I am a bit of a military history buff, and this is cool. Just off of Red Square is a statue dedicated to Georgy Zhukov, kind of the Russians version of General Eisenhower from World War Two. He is shown riding a horse that is trampling on Swastikas. You can’t see it well, because it is covered with snow.
Some friends took us to Red Square this morning, and it was great! This is 3/5 of the Mills family standing in front of St Basel’s Cathedral, erected in the 1500s. In the direction I am looking was the Kremlin and Lenin’s tomb. The other direction was the Gum (pronounced Goom) department store. It is really a mall with lots of individual shops, but it is absolutely massive and the architecture is beautiful.
We are so fortunate to have this opportunity, and really luck y to have an administrative team who made it possible for Ann to come to Russia with me. Thank you Jeff Williamson! We greatly appreciate what you have done for us!
If you have followed my writing, you know that I was freaking out about getting our travel visas before our trip. It was close, but we got them. Now let me tell you about some friends who are also in Russia.
They had their passports and visas (the visa is simply a sticker that gets pasted inside a passport) a couple weeks before they left, but somehow, the passports (and thus the visas) got left in some clothes that got donated to the Goodwill two days before their trip. They went to the Goodwill warehouse where they searched a mountain of identical black trash bags, but couldn’t find the bag they donated. On to Plan B. The day before their trip (they were going to Italy for 3 weeks before Russia) they went to the Twin Cities where they got emergency passports in the same day. The next day, they flew to Italy, and once there, Fed-Exed the passports and copies of necessary paperwork back to the US to reapply for visas. They were in a foreign country without passports for two weeks! But, they got the visas in time to fly to Russia, and all was well with the world.
In Russia many things are cheaper. For example in the U.S. you can go to the store and get about 10-20 items for about 20-40 dollars. But in Russia you can get all the same items for about half the cost. Things like hotels, apartments, shoes, and electronics cost less here than in the U.S. This is mainly due to the lower cost of gas and oil here and in the U.S. because oil is one of the main things that drives the Russian rubles value.
Today was all about presentations outlining the projects of Fulbright Scholars currently in Russia. I heard many good presentations, but one that stuck with me was by a guy named Ryan Bell, who is a very interesting guy, to say the least. He went to Argentina and became a cowboy for five years, then went to Montana where he was a cowboy for ten years. Before he gave up the saddle to write about the cattle industry full time, he helped deliver about 1500 cattle from Montana to Russia, to rebuild the cattle ranching industry after the fall of the Soviet Union. He and a number of other cowboys trained the Russians to be cowboys as well, managing the herds on the Russian Steppes. Here is his story:
Remind me to call the marketing department at this company. Someone there decided that referring to the ingredients of their product as fungus didn’t really need to go in front of a focus group.
I’m kidding, I’m kidding. This pizza is obviously not even Russian, but it struck me as funny while browsing the grocery store.
Hmm, where is the worst place for a guy with my health issues to eat breakfast in the morning?
These are the words “Dunkin Doughnuts” spelled phonetically in Russian
Believe it or not, it snows quite often in Moscow.
A picture of our hotel, we are staying at the Hotel Voskhod. You can tell the name of the hotel because it is written on the side of the building.
Mark Twain once wrote that, when you pick a up cat by its tail, you learn something you can learn in no other way. Another example: We had plans to eat dinner at an American favorite, Burger King. How hard is it to order a number five? Worst case, order a Nomer Pyat. Really worst case, hold up five fingers. But it was either closed or just opening, so we were forced to eat at an actual Russian restaurant. Fortunately, they had pictures of everything on the menu, and the Russian language is pretty straightforward; the letters are always pronounced the same, so we were able to get by just sounding out the words. And again, the Russian waitress was very patient. So, we learned that trying to order something in a foreign language is not nearly as intimidating or even as hard as it seems, and everyone involved in the event is hoping for success.
Just to let everyone know we made it to Moscow safely. We left Sunday, and everyone was excited, and then a whole lot of sitting and Monday is kind of a blur. The three of us are pretty tired, which happens with long travel. Ann and Jake were troopers, although I complained a lot to anyone who would listen, so I spent a lot of time talking to myself.
The people in Moscow are absolutely wonderful! Everyone is very friendly and helpful. My Russian is terrible and I have no confidence speaking yet, so its painful to communicate at times. Many Russians speak at least some English, which is nice, but it seems like cheating on my part and I will work hard to get better.
The city is huge! It took 2 hours to get from the airport to our hotel by taxi, about 60 miles, and we are still well inside Moscow. The exchange rate between dollars and rubles is very favorable to Americans, so, the total cost of the cab was $40.
I will post some pictures later today. It has been snowing a lot here and the city is very beautiful, with the streets are cleared and the temps are in the high 20s during the day. We are right across the street from the botanical gardens. I suggested we got for a walk but I just got icy stares instead of an answer. Hey, its warmer than home, really, so I have no complaints.
Our travel visas arrived yesterday, just in time for our flight on Sunday. We have been frantically packing (then unpacking to make sure we remembered that thing, then packing again) and we are all very excited for our trip. We leave from Minneapolis about 3:15 pm on Sunday, then fly through the night and later time zones, arriving in Amsterdam at about 8am Monday. I think it is only about an 8 hour flight. We have a 5 hour layover, then we will depart for Moscow, arriving about 5 pm. The Fulbright office is sending a taxi to meet us and take us to the hotel, where our conference will be.
We will stay in Moscow for about a week, attending a two-day conference. This is merely a gathering of all of the Fulbright Fellows in Russia, many of whom have been living in the country since August (Fulbright Fellows have the option of living in the host country from August to June or January to June, we chose the short tour). Folks are going to talk about their experiences at the gathering, and after the conference we will stay and do some sightseeing in Moscow. On the 26th we depart for Ufa, (pronounced Oo-fah) where we will live for 5 months.
I have been in contact with my friend, Rustem, who lives and teaches at the university in Ufa. He has been looking for an apartment for us, and I think he has found a few. Speaking of which, this adventure would be so much harder without a lot of great people in the Fulbright office helping out (Thanks Marina and Rachel!) and our friend Rustem. I am looking forward to posting about our time in Russia and the new friends we will meet. Please do not hesitate to send us an email (Use the Contact Us link) if you have questions or just want to chat. I will post many more pictures in the coming months too.
Dave, Ann, and Jake
I just found out the other day that I’ve been invited to speak at a conference at the National University of Singapore on the topic, “Unlearning Cold War Narratives: Toward Alternative Understandings of the Cold War World,” 27-28 May 2016. My paper will focus on the citizens of the northern Great Plains using Cold War rhetoric against military officials, inviting them to use land in the region for military bases and weapons systems. We will leave from Russia and head to Singapore. I wish the conference was in February, as Singapore has a tropical climate.
On another note, we are still waiting for our travel visas. We sent off the paperwork last week, but apparently, the consulate is closed this week. Everything will work out, it always does, but it is still stressful!
Santa was good to everyone at our house. He brought Ann, Jacob, and Dave digital cameras to record our adventure in Russia. He also brought big suitcases for the three of us. Sam and Joey got socks and underwear.
The State Department was also good to us, as they deposited a lump sum of almost $22,000 to fund our travels and expenses into our bank account. There might be a little more money coming, but I think this is the majority of it. So, I did what any guy would do: I spent the day on Cars.com. Its a good thing they don’t have a “buy it now” button.
We finally got our Letters of Invitation from the Russian government today, and we spent all day working on our applications for travel visas. They want to know everything! We all need HIV tests, which are scheduled for tomorrow, then we send off the application fee, and hope the holidays don’t screw anything up. We leave on January 18, so we are feeling a little rushed!
This is a blog that Ann and Dave Mills are starting to document their adventure in Russia. Dave won a Fulbright Fellowship, and has been invited to teach American History and Culture at Bashkir State University in Ufa, Russia, and his wife Ann and son Jacob will go with him. Dave, Ann, and Jacob leave on January 18 for an orientation in Moscow on January 21 and 22, where they will stay for a week. Then they leave January 26 to start their adventure in Ufa, where they will stay for almost 5 months, until June 15. Stay turned for more news!