Saturday, December 8, 2012

Kiev, Ukraine

We'd landed in Kiev about 20 minutes earlier.  I put Kyle in charge of sorting out the travel from the airport to our hostel.  Why, might you ask? I don't know; let's not talk about it. We'd been sitting on a bench outside the airport waiting for some unmarked, unnumbered shuttle bus to take us to the main subway station.  Finally, we went to information and inquired.  There was no shuttle bus from this terminal, only public transport.  That sounded like the worst possible idea: climbing aboard a public bus, sorting through our newly exchanged currency to pay the driver, requesting he stop at our desired location, then hoping he'd inform us when we got there.  Taking a cab sounded much more reasonable... the extra cost seemed well-worth less complication.  Decision made. Until we got outside and stood in front of the automatic doors marked "Arrivals" for ten minutes, trying to outlast the other.  Who would brave up, test out his/her Russian, and ask one of the sketchy looking cab drivers to take us?  Finally, Kyle said, "OKAY. I'll just DO IT."  The grumpy man looked at the hostel address, huffed, then thumbed us towards the next cabbie.  This other man, fortunately, took our bags without expressing his distaste.  Hs first named price was also lower than our limit.  We gazed out the passing buildings for the short ride into the center of the city.

We were dropped off smack in the middle of a busy street in the center of Kiev.  The driver took our money and gestured to an unmarked white and rusted door a few yards away.  We followed the instructions from the owner's e-mail and entered the digits on the keypad, heard a click, then walked up two flights of stairs.  A young Ukrainian woman was waiting in the open door, ready to welcome us.  We were asked to immediately remove our shoes, then were shown to our room.  Traditionally, when you stay in a hostel, you stay in one big room dorm-style with travelers and backpackers from all over.  We opted for the private room, as this was our first stay in a hostel.  We were able to escape each night to our room and know our belongings could be safely locked up whenever we left.  It was a very simple room with a worn leather armchair, a writing table, chair, and set of bunk beds.  Dasha kindly provided us with free linens and towels (most hostels charge a small fee for these comforts).  We set our stuff down, and stretched out for a quick nap.  When we awoke, we propped open the door and started preparing for our first stroll around the city.  A grisly 40-year-old walked past our door, skidded to a stop, then knocked on our open door frame. 

"Aha! You must be the Americans! Welcome, I'm Achim.  I see you have a map there.  Need any advice on what to see, what to do?" he spouted off in a heavy German accent.

"Sure," we replied.

He then went on to draw a map on our tourist map of all we should see.  He routed out the nearby sites and recommended restaurants along the way.  Finally he asked, "Do you have plans for this evening?"

"Well, no," we said.

"Now you do, see you around here at 8:00 or 8:30!" and he left.

We scrambled to get our things, then headed out into the gray clouds.  We didn't get very far before I started getting mouthy.  Kyle wisely said, "Okay, I think it's time to find a place for lunch." We decided on a restaurant that was a cafe by day, karaoke bar by night.  I stuttered through my feeble Russian, and we were seated at a table in the corner.  The table was surrounded by enormous, plush high-backed sofas too far from the table.  We ordered Americanos, traditional borsch, and pelmeni.  Borsch is maybe the most well-known dish to come from Ukraine/Russia.  It's a soup flavored predominantly by the cold-climate beetroot, but contains other vegetables, beef, and fresh herbs like dill and parsely.  A huge dollop of sour cream (A dollop, a dollop, a dollop of Daisy) is splashed into the center.  It was served with warm toast and garlic lard for spreading.  Yes, lard.  The idea sickens me, but the taste made my eyes roll back and my toes curl.  It was amazing.

I had the other traditional food, pelmeni - very similar to pierogies or dumplings, but stuffed with juicy well-flavored meat.  These are also served with a hearty serving of sour cream.  We ate our fill, ordered more coffee, and spent an hour talking casually. 

We took a short walk around the city, saw some very old architecture, a few brick roads, and mostly a city not unlike Moscow.  We headed back to the hostel to freshen up before our night out.

Much to my bad luck, Achim stopped by our room while Kyle was in the shower.  Harmlessly enough, he asked if we'd join him in a toast before going out.  It's only tradition! You're in Kiev! You must drink vodka! Well, of course.  I told Kyle what I'd agreed to when he returned, but he just smirked.

We sat in the communal kitchen and met our hostel mates.  A 20-year-old French guy, skinny as a skeleton, an almost incoherent French accent, and a huge goofy grin.  He was bearing two recently purchased bottles of Ukrainian vodka.  His name? Jean-Baptiste.  I kid you not.  He told us we could call him JB since Jean-Baptiste might be a little too French for us.  His friend Ivan joined us half an hour later, an Italian guy living in Spain, wearing slippers that he may or may not have chopped off the abominable snowman.  He had a hearty laugh, and a sense of humor that was surprising for his lack of English.  Next was a Mexican guy raised in Chicago.  He has been staying in that hostel for a few years, as he works from his computer.  He travelled through one weekend and just never left.  The other employee of the hostel who checked us in earlier that day (Dasha) sat cross-legged by the fireplace.  Kyle and I took the only open seats and began taking it all in.  Several Europeans gathered together, happy to meet other travellers, and all communicating confidently in their varying levels of English.  Achim lined up the shot glasses, filled them to the top, and made a toast. 

Jean-Baptiste called me out, "Uhhhh, eekscoose me, but I sink zat you should drink zee whole thing!"

I wish I could Jean-Baptiste.  College taught me nothing.

We started exchanging stories, who works where, doing what, how long we'll each be in Kiev, etc.  Suddenly Achim yelled out, "ONE!"

I looked around confused.

He repeated, "ONE!"

I looked at Dasha who says, "It's a counting game."

I mumbled, "Two...?"

Jean-Baptiste called out, "Sree!"

Ivan said, "Four!"

Achim started lining up the shots for another round.  Oh damn, I thought.

This went on for an hour or so, and two more pony-tailed stragglers joined us- an American living with his girlfriend in Denmark, and a German who just spent six years living in China.  Achim decided it was time for the bar.  He called the taxi company, covering up the moutpiece of the phone, saying, "They understand a little English, but you have to say the street names with a Ukrainian accent!" He went on calling out Ukrainian street names in his usual German accent.

The bar was in an unmarked building behind a bunch of other buildings.  An open staircase led to a basement, where we entered a smoke-filled room with clinking glasses and loud voices.  The men behind the bar wore blue doctor's scrubs, and the cocktail waitresses flounced around in tiny nurse's uniforms.  The shots were served in test tubes (does that really fit the hospital theme? maybe not..), and there were two 'special' shots on the menu.  One was called The Helmet, and another was The Injection.  Upon ordering our cheap sandwiches and beers, the table next to us geared up for their first Injections.  The nurse came over with an enormous syringe, some white cloth, and a few packs of paper towels.  She started dressing the man in the white cloth, which turned out to be a straight jacket, then she laid the towels on the table for the man's head to rest upon.  She laid him down, climbed up on the table, then started plunging the syringe full of liquor into his mouth.  Achim told us the shot is supposed to all go down in four seconds, but she's a nice nurse, so if you're not swallowing quickly enough, she'll let you have up to twenty. The friends of the injection patient got a real hoot out of this and ordered another round.

The next shot goes a little something like this: the bartender puts some metal helmet on the shot-taker.  A rag is lit on fire, then dropped onto the helmet.  After a few seconds, the nurse douses the fire with water.  Next, the bartender takes four large glasses each containing one shot.  He slams the first glass into the helmet repeatedly, then hands the guy the shot to be drunk.  This continues for each shot, until they're all downed. Again, how does this fit the hospital theme? Not sure, but unique, if nothing else!

An interesting friend of Italian Ivan joins our table.  I never learned her name, but she was raised by Ukrainian parents in New York city, so she speaks perfect Russian and English.  Then she spent a few years in Spain, so she also speaks fluent Spanish.  Throughout the night I caught myself open-mouthed just looking around at all these people, all capable of speaking at least two languages, but most up to four or five.  Meanwhile I can barely spit out a coherent Russian sentence after three months of studying.  It was quite impressive.

On our way out of the bar a group of two girls and a guy overhear us speaking English.  Some obnoxious voice I associate with stereotypical party girls calls out, "Oh wait, you guys like all speak English? Awesome, totally awesome where are you from? I'm from Chicago, but I'm in the Peace Core. Yeah, it's pretty good. I'm teaching English, but like whatever, there are plenty of other countries that could like totally use my skills more, if you ask me, but whatever, like ya know?"

Woah, sister.

She went on, "Sooooooo, tell me all about yourselves! Where are you from? What are you doing here ya know? Oh don't worry, I'm not the police! You can tell me the truth! Hahahahahaha"

A few of us mumbled very short answers, which was more than enough to get her blabbing again.

Eventually the English-Spanish-Russian speaking girl joined us.

She said, "Oh. You learned any Russian since you've been here? That's cool."

They started speaking Russian together, then the party girl said, "blah blah blah... в Украине"

The other girls cut her off, "No, на Украине."

Party girl: в Украине
Trilingual chick: на Украине
Party girl: в Украине
Trilingual chick: на Украине
Party girl: No, no, no, my friend here is Ukrainian.  She told me I'm right. 

They stared each other down for 60 straight seconds, then each gave a smart little chuckle and rolled their eyes.  We decided to leave and Party girl replied, "Wow, it was like SO great to meet you.  Have a fantastic night!"

We continued bar hopping, while the youngest member of our group threw up at almost every stop.  Finally, someone wised up and called a few cabs.  We stumbled into the hostel and slept until noon.

We took another walk around the city, but spent most of the day doing what we do best: reading at a coffee shop.  We were asked to return to the hostel around 8:30 again, but not for bar hopping, instead for traditional Ukrainian borsch prepared by Dasha. The soup was delicious, perfect on another cold, cloudy day, and I helped myself to two huge portions.  We watched some clips of American Beauty on the American movie channel, then crawled into our bunk beds.

The next day we had business to attend to at a travel agency.  We followed our instructions for renewing our visas but found ourselves wandering around the second floor of yet another unmarked building.  We were about to give up, when a man walked right up to us, and said, "Shelly, Kyle? I recognized you from your passport photos. I'm Ramone, please come in."  We basically dropped off our documents, picked them up a few hours later, and were done.  Nothing like the thousand steps required to apostille each and every document for Korea over the span of 8 months.

We visited a traditional Ukrainian buffet for brunch. The servers were dressed in some snazzy Ukrainian outfits that clashed with their disgruntled faces showing their disapproval at our inability to speak fluent Russian.  We had some mysteriously named vitamin juice, eggs, chicken, mushrooms, meat filled crepes, potato pancakes, pumpkin porridge, quiche, more sour cream, and honey cakes, all for just under $8! Needless to say, we went back for dinner and breakfast the next day.

Kyle spent another night out with the boys, while I played online Scrabble until I fell asleep at 10:00 pm.  Yes, I am 85 years old.  They woke me up around 3:30 am when they came in debating about Communism and its presence in China.  Achim gave Kyle a firm hug and me a kiss on the hand.  Well, he didn't actually kiss my hand, just the air above my hand.  He explained actually kissing my hand is against the law and has been for over 400 years.  Or something like that.  We thanked him graciously for his genuine hospitality, knowing full well he wouldn't be awake for our departure the next morning.


Sunday, November 25, 2012

Thanksgiving in Moscow

I read a lot of food and recipe blogs, and most of the authors cite an almost identical source of initiation into the world of food.  Each recounts a childhood memory where she sat in her mother's kitchen soaking up every bit of activity going on around her. As she grew, her duties as assistant became more advanced, until one day, she was the one doing all the cooking, absorbed in every minute step.  These are all sweet stories, and I wish I could draw on one of my own, showing the clear linear path to my current obsession with all things food.  Unfortunately, I rarely helped my own mother in the kitchen.  Instead, I was the one waiting for her to leave and check her e-mail, sneaking in with a spoon to get a taste of whatever was on the stove.  I was the one climbing on chairs to reach the highest cabinet, where I knew the special treats and candies were hidden.  Often times during college when I'd return home for a weekend, my mom would buy my favorite salt and vinegar potato chips, among other things.  She'd always joke that before she could even show me what she'd bought, I'd already "sniffed everything out." So, yes, instead of that cute child trying her best to fill her mother's measuring cups, I was the one wiping crumbs from my cheeks and begging to lick the bowl.

After moving out of my parents' house, I quickly learned that in order to enjoy the foods I gorged on growing up, I had to learn to prepare them.  With each year of college, I grew more and more independent in my cooking.  I began experimenting in the kitchen.  I can still remember e-mailing my mom for the family chicken paprikash recipe.  My roommate and I used the shared kitchen of our dorm to attempt the meal.  I felt like such a real chef substituting skinless, boneless chicken breasts for bone-in chicken thighs.  I didn't even know what to do with bone-in chicken thighs. Somehow, the recipe turned out great, and we had leftovers for a week.

Gradually, I became infatuated with the process of cooking: searching for a recipe, gathering the proper ingredients, preparing for each step, improvising when necessary, then, best of all, enjoying the finished product. Soon my weekend visits home involved testing new recipes with my mom.  We discovered our similar liking to dishes that were unusual to the rest of our family.  Many times we'd prepare something for them, while experimenting with a little something for ourselves. My dad and Anna would look critically at our salmon burgers, then take a huge satisfying bite of their beef.

When I moved to Columbus, I was so excited to have a kitchen of my own.  I inherited many of my great grandmother's cooking utensils, many of which had purposes completely unknown to me.  I only learned last week what a pastry cutter is.  I can tell you that's not what I used mine for. I started simply with casseroles, pastas, and other easily-assembled dishes.  I was cooking for two 20-something college boys, for goodness' sake.  I had to cook something that would fill their bottomless stomachs.  Kyle bought me a fancy stand mixer, on which I tested cookie recipes from Halloween through the New Year.  I also began building up a collection of cookbooks.  This enthusiasm continued through our six months in Naples but took an unfortunate halt last February when we arrived in South Korea.  I had two burners, a microwave, and a sorry collection of ingredients to work with.  I continued cooking, but it was with the sole purpose of consumption. I felt a wave of relief when I saw a real kitchen with a working stove and oven when we first stepped into our apartment here in Russia, even if there was a washing machine in the thick of it all. But my excitement hasn't been the same.  Ingredients are difficult to track down, and when you have to walk a couple miles to the grocery store, you're less inclined to try new recipes. 

My second main obsession besides food is the holiday season, which in my calendar starts a week before Halloween and continues on until New Year's Day.  I have a strong feeling these two obsessions are intricately woven together, but regardless, Thanksgiving's approach struck an idea in me.  I decided to create, to the best of my ability, a Thanksgiving meal for us to share here in Moscow.  If we couldn't go home for family and food, I'd try to recreate as much of it here as possible.  I made an elaborate plan, which consisted of which ingredients to buy and at what time, what steps of each recipe to carry out on each day, then finally how to make it all come together Thursday night.  We had no time off work that week, so I needed to prepare as much in advance as I could.  Each working day contains only a few hours of free time, so I had to balance that as well.  Though I can certainly say my cooking skills have developed since my first chicken paprikash attempt, I've never made so many dishes for one meal in the middle of a full-time work week.  Most of the dishes for Thanksgiving I've never made at all. 

I scouted the ingredients in the three nearby grocery stores and compiled a menu: roasted dill chicken, stuffing, mashed potatoes, mushroom gravy, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce, rolls, and apple pie.  I challenged myself to make as much from scratch as possible, which included everything except the cranberry sauce and rolls.  Green bean casserole is not really from scratch, at least not when you open a bag of frozen green beans and mix them with a can of cream of mushroom soup.  Somehow, some way, the meal came together without mishaps.  We sat down, as scheduled, around 10 pm on Thanksgiving night and stuffed ourselves silly. 

And, he liked it!

Saturday, November 10, 2012


"We should probably go soon," said Kyle. 

I looked up from my scrambled eggs, which contained every last morsel of perishable food from the refrigerator, and asked, "What time is it?"


"Oh, crap!"

What a great start to the trip; we had planned to leave at 5:00 am.  I shoveled all that could fit into my mouth, tossed the unwashed dishes into the sink, and covered them with a layer of hot, soapy water.  I fell into my last-minute, traveling habit and started grabbing any object I thought I could possibly use over the weekend.  Into my bag went three extra pairs of socks, some jewelry I didn't even know I owned, and a dozen more Q-tips.  You never know, right?

We hurried out the front door and walked the 2 kilometers to the subway station.  When we finally arrived, I swiped my subway pass and pushed through the gate.  I glanced back briefly before heading down the stairs.  An 80-year-old woman with 10 bags and a coat that could fit two more humans was scanning her card at each gate.  A resounding tone indicated her card was not valid. Kyle was waiting behind her.  I watched him tap her on the shoulder, scan his card, then gesture for her to pass through.  Wow, he really is in a good mood today, I thought.  When he scanned his card to allow himself to pass, the familiar tone sounded again.  "Shyest minooti!" the guard called out to him.  Let's add six more minutes to our already late status...

Finally we climbed onto the empty subway car and rolled several stops to our train station.  Somehow we made it to the correct platform and into our seats aboard the Sapsan train.  Nodding off, we rode comfortably for three and a half hours into St. Petersburg. When we stepped out of the train some outrageous orchestral song was blaring from the speakers.  We were just stopping in for the weekend, but the music made us feel like we were returning home from a hard-faught war.

Downtown St. Petersburg

We searched for our hotel like true tourists, our necks straining to gaze at every gorgeous structure, while constantly referring to our crisply folded map. I tested my Russian at the hotel front desk, asking the man if he spoke English.  His furrowed brow first showed confusion, then clarity, "English? Oh yes, of course!" Did I mention how good my Russian is getting?

We dumped our belongings into our room at the Comfort Hotel and set off in search of lunch.  We wound through the streets in the drizzling rain until we finally settled on Jerome's cafe.  With our dinner reservation only hours away, we enjoyed a light lunch of soup and bread.  The setting was gorgeous, with exposed brick ceilings, sturdy wooden tables and chairs, along with spurts of fresh gray decor. My only complaint was the $10 bottles of water. Honestly.

With full stomachs and desire to find the Neva, we returned to the drizzling gray weather.  A student of mine scored a deal at a hotel in the center of St. Petersburg, so we were able to travel the entire weekend on foot.  We walked through a narrow park covered in fallen leaves. 

The trees began to thin until the park opened to a sprawling green field.  At the end of the field stood the famous bronze horseman statue.  The deep gray color was striking against the bland clouds and sunshine-yellow building beside it. 

Me with the Bronze Horseman

Just across the way, the Neva River rocked gently.  We followed a bridal party along the river, snapped photos of more buildings and statues, then unexpectedly came upon the Winter Palace. 

Across the Neva River
Our first sighting of the Winter Palace
We made our way back to the hotel, where I slipped into a pair of heels I hadn't seen in months.  Our dinner reservation was at a place called Teplo, loosely translated to 'cozy' or 'comforting' in English.  It quickly became the most quaintly unique restaurant I've ever visited.  We weaved through some buildings until an empty, but well-lit and decorated patio awaited us.  I clambered down the steps in my heels, and a hostess led us to our table.  Candles flickered on every table, a collection of slippers were available for guests to borrow, and blankets were draped over nearly ever edge.  There were varying degrees of formality in each room.  We passed groups dining at mismatched wooden tables and chairs, a father and son competing in foosball, and couples sipping tea at a counter overlooking the kitchen.  The restaurant was essentially a house turned into a restaurant, with the original rooms preserved.  We entered what would be the living room.  A pair of families sat on a sofa and loveseat and ate at the coffee table.  Another group nibbled at their desserts over a game of Jenga.  In the back corner through a shorter-than-average doorframe, I saw several children sprawled on foam mats building castles with blocks.  Each menu was handmade and a cross between a scrapbook and photo album.  We tasted each other's Russian borsch, pumpkin soup, and beef tenderloin.  The most delicious vanilla rooibos tea rounded off the meal.

The main event of the evening was a performance of Carf Orff's Carmina Burana at the well-known Mariinsky Theater.  We saw Carmina Burana performed for the first time by Toledo's syphony and were blown away.  If you're interested, the most recognized part of the piece can be found here.  The theater was gorgeously decorated, with ornate golden molding among marble and soft velvet. 

The interior of Mariinsky Theater
The performance was just as amazing the second time.  It lasts just over an hour but felt vastly shorter.  The soloists were stunning and displayed masterful dramatization.  During one portion, an unnoticed children's choir seated in on of the balconies stood and joined the singing. 

Mariinsky Theater
Sitting in a famous Russian theater in St. Petersburg gave such an overwhelming feeling that even a performance of 'Hot Cross Buns' by my sixth grade band would have sounded great. We left the theater on a high and spent the rest of the evening walking along the canals of the city.

Monument to Nicholas I

On a footbridge over one of the many St. Petersburg canals

Famous composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov across from Mariinsky Theater

A tribute to the Russian author Vladmir Nabokov

The next morning we enjoyed a simple meal provided by the hotel in the adjoining restaurant.  The most awaited part of the weekend, a visit to the Hermitage, was the only mark in our agenda for Sunday.  Though the museum opens at 11 am on Sundays, there were already two large lines at 10:15 am.  The museum is one of the most celebrated in the world, high in the ranks with the Louvre of Paris.  It consists of four or five buildings and holds millions of pieces of artwork. 

The main entrance to the Hermitage
With our short visit, we decided to spend the day in the Winter Palace, the portion holding some Russian artifacts but mostly Western artwork.  The collection was started by Catherine the Great and has been preserved ever since.  Some of the rooms were arranged to display the living style of historic Russian royalty. 

The Room of Malachite, where Tsarist officials met for the final time before being captured
Kyle's dream room
Other rooms held classic Greek and Roman statues, Russian antiques, and Baroque artwork. The top floor is dedicated to Modern and Impressionist art. We spent a little over four hours in the museum and still felt there was plenty more to see. We were most impressed with the top floor, where entire rooms were set aside each for Van Gogh, Picasso, Pissarro, and Matisse. The palace was a museum in itself, so even when the art seemed redundant, the windows, floors, and architecture provided entertainment.

Pablo Picasso's The Farmer

Van Gogh's Portrait of Madame Trabuc

One of Henri Matisse's most famous- The Dance
For the last site before our departure, we stopped at St. Isaac's Cathedral.  Alexander I ordered the construction of the church following the defeat of Napoleon.  It took nearly 40 years to complete, and the architect died soon after it was finished.  Perhaps the most fantastic part of the cathedral is its enormous golden dome, which was painted black during WWII so as to not attract enemies' attention.  The cathedral is now a museum, where you can walk inside as well as up the 200+ stairs to the collonade.  We decided to see both.  Somehow, the only 30 minutes of sunlight of the entire weekend corresponded with our visit to the collonade.  We were able to see for miles across all directions of the city where colorful spires of various cathedrals poked through the skyline. It was truly breathtaking.

Kyle atop St. Isaac's Cathedral

The view of southern St. Petersburg

The Hermitage, Palace Square, and Alexander Column in the distance
Palace Square with the Alexander Column up close
Our final stop was the cathedral's interior, which was immensely overpowering.  Every inch of the ceilings, arches, and walls were covered with religious artwork.  We gawked at numerous murals of saints and Biblical figures.  There were maybe hundreds of different sculptures.  Even the two main doors boasted intricate carvings.  The colors from golden trim, malachite ornaments, and marble columns was almost blinding.

St. Isaac's Cathedral altar

This one's for you, Sister Catherine

A weekend has never flown by so quickly.  We made idiots of ourselves trying to track down the correct train car but returned to Moscow blown away by all that we saw in St. Petersburg.  The city exceeded our every expectation.  The people were kind and relaxed.  Every alleyway held hidden treasures.  St. Petersburg contains too much to see in one month, let alone two and a half days.  Everything about it was entirely charming, from our first long-distance train ride to the dozens of free hot cocoas I slurped down in the hotel lounge.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Russian Lessons and Living

My mishaps with corporate security guards have just about ended.  I like to think it’s because I’m feeling brave enough to speak a tiny bit of Russian with them, but in reality, it’s just that now they recognize me. Speaking of speaking Russian, Kyle and I have now spent almost 30 hours studying with our teacher Gyeorgy.  Gyeorgy is a fine Russian man, with plenty of teaching experience.  His age is difficult to determine due to the long years he’s spent addicted to nicotine, but I’d venture a guess between 50-65 years old.  It’s clear his favorite student is Kyle, not me.  That might be because of the fact it takes me twice as long to sound out each word. Or that I ask the same questions multiple times per lesson (wait, how do you say ‘money?’).  Or that I mispronounce the word for ‘please’ Every. Single. Time.  Or maybe it’s because Kyle likes to show off the vocabulary he’s been studying.  Or that every time we come to new material and Gyeorgy asks if we know it, Kyle nods his head fervently while I squint my eyebrows and say, “Uh, I don’t think so..” Luckily, when I say Gyeorgy favors Kyle, I’m not saying much.  For instance, during our last class, per usual, Gyeorgy instructed us, “Look at this picture and ask each other interesting questions.” It was a picture of a house.  Anyway, we complied.  A few minutes into it, I turned from Kyle and glanced up at Gyeorgy to get confirmation on my word choice.  The man was sleeping!

During the work weeks, there is little time for grocery shopping, let alone sightseeing.  With such an overwhelmingly active city, the plan is to visit at least one tourist site each weekend.  However, traveling to all ends of the city for our classes can be an experience in itself.  The city is truly beautiful, with parks, trees, statues, and monuments at nearly every turn.  The buildings themselves are pieces of artwork.

Kyle standing with Dostoevsky
Last weekend we rode into the center of Moscow to visit the Tretyakov Gallery.  Pavel Tretyakov was a successful business man during the second half of the 19th century.  As his wealth grew, he became deeply involved in philanthropy and art collecting.  The Tretyakov Gallery is a tribute to him and his collection.  We spent the afternoon milling through the rooms of the gallery, admiring the paintings and sculptures.  I overheard the different languages of the tour guides and watched the elderly volunteers falling asleep at their posts.  We found portraits of Pushkin, Tolstoy, and Dostoevsky.

Me with Tretyakov outside Tretyakov Gallery

Kyle with a portrait of the famous Russian poet Alexander Pushkin

A portrait of Dostoevsky

One of my students asked if I’d be willing to give her extra English lessons on weekends.  She’s in her mid-twenties and at an intermediate speaking level.  Rather than charge her for these lessons, I asked if she’d show me around the city and buy me a cup of coffee.  We’ve visited the famous Arbat Street, walked by a few of Stalin’s Seven Sisters, and had coffee in Moscow’s old telegraph building. 

I think it’s now time to show you around our apartment.  As I mentioned before, it’s quite dated, but feeling more and more like home as the weeks fly by.
Our kitchen with the 60 year old oven

Kyle hard at work in the kitchen

Kyle's room - he cleaned up for the photo

As a final update, we had our first snow flurry on Friday afternoon. It’s going to be a loooooong winter!