he BC Blog Moscow



We send out lots of email while we travel. In fact, of course, we send email much more often than we update the web. We can never quite remember who we told what to, so this page is meant as a sort of bulletin board for our most recent whereabouts, impressions, and comments while we work more slowly and deliberately on the permanent web pages.

Monday, July 25, 2005 — Building 3, Entry 5, Floor 6, Apt 115

Our new address is Naberezhnaya Tarasa Shevchenko(see note), Dom 3, Podyezd 5, Kv 115 (Floor 6). Translated, this means Building 3, Taras Shevchenko Avenue, Stairwell 5, Floor 6, Apt 115. We've been in Apt 115 for 2.5 weeks now and it does seem like home. We had several problems to start with but now we have either solved or grown accustomed to them.

Problem Zero was finding the building. On arrival in Moscow we walked from the Kiev Station metro stop and eventually found the building. Stairwell 5 is located on a littled side street on the back side of the building, a side that isn't on Shevchenko Avenue. We had to know that before we came. It helped a lot in narrowing our seach; we recounted the details of the search in a previous blog.

Problem 1 was opening the front door. When we were in Paris we were told by Frederik that we needed to enter a code to open the lobby door. He wrote it as "115-key-mmmm" ( "mmmm" stands for "mmmms-the-word"; the actual number is a secret not to be devulged over the web). This was a mystery to us. What did "key" mean? Outside was a pad that had a key with a picture of a key on it. The light in our head blinked on: After entering "115" (our apartment number) we needed to press the key-key. But it didn't work. But only because instead of putting in mmmm we put in wwww. Before we could correct our mistake somebody else came along and opened the door for us. But by two days later we had graduated to doing it all by ourselves.

Problem 2 because apparent as soon as night fell: we couldn't figure out how to turn on the lights in any of the kitchen (not too important), the bathroom (more important), or the toilet room (very important; and it is separate from the washbasin-bathtub room). We really did look and look and we didn't figure it out. There was something that looked like it was where the light switches should be or used to be but it/they didn't turn on lights. After a day and a half we called Frederik in Paris. We're sure that he would have preferred to have his life to himself. But he solved the problem for us.What looked like the light switches but wasn't actually was. These black pieces of plastic, about 3/8 inch (1 cm) long had to be pressed on the top so they sort of rotated. It wasn't at all obvious. Later we found in the fuse box some pieces of white plastic that when inserted into the black plastic made them look like ordinary light switches. But the white + black didn't work together because then the rotation wasn't far enough.

Problem 3 takes us from the serious to the comic. It's the jumping (galloping?) washing machine. Frederick had warned us to be careful about the spin cycle. But the first time we tried it we realized instead of saying BE CAREFUL he should have said BEEEEEEEEEEEE CAAAAAARRRRRREEEFUL. The washing machine could not have been ridden by a profession bronc-buster. It made it seem as if it would beat a hole through the floor of the kitchen. That was the first and last time we've tried a spin cycle. We now let the clean clothes drip dry.

Problem 4 was hardly a problem. Just an annoyance. There were bedroom curtains but no kitchen or living room ones. The morning sun is so hot and shines in so directly that we didn't enjoy making breakfast in the kitchen and ate in a shady corner of the living room. Now the kitchen problem is a thing of the past. Gerry has found a spare sheet that just covers the kitchen window. Six well placed safety-pins, some short pieces of nylon twine, and voila, a curtain that moves back and forth on the curtain rail. Seeing it move in the morning breeze, blocking the sun makes him feel proud.

Problem 5 was a problem that solved itself. We had bought some frozen dumplings from the supermarket and noticed that not only wasn't the freezer keeping the food very frozen, but also that there was barely enough room for them in the freezer because of giant blocks of ice covering every surface of the freezer compartment. The refrigerator looked a lot like a U.S. fridge from the 1950's: a big boxy thing with thick walls and rounded corners and, of course, a freezer compartment that needs periodic defrosting. We managed the defrost with only minor amounts of water on the floor and then happily turned the fridge back on expecting a clear improvement in the situation. Well, there was certainly a lot more room in the freezer, and by extension in the top part of the fridge but the freezer temperature did not go down as expected and for a day or so seemed hardly to be freezing at all. We breathed a sigh of relief when ice started to appear after the second day and accepted that the thing just wasn't well-regulated and that we should leave well alone.

NOTE: Shevchenko, Taras Hryhorovych (1814–1861), Ukrainian national poet. Born a serf, Shevchenko was freed (for 2,500 rubles) in Saint Petersburg, Russia, where he then studied art. His sensationally successful first collection Kobzar (The Bard, 1840) romantically glorified Ukraine’s cossack past. This collection was followed by the long poem Haidamaky (The Haidamaks, 1841). His protest against injustice and czarist oppression in Ukraine led to a ban on publication of his poems and eventual exile and penal servitude for subversive activity.
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July 25, 2005

Wednesday, July 15, 2005 — Moseying around Moscow

On Monday of last week we went to the French Embassy. Everybody who comes to Russia has to register, or more exactly, have the person/organization that invited them do the registration. This process brought back to mind our early days in France when visitors were always reported to the police by every hotel they stayed in. How things have changed there. That was 35 years ago. Let's hope change takes place here much faster. We were invited by the French embassy, courtesy of a friend of the person from whom we rented the apartment. When we arrived at the embassy we caused a bit of surprise: who were these strange Americans and why were we there? But by Friday we'd been registered, told that we'd been involved in some irregularities, and that our "landlord" had been called in Paris and bawled-out.

We got to the Embassy as early as our metabolism allows, that is, about 11:00. After completing our business we walked through the Zamoskvorechie area, which is aptly named: the words mean "beyond (za) Moscow (moskvo) River (rechie)". In fact the area of about 1 x 2 km sits in a loop of the Moscow river just to the south of the Kremlin. We walked the couple of kilometers to the Kremlin and Red Square by a zig-zag path that took in a half-dozen old and interesting Russian-style orthodox churches. And several restaurants, of which the only one that had the right price/quality was McDonalds. All the cheap ones cost more than McDonalds and weren't as good. All the ones that might be good cost $20 and up per person.

We kept getting tantalising glimpses of the onion domes of such fame, and finally around 5 pm we found ourselves on the Moskvoretsy Bridge, which leads into Red Square, taking a close look at the Kremlin and the various buildings that peak over its walls. Exciting! Jan proved the better detective, naming more of the Cathedrals correctly, but I got some other buildings right.

We weren't the only ones impressed by the sight of the Kremlin. For a short time we shared the bridge with a TV crew, consisting of a youngish reporter, a cameraman, and a sound man. We watched the reporter, Kremlin behind him and in camera-view, go through his spiel three or four times before he got it right. A few nights later we saw him in the evening news, wearing a different suit with a different background.

We crossed the Moscow River and were in Red Square. THE place seen so many times on TV! St Basil's right in front of us! Lenin's tomb in the distance, looking small! Being in front of St. Basil's we went in, although a bit reluctantly for Gerry since we were tired. But Jan wasn't having any postponement of this pleasure. We made a good choice and found the insides surprising and interesting. Inside are a series of "chapels" that are under those famous onion-domes; one looks right up the 50 or so meters into the roof. Some parts are richly decorated and some, presumably those not restored, are plain brick. When we'd seen what we wanted we left, finding that the door was already locked; we'd managed our visit to end just at closing time.

Afterwards we walked around outside the Kremlin walls counterclockwise. The walls did not fall; presumably the results would have been the same even with a trumpet. Then rather tired, we walked the two kilometers home.

As of today we've made three visits to the French Embassy. They bracketed the July 14 (Bastille Day) celebrations there; we'd seen the preparations in person and saw the actual celebration briefly on TV. Their banquet looked pretty good; too bad we had to stay home and eat our own cooking. After the second and third visits we walked back to our apartment via more of Zamoskvorechie and Khamovniki districts. We saw the Sculpture Park which has an amusing Stalin garden — his statue is backed by a hundred or more stone heads, representing those who literally lost their heads to him. Surrounding the statues are a dozen statues of deformed and incomplete figures, which we interpret as cretins who believed in him. In the background, just outside the park and on the banks of the Moscow river is a giant (195 m) statue of Peter the Great, which, with its large ship, etc, is twice as high as the Statue of Liberty. It's not as nice, but that reaction must be pure prejudice.

Moscow is getting hotter by the day, but with frequent rain and thunderstorms to cool things down periodically, and relatively cool, if short, nights, we are coping well. We expect to pick up our tourist visits soon, given that we have caught up on sleep, registered, and have internet access. We've also found the nearest supermarkets, and even found the closest fruit and vegetable market. So soon we will see the inside of the Kremlin and go to the museums here, which by the guide books, seem fantastic.

July 25, 2005

Sunday, July 10, 2005 — Moscow Bound

We arrived in Moscow very early Friday morning, July 8. Unlike in all the Central and South American countries we visited, internet cafes are not on every corner here. After a week of looking and studying instructions in Russian we bought an internet card (good, we hope, for five hours on line) and created an account last night.

We got the opposite of broadband: we have dial-up access with about 19.5 kb/sec as shown on the screen, and sometimes really about 5 kb/sec as experienced. This is a big come-down from our last month in Paris and our week in Darlington where we had 1 MB/sec and better.

In coming here we almost got caught in central London around the time of the July 7th terrorist attacks. We took an overnight bus from Darlington to Golders Green on the north side of London and arrived at 5:30 a.m. We had originally planned to have breakfast with our friend Paloma in Golders Green before setting off to Heathrow, but the arrangements fell through and although we looked for somewhere to have something to eat, we couldn't find much open. Because of that we travelled through central London between 6 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. getting to the airport half an hour before the attacks.

We heard (and found strange) announcements to passengers saying that power failures meant that the tube was closed and that only buses and taxis could be used to get into the city. But we never guessed what had happened as we spent most of our waiting time in the airport eating, reading newspapers, and sleeping. As we were exiting the boarding lounge to get on the plane and passed a TV tuned to BBC World we learned the horrible news.

From London we went to Zurich where we spent about four hours waiting for our Moscow plane. Luckily, Zurich airport offers plug-in spots for laptop users, which meant that Jan could charge her otherwise dead Zen mp3 player as well as plug in her laptop. Gerry plugged his in too, but didn't get too far, falling asleep right over his machine. We had worked all day Wednesday in Darlington and that was after three or four nights of short sleep. When you add the poor sleep on the bus, in the airport, and in the airplane, we were pretty worn out upon arrival at Zurich. (By the time we got to Moscow it was worse. Our first two days were spent recovering from loss of sleep.)

Near the "computer-station" there was another large TV monitor with CNN playing. Only by standing next to it could we hear the speakers over the airport noise. Our thirst about events in London was only slightly slaked.

We arrived at Moscow's Domodedovo airport (about 40 km to the south of the center) about 2 a.m. and were through formalities by about 3 a.m.; the latter were very simple. Right through the door into the main hall we met a crowd of taxi drivers offering us rides into the city. One offered the trip for $100; Gerry countered with an offer of $10. We didn't reach a deal — we didn't expect to. Later we saw the official taxi price, $40, which had been matched by the driver and turned down by us.

Instead we waited for the first airport-city train, leaving the airport at 6:00 a.m. it was clearly a commuter train. We were impressed by the wide carriages in use thanks to the wide-gauge track that is installed here. The train cost us $1.60 each and some memory-dredging for Jan to drag out her first few words of Russian. A subway ride at 30 cents from Paveletsky station to Kiev Station, 500 m from our apartment, completed our trip . We might have taken a taxi the last bit but walking to the taxi was halfway to the apartment. So instead we trailed our baggage carriers.

Our real problem was finding the exact location: Jan's Russian, incomplete as it is, exceeded the geographic knowledge of the people we approached. Most didn't know the name/location of the street we were seeking, which was all of two blocks (and then one block) away. But one friendly lady abandoned her shopping bag-on-wheels to walk us to within a hundred yards and so we found the place and by 11:00 were taking a four-hour nap.

Our new home is an apartment 25% larger than we had in Paris or Berlin. It is furnished nowhere near as well as in Paris but overall much better than in Berlin. In Paris we had comfortable chairs, kitchen equipment, and a TV and radios. In Berlin we bought what we had: a simple radio and a few plates, from a flea-market. Here in Moscow the apartment is really furnished, but it does lack a comfortable chair and curtains over the kitchen and living room windows. They are needed because the morning sun is pretty strong. Fortunately we don't get the afternoon sun. It looks out on the Moscow River to the east. Hidden behind many buildings about 2 km further east is the very center of Moscow, the Kremlin. From our window we can see four of the seven "wedding cake" skyscrapers that Stalin had built from 1947-1956.

Saturday, late in the day, even though still tired, we had to go out, and walked across the Moscow River via the Borodinsky Bridge (visible from our apartment) the relatively short distance to the Arbat. This famous "entertainment" street was not overly impressive to us. Perhaps it was once for Russians who suddenly had some freedom and the chance to taste some of the results of personal enterprise. In the early days of the un-revolution, the Arbat was where Moscovites came to sell what little they had to earn sorely needed cash. All of that is gone, replaced by up-market stalls selling souvenirs and ice-creams to tourists like us with plenty of street entertainers who want donations at the end of their acts.

July 15, 2005

Wednesday, July 6, 2005 — Poyedyem v Moskvu

Well, if you understood Russian you would know from the title that we are off to Moscow. Frédéric (or his friend) came through for us.

We had to leave our apartment in Paris on July 1 because Veronica wanted to re-occupy it. Since June 9 our hopes of getting the Moscow apartment we'd seen advertized at Sciences Po had risen and fallen as we waited and waited for an invitation allowing us to get a Russian visa. Finally it came on Tuesday, too late to go to the Russian embassy. We couldn't go on Wednesday because the embassy was closed.

On Thursday we got up very early and were waiting in line at 7:30 for the embassay to open at 9:00 a.m. Doing this got us about 20th in line and made us feel assured of getting inside. Once inside it was anti-climactic. We entered another line, waited about five minutes to get to the head of it, and then the man at the window took our names and passports, checked them against invitations, and stamped "approved" or the Russian equivalent in our passports. Gerry waited another hour for the formalities to be completed (the typing of the offical visa) while Jan went off to prepare lunch for Veronica, who was to be welcomed back to her apartment.

On Friday morning we sealed the deal with Frédéric, got the apartment keys from him, and paid him two months rent in advance. On Friday afternoon we flew to Darlington, saying goodbye to Paris for we don't know how long.

Our stay in England has flown by. We've had a chance to say hello to everybody but not to do much more with them. On the home front we spent a lot of time sorting and storing things, in the process re-discovering much that we'd forgotten. We leave Darlington on Thursday (July 6) at midnight, taking the bus to London and then the tube to Heathrow. We fly via Zurich. We should arrive in Moscow at midnight on Friday UK time, 2 a.m. Moscow time. We wonder what awaits us. Is the apartment for real?

We have a three month visa and so after our two months in Moscow we plan to see St. Petersburg and then perhaps to travel down to the Black Sea visiting some other Russian cities on the way.

July 10, 2005
BC Blog | Moscow | Paris | Berlin

July 20, 2005