HAMBURGERS AND VODKA
THE CHRONICLES OF ROBS' NORTH EAST EUROPEAN ADVENTURE
Where's da robin?
Sunday, May 3, 2009
This is one of the oldest cities in Russia, and is in fact home to the ancient Russian capital.
This was just a brief stop over trip. We ran in to use the rest room in a was museum. And paid astronomical amounts of money to go inside St. Demetrius Cathedral that was home to some world heritage site frescoes... they were old... but they were small, and i've never been in a colder room in all my life...
And we were in the Assumption Cathedral which was one of the first burial places for ancient Russian rulers, that was then recreated in Moscow... pretty much exact replica.
Again, this was a short stop... so also a short post... amazing how long a short post takes to get published....
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
Anywho, for those of you who don't know the title reference: The end of the world
So i rolled into the motherland on Sunday... and you've already heard about that... turns out there was no spa... at least not one anyone could direct me to, despite there being a number and a floor number... it just happened to be on a floor that didn't exist in my hotel. Yes, i tried to find it anyways.
The first night I ate alone. Sometimes this can't be helped... randomly showing up in russia is one of those times. I did recognize some people from the plane I was on b/c i loved the girl's jacket (it was a grey sweatshirt with colored circles)... later in life we learn that they are actually a couple on my trip. There was another single girl at a table in front of me. When she got up to leave i was just like... Hey, do you speak english... "yes"... "you aren't by any chance on the intrepid trip, are you", "why yes I am", "so am i", "excellent".... This was my new aussie friend, Cathy. We made arrangements to meet up the next morning and take on Moscow... cause like i said... big... not really the type of place to wander around solo your first day.
After more exploration for the spa, I ended up just heading up to my room to chill out. There were 2 english speaking channels: Russia Today, and BBC International. Let me tell you... in Russia, I got a completely different story about what was going on w/ Georgia and South Ossetia. On Russia Today, they were flashing the word "Genocide" and mapping out how Georgians has invaded the autonomous region predominantly inhabited by russians, and were forcefully commiting genocide against them and how the Russians had gone in afterwards to protect the innocent. BBC had a slightly different perspective. But in general by the time I got back to the US I didn't, and still don't have the clearest picture of what went on while I was there. And have now developed severe media trust issues.
So bright and early the next morning we hooked up at breakfast, and headed for the metro... ah, the moscow metro. Most cities build their buildings of marble... moscow keeps all of its marble underground.... its beautiful... and bomb shelter safe. The metro is fun b/c its all in cerilic... (i learned how to read basic cerilic by the time i got out of russia, it was exciting) The lights flicker, there's a yellow haze, and everything tells you the trains haven't been new in decades. The doors open and shut without warning... at one point people in our group got left behind b/c they couldn't get in fast enough, but i'm skipping ahead...
The first goal was to get to Red Square... that took a while... but we got there eventually, and we saw the Kremlin and St. Basils, and Red Square, and Lennon's tomb, (at least from the outside) we wandered through st. basil... sharing a head set... never share a head set when there are multiple inches between you and the other person. Of course it was sprinkling for most of the day... I had invested in yet another umbrella just before leaving hamburg... it was a cheap umbrella, and i paid for it by slicing a large chunk of my finger off while trying to close it. Lucky for me, I'm now always prepared... for everything... I even carry a first aid kid around with me for such situations as profusely bleeding finger in a church...the Cathedral of Christ our Savior... it was.. incredible. It was full of Icons... Russians love their Icons. As far as we can tell this is the biggest difference between Russian orthodox and Catholocism. They all had their rituals, and prayers, and incense... It was actually all very touching to be a part of.
We wandered around the city for a while longer, looking for a specific area that was supposed to be really trendy to eat in. Unfortunately it started to rain, then it rained a little more, then it rained hard enough to have us flee into the first resturant we saw open. A little Italian place, with fabulous food. Poor Cathy is allergic to wheat products. People with dietary issues that travel blow my mind. I mean, my dietary constrictions are no soy and walnuts... which, admittedly, i tend to ignore... but to have real constrictions, I couldn't imagine pulling that off. But Cathy was pretty inspirational... she had done all of her homework and managed pretty well all around.
So we kept walking around, and at one point we came to a street where there were kids with AK-47s... ok, not kids, they were in uniform... but they also had dogs... I have a few theories in life... one is, don't walk down the street where there are teenagers with guns and dogs... i don't care if its their job or not. So we turned and walked up the street, and just happened to look back to see this totally soviet building behind us, sort of like a prison, which explained why it was being guarded. This led to one of my favorite life lessons... never look back in life... unless you are traveling... because the view is always different, and you might miss something awesome if you don't.
So back to red square, we checked out the main museum, which is actually cut into two museums. You really need about 6 hours to do the whole thing properly. We did the second half or Russian history. Which was great, as a lot of it was a review of things I already knew. And I loves me the russian history. Of particular note was that they had a model of a room where philosophers and revolutionaries would meet, and actually mentioned that Belinsky would come to this particular room. While I'm not actually related to the russian Belinsky, I don't care, its still my name... if you don't know who i'm talking about click here--> Vissarion Belinsky
And I got my picture taken with a cossak... heehee
Sooo... after all that we had to hall it back to the hotel because it was time to meet up with our group. It was a tad on the girl heavy side. Me, Cathy, Michelle (US), Jill (Ireland), Petty (Aussie), Ian and Sue (Aussies, married), Emma and Roland (Irish, engaged), Maija (Aussie), Leila (Aussie), and Erin (USA) who was our tourguide.
So we met, we went back into town to eat at a fabulous little chain resturant called moomoo, wandered around red square by night, then a few of us went for drinks, only to have every russian beer be out of stock. So we paid far too much for import beers that that took over an hour to get. Ah life expereience... and my first real taste of how Russians handle service. As it turned out, Cathy and I ended up being roomies, which was awesome. And all this was just day 1!!
The next day, we got up bright and early to do one of the most exciting things ever... go see an embalmbed dictator. For those keeping track... this is embalbed dictator number two for me. As someone pointed out I have very odd measurments of accomplishment in my life... and you know what i say... so what... it keeps my world interesting. There have been a total of 9 embalmbed communist dictators: Lenin, Dimitrov, Choibalsan, Stalin, Gottwald, Ho Chi Minh, Mao Zedong, Neto, Burnham, Kim Il Sung-- Of these Lenin, Ho Chi Minh, Mao Zedong, Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham (in Georgetown, Guyana), and Kim Il Sung (in North Korea), remain on display... I've seen 2 of 5, not bad. See this blog, A letter from China: the pickled dictator, for more info on embalmbed dictators. The Lenin experience was a little surreal. I mean this is someone I've learned about for years. Studied indepth. Someone who had brilliant ideas, was smart enough to believe they wouldn't come about in his time, but ambitious enough to seize opportunity when it happend to fall into his lap. He comes second only to Robespierre in my favorite revolutionaries, and easily within my top five dead people i'd like to have tea with. Walking through the tomb is creepy. Its almost completely pitch black. I ended up losing the people I was with, and wandered through alone... mainly b/c once again, there were teenagers with guns indicating i need to do so. The tomb is made of black marble, without any lights besides the ones shining upon Lenin, which you only get to after tripping through a maze of steps and armed teenagers, who don't even let you keep your hands in your pockets as you are walking through. Lenin is a lot smaller than you would imagine him... and looks waaaaay too much like Adam. If you pause to long, they start to walk towards you... and then suddenly you are outside, and wandering past the grave of "great" commies, including Stalin, and the first cosmonats. Honestly, I couldn't tell which was Stalin's grave. I hadn't learned the ceryllic well enough yet, and there wasn't anything in english. oh well... he's not one of my favorites, kinda falls into the "truly evil" category.
There was a little time to kill after seeing Lenin, so I ended up crusing the market and checking out the GUM... all designer stores... I could never afford to actually shop here. We then all met up and went to the Kremlin. It was pretty cool. Got to see where Putin lives, where the Czars were crowned and burried... etc. There was one big ugly commie building in the middle, and we got to see the treasury.
Afterwards, I decided to take on Moscow on my own. I wandered a few miles down river to Gorky Park... Which i thought was just a regular park with a few rides here and there. No... it was an amusement park. Not an expensive one, but still not a lot of fun to be in by yourself, and it wasn't really my final destination, i just sort of wanted to go in and check it out... and realized you need a whole day there... so I crossed the street to one of the places i've wanted to see since high school... the communist statue graveyard, or statue park, as its called. This place was pretty cool.... when communism fell, they took all the old statues and everything and dumped them in this park... but over the years, things had been picked up and moved around so that they were set up nicely etc. There's one part where they just stuck all the heads in one place (see pictures) overall the whole thing was really cool, and I'm very happy i made the trip out there.
I started walking back up the river and ended up on a bridge with trees and locks, where couples would come after they were married to put their locks on the trees, and then i ended up in a park full of locals just hanging out. I walked myself out of a potentially dodgy situation at one point, and saw what was clearly a mobster being driven chaufferd around. It was... an eyeopening side adventure.
So I met up with the group for dinner. As i was waiting... the most glorious of things was being sold at a stand. Granted it was warm... but i didn't care... I had walked like 9 miles, it was a Mountain Dew... the first I'd had since exams... it was glorious. We then headed into the trendy district Cathy and I had tried to get to the day before for lunch. It was pretty awesome. A pedestrian shopping area, and the resturant had fake trees growing in it, and a terrifying scarecrow. *I'm trying not to write about how awesome all the food in russia was b/c i've had complaints that i talk about food too much... but its really hard not to... the food is good.... ah well... this was then end of our time in Moscow. I didn't stay out this night b/c i was barely moving by this point....
Monday, August 25, 2008
(I shall be updating this a bit at a time for the next week or so)
Sunday, August 10, 2008
... for somebody else...
I'm usually pretty good about being modest... or at least not purposely bragging... but well... I'm currently staying in the fanciest schwanky hotel I have ever been in. I'm in Moscow, Russia by the way... To my traveler's irritation, I don't think I'm anywhere near the main part of the city... to my self indulgent side... i'm debating whether to get a russian, turkish, or japanese bath... as my hotel offers all three... I remember being torn about staying here the night before my trip b/c of the cost... but then figured, well, do i really want to be running all around moscow changing hotels etc. It is worth the money (or at least i keep telling myself that) and i can't help but wonder if this is the kind of place I will be staying during the whole tour? Should be interesting to see.
On other notes... Russia is big. Everything in Russia is big. What i could only describe as "projects" sprout up everywhere randomly, so you don't really know if you are or are not in the city... b/c they just sort of come out of the woods or in the middle of a farm. I'm guessing just b/c they look like projects, doesn't mean they actually are. The airport was a bagillion miles away, so i got to see a good deal of country side, cows, projects, nuclear power plants, and a giant gold domed greek orthodox church.
I had to grab a cab as I didn't arrange private transport... and as you are walking into the airport, there is a giant red sign that says, "DO NOT TAKE PRIVATE TAXIS, THEY AREN"T SAFE"... I'm just like... ok... what else shall i do then? Turns out they have these stands, where you tell them where you are going, prepay, at the stand, a set rate... then a cabbie come gets you and thats that... no overcharging, no fixed meters... its the most brilliant taxi experience i have ever had.
Friday, August 8, 2008
The train ride was long. There were two potential trains i could take, late and early... however the second half of the early train was full and the first half of the late train was full... the end result was that i had to split the ride in two and spend a couple of hours in Malmo, Sweden. Which wasn't bad b/c I got to grab food and watch yet another beach volleyball tournament going on in front of the town hall. During the second half of the trip I got the worst seat in a cabin... the middle seat w/ out arm rests or anything... and always in the sun. It was a long, hot trip... And I was quite happy to get to Stockholm.
By the time I got it, it was already pretty late, so we grabbed dinner, chatted and called it an early night. Andreas had another friend staying with him, Lena, who had just gotten a job in the area cataloging crawfish.
The next morning, I set off pretty early on my own. My goal was to grab a boat tour of the archipelago, but I missed the boat by literally seconds. I opted to take the next one, and wandered around the town hall to kill time. The tour was amusing. I learned all about Swedish industries, and how in all these different locations there used to be factories, and are now homes. The tour also played a lot of swedish pop music, including, abba, ace of base, and the cardigans.
I then proceeded to walk through an absolute downpour into the old city. Meandered around a church that housed the tombs of Swedish royalty; it was a lot more... British, and medieval than everything else I had seen during this trip, which I rather enjoyed. Then, I braved the elements and headed towards the castle. Where I saw 3 different museums, all very very nice. And I actually quite loved the inside of the castle.
Here I should point out, that getting around Stockholm for me was no the same as getting around Krakow. My theories for this include: 1) If i go underground (such as via train) i lose any and all sense of direction-- this also happens in Hamburg, 2) I only function directionally when there is sun, 3) I clearly never lived in Stockholm in a past life.
As I was leaving one of the exhibits at the castle, my timing was perfect to see the Changing of the guard, which I thought surely I had missed. For those keeping tabs, thats my second changing of the guard this trip. Its not something ridiculously special, its more just interesting to watch. As my time was winding down, I did not hit the 4th museum in the castle. But as I was leaving I could here the thump and rumble of bass... the distinct sound of... a night club... in the middle of the day in Stockholm. Well, I am a creature of curiosity, so I followed the "um-cha, um-cha, um-cha" and found myself in the middle of a gigantic gay pride parade. It was fantastic. A colorful mixture of people, banners, costumes, and floats... Combining stereotypes, in the best of ways, with serious political messages, and rocking floats that were basically discos on wheels. The whole thing went on for hours, and provided a very fun backdrop for my time in the city.
After getting lost for about the bagillionth time that day, I finally managed to catch up w/ Andreas and Lena, and we wandered around old town a bit, checking out old cafe's built in cellars, and swinging by H&M (this was a must, as i needed to be involved in some way in Swedish consumer culture in some way. Afterwards, though was a major highlight of the trip.
We went to the Absolute Icebar Stockholm. You may have heard of the Ice hotel or at least seen it on the traveling gnome commercials... well, cut from the same glacier and shipped down to Stockholm, is the Icebar... A bar made of Ice. Where they give you special coats, and you are allowed a whole 45 minutes to stay in. Drinks are all made w/ Absolute vodka (another swedish product)... and they are served in glasses made of Ice (also shipped down from glacier). This place was awesome. In the corner there was a statue of a guy doing graffiti and many people had left their marks on the ice. There were some plants frozen in some blocks... and Tv's frozen in others. Fur lined the ice couches. Overall, incredibly awesome.
That night, I got a slice of Swedish culture... a Swedish Fish Party!!! hahaha, ok, not really a Swedish Fish party, but rather a Traditional Swedish Crawfish party. Andreas' friend Jonas came over, as did his cousin and his cousins' wife, who, I apologize to, I can not remember their names to save my life. I got to try all sorts of traditional Swedish foods... I even ate crawfish... yes ladies and gents, I actually ate a new type of seafood, and did become ill from the en devour (well... not from the actual eating of the crawfish i should say). About every 5-10 minutes or so, there would be a drinking song sung, and shots of schnapps. I learned valuable lesson... I do not drink like a Swede. But it was riotous good fun overall.
Next morning involved a large breakfast, and more or less laying low, till it was time to catch my bus, to grab my plane. And then another bus back to Hamburg, which, managed to break down just as we reached the city limits.
While it was a very very very short trip, I have to say I had a ton of fun, and definitely hope to go back at some point in the future.
I also did manage to pick up a new adapter, that works for everything including my phone. Which means I'm sitting at home right now doing a lot of writing. I also expanded my Online photo storage, so should be able to post all of Sweden's pictures as well.
But this is just a quick post here. Every so often when I walk out of work there is something new that just pops up in the area. One week it was a circus. During this last week I walked out to what appeared to be a giant bouncy castle... (this wouldn't surprise me at all seeing as earlier i looked out my bedroom window to a giant bouncy castle suddenly in my backyard...) As I approached there were two more structures being blown up... Turns out they were hot air balloons!! Massive ones. One regular, one in the shape of an Ice Cream cone... and one in the shape of a fork lift. It was pretty cool.