29 August 2014

Michael's Hult MBA Graduation

Last Friday marked the one-year point since we moved from San Francisco to Shanghai. It was also the day that Michael had his Hult MBA graduation (back in San Francisco), so we're about ready for the next phase of life. Hurray!

Hult MBA Graduation 2014 photo HultMBAGraduation2014_zps8436a429.jpg
We keep joking about how we should hold up a sign in every photo like people do for engagements and first-day-of-school pictures, so here you go.

Now that Michael is finished with his MBA program, this is how he likes to dress every day:

Michael's Post-Grad Casual photo 2014-08-12185742_zpsfa8dd03c.jpg
I'm guessing the ultra-comfy, Hult paraphernalia look will fade away with time. :)

I can't say enough about how proud I am of Michael. He worked so hard during the last year, and much of what he did was for other people: he was a Hult ambassador, he was on the student council, he helped people get phones/packages/bank accounts/food in Shanghai, he worked on a huge project to improve diagnosis in India, he went out of his way to help when Mandarin was needed, he spent long hours making videos for others, etc. And he is a good leader, for many reasons. For example, he:

  • likes helping others
  • is dedicated and willing
  • is always friendly, optimistic, and energetic
  • takes the time to get to know people personally
  • learned how to confront people about difficult subjects
  • likes to finely polish projects
In the next few weeks, Michael will be completing some Salesforce training, helping Hult with Asian cultural welcomes, working with Hult's career services as an alumni ambassador, and taking a project management certification test before looking for a job. He's interested in big data and sustainability, so it'll be interesting to see where he ends up.

Good work, sweetie!

28 August 2014

San Francisco Apartment Hunt 2014

View from Pine Apartment photo 2014-08-28140921_zpsde14dbcf.jpg

Before even moving away, we knew that finding an apartment in San Francisco again was going to be a chore, and that prices would make us gasp because a one-bedroom is about three times the cost of my parents' monthly mortgage payment, but that didn't prevent us from getting to the absolutely-discouraged state during the process. A lot of that had to do with the drama of dealing with our quirky old landlord.

Since our previous landlord had been so sad to see us go/loved us so much, and we had loved his building, we wrote him an email very ahead of time saying that we were coming back and asking if he had a place available. It turned out that the apartment we loved the most was to be available about the time we would be back, so we said we were interested. He, however, was un-budge-able on the price, which was higher than we were expecting. His reasoning? He'd just had the building repainted and had put a laundry room in the basement (which wouldn't have happened if I hadn't cleaned out the basement for him), as if he wanted us to single-handedly pay for those things.

We finally told him that we'd go for it, but every exchange had us feeling very condescended upon. First he said that he didn't like that Michael was still in school and that at least I needed a local job first. It seemed absolutely crazy to me to ask me to quit my job to rent from him. Clearly landlords in San Francisco are feeling high and mighty with the ridiculous market. He also asked us how he could trust that we would stay for the entire term of the lease, since last time we left early. I checked, and we left just ten days early. Never once had he mentioned that us leaving early was a problem; if he had, I would have just stayed another ten days and sent Michael off to Shanghai. I felt like he'd forgotten how pleased he was with us when we left. We went more than the extra mile for him and it felt so horrible for him to have forgotten that. After seething for a few hours, we offered to pay six months of rent upfront. After Michael arrived in San Francisco and went to meet with this landlord, not only was I majorly disappointed to find out that the garden I'd worked so hard on had fallen into disrepair, but the monthly rent was being raised another $195 from the price we had already struggled with and finally agreed to! Michael and I spent several hours chatting that night, I in St. Petersburg, and he in San Francisco. We had the hardest time making a decision, and a few days later we finally emailed the landlord to tell him so. His response? "A studio would probably be better for you until you both have jobs." I wanted to write him and say, "We will still be looking for a one bedroom, thank you very much." Once he told us that the apartment was rented, there were some moments of regret, but mostly we said, "Well, at least we don't have to deal with him anymore."

Michael tore up the town looking for an apartment, but it didn't help him that I have no tangible ways to spot an apartment that is "charming" by my definition. After we lost one place due to the quickness of the market and another because we were waiting for my boss to send some documentation, we were very frustrated. By this time, I was back in California with him and we were staying at his parents' house 45 minutes away from San Francisco. We spent our mornings and evenings driving to and from San Francisco in Michael's mom's car. While Michael attended classes and meetings, I worked on my laptop at Hult and re-parked the car every two hours. We went to a lot of apartment viewings, but there was always enough wrong with the place that we weren't all that excited about taking it. We were finally happily surprised to be approved for a place that, as Michael put it, "Was really a studio with a wall installed in the middle to make it into a one bedroom." The price was great, but I asked if we could see it one more time before deciding. The manager told us that we could, but we'd have to sign immediately after or she'd contact the next person. We were supposed to meet her that evening, so we felt the pressure of needing to decide before then.

And then something unexpected happened. Michael found a new posting on Craigslist, and as we looked at the pictures, we both said, "We have to get this one." It was in Pacific Heights, which is known for being one of the nicest places in the city, the rent was lower than a lot of places we had seen in Lower Nob Hill (which is usually cheaper), it had calming green walls, the kitchen was big enough for a table and it had a large, new oven, there were lovely windows (twelve of them!) that let in a lot of light, and wood floors. To make things unbelievably good, there was parking included! (Even though we don't have car, that was an amazing plus that few in the city ever get.) Michael immediately wrote a very nice email introducing us and asking if we could see the place early. Unfortunately, we couldn't see the place until the following weekend, which was a whopping four days away, so we had to take a leap of faith and let go of the studio-with-a-wall-one-bedroom.

During the following days, we filled out the application for the place and printed it out, collected multiple supporting documents, cut Michael's hair, and nervously twiddled our thumbs. The day of the showing, we got dressed up, found a nice folder for our application and documents, and headed into the city. There was a Hult barbecue that morning, and though we left the barbecue thirty minutes early, the combination of dropping off a friend and trying to find parking made us a few minutes late. I was so worried that we'd missed our chance to make a good impression, especially when we found that the door was locked and no one was answering the doorbell. After many frantic minutes of trying to reach someone at the management company, someone left the showing and let us into the building.

The place was packed, but we could still see that we loved it, so we found the man taking applications. Someone was monopolizing his time, so we went and stood right in front of him. Finally, I stuck out my hand and said, "Hi, I'm Michelle." Michael forgot to introduce himself, but the man seemed to remember us from our email and accepted our application. There wasn't much more to say after that, so we headed downstairs to take a look at the laundry room and garage. It seemed so anti-climactic, like we hadn't had a chance to stick out among the crowd. So we went back upstairs to ask some questions. This time, we seemed to connect with the man from the property management company a little more. Just at the point when we thought the conversation was over, Michael realized that the man had jerked his head to the side to say, "Follow me." We met him in the hallway and he said, "Right now it's basically between you and one other person." I have no idea how he could already know that. I put my hands together and asked, "If I tell you a joke, will you give it to us?" At least that got a laugh out of him. Even though I had warned Michael not to ask, he threw out there, "Why is the place so cheap? Is there something wrong with it?" I winced, but the man just kindly said that he'd looked at the market (I thought, "Maybe a year ago") and it seemed fair and that he didn't want to rip people off. We sent him a thank you email with an Uncle Al joke included.

The next day, we received an email asking for a copy of another pay stub. Since I was already in San Francisco, I couldn't pull out my folder with such documents until late that evening, and when I did, I saw that I only had one pay stub; the others must have been packed away somewhere. I frantically emailed my boss, but he didn't answer the next day, so I contacted his partner, who said he'd get on it, and I sent a very firm message saying that I absolutely had to have it or I would lose another apartment. That whole night, I was sick to my stomach with worry. I tossed and turned and checked my phone more times than I can count. In the morning, there was still nothing from my boss or his partner. Michael and I drove into the city, very disappointed and quiet. After his class, Michael came and sat by me and though we were both really down, he held my hand and offered up a pleading, last-hope prayer. We decided we both just needed to look for local jobs as quickly as possible and then maybe we'd be able to find a place. We sat there, dejected. Finally, at some point, I checked my phone and realized I'd missed a call from the real estate company. I nervously called back, and the man we'd met at the showing said, "Yes, I thought I should call you, because there's a lease here with your name on it." WHAT?!? He went on to tell me that he'd convinced the company that we were a "cool couple" (his words, not mine) and that they could wait to get the other pay stub from us.

And that is how we ended up in this place:

Pine Apartment Bedroom photo 2014-08-28134448_zpsbdfba0fa.jpg

Of course, no place is perfect. We realized after we moved in that the apartment is right on the corner of two busy streets (one of which is the street that my mom's grandparents lived on and is the surname of good friends), and because the windows are old and because those two streets seem to be on the ambulance and fire truck route, it's pretty loud. (I'm hoping to make it a little quieter using sound-absorbing furnishings.) After a week of parking Michael's mom's car in the garage (while she was out of the country), we found out that there's a building-wide waiting list, and the spot vacated by the previous tenant of our place actually goes to the next person on the list. Fortunately, the rental company then lowered our rent $150 per month to amend the mistake. Also, for some reason the place is plagued with mosquitoes, so I often have to conduct a mosquito hunt before I can sleep. The location is really close to a clean, nice park, and I love to walk around looking at beautiful Victorian houses, but it's six blocks farther away from downtown than our old place was and biking up the last hill is a killer no matter which direction you come from.

Pine Apartment Kitchen photo 2014-08-28143201_zpsa1f2cddf.jpg

I love the calming greens and all the light (I've even thought I needed to turn off a light only to find that it wasn't on). I love the crystal doorknobs and French doors. It's great that I've been able to fill the place with air-purifying plants and that the rental company sent out a repairman to put new seals on the windows. It's so nice to have laundry in the building, and the kitchen and bedroom have more storage than we need.

Pine Apartment Kitchen Table photo 2014-08-28142637_zpsb3c52562.jpg
You can't really see the plant on the table, but I thought it was some kind of lavender when I saw it and am now so happy to know about Russian sage. Its colors make me so happy.

Pine Apartment Bathroom photo 2014-08-28140758_zps40661e8a.jpg
(Apparently English ivy absorbs fecal matter from the air so of course I put it in the bathroom.)

Pine Bedroom Details photo P1150188_zps63e4943a.jpg
This gorgeous succulent (an Echeveria "Tippy") matches the wall perfectly, and the tasteful shelf built over the heater is nice.

Quite honestly, though, I have NO IDEA what to do with a whole extra room! It seems so luxurious and it's still quite empty. Filling it up has been a slow process as I've tried to use Freecycle and Craigslist for everything and we've needed to rent cars on Getaround to pick up furniture. We still need some rugs (which are shockingly expensive!), a desk, a sofa cover that matches the color scheme, and some kind of seating, and then maybe it won't feel so empty and overwhelming. Here it is empty:

New SF Apartment photo 
1805Pine_zps254d9c49.jpg Once I figure out what to do with the living room, I'll post another picture.

Hurray for a lovely new home!

25 July 2014

Russia Part II: St. Petersburg

Russia Part I: Moscow is here.

Starbucks photo 2014-07-05194639_zps7734d589.jpg
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.

Dve Palochki Hamburger Menu in St. Petersburg photo 2014-07-08212429_zps7f056c82.jpg
We ate at Dve Palochki three times, which had this cool burger menu.

St. Isaac's Cathedral in St. Petersburg photo 2014-07-102_zps0467bf6e.jpg
St. Isaac's Cathedral is now a museum of religion and atheism. Going all the way to the top was incredible.

St. Isaac's Cathedral in St. Petersburg photo 2014-07-10120418_zps559ada1f.jpg
This is what we saw when we looked down on St. Petersburg.

Alexander Nevsky Monastery Bread photo 2014-07-092_zpsf476639c.jpg
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.

Alexander Nevsky Monastery Cemetery photo 2014-07-093_zpsd77f4476.jpg
The cemetery at the monastery has obviously seen some years of neglect, but it was fascinating to see really old graves.

Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood in St. Petersburg
 photo 2014-07-09_zpsa75a0160.jpg
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, Jeff, and Lindsey at Church of the Savior on 
Spilled Blood photo 2014-07-09114811_zps614dd60e.jpg
Amy was really dedicated to taking a good picture for Jeff and Lindsey.

Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood in St. Petersburg photo 2014-07-103_zpsda800690.jpg
The inside of this church was my favorite. The brightly-colored religious mosaics with blue backgrounds reminded me of Giotto.

Traditional Matrushka Dolls photo 2014-07-10155027_zpsd620abc3.jpg
Traditional stacking matrushka dolls are matte and they hold things like chickens, pots, and scythes. Amy got some for her kids to paint themselves.

I  photo 2014-07-10154653_zpsd3b71728.jpg
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.

Amy at the State Hermitage in St. Petersburg photo 2014-07-114_zps73e6c4ba.jpg
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.

The State Hermitage in St. Petersburg photo 2014-07-116_zpsf50f32ab.jpg
Here's the brood in front of the Hermitage.

Peterhof Near St. Petersburg photo 2014-07-12122401_zps5666075b.jpg
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.

Kazan Cathedral Sunday Service photo 2014-07-13110711_zpse52f3ae2.jpg
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.

Peter and Paul Fortress Thrones photo 2014-07-13173615_zps01157443.jpg
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?

Teremok Crepes photo 2014-07-13185053_zps0ee2f715.jpg
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.

View from Google in St. Petersburg photo 2014-07-13201606_zpsf062ba2a.jpg
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.

Googlaxing photo 2014-07-13194657_zps2d00dbeb.jpg
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.

French Dog in St. Petersburg photo 2014-07-14130310_zpsafe237cd.jpg
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.

Beautiful Fence in St. Petersburg photo 2014-07-14130848_zps32e9853a.jpg
I loved the gates of the park near the Church of the Savor on Spilled Blood.

Most Expensive Ice Cream Ever in St. Petersburg ($14) photo 2014-07-14150055_zps65e28ed0.jpg
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?

Russia Part I: Moscow

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.

Amy the Organized photo 2014-07-08_zps199dd4d4.jpg
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 Teaching Alignment photo 2014-07-05173016_zpsd1e080af.jpg
Amy told us what she'd recently been reading about alignment, and everywhere we went, she demonstrated healthy squats and stretches.

Moscow Peasants Statue photo 2014-07-05164418_zps44349f53.jpg
Moscow is full of large, heavy-looking buildings and statues.

Mosaics and Wide Streets in Moscow photo 2014-07-05210244_zps46fa64d0.jpg
There are really wide streets and nifty mosaics in Moscow. I was surprised by how Western European Russia felt to me.

Eliseevsky Grocery Store photo 2014-07-05175053_zps67c81983.jpg
The fancy Eliseevsky grocery store was one of our first stops. I enjoyed my cherry pastry and didn't enjoy my ginger cookie.

Paintings Outside in Moscow photo 2014-07-05181512_zps3bbdec97.jpg
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.

Cathedral of the Mother of God's Kazan Icon Moscow photo 2014-07-05185239_zps44052c58.jpg
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 photo 2014-07-06114410_zps8bf856a3.jpg
St. Basil's Cathedral seemed almost cartoon-like.

Chinese Party in Hotel in Moscow photo 2014-07-06091002_zps383238f6.jpg
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.

Paul Being Paul photo 2014-07-081200_zpsf1b8f57b.jpg
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.

Lindsey at Vatrushka photo 2014-07-06132953_zpsf42fa6c2.jpg
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.

Vatrushka (Expensive Lemonade Place) in Moscow photo 2014-07-06134653_zpsc63e0a4c.jpg
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.

White Boots photo 2014-07-05182448_zpsb0121f53.jpg
When I think of Russian winter fashion, I think of white boots, but I saw some even in the hot summer weather.

 Bolshoi Theater Dress in Moscow photo 
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.

Bear at Mall in Moscow photo 2014-07-06170242_zps0ae602b5.jpg
I saw this weird bear guy at the mall.

Walking to the Cathedral of the Annunication in Moscow photo 2014-07-07_zpscf7a5930.jpg
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.

Modern-day Carriage in Moscow photo 2014-07-08092722_zpscb226564.jpg
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.

Detailed Doors in Moscow photo 2014-07-07142318_zps7e1b2f3f.jpg
Moscow had some really lovely details.

Skull on Truck in Moscow photo 2014-07-07142028_zps455fa571.jpg
And like every city, there was also some weird stuff, like a skull on a car.

Painting on Car in Moscow photo 2014-07-07142314_zps53a06cd2.jpg
Here's a ship painted on a car.

Pirate Ship Thing in Moscow photo P1150126_zps03073599.jpg
We also spotted a memorial to Peter the Great shaped like a giant pirate ship.

Shawarma in Moscow photo 2014-07-07140953_zps1f7d82eb.jpg
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!!"

Sanduny Banya (Bathhouse) in Moscow photo 2014-07-07143327_zps628c7fe1.jpg
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.

Funny Banya Ad photo 2014-07-07143713_zps97175294.jpg
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.

Massage Panties photo 2014-07-07152137_zps6a6d93bf.jpg
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 . . .


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