Christmas Day – December 25th

I didn’t get the white Christmas I had hoped for. But it was still fun and seeing the green countryside during our drive to Christmas dinner more than made up for it. I woke early in the morning to call my parents during their Christmas Eve. As I was sitting on the stairs getting the computer ready I heard the phone ring a floor up. My dad had called Desiree to ask her where I was, as I was apparently supposed to call them 5 minutes ago…patience please, try not to wake the hosts of the house. But we all got to say hi and it was fun. Jamie then opened her Matryoshka doll I brought her from Europe and I slipped back off to bed for a few more hours. I woke to the sound of a remote control motorcycle, a gift from Jamie’s godfather, Mike. Then I ate some Muesli with yogurt and got dressed for a short run. The scenery is quite relaxing and it felt good to go jogging around town. I took roughly the same route as last time but reversed the order of the loops and extended it a little bit. The elevation change didn’t have a noticeable effect on me as my first run here. Anyway, it was a nice Christmas run and I got to practice my Swiss German greetings with others who were also enjoying the day outside. When I got back, we hung out for a little and I did some work on the computers in the house before getting ready to drive to Desiree’s sister’s house for Christmas dinner. I told Desiree that I could spend all day in the passenger seat of a car driving around Switzerland. There was so much to see, and the roads here are much better for driving than the ones in California,...

Rorbas, Switzerland – December 20-24

Customs was short. I walked up to the guy behind the window, gave him my passport, and nodded when he said, “Holidays?” Then I walked out to the exit and looked for Desiree, Jamie, and Marcel. I saw Jamie and Desiree first through the window and when I walked through the doorway saw Marcel. Desiree was my sister’s and my au pair when I was 6 and I was going to spend Christmas with her and family. On the way home we stopped at the store to grab breakfast. Once home, I devoured my yogurt, bread + nutella, jam, honey (each on a different piece), and juice. This was waiting for me downstairs on my bed: And guess who helped me unpack? We hung out for a bit and when afternoon rolled around drove to Marcel’s sister’s house to go for a walk with her family. It felt good to stretch my legs. Then we went back to Jasmine and Rolf’s house to have coffee, water for me, and pudding. We stayed for dinner, which was delicious. I gotta say, Swiss food is much better than Russian food. Desiree had to keep me awake at dinner as I kept nodding off. Then we went home and I slept early. And slept for 11 hours straight. And 11 hours the next night too. But before that next night we went over to one of Marcel’s friend’s garages to check out his bikes. These are a bit heavier than the ones my dad collects. The next day I got up and went for a run. Wow, I had no idea how bad of shape I was in. The little elevation change really shocked me. But I got to see some farmland. I kept feeling like I was in the Shire running up to Bag End. This country is beautiful. When I...

The Kremlin – Goodbye Russia – December 19

My last day in Mother Russia. The last Russian morning I would see; the last egg sandwich I would eat fried on a Russian stove; the last time I would wake up with a small back ache from my Russian bed. Today was Kremlin time. I hoped it wasn’t randomly closed, a common occurrence with things in Russia. Grabbing my iPod for the metro ride, I plugged in my earphones and enjoyed the ride. Peter Luts’s “What A Feeling” began bumping through my monitors, and what a feeling indeed: a beautiful day and I was about to go see the Moscow Kremlin. I like to save the best for last; although, this “putting-off” could have been caused by the mentality of how when a person lives in a place for a long time, they sometimes forget to visit the wonders nearby and instead travel far away to see others as there’s always later. But today there’s not later. I’ve included the track “What A Feeling” here because it is a great song and it’s pretty much how I felt after my finals ended and how I felt riding the metro to the Kremlin. I’ll map it out for you: 1:00 – preview of the melodic riff. This is where I try to grab the riff with my mind like a rope and let the riff control my consciousness. (You have until 2:28). This is Phase 1. 2:28 – Floating Melody no drums, multiphonic singing creating harmonies. I call it Phase 2. 3:43 – When everything plays at once. Love the riff phasing in and out, hypnotic. Phase 3. 4:28 – A break before the final return. 4:58 – Phase 3 modified. Little change in riff. 5:42 – Beginning of the fadeout, chillax time. Kind of like the cooldown after a workout (cooldown phase). But one can’t jump to these...

Russian Winter – December 14-18 (My last week)

Finally, the Russian winter I had been waiting for all semester. Thank you Russia for at least letting me preview your winter my last week in your hospitality. And it came with blue skies all week; how nice. It was almost as if Russia was saying, “stay through January. It won’t be that bad. Blue skies and a warm sun never hurt anyone.” I went for a run Monday and bundled up a little extra this time. The changes: 2 pairs of gloves; leg warmers underneath tights, arm warmers underneath underarmor. No face covers, my beard covers it. I did intervals today and although I did not notice any respiratory difference in terms of pain when breathing, my intervals were noticeably longer. Instead of being around 45 seconds, they were closer to 60 seconds. But it could have been that I was just stiff. Then I went searching for my dad’s Christmas gift. This week is pretty much about me searching for his gift everyday. But it’s cool, it brought some good photos of Russia that I normally would not have seen, except for this one: I took the metro all the way to Sokolniki station and got off at the bike market. There were supposed to be a lot of cycling shops here. And there were; I just didn’t discover more than two until my second day back on Thursday. But there was a cool looking church across the road: And in between the church and market area: But alas, I could not find what I was looking for, so I went to another metro station which supposedly had a bike store nearby. Once there, I got lost and could not find the bike store. But I felt like a normal Russian commuter walking with all the peoples down the icy sidewalks getting colder and colder. Eventually, I...

Nutcracker & Tsaritsino Park – December 12 & 13

The morning John and I arrived back in Moscow it snowed. And it snowed. This time it didn’t go away; it stuck, finally. It was getting colder. I kept looking at the next week’s forecast as the weather was supposed to drop even more. This is good as I was thinking about asking for a refund if the weather didn’t change. I come all the way to Moscow for a Russian winter and I get a California one?! But it was beginning to change… My first three finals went well this week and I was able to cancel my Algebra final with the three cancellation problems. Whenever I get around to typing them up I’ll put them on here. The proofs are pretty sweet. I must give credit to those who helped though: Lenny & Adeel (the other students in the class with me who also needed the solutions), Connor, Dan, and one of Adeel’s mysterious friends on a forum he frequents. Anyway, Saturday morning we went and saw the noon showing of the Nutcracker: It was wonderful. I loved every minute of it. The music was very entertaining and the storyline was childish enough for me to appreciate it. Most of the dancing was not as flashy as Swan Lake; nevertheless, I liked this ballet more. And when the dancing did get impressive, it got super impressive. Take this move the male from the yellow doll couple: first watch this video (it will help me describe it). In the beginning of the video the dude does a 540, and his upper body goes kind of horizontal. Starting at 20 seconds he continuously does leaps in a circle. In the Nutcracker, the yellow doll did those continuous leaps in a circle around his partner, but with the height of the guy’s 540’s and with his body more horizontal than...

High Up in Helsinki – December 4-6

Helsinki marks the farthest north we have been all semester. It was a big shock for us when it started getting dark around 2pm after not really getting light all day. But anyway, we stepped off the ferry to a brisk evening in Helsinki and attempted to reach the central train station where we were meeting our host. In Helsinki, we were trying something new: couchsurfing. This is where we make an agreement to stay at a host’s place and sleep on their couch, exchange stories & culture, and learn to be like a true Finn. Our host was Kalevi, a Colorado born, Oregon raised, college kid who liked Finland so much he moved there. And guess what, he gets free education, and a small stipend that helps pay the rent each month. In our last email he told us he would meet us at the central train station around 5:30pm and he would be there wearing a red ski jacket. So that’s what we did. But we needed help in getting there so after we bought transportation tickets (one ticket works for all the buses, metro, light rail—it’s great), we walked outside to the bus station and I asked a guy in his mid-twenties, who was wearing a dashing long coat, which bus we should take. He told us to follow him as he was going by the train station and that he would show us. The conversation that ensued showed that he was very friendly and eccentric, contrary to rumors that portray Finns as shy. He was very helpful and after we were within eye shot of the station he left us to go enjoy his evening. After meeting Kalevi, we went back to his place to drop off our stuff before leaving for the pub crawl. Kalevi runs the “Helsinki Pub Crawl” every other Friday night...

Old Town in Tallinn – December 3rd & 4th

So right after my algebra class ended on Wednesday December 2nd, actually 30 minutes before, John and I left for the train station for our trip to Tallinn, Estonia, and eventually Helsinki. We made it to the station early enough to get a pizza and learned about our English speaking waiter who had worked in the Peace Corp in Kyrgyzstan and then in northern Russia. Now he says being a waiter at this pizza place in Moscow is the only job he can find here. He certainly was an asset to the restaurant as John and I would not have eaten there had he not helped us out. We only had seats on the train this time and even though they were supposed to recline, mine was broken and so stayed in the upright position. Luckily, it was a window seat and I was able to lean against the window for what little sleep I got. We arrived around 8am in Tallinn, to the sun rising over what looked like to be a nice cloudy day. Wanting to free ourselves of luggage we walked to our hostel first. On the way we saw what the Tallinn Old Town was all about. At first I thought I was at Epcot Center in Walt Disney World. But it was missing the uncountable masses of people, so I realized Epcot was a different place. After dropping our stuff at the hostel we resumed our sightseeing, by first finding an ATM and then getting some pastries at the delicious pastry shops we saw on the way in. Then we let our eyes feast. Curious, we walked closer. Walking back through lower Old Town we stopped inside the Tallinn City History Museum. It is by far the most interesting, detailed, and informative museum we have been in so far. With four dense floors and...

Lenin & Soup November 28 & 29

Back in Moscow, for the weekend at least. We kept this weekend pretty low-key as we attempted to get caught up in our school work. I still managed to get out a bit during the weekend to see and do a few things. On Saturday, Jordan, John, and I went to try and see Lenin’s body in his tomb at Red Square. We were approaching the end of the line when the guard walked up and closed it off: “absolutely no more people.” Aghh. We decided to walk through Red Square (since it was open, a rarity) and ended up walking the perimeter of the Kremlin. So I did get to do something new! And I saw the back-side of the Kremlin, or at least a side that not many people look at. Then, as John needed to get to class, we headed back home. I remembered that I haven’t taken many photos of the dormitory area so here’s another: The next morning John and I tried again to see Lenin’s body before heading to the souvenir market again. This time, we got there a bit earlier and so were successful in entering the line. After a short wait, we were led to the tomb and got to walk past the other graves of other Russian leaders, from the 1800s onwards. Finally, we entered Lenin’s tomb and walked down the stairs, a guard standing at each corner. We turned right and saw his body, on top of a rectangular box with a rectangular glass case on top of him. Felt shrouded him on the outside of the case and he wore a suit with a tie just for us. The rumors were true: he had a definite pink hue to him. Other than his nose and ears seeming ridiculously small, he looked pretty real. Apparently they take his body...

Київ Day 4(3) – 22 Nov 2009 (Киев/Kiev/Kyiv)

First off, the promised night shots of Kyiv following our adventure in Chernobyl earlier in the day: After, I headed back to the hostel to get a good night’s sleep before our final day in Kyiv. In the morning we woke early and got onto the metro toward the southern end of the city to see the WWII memorial park and the Motherland Statue. We got off at the same metro station as for the Lavra and began walked down that same street. On our guide map there is a silhouette of something that looks like the Statue of Liberty and so we were all confused until we saw this: Then we walked to another metro station to see the Babi Yar Holocaust Memorial. We saw these along the way: We made it to the metro and traveled to the north part to get off at Babi Yar. At our exit point metro station I finally had an experience where the language barrier really made a difference and I felt totally helpless. The metro exited to an underground market area, like it seems to do here and we decided to walk into the store to load up on some food. I brought up the rear and was a bit behind everyone, enough for there to be a gap to allow other people to cross in between us. I turned a corner around a pillar and noticed a young woman being directed by two older men. I didn’t think of it as anything at first so I lowered my gaze, and both them and I turned to avoid each other. As I lowered my head I saw her cane and realized she was blind and then noticed that each of the men were clasping her arms tightly, one man on each side. Immediately, I looked back up and saw fear...

Чорнобиль (Chernobyl) 21 November 2009

Yes, that says Chernobyl. The Chernobyl where the nuclear disaster of April 26th 1986 occurred. Actually, the power plant is located closer to the, then larger, town of Prypiat, now abandoned. At almost an hour and a half after midnight on the 26th, reactor #4 exploded. More explosions and fires sent radioactive fallout into the atmosphere and across a large geographical area: western Soviet Union, Europe, and acid rain in Ireland. According to Yuri, our guide, the radioactive cloud traveled around the earth at least twice. This disaster released four hundred times more fallout than the bomb at Hiroshima. Unfortunately, 60% of the radioactive fallout landed in Belarus. Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus are now responsible with continuing the substantial decontamination of the Chernobyl accident, as well as for health care costs. If you wish to know more, check out the wikipedia article: chernobyl disaster, the intro of which I somewhat paraphrased. Although, our guide Yuri, says that there is no official record and story of what actually occurred that early morning in April and that we will not find the truth out for at least another 40 years. So read with a grain of salt, even though it is Wikipedia (the library of the truest truths, about most stuff). It’s true that our group’s only motivation for going to Kyiv was to visit Chernobyl. Falling in love with Kyiv was a lucky plus. Anyway, the morning of, we woke early to meet our bus/van driver in front of Kreshatik Hotel. Just before he arrived, the rest of the tourists arrived as well: 7 more. Then we left. Yuri isn’t really a tourguide. He studied history and joined the agency above, with the long name, to help decontaminate and study the exclusion area. He has a very long important title which I forgot. He’s head administrator of something. About 4000...