothie each. I found a smoothie that was made with red wine, but all the other fruits sounded delisious, so I asked if the wine could be substituted out. NET. So I ordered a different one. Katya ordered a Caesar Salad and added chicken. I found a Papparadelle pasta with mushrooms and cream sauce. So I asked if I could add chicken as well. NET. Finally, at the bottom of the menu, it shows the side of Fries, so I ordered those as well. NET. Wait, what? Why not?? Fries only come with meals right now. But, it’s listed as a side item. We’re out of French fries as a side item today. But… NET.

At this point I was truly annoyed, but I almost lost it when she came back to the table. It will be a while for your drinks because the bar is serving other people. Well, I was truly amazed that no one could pour me a glass of water in the time it took for OUR COMPLETE DINNER to be served to us, still without drinks. It wasn’t until I was half done with my meal that she brought over the water and smoothie. I found a new level of irritation in myself. I used to think I could only get amazingly irritated with someone withholds me from being fed, but I found a new heightened sense of fury when someone withheld me from quenching my thirst. Especially at a restaurant! Needless to say, I left a big fat 0 of a tip—but it’s not much of a smack in Russia, as it’s rare to tip, and a most, they leave 10%.

After dinner we walked to another station to head home. It was 10pm, and the sun still was out and made the walk to the station very relaxing and nice. After our metro ride, we met up with Zhenya and bought some fruit and helped him home with groceries to enjoy fun conversation over some food and drinks (yes, Dinner part deux).

Rainy Day in Moscow

Today was rainy outside and as I was preparing to leave the flat, Evgeny’s maid came. She was ‘warned’ that an American would be at home and that I didn’t speak any Russian, but that didn’t stop her from trying to interact with me. She spoke very slowly and clearly, to which basic things I understood. Good morning, how are you, to which I replied, but after that it was just all smiles and shrugs. When I left, she made sure I carried an umbrella with me :)

I headed to a place I picked on the subway map simply to have another long walk. I walked and walked but the rain kept me from doing any amazing pictures.

Moscow Walks

Today I got up and headed out to walk around the city. It’s funny the little tricks of Moscow I’ve picked up over the times I”ve been here that actually come in handy. The one I keep thinking about is the voice on the train. A man does the speaker announcements when you head Towards the city, and a woman does the announcements as you leave the city, so you always know what direction you’re heading depending on the voice. The day started out pretty overcast, so I brought an umbrella with me. I made my way to the Revolution Square metro stop, my favorite station in Moscow. I think it’s because of how Russian and Soviet it looks, and reminds me of our first trip here back in 1997. Seeing the figures at each corner of men posed for war, women strong with crops etc seem to always rush back memories and thoughts about my connection to Russia. I can’t believe it’s been 20 years since I was introduced to the country by simple air mail letters stamped with CCCP on them..

Leaving the station, I went to go to Red Square. It’s unfortunately not my favorite route to see St Basil’s in the background, as this way simply takes you to the south west corner of Red Square. I think the Southeast corner is more breathtaking. I’ll never tire of seeing Red Square in all its glory. It’s a cobble stoned plaza that’s so open and focuses on the symbol I have etched in my mind of what Russia’s icon is. Seeing Lenin’s Mausoleum on the right also flushes memories of marching through to see him preserved in a line that’s silenced by soldiers standing guard. I think I may go there to see him again.


After leaving Red Square, I went around the Kremlin toward the Church of Christ our Savior. This for some reason is always in my mind of Evgeny’s wedding, as it’s one of the stops we had during the wedding party. I can’t believe how much I’ve walked around – it’s so nice to wander around the city and have a vague idea of where you’re going, but not a plan to prohibit surprise. I’m taking in all the architecture and sights and strolling along the streets watching people, seeing interesting shops, and noticing how terrible traffic is.

In the evening, I met up with Katya and I was exhausted. She told me to meet her at the Bolshoi Theater, so I walked there to wait at the fountains for her. It’s a great place to people watch as it seems to be an easy meeting place. We walked toward Arbat street to find dinner at an Italian chain call Il Patio. I had a good pizza there while we chatted and laughed. After dinner we went searching for a dessert but ended up just coming home instead.

First Day in Moscow

After a wonderful night’s sleep, we all had breakfast and continued our conversations from the previous night. For the day, Masha suggested we go to a nearby park where we can sunbathe. So after a leisurely breakfast, we headed to find a car to drive us to the park. I say car here, because it was not a taxi. In Russia, when you need to go somewhere, there are several cars that simply drive around waiting to make a buck. You can just signal that you need a car, and someone will pull over. It’s a form of hitchhiking + taxi, and kind of a win win.

We got to the park and headed to pick a spot. I recognized the lake as it was the same lake which was completely frozen over just 4 years ago in the winter when I last visited. It’s crazy that a place can be so bone chilling in the winter, yet so hot in the summer. Actually, the heat is nice—it’s a normal nice warm summer. We laid out blankets and talked a while more. We then started a game of Russian Monopoly. All the place names are something Russian, and while Zhenya was the banker, we speculated corruption in the financial sector ;) We then paused the game to get some lunch at a nearby stand selling Shashlik/BBQ. It was very tasty.

After a bit of Monopoly, we played some volleyball. During the beginning of our game, Zhenya hit one a little off and it headed for a woman on her blanket. She was lying on her stomach, and a coke can was right in front of her face. I saw the ball rolling, but I couldn’t even warn her because she wouldn’t understand me. The ball dashed in front of her knocking over her coke can. Thankfully it didn’t hit her face, but she was not impressed.

Katya joined the volleyball game a bit as well and finally our arms were too sore. We then headed back to the apartment to shower and change. After about an hour, we took the train to the city to take some photographs of some buildings that Masha’s company was working on for a photo brochure. They needed some good pictures of the building so we used my camera. It was a nice evening to walk. We found a Georgian restaurant to have some food for dinner. I got Georgian style Pelmini which was fantastic. The meat was seasoned really well, and it was all packaged in a little spicy dumpling with a cold sauce and sour cream on top. Definitely a low carb option.

After a hilarious dinner with jokes and funny stories, we went outside around 10pm and the sun was starting to set. The sky was lit up pink and had a great silhouette of one of Moscow’s ‘candles’.

Our way home was quite an adventure. Again we used one of the car ‘services’, and we ended up in a car with really loud Russian folk music. All of a sudden, Katya sitting up front started a dialog with the driver and everyone got quiet. From the tone, it seemed like she was telling him to do something, and he wasn’t liking to be told. Then Masha and Zhenya got involved. Before I knew it, we were let out on the side of the road at a BP station half way home. It was so baffling, but then cracked me up as to what had happened. Apparently no one liked the music in the car, and Katya said could you please change it. He then said that’s not part of the driving service and you’ll listen to what I listen to. Then it just spiraled from that point on to her saying, if you won’t provide us with the service, we’re not paying and we’ll find another driver.  So he says, fine, and let us out.

Luckily, the BP randomly had a Citibank ATM which is where we had gone looking for a Citibank before so I could get money. The Citibank branch we tried to find had closed up shop and moved out. So it was a lucky situation at least for me J

We then got home by another driver and we were all tired. We took Katya home and then got ready for bed. I was exhausted, yet somehow my mind was still active, and I ended up not being able to sleep well that night.

Off To Moscow!

Today, I got up around 8:30am to be ready to be picked up for my ride to the airport. The previous night, I had spent a lot of time cleaning up and getting everything packed for my trip. I always leave it to the last day, but feel a little anxious when I think I haven’t thought of everything that I’d need. Fortunately, there’s not a lot that I think I need while traveling.

I was able to get my entire 3 weeks worth of ‘needs’ into my backpack :) This also included the gift backpack and ipad that I am bringing over for Grisha and Katya. I’ve got a long layover in Houston so I’ll be able to do some work and not be rushed to get to the gates by any means.

It was interesting to be able to score a nonstop from Houston to Moscow via Singapore Airlines. What a treat. This airline is fantastic. It was a big 777, roomy, and not so packed where I actually had a seat free next to me. The reclining mechanism was nice, and the 10” entertainment screen that supplied over 500 on demand videos songs etc was really great. I watched ‘Limitless’, as well as some Japanese TV programs.

Soon after, they served us our first meal. Absolutely the best food I’ve ever had on a plane. I had pork strips on a bed of rice with steamed vegetables. It was incredible. Nothing was oddly cooked or microwaved hard. After dinner was an ice cream treat. I was really satisfied by the meal.

After about 5 hours into the flight, they turned down the lights to allow us to start resting. I finished up the movie and tried to get in a position that would let me sleep. I felt good in one position, but felt like I was conscious the whole time that I was lying back. It was so strange, because when I looked up awakened, it was because they were coming by to serve breakfast. There was just 1:50 left in the flight.

Breakfast was incredible. Scrambled eggs with chicken sausage, mushrooms, and potatoes, yogurt, fresh fruit, and orange juice. Everything tasted great. Definitely the best flying experience I’ve had for a quite a while.

As we were flying over Moscow coming into DME, which was my first time coming south of the city, was all the housing with colored roofs. Purple, green, red, black, orange, yellow. It looked almost like a Vegas type setting. We also saw a lot of traffic that was bumper to bumper flying in.

After an extremely smooth landing, we taxied into the terminals. We saw lots of airlines that were unfamiliar, and a lot of planes just parked on the tarmac. After getting off the plane, we headed for passport control which was a huge mess. There are no stanchions or anything helping guide people into lines, and everyone literally crowds the passport aisles. After waiting for a long while, I changed to another area that seemed to get the word line. Quickly I was stamped in, and headed for baggage claim to get my backpack. When I found the carousel,  I looked at the baggage that was already taken off, as well as watched for a bit while the other stuff came over too. Finally the carousel stopped, and my backpack was no where in sight.

I didn’t panic yet because I wasn’t completely sure the carousel was completed, as not many people from the flight was over there. I talked to a woman while another customer was saying her baggage wasn’t there. That’s when I started to get nervous. She took us over to another area, and as we turned the corner, I saw my backpack just sitting there on the floor. I thought, now why would someone have moved it over here?? She said because it was considered fragile.

In any case, it was a huge relief to get my backpack and head out through customs. When I exited, I found a place to be found and turned on my phone. I got a message from Katya that she was stuck at traffic at the door coming in and to stay put. So I changed into shorts and just a little while later, Katya came and found me.

We then headed for the Aeroexpress that takes us to the center to meet up with Evgeny. As we traveled about 45 minutes to the city, we transferred and instantly I’m refreshed with memories flooding back from my times before in Russia. The subway system. The one thing of Moscow that doesn’t change. The long escalators that sink you down to the depths of subway mazes of amazing soviet architecture, mosaics of hammers and sickles, Lenin. As we headed down, we were chatting and all of a sudden, we saw Evgeny nonchalantly going up on the other side. He was trying to get up there to surprise us first, but we were too fast!
We then headed for home. I was surprised at how awake and non-tired I was. Simply because it was an extremely long day, but I felt fine. We headed to his place and left Katya as she was going to a birthday party for the evening. Evgeny’s new apartment looked great—they had gutted out the entire thing and redone it very modern and ikea like. I took a shower and got ready to go out to meet Masha for dinner.

We walked to a Sushi restaurant that has now popped up in their neighborhood. Crazy! Masha was there waiting for us, and it was so nice for all of us to be together. It’s like no time has passed, and to be with them is so incredible. We were laughing and chatting throughout the entire dinner, which continued into the night. The sun wasn’t even close to setting at 9pm, and we headed back home to laugh and chat more. By 10:30 I was starting to get tired, despite it still being light out, so I played some PS3 with them, and crashed.