Ann and I were surprised when one of the officials from the Fulbright office went on and on about how difficult it was to walk in Russia during winter. Hey, we are from Minnesota, how hard can it be? When we arrived at the conference in Moscow last month, we were again surprised at the warnings to be careful walking on the sidewalks. By far the most common health issue, we were told, was slips and falls. Also, watch for falling ice off of buildings. People get killed each year because of it. Then we started using the sidewalks each day, and now we get it. You can see the ice on the sidewalk, and perhaps the barrier to keep people away from the side of the building. There could be ice falling from it.
Pretty foggy this morning as we look out the front window. You can see the apartment building across the parking lot (on the right) sort of dominates the view. While we don’t have a great view, the apartment is situated well away from traffic, so we don’t hear much. In fact, the apartment is pretty quiet; we rarely hear neighbors. Nearly all apartments in Russia are owned by Russians, sort of like condos. But, getting credit is hard in Russia, and getting a loan almost impossible, so most Russians must pay cash for their apartments. So, finding a nice one can be hard; we were lucky.
This photo shows the view on the right side of the apartment building across the parking lot. Perhaps you can see the road between the buildings. In the far building is a café, which we have not visited yet, and just around the corner of the far building is a small grocery store. There are many small grocery stores in the area, but last night our friends took us to a huge mall with a giant grocery store, much like our Sam’s Club. It was crazy busy, and I would not want to visit it very often. Surprisingly, the peanut butter department in the huge grocery store consisted of about 8 jars of the stuff on a bottom shelf. We bought half of the inventory.
Our friend Kamil spent several hours with us today, teaching us to speak Russian. Its a tough language, but we are making progress. Then we met up with Kamil’s father, Rustem, and went for “a little excursion” as Rustem called it. We went to a sort of health resort that has a long history. It was a place to treat TB patients, then a vacation resort, and now, a health retreat. At the center of the healthy habits one is encouraged to adopt, is the regular (3 times per day) consumption of a drink called Koo-miss. It is unpasteurized horse milk. So, we went to the resort, and we tried it. It was a little sour. Some members of our family (Ann) barely took a sip, others gave it the old middle school try (Jake) but in the end left a whole lot of milk that had to be consumed so as not to offend our hosts. I spent 10 years in the army, so this was not the worst experience I’ve ever had, but I’m not going to mention horse milk to Kamil or Rustem any time soon.
This stuff is delicious! It is called “gretch-ika” in Russia but it is called buckwheat at home. I think folks used to make pancakes out of it, but in Russia it is more of a breakfast meal like oatmeal. I like it any time of the day mixed with vegetables. It is very tasty, nutritious, and filling. It is simply a cover crop that looks like a cereal grain but I read that it is actually a fruit seed. Anyway, I love it!
While out seeing the sights, we visited a suspension bridge in a park, with a number of locks on the cables of the bridge. Turns out, there is a pretty cool tradition of newlyweds attaching a lock with their names on it to a cable, and then throwing the key into the river below. Love may last forever, but the locks apparently do not. I have heard that every so often, the park workers will come through and cut the locks off, for fear of all of the weight on the cables. Still, its a pretty cool custom.
Went out see some of the sights around Ufa with some friends from the university, then to lunch. These were so good! I think spinach and mashed potatoes mixed together, and then fried and then served with a little sour cream. If it helps, I ate a Greek salad and pickled vegetables as the rest of my lunch.
From our apartment, it is about 3/4 of a mile to the large mall. Imagine our surprise when we found a sign that read, “Food Court” where the restaurant area was. There were a couple Russian food shops, but there was also a Subway, Burger King, McDonald’s, and Sbarro in the Food Court. And before you ask, I don’t know why the entrance to the food court was written in English. There are a number of American Fast Food shops around Ufa, and even a couple KFCs.
The mall was very nice, clean, and modern. On the first floor were a number of food stores. Some stalls sold fresh beef, others sold chicken, others sold fish, still others sold vegetables, and some sold eggs. No stall sold more than one commodity. If you want a variety of foods, you go to the stall that sells that particular thing. Then, like any mall in America, there were a number of clothing stores, mobile phone stores, and shoe stores on the second and third floors.
Jake has been a trooper throughout our time in Russia. He doesn’t really ask for anything, and is very flexible about going with us whenever the need arises. Sometimes we will walk three or four miles a day through the snow, going to the market or to the university, but he never complains. Most days he works on homework of some variety, and we usually watch a few episodes of Elementary in the evenings. He has made a new friend, the son of our landlord speaks a little English and they text back and forth sometimes. Hard to say what he really thinks about this whole idea of living in Russia, but I am guessing that he is okay with it.
With the help of our friend Rustem, we were able to secure an apartment for our time here in Ufa. It is great!! Very modern, clean and close to the city center (for shopping/grocery shopping). We are also just about 1 mile or so from the university. The living space is opposite the kitchen/dining and is about the same size. 2 bedrooms and a bath round out our living space. Interesting is that there are 2 refrigerators/freezers, one on either side of the oven.
I went out to search for the university yesterday, and became temporarily disconnected to known locations (I was lost). Additionally, the place where Google said the university was located, it wasn’t. Long story short, I ended up walking about 8.5 miles through the driving snow, looking for the college. I eventually plugged the address into Google Maps, and figured out the university was located about 1.5 miles to the South, not 1.5 miles to the East. So I went out to find it today, which I did with no problems. While on my Walkabout, I was strolling down Lenin Street, and came across a monument of the man himself.
So, tomorrow I am going to the university to meet the college Vice-Rector (Provost) and hopefully some of the faculty. The university is about 1.5 miles from our apartment, so that will be a nice walk every day. It is a beautiful walk, as I will pass several parks and historic buildings along the way. My friend Rustem, whom I may have mentioned several times in these posts, is the Dean of the Faculty, and mentioned the possibility for me to teach an American History course to Russian students. It is not a done deal, but it looks promising.
Russia is cool, we are having a great time, and are very blessed to have met so many wonderful people along the way.
Originally, I thought this was a monument dedicated to the soldiers from World War Two. I asked about it, and it is called “Heroes of the Civil War.” So it is dedicated to the fighters in the October Revolution, which began in 1917 and ushered in the era of Communism.
Most of you are familiar with the American tradition that, when a person helps you move, you have to buy them a pizza. Apparently in Russia, the tradition is that a guy will find you an apartment, employ one buddy to drive you to the apartment, do all of the negotiating with the realtor, call the internet company to resolve problems when it isn’t working properly, employ another buddy to volunteer his car and then also help you move everything, then buy YOU and your family a traditional Russian lunch. I don’t see that idea catching on back home. Thank you Rustem Khabibullin for your help today, and for lunch. Ann and Jacob were pretty adventurous with trying new Russian food. I thought it was great! We tried Borsht and calf’s foot jelly, among other traditional dishes.
I inserted a page into the website with the weather in Ufa, which I thought I had done before, but I guess not. Anyway, while messing around with that, I noticed that the weather this morning was -15 degrees (F). That would explain why we were so dang cold yesterday! Out walking today it was about -5, but no wind to speak of, so really not too bad if you dress for it. I went out to find the university today, and apparently walked within a block of it without realizing it. This photo was taken in the same park as the monument I posted about earlier. Kind of gives you an idea how much snow is around. We are supposed to get up to 34 degrees this weekend, so it would be nice if some of the ice and snow on the sidewalks and roads would melt.
Due to a family emergency on the part of our friend in Ufa, Rustem, we just spent the day laying low. We ate breakfast then we all went to the lobby of the hotel and did some work on the computer: Ann and Jacob did school work and Dave worked on his Russian language skills. After a few hours we decided we needed an adventure and tried to walk to the university, which is only about a half hour from our hotel, but it was dang cold out today. We wimped out after about 20 minutes, and not knowing if we would find a warm spot once we got there, we turned around and headed back to the hotel. (Hey, Napoleon turned around and went home when he was in Russia too, so quitters have a long and distinguished history here.) We were so cold on the way back that we got within a hundred yards of our hotel, but ducked into a coffee shop to warm up. We all wanted something boiling hot to drink but no one spoke English, so we got to practice our speaking skills, which was fun.
We ate dinner at KFC, which looks nothing like a KFC at home. All they serve are chicken sandwiches, and no mashed potatoes, just French Fries. (I’m not complaining, just making an observation.) Now it is getting on to evening, and we are all hooked up to the internet doing something. Jake and I have been watching season one of Elementary, so we will probably watch a few episodes tonight before trying to sleep. Tomorrow is shaping up to be pretty low key as well. I saw a monument on the way to dinner so I may have to go check that out, and who knows, we might make it all the way to the university tomorrow. Stay tuned…
We thought we would make it easy on ourselves this evening and try out the local KFC about 3 blocks from the hotel where we are staying in Ufa. Turns out it wasn’t as easy as we thought it would be;) The young gal at the counter was less than impressed with me when I asked if they had a menu in English (they did). KFC here has no mashed potatoes, so keep that in mind if you are ever in Russia. Dave did the ordering as he does speak a little Russian, we thought he ordered chicken strips and some pop. That is not what showed up on our tray though……we got bone in fried chicken and 1 small cup of coffee, along with Dave’s salad and a chicken wrap for myself. It all tasted good and we are grateful that Dave knows some Russian, otherwise Jake and I may starve to death.
Well friends, we made it to Ufa, Russia, our destination for all of these months. Our flight from Moscow was easy, mostly because the Russians were so friendly, and helped us, a lot! We stayed at a hotel, literally in the airport, and walked down to take a look at the boarding area. A friendly airline (Aeroflot) employee asked if she could help us, and along the way told us we could check our largest suitcases that night (instead of wrestling with them in the morning) and she printed our boarding passes, and helped us navigate the excess baggage charges. By the way, $300 in baggage charges flying Delta, $100 flying Aeroflot, just sayin’.
So, tomorrow we go to the university to check in and file some paperwork, and then we go look for an apartment. We have seen a few on a website sent to us by a great friend here in Ufa. Rustem has been a great help to us in the months leading up to our arrival. We have been such a burden, in fact, that I asked him not to show up at the airport to meet us, I told him that we could take a taxi. Of course, he showed up with a huge van and driver to help us get to our hotel. Tomorrow, he is taking us wherever we need to go. Thanks Rustem!
Can you say outdoor market in the middle of January?? We had a great adventure over the weekend at an outdoor Market. Another Fulbright family, the McDowall’s, who have been in Moscow since Sept. took the time to show us around Moscow over the weekend. The market was a ton of fun with many souvenir booths. Our favorite was the hat booth……how many hats can one girl wear? I think we walked away with 6 (some are gifts:) The owner of the booth was a great salesman.
We are leaving the Hotel Voskhod today and going to a hotel adjacent to the airport. At 8 am tomorrow, we board an Aeroflot jet for the 2 hour journey east, to Ufa, where we will spend our remaining time in Russia. We have a friend there, Rustem, who will help us find an apartment and show us around our new city. We have enjoyed Moscow tremendously, but look forward to the next phase of our adventure.
Over 9 million people ride the Moscow subway system each day. It is amazing, with new trains arriving about every 90 seconds in some cases. What is truly amazing are the stations, which are absolutely beautiful. Stalin wanted the subways to be an art museum for the masses, so each one has its own style. One that we visited had bronze statues depicted Russian life, with soldiers, farmers, academics, etc. This picture shows a Russian hunter with his dog. The Russians rub the dog’s nose for good luck, which is why it is shiny but the rest of the statue is tarnished.
To see some amazing subway stations, that look more like palaces than metro stops, see the link below.
I don’t care who you are. You can’t gaze upon the Tomb of an Unknown soldier from any nation without reflecting for a moment. The Russian tomb is guarded by three soldiers at all times, two of which are visible here.