Russia Part I: Moscow is here.
Though I could recognize places like Starbucks because of the brand, I decided to spend our flight to St. Petersburg learning all of the Russian characters. It was so fun to start recognizing words that are cognates of English words, like "townhouse" and "smart phone."
I really liked St. Petersburg. It has a lot of pretty canals (many of which were sadly built by labor camp detainees), I like that it has one main street (Nevsky Prospekt), and there are a lot of beautiful buildings.
One night, we met with some of Jeff's friends and went on a boat tour of some canals at midnight. Eventually we waited with a bunch of other boats and were able to watch two bridges open up to let in bigger ships. Paul liked it so much that he went on another boat tour a few nights later.
Another night, Sica, Amy, Paul, and I went to Prokoviev's "Alexander Nevsky" with the Roanoke Symphony. We agreed that the guy who banged on the drum clearly had the best job of anyone there—he only had to get up a few times to really make some noise and get out some stress, and then he could sit and enjoy the music.
We ate at Dve Palochki three times, which had this cool burger menu.
St. Isaac's Cathedral is now a museum of religion and atheism. Going all the way to the top was incredible.
This is what we saw when we looked down on St. Petersburg.
We went to the Alexander Nevsky Monastery. The monks there make bread to raise money, so we followed the signs to buy this loaf. Yum.
The cemetery at the monastery has obviously seen some years of neglect, but it was fascinating to see really old graves.
This is the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood. Alexander II was killed at this spot and this church was built to honor him. Interestingly, it's never actually been used as a church, and the architect purposely tried to make the church look like St. Basil's in Moscow.
Amy was really dedicated to taking a good picture for Jeff and Lindsey.
The inside of this church was my favorite. The brightly-colored religious mosaics with blue backgrounds reminded me of Giotto.
Traditional stacking matrushka dolls are matte and they hold things like chickens, pots, and scythes. Amy got some for her kids to paint themselves.
One night, I stayed up the whole night talking to Michael about potential apartments in San Francisco. We had some frustrations trying to get an apartment from our old landlord whose name is Peter, so I took this picture for Michael the next day to make him smile.
Another highlight of St. Petersburg was the State Hermitage Museum. It's at the Winter Palace of Catherine the Great and hosts a great deal of art work from around the world leading up to about Picasso's time. The volunteers at the door told us in English that we couldn't bring in food, and even without the nametags we soon realized the volunteers were Mormon missionaries. They told us they volunteer there once a week.
After a few hours of walking around, we started getting really hungry. Fortunately, Jeff used his Russian schmoozing skills to get an older woman to let him grab some crackers from his bag. Lindsey was determined to see at least five artworks by artists she's heard of, and I think she made it to about eight, so that was fun.
Here's the brood in front of the Hermitage.
We also went to Peterhof, which is Peter the Great's attempt at building palaces better than Versailles. I can't really say if the palaces are better because try as we might, we couldn't figure out how to get tickets to get in. Everywhere we went, we were told to go to a different line, so we finally gave up. At least I can say that I liked the grounds better than the ones in Versailles. Amy was so full of interesting information: she told us that Peter the Great wanted to show off with Peterhof, but he only liked living in his smaller houses.
Paul, Amy, and I went to the Sunday service at the Kazan Cathedral. The singing/chanting was really beautiful and I felt almost a physical feeling that the music was floating up towards God. I had a scarf on and I was trying to act respectfully, but I still felt very conspicuous because I wasn't bowing and making the sign of the cross.
The first time we went to Kazan Cathedral, there was a funeral going on and many tourists were walking around taking pictures. Amy and I talked about how it might be a better idea to only allow tourists in to look at the building during specific times. I wondered why Mormons don't open the temple during certain hours for visitors. I guess most members would think that allowing others in would desecrate the temple, even though it's believed that it's the ordinances that are sacred, not exactly the space.
We toured the prison at the Peter and Paul Fortress, where a lot of political prisoners were held. The grounds outside were lovely, and besides these thrones and some statues, they held the church where the Romanovs and many other royal family members are buried. I've never seen the movie Anastasia, but I was fascinated by the story of the last Romanovs in power. Amy told me that she read about how as the family was held hostage in their own home, the women sewed diamonds into their clothing to take with them in preparation for escaping. Unfortunately, that meant that when they were taken into the basement and shot, it took their assassins a long time to kill them because their clothes were bullet-proof and the killers didn't want to shoot them in the head! Isn't that horrible?
We discovered the crepes at this Teremok place and ate a lot there twice. Paul ate about twenty salads, and Lindsey fell in love with the sweetened and condensed milk crepes. Poor Sica wasn't as enthusiastic about it as the rest of us after she received a crepe with raw salmon in it.
Paul was able to book our hotel through his Google connections, and it had a really great location by Nevsky Prospekt. On our last morning, we discovered that the second person in each room had racked up an additional charge of $30 per day for breakfast (the first breakfast was included). Even though we fought and fought with the concierge about how no one had told us about this charge and we would have eaten elsewhere if we'd known about it, we didn't get anywhere. I'm at least glad that I took a bit of food with me to hold me over each day.
Something else I found funny about our Novotel hotel was that they had several signs about how to save water and electricity and labor by hanging up towels and indicating that we didn't want our sheets changed and such, but every day, Sica and I received a new bar of soap. I would have been perfectly happy with the same bar of soap every day and it seemed paradoxical to keep replacing that but to leave all the other things.
This is the view from Google. The round building on the left is where we stayed. Paul brought us all into Google twice, where we enjoyed chocolate, drinks, ice cream, ping pong, foosball, and pool.
It's funny to me that we were in Russia and chose to chillax at Google. What better place though, right? I know my sore feet appreciated the rest.
I spent some time by myself trying to find one of those lovely, long floral dresses I saw so many women wearing, but the best ones in St. Petersburg were around $300. Eek.
Jeff told me that I had to try one of these street "French Dogs." One lady took my money but then tried to give me something else. Luckily, Jeff interceded and made her give me back my money. Unfortunately, the young woman at the next place was a lot nicer, but my bun was stale and there was barely any sauce inside. Jeff was nice and gave me a bite of his later so I could see what it should really be like. The bun has a hole in the middle that is filled with cheese sauce, mustard, and ketchup before a hot dog is shoved inside.
I loved the gates of the park near the Church of the Savor on Spilled Blood.
Yes, since China, I've accepted the brilliance of wearing a backpack in the front—you can more easily get to your stuff, it forces you to stand straighter, and you don't have to worry about people behind you stealing your stuff.
On our last full day in St. Petersburg, Paul mentioned that he wanted some ice cream since it was so hot, and since I had some rubles I still needed to spend, I decided to get some, too. I asked a woman at an ice cream cart in the park if I could try two flavors to compare, but she wouldn't let me. I had Jeff ask her which of the two flavors was better and got the one she liked. She handed me the cone and then told me the total and my eyes about popped out of my head. It was around $14! I guess I got my own version of the expensive lemonade in Moscow. Amy said she hoped it was the best ice cream I'd ever had.
Overall, our trip was really great. I loved seeing cool new places with my family and I'm really appreciative of everything each person contributed. After Michael and I get settled somewhere, where are we headed next?
25 July 2014
Russia Part I: Moscow is here.
I went to Russia with my older sister Amy and her husband Paul, my younger brother Jeff and his wife Lindsey, and my younger sister Sica. Luckily for me, Amy has great trip-planning skills and Jeff speaks Russian.
Since I didn't want to fly all the way to the States and then back to Russia, I met them in Moscow right after my trip to Germany.
Getting to the hotel by myself was interesting. I asked about tickets and directions to trains a few times, but not once did I hear anything I recognized. Then I discovered that Moscow's metro is seriously lacking as far as signage goes. Even if I could understand Russia, I would have struggled, because the labels for stations are against the wall, behind the train, so you can't see where the train is going or where you've arrived. I ended up standing by maps in the metro and counting stops with my fingers. It's funny how when you don't know the Russian characters, your mind tries to make connections anyway. I remember thinking that I needed to transfer at the stop that looked like it started with "Unctble." The letters were "Чистые пруды," which I later learned is "Chistye Prudy."
The subway trains were really deep underground (I think one of us timed the escalator at over 1.5 minutes) and soooo hot. At least the stations were really neat, with fancy ceilings and lighting.
It was great to see family after a year. Amy led the way with her travel guide from the library.
Besides the great planning and leading, another really awesome thing about traveling with Amy and Paul was that they introduced me to this app called Trip Splitter that is very handy for figuring out who owes how much to whom.
Amy told us what she'd recently been reading about alignment, and everywhere we went, she demonstrated healthy squats and stretches.
Moscow is full of large, heavy-looking buildings and statues.
There are really wide streets and nifty mosaics in Moscow. I was surprised by how Western European Russia felt to me.
The fancy Eliseevsky grocery store was one of our first stops. I enjoyed my cherry pastry and didn't enjoy my ginger cookie.
I thought it was so awesome that they have paintings on the outside of buildings—it's like the whole city is an art museum.
The first church with beautiful chanting that we went into was the Cathedral of the Mother of God's Kazan Icon in Red Square. I forgot my scarf to cover my head the first day, but I remembered it every other day.
St. Basil's Cathedral seemed almost cartoon-like.
Leaving the hotel one morning, I felt like I was back in China. It makes me smile when I can recognize some of what people are saying.
I got into trouble for taking this picture of Paul—he bopped me on the head with his baguette and got crumbs in my hair. I just love that it is so Paul: he's wearing a t-shirt, a watch, a baseball cap, and his backpack, he has his phone in one hand and a baguette in the other, and he's got his concentrated look on his face. That's my brother-in-law.
We liked the posh-looking outdoor tent at a recommended restaurant called "Vatrushka," and everyone who went and hear the artificial bird tweets piped into the restroom were impressed, but the food wasn't so great (some of the bread even had mold on it). Lindsey was smart because it's pretty hard to go wrong with pancakes.
After Sica and Amy ordered lemonades, I saw that the drink list said lemonades cost about $30 USD. Whoa, what?!? I thought my math must be wrong, but nope. Luckily our bill charged us closer to $10 each, but even then, we joked about the "expensive lemonade place" for days. To be fair, Amy said it was indeed the best lemonade she'd ever had.
Here's Amy waiting for her borscht (which was actually quite good) to cool off and wondering why the travel book suggested eating at Vatrushka.
We went to a Gulag Museum, where Jeff translated for a woman who told us all about the history of labor camps.
When I think of Russian winter fashion, I think of white boots, but I saw some even in the hot summer weather.
What I really loved were all the long, lovely dresses I saw women wearing. This is outside of the Bolshoi Theater, where the others saw a ballet.
I saw this weird bear guy at the mall.
The next day, we went to the Kremlin. The Armory was my favorite. There we saw the royal Romanov jewels, furniture, kitchen supplies, clothing, and more. Apparently Catherine the Great had around 12,000 dresses, and her coronation dress had the teeniest waist you've ever seen—it was small even for a sixteen-year-old. She must have had a smashed ribcage from corsets. Peter the Great's boots were also fascinating—they were enormous. I also really enjoyed seeing the evolution of the royal carriages and sleds. The last carriage even had rubber around the wheels to soften the blow. We're fascinated by royal life, yes, but I'm sure that seeing such luxury go by in a sled or carriage when the majority of the country was desperately poor must have been frustrating.
After seeing the old carriages and sleds that royalty went around in, I thought that this must be the modern version of upper-class transportation.
Moscow had some really lovely details.
And like every city, there was also some weird stuff, like a skull on a car.
Here's a ship painted on a car.
We also spotted a memorial to Peter the Great shaped like a giant pirate ship.
Jeff was intent on finding some shawarma, and of course, loving döners myself, I was not opposed. However, once we found shawarma, Paul took off for some other place while we enjoyed our food and got to write on the ceiling. Jeff wrote: "Paul wasn't here! -The Glauser/Bankhead crew U.S.A!!"
Amy and Paul were super-excited about going to a famous banya (bathhouse). The price and public nudity discouraged Sica and me, but everyone else forked over the cash.
If I could sit like this and enjoy the banya without ever exposing myself to anyone, I might have gone for it. :) Instead, Sica and I went and got a foot and leg massage, which was amazing after so much walking.
The only awkward thing about the massage place was that they gave us these weirdy paper panties to wear for the massage. (Sorry about the poor quality of the picture; I just couldn't not post it.) I said "no way" to the frilly paper panties and put on my swim shorts instead. It turned out that our masseuses were Chinese, so I talked to them for a bit in Mandarin, which made all three of us happy. I think Sica just enjoyed the massage.
The next day, we flew to St. Petersburg . . .
23 July 2014
Michael had yet to meet all of my Leipzig friends, so after our very short Paris trip, we headed to Germany. After being away for four years, I was so excited to go back.
(Wenn jemand kein Foto von ihm in diesem Blogeintrag haben will, sag bitte Bescheid! Das ist absolut kein Problem.)
Michael thought it was funny to arrive in Germany with his US Soccer shirt on. The last time I was in Germany, the World Cup was going on, so I joked to friends that I'd be back every four years to cheer on Germany.
The very first evening, after dropping our stuff off at my friend Dajana's house which is near to where I used to live, we went to my old apartment and visited my old roommate, David. We even got a wonderful surprise—he introduced us to his wife and baby.
I was so happy that the smell of Bärlauch was still lingering in Schleußig. It sounds weird to like that a place smells kind of like the wild garlic that grows in the park nearby, but it's sentimental, okay?
The next day, we went with the Jakobis to the stake activity day, where I was über-happy to be able to greet so many people I used to see often. I jokingly thanked people for putting on this activity day to celebrate my visit. It was really interesting to see my friends' kids, and Michael and I ended up playing soccer for at least a couple of hours. We had three little kids on our team who stayed in the goal the entire time, so the other team grumbled that there was no way they could score, though they beat us in the end anyway. Poor Samuel Jakobi hurt his ankle when he tried to pull some tricky move on me.
Here are my two favorite Mikes in the same car. Mike gave us a ride to the Jakobis so that we could stop and get döners with him. I should have ordered Michael's döner for him, because he asked for some random things like a whole bunch of cheese and olives, and I don't think his was very good. He liked mine, though.
It was good to spend time with Mike. I've missed him. He's moving away from Leipzig and that makes me sad.
At the Jakobis', we enjoyed raspberries and cherries from the garden, played Just Dance (this "Ra Ra Rasputin" dance was tricky, but I needed to prepare for Russia!), and watched Chile lose (accompanied by Elisa's screams). I love the Jakobis and now Michael does, too.
The next day at church, I felt like I'd returned home. I got to meet Aaron's wife for the first time and I saw many old friends again, including Seppl, Markus's dad and grandpa, Judith, Christina, Holger, Tobias, Henrik, Melanie, Uta, and many others. I had told Michael that many of the members of the two Leipzig wards are related, but after I introduced him to so many and tried to make the connections for him, he was still surprised. I laughed when I greeted one of the kids I used to teach by name and he looked at me confused because he was too young then to remember me.
Sabine and Eberhard are such dear people. They threw together a last-minute dinner for us, and the frikadellen were a huge hit with Michael. I think he also liked the liverwurst, yum! The Werners' smart, energetic, and friendly American granddaughter was there.
Inka let us stay at her cute place and even showed us the joy of hanging out on her roof.
Mornings at her place were magical because of the sun coming through her top-story apartment's roof windows.
I think Michael liked Leipzig's city center. This is the old town hall (das alte Rathaus).
This tunnel was in progress while I was living there, and now it's done so trains can go right under the city.
We spent several hours around here looking for a suitcase to replace the broken one we'd gotten at Oxfam, but in the end Michael decided to deal with the suitcase and toss it upon his return to the U.S. I showed Michael some of the Universität Leipzig buildings I used to frequent and we even ran into one of my old professors who advised the development of our literary journal aspeers, the first European American Studies journal.
I held Michael's currywurst while he went into the Thomaskirche, which houses Bach's grave.
This is one of Leipzig's many passages.
Here is the Paulinerkirche (which is more complete than it was last time I was here, but it's still not completely finished) and the easily-recognized MDR building.
Kristin and I had ice cream at the completed Höfe am Brühl mall. It was crazy to see all the places that have changed since I was last in Leipzig.
The garden in front of the main train station is nice.
This is the Monument to the Battle of Nations, which memorializes the battle between Napoleon's troops and those of many countries 200 years ago wherein more than 100,000 people died. It was about to rain when we got to the Völkerschlachtdenkmal.
Here's Michael under Archangel Michael.
I had my first genuine Kiba-Saft (cherry banana juice) in four years!
I've missed Geertje's sense of humor. She and her family were so nice to feed us my favorite German meal (normally reserved for winter months) of Rouladen, Klöße, and Rotkohl. Wow. Again, Michael loved it.
Any country that has a giant display of chocolate bar flavors wins a prize in my book. This is in Dresden.
Even though we only stayed for a few hours, Michael took a lot of pictures in Dresden, as I knew he would. This is the Frauenkirche. World War II bombing took out the church and you can see all the bricks that were re-used in the reconstruction because they're darker than the others.
Michael liked his first Thüringer Bratwurst.
This is the Fürstenzug, a mosaic showing Saxon rulers between 1127 and 1904. My favorite is Frederick the Bitten, who was called that because, according to the stories, his mom bit him on the cheek at the pain of parting.
Seeing Dietmar and Sylvia made my heart warm, and Sylvia's cooking was, as always, amazing. I loved hearing about their latest travel adventures. They really loved seeing bears in Canada.
We also spent some time with the Bertholds, who treated us to an amazing lunch, and with Susen in her wonderful garden, drinking water with red currant berries and mint leaves.
We were lucky to be there on the day that the Beyriches had their famous American Independence Day celebration, so Michael got to participate in the chubby bunny game with the missionaries. I was really happy to see Annegret again; we became good friends while I was one of her visiting teachers.
Michael left early-early the next morning to go back to San Francisco and start our apartment search. I went shopping and found this scarf and these summery harem pants that bring out my hippie side. I like that they are comfortable and casual but dressier than my usual attire. Later I spent a lot of time seeing my friend Eva, and then even later, Camilla and Lars.
On my last morning, I had breakfast with my friend Stefanie and her two kids, and then we enjoyed some time together at the park.
Other items of note:
- I was in my first car crash (I wasn't driving and everyone was fine, though the car very sadly wasn't).
- Cheering on Germany with Inka was great fun. I loved that she had a German flag ready to wave at any moment.
- I really enjoyed having cherry Sahne Joghurt with sunflower seed bread and quince jam on rolls again, mmm.
- Mike gave me his key and said that he had some of my old stuff in his apartment. It was crazy to see some of my old clothes, most of which we promptly put into a clothing donation bin.
- Michael and I were sad that he couldn't take pictures with his fancy camera because he thought he'd sent his battery charger to the U.S., but after he left, I found it in my suitcase.
- My German sim card ran out of minutes the day before I left, and I wanted to be able to get to my accommodation in Berlin without problems, but the minimum you can add is $15. Bwah. I paid.
- Also the day before I left, I discovered that my laptop charger cable was broken. Considering that I still needed my laptop in Russia, I went and bought a new cable. Unfortunately, they didn't have one with an American plug, so I had to buy a European one. Then the store didn't think they could take my card, but after some manual attempts they were able to, and FINALLY, to top it all off, it cost $108!!!!! Egads.
- On my last day, I was frantic because I couldn't find my adapter. Luckily while talking with a friend, I realized that maybe I'd left it at the place where I'd gotten the new MacBook charger cable, and when I went back, there it was, phew!
My last evening in Leipzig, my friend Dani took me to Vapiano. They make the food right in front of you and I think we both really enjoyed it. Mostly I was just really glad to spend time with her. She's one of those people I always feel up to talking to, you know what I mean? Also, it was awesome that when she went to grab us some dessert, she came back and said, "I just realized that I still have my slippers on." At least they were Crocs. ;) And while we were eating, Germany won another game in the World Cup!
I was sad to leave my beloved Leipzig.
I took the bus to Berlin, where people were still celebrating the win. Unfortunately I ended up feeling grossed out and violated because some drunk guy swiped his hand across my neck. If I'd had time to think, I probably would have kicked him. Happily I met up with Susanne, a German friend I met in Fremont, California. She cooked some dinner for us and she and her roommate let me stay in their tiny student apartment for a few hours until I had to leave for the airport to head to Russia. Can you believe how good we look at 3:30 AM?
There were some crazily-drunk German soccer fans still on the streets while I was getting to the bus to go to the airport, and when I got to the airport, the counter didn't even open for another hour. But Lufthansa knows how to do breakfast, I tell you. I had yogurt, cream cheese and raspberry jam for a roll, a granola bar, cherries and cream waffles, and last but not least, a piece of chocolate.
I am so happy I got to see and to introduce Michael to Leipzig/Germany and so many friends. Hurray!
Next up: a trip to Russia with three siblings and two siblings-in-law.