Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Once Upon a (summer) Time

My mom asked me to write this so she would "have something interesting to read." A month later, I'm finally getting around to it - Happy Thanksgiving?

Summer was a bit of a whirlwind, partially because I stayed almost a week less than in the past.  In trying to cram an entire year's worth of things into about 3 weeks, I managed to: go to a 4 day music festival, have overpriced brunch in Manhattan with friends from college, stay in a lake house with other college friends, see most of my friends and family, road trip down to DC with 2 hours notice, catch the Milford Oyster Fest, and eat everything on my list of foods not available in the food dessert that is Moscow.

After getting back to Russia, I still had some wanderlust to get out of my system, so I took a quick trip to Romania.  Bucharest was a weird mix of classical European and super Soviet, but had great food and the world's largest Parliament building.  Constanta was really beautiful, and allowed me to finally swim in the Black Sea.

Back to Russia, and work/life have been business as usual.  Construction was finally finished on the square by my house, I convinced my roommate not to move away forever, and I've been SUMMONED FOR JURY DUTY AGAIN.  Again.  For Thanksgiving, I'm having a potluck, in which I'll try to fit way more people into my apartment than is probably advisable.  What can go wrong?

Fun fact before you go: remember when Crimea started being Russia again? Remember how the west was like "Not cool bro, give it back"? It's okay if you don't, people kind of stopped mentioning it.  The Levada Center mentioned it recently when it polled Russian citizens on whether they thought Crimea should be returned to Ukraine; a whole 3% said yes! How about that. 

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Only holidays, no crises

For those of you who didn't know, Russia has a lot of national (or public) holidays.  This year, for the first time since coming to work here, I had all of them off! This includes the two 4-day weekends in a row for May holidays.  The bad news is that I caught the flu and was so sick that I ended up calling out on one of the days we DID work.  The good news is that in June we had another long weekend, and I was well so I took a little England trip.  The week after that was normal in terms of it being a 5-day workweek, but then I had visitors and got to show them Moscow (and hopefully leave a good impression...I think I succeeded.  It mostly involved eating, shopping, and selfies, so I don't see how it could've gone wrong)! Everyone who hasn't visited, step up your game.  It's been 3 years, the dollar is really strong, and I live in an amazing location.  

Then there are summer holidays, or summer vacation in American - I'm coming home for a few weeks this summer to swim, sun, shop, and stuff my face.  Please pencil me in.

In other news, there's no "deep" crisis, whatever that means.  So everyone can calm down.  Everything is casually at least twice as expensive because THERE IS NO CRISIS and everything is totally fine, in case you were wondering.

Lastly, the Guardian recently did a really well-written, interesting, and informative series about Moscow called Moscow week - I strongly urge everyone to check it out; most of what they say is really accurate and will give you a much better idea of what Moscow is actually like, in addition to maybe explaining a little why I like it here so much.    

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Things have changed

A big change: The roommate and I moved to a new apartment! While Steve was in England getting a new passport, our old apartment sprung a major leak - the latest on a long list of things wrong with the crumbling housing. The landlady decided I was responsible for paying the plumbers, while Steve and I decided we'd had enough. In short: Wednesday there was a leak, Thursday we'd decided we were moving. Friday Steve sent me a list of places to check out and I made a call, Saturday I viewed a place. Saturday afternoon I started moving, Sunday evening I finished. It was a marathon. The place is much nicer, in the center, and about the same price (finally we benefit from the crisis!).

Other changes:
1. I'm 25 now! Cue quarter-life crisis.  Not really.
2. Almost every expat I know has either left or will leave before year's end.  This makes me quite sad.
3. I've now cooked over 65 different recipes successfully! I guess it's a solid hobby now. Come get fed.
4. It has finally stopped snowing, we can rejoice - and put away our winter coats.
5. I've been summoned for jury duty again. No, I still can't serve because no, I still don't live in Connecticut.

If you're thinking of visiting Russia from the US/Europe, now is the time. Your currency is strong, meaning things will be cheap - but it won't stay that way forever (fingers crossed, I need the ruble to perk back up!). Plus you'll have a free tour guide :)

Monday, February 2, 2015

New Year's in Kyrgyzstan (and then some)

As mentioned in my previous post, I spent New Year in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan - a former Soviet Socialist Republic in Central Asia (it's near Kazakhstan, of Borat fame). So first - why? Answer: I'd actually wanted to visit Kazakhstan after a student recommended it, but the flights to Kyrgyzstan were cheaper.  At any rate, I wanted to visit Central Asia, and this certainly qualified.  I wanted to get further from Europe to somewhere that not many Americans (or Westerners in general) often visit.

What was it like? Though I was in the capital, the city itself was quite small and uncrowded, with fewer shopping malls, bars, and restaurants than you might expect in a capital.  It was fairly warm during the day (around 4C/39F), but the temperatures dropped drastically once night fell (-4C/24F).  Nearly everyone I met was really friendly, and people in general seemed quite happy.  The architecture is overwhelmingly still very Soviet, since the country is rather poor and doesn't yet have the funds for large construction projects.  The food was amazing - lots of noodles with fried meat and vegetables, dumplings, soups, and horse meat! There was also a fermented horse milk drink that I tried and didn't hate.  Everyone in Bishkek seemed to speak fluent Kyrgyz and Russian, and all of the store and street signs were in both languages as well.

What did I do? On New Year's Eve I went to the main square, where people were buying explosives on the side of the road and lighting them in large crowds of people (lots of families, in fact!) as the police looked on.  There was a concert, there were fireworks, the president's speech was broadcast in Kyrgyz and Russian, and there were taxidermied bears and lions, in addition to people dressed as Santa Claus, Tom from Tom and Jerry, sheep (because for some reason, in Russia and former Soviet countries, they use the animals from Chinese New Year), and rams.  There were bunnies, doves, and big displays you could have your picture taken with.  After midnight I went back to the hotel (because nearly every single thing in the city was closed; I did not anticipate that) and had a mini celebration that the hotel staff invited all of the guests to.

The next day, the entire city was still pretty much shut down, so I walked around a run down amusement park and ate some of the aforementioned delicious food.  During the rest of the trip I managed to visit the state department store (TSUM, which was essentially just a lot of random stalls selling even more random items; Moscow TSUM, on the other hand, is stocked with luxury brands), the State Historical Museum (the most Soviet thing in the city, except for maybe the giant Lenin statue out back), a museum dedicated to Mikhail Frunze (who won the Eastern front for the red Army pretty much single handedly), visited bazaars, saw the circus, the eternal flame, and travelled to the mountains to eat dinner in a yurt, among other things.

For me, Bishkek had two major benefits: the first being that it was completely different from anything I'd ever experienced, and the second that because it's in Central Asia, the crisis didn't affect prices much.

After getting back I spent a lot of time trying new recipes and relaxing.  I also went to see the Phantom of the Opera, which I highly recommend if you get the chance to see it!

Work is now back in full swing, but I'll think of a new adventure soon enough.