So what exactly is a quiet day like ???

So what exactly is a quiet day like ???

Well it starts with the cat waking you up at 7:30 in the morning. Eric does not like people to sleep late think she worries that we should be doing something like giving her some milk. Whilst all you can hear is meow I know she is actually calling me a lazy g** I can read it in her eyes. So up we get coffee for me and milk for her and before you say milk is bad for cats she does not seem to agree and to be honest she only gets a couple of drops so not enough to do permanent damage. By now it is 7:40 so whilst I am beginning to loath it I go off and do my yoga. It takes all of my will power not to rush through it, I think it is supposed to be relaxing and peaceful but I just want it over with.  Ok done now it is 8:00 and what do I do with the rest of the day?

I did almost all of the admin yesterday. Went and bought my flight tickets for Thursday got cash on Sunday. The fridge is full of coke and cheese and milk so no shopping to speak of although I think I will get a couple of bottles of wine just for stock (ha). I should put some more money on my phone credit as I ran out when I was stuck in Heathrow last week which made things difficult. I ended up using the Pc with email, messenger, Google talk and Skype to keep in touch. Maybe I don’t actually need a phone but not ready to ditch it just yet.

One of the things I am contemplating is moving from these blogs to more of a podcast but given I hate the sound of my own voice I need to practice a little as I will not be listening to them. So that should keep me busy for an hour or two. I want to have it start with the music from Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds with Richard Burton’s voiceover (nothing simple for me) and finding it as a wave file is difficult although I have a happy time searching through lots of old movie sounds. Even found some Winston Churchill stuff but i will need to fine an editing program.

Only a few emails today. Some in response to a query I have on Judi’s Mini Pc. The hard drive is not showing so I used the email support process and yesterday I was passed through 6 (yes 6) different people who all swore allegiance to my dilemma vowing not to rest until they had successfully move heaven and earth to fix it. You can guess how far we got, nowhere. So despite the attentions of Debashish, Prasenjit, Abhishek, Vivek, Arnab, Ritabra and Zack I am no further forward and personally I am not confident of actually getting it fixed without returning the Pc to the USA which will be a very big pain in the you know where.

So the weather is still nice so off to add 2,000 rubles to my phone credit ($65). I have mentioned the process before you go and use a machine inside one of the hundreds of phone shops. My local is by the metro (what a surprise). All the metros stations have these wooden shops close by and each metro will have at least one phone shop. So I am in line the guy in front keys in a number then feeds the money in. Then another number then another and another and another. Maybe he is doing it for the whole of the office, either that or he has a lot of phones. The last one he does only gets 10 rubles (32 cents) so not many calls going to be made on that one.  Mine seems simple now and I get to the exit almost at the same time as him. Off to the supermarket grab a couple of bottles of wine and a loaf. I notice they have one in the shape of a turtle and one in the shape of a porcupine both cute but most of the bread is heavy and semi soft. Oh for the crunch of a fresh French baguette or an English farmhouse. I hope you lot appreciate the sacrifices I make to bring you these riveting updates.

Back via the Thai and nip in to pick up a Moscow Times, not much of a paper but at least it is something and I found out it lists the files showing in English and where they are playing. It is like “where’s Wally” fining them by actually going to the cinemas where the ticket staff rarely know or for that matter seem to care. I tell you someone is going to make a fortune doing Customer Service training out here sometime as the older assistants are trained to scowl and they seem to pass I on to the youngsters.

I find the handyman in the courtyard which is good. Two weeks ago he came up to change the cartridges in the water filter which takes up most of the space under the sink. Since then of course it has not worked and whilst I have told the landlady a couple of times I think there may be a communications failure. Even with limited Russian I am sure I get my message across, it is surprising how you can mime almost anything when you have too.

Outside the flats there is a man who has been painting a pillar by our entrance for a couple of days now. When I say paining he is really decorating it, there are plants and flowers winding around it with parts picked out in gold and what I assume us red. We chat for a while and whilst he does not actually live in our block they are allowing him to do it and very fine it is too. I suggest it would be good if it went up the side of the building whereupon he gives me one of those is this a joke or not looks. I leave him to his labors as it is still hot.

Upstairs a couple more emails. I seem to have found myself a job and will be in Ireland Friday, England the following week and South Africa the week after. So my days of lazing around seem to be numbered. Well it was nice whilst it lasted but it will not stop me writing (or maybe podcasting). Think the job will raise a few eyebrows, we shall see. I am now a mercenary for hire which sounds cool.

Pizza for tea if the oven obeys my commands “Steve this is HAL I believe you had pizza 6 days ago can I suggest you find a healthier option from the salad draw in the refrigerator” a small voice in my head comments, I respond by turning the radio volume up.

From the Bolshoi to the ironing it’s been quite a weekend


So if you saw my Facebook you will know I was slightly delayed getting home from England. My 12:25 flight eventually took off at 21:40. No I rarely get delayed so it was probably my turn although I may not have thought that when they told us it would be 6:40, 7:45 or 8:10 you probably don’t want to know what I was thinking then. So I arrive back in Russia at 4:30 and pick up the taxi Judi (bless her) has ordered for me. The train does not start running until 6:00 so this is a godsend.

Sleep until 11:30 so not bad got my quota in. A few admin things during the day but nothing too strenuous as tonight we are off to the “Bolshoi” (pronounced Balshoi) ballet as a treat for Judi’s birthday. I am not specifically a fan of ballet but this is one of those must do items whilst we are here. The place is only one metro stop down so only a 5 minute journey but 20 minutes trying to find the door. The reason is that the actual Bolshoi is being renovated so we are in the “Little Bolshoi” which is interesting as Bolshoi actually means Big. The place is a bit of a throwback and very richly decorated.

A coffee and a glass of wine cost an arm and a leg ($24) so it is not a surprise to see two babushkas drinking water and pulling snacks out of their purses and quite a picnic they are making of it as well. The place is a mix of locals and tourists and whilst the dress code is supposed to be restricted I do see someone in shorts which is a little out of place for a night out at the ballet. Lots of linen suits and flowery dresses so given we have dressed up a little we blend in well.

As for the ballet it was “Spartacus” so not a classic but lots of people energetically jumping around and at 3 hours they must be fit. Making a Roman legion out of 12 dancers was interesting but hey the stage is not that big. There must be someone famous dancing as every time he takes to the stage there is huge whoops and clapping. Anyway two intervals which give us time to wander around drinking some peculiar Russian champagne and looking at the chandeliers. The whole place must have been refurbished as it is pristine and looks charming.

All over we start to make our way home, only one guitarist entertaining the beer drinkers at the local metro but we decide to find some food and end up in a Thai where we are fast becoming regulars. The waitress does not understand English but has the sense to find the same items we order on her Russian version so we actually get what we order. Full we stroll home through the warm evening air. It is still hot and Judi says it will stay this way until mid September.

Sunday is a bit of a lazy day only one foray out to get cash from Citi Bank which is ours. Judi has noticed we get stung by using other banks so we stock up on rubles so we should be good for a few days. We are checking out an Uzbekistani restaurant when two people passing by stop to tell us how good it is. So settled this is where we will eat tonight. Back home so Judi can pack she is off to Kazakhstan in the morning for a few days and she is back one day before I travel to Ireland.  All of which sounds exciting which it is but I still have to do the ironing and buy some milk and clean the cat’s tray. So the ironing gets done whilst I am watching the Formula 1 race in Hungary with Lewis Hamilton winning after someone else lost a wheel. I imagine he was please by the way he was jumping up and down after the race.

One encounter I had in England needs reporting. I was trying to get into London to see some people who want me to do some work for them and the plan was to get the train in from Gerrards Cross then use the underground for the rest of the trip. I manage to park my hire car at the station although the ticket machine was so far away I actually took the car to get a ticket and drove back. At the ticket office I asked for a return to Marylebone and the girl asked if I wanted the “tube” as well (it must be a combination ticket) so I of course not understanding the pricing and zones asked “what’s that” the response was.

The tube it’s like a train but it travels under the ground sir” and this came without a hint of sarcasm or any smiling the girl was genuine in attempting to explain. Given I was in the heart of England and speaking the Queen ’s English not sure what rock she thought I had been living under maybe I am now a stranger in my own land.

Formula 1 and a curry what a great day out

Formula 1 and Indian Curry what a treat.

We read in the Moscow times that there are a few F1 cars going to race around the Kremlin this Sunday. Well they are individually going to race half way around and then back again. This is too much of an opportunity to miss so we are planning to go. It starts at 12:30 with practice and 2:30 – 5 pm for whatever they are calling the “main” event. Fine not a problem we can walk to where all this is happening. First I have to explain to Judi how the washing machine works given I am away next week. Now regular readers will know there is a 57 page manual which goes with this contraption however I have managed to condense it into “whites on this one and colours on that one Ok?” which Judi commits to memory whist muttering something about “I thought you said it was complex, looks easy enough to me” she is such a sweet girl at times. I bet she phones me to ask how to open the door “ha”.

So out we go cut through and over the bridge of locks and the fountains. Left past the 24 hour American diner and onto the bridge and not until we are half way across do we spot the large police presence restricting our path. Ok not really surprised we are shepherded into the “allowable” direction and soon end up at the town hall which is affectionately know as the “white house”. This is where the course of history was changed. This is where Boris Yeltsin climbed on top of a tank and talked his way out of being deposed. If you search the web you can probably get the full details but the building had been fired on and it was probably his last throw of the dice. Well today he would be proud of his Muscovites as there are thousands of them sitting on the grass in front of this very building. The girls in their D&G rip-offs the boys all with their shirts off (it’s a local thing they take their shirts off for almost any showing of the sun).

There are lots of high powered cameras and 3 out of every 4 people are on their mobile phones. We find a spot which works for us and settle down. There are a couple of policemen on the pavement below us with a couple of portable metal detectors. They are checking people’s bag’s which is fine however whenever the queue builds up people just step onto the grass and go around which sort of seems to defeat the objective but I doubt there will be trouble. People are here to see the cars which duly arrive. An RBS, Vodaphone and the Red bull teams pass by as does the “Luxury car club” which includes the Mercedes McLaren I saw parked on the street last week. The Moscow “drift” club create a lot of excitement and smoke doing spins on the road outside the Kremlin. Something which would probably get them put away for 6 months if they try it on Monday. There is a Lotus group and a few more which keep us entertained before the F1 cars com back on what is a sort of time trial. I have to say it is very well organized and is designed to raise awareness of F1 which is already high here as Moscow has been trying to get its own race for a while. Given they try and drive like this most days I am a little surprised there are no Russians leading the championship. It will come trust me.

It is getting hot now so we move on our plan is to walk through the Kremlin garden out across Red square and down the side of GUM. Then straight up the road to an Indian curry house. Judi says it is unlikely to be busy at 4:15 on a Sunday afternoon and of course she is correct. Only one other couple in there and we order from memory. It is a while since we have had what we might call a decent curry. The ones in the US (no offence intended) seem to have some of the bite taken out of them. I think this is to make it more acceptable. Out come the poppadom’s with “lime pickle” which has been a distant memory for so long. It almost brings tears to the eyes but I have survived the Liver & Kidney sausage so this will not defeat me. A good meal of favorites ends with a take home bag which is a nice touch. We got so used to only eating half a meal in the US and most of my lunches for the last year or so have been the leftovers from some gargantuan dinner we could not finish. Some weeks I could get 3 lunches out of what we carried home. There is less of that now and in the main we can finish a meal and leave without and little bags, except for today and it is due more to the fact that we ordered too much in our excitement than the size of the portions.

So out we go back into the bright sunshine find the nearest metro and home in 30 minutes. No late night as I am off to England in the morning and need to be on a train at 6:30.

Pictures of the Formula 1 cars from Sunday
(It is Friday today so I had better get my act together or lose my audience)

A real English pub, I doubt that my friend.

A real English pub, I doubt that my friend.

Well it’s Friday evening and we are off to the pub, not the local that was last night and I am a little fearful that the singer will still be hanging around. So tonight we are off to an English pub. The “William Bass” which used to be the name of a brewer in England but not sure if it still exists. We spotted it last week on our way to see the ugly statue of Peter the Great. On the way we need to get some money.  I used my last cash in the dry cleaners when I took Judi’s trousers in. I felt quite pleased that I managed to explain to the lady in the very small shop down in the underground level of the local mall that the marks on the trousers were toothpaste and could we possibly have them back on Sunday. I say I felt good but when you walk into any dry cleaners with 2 pairs of trousers almost any mime will get you the result so maybe I should not feel so smug. It may also have been the fumes and she was beyond caring. A very detailed note made out regarding the state of the clothing items before you can get them cleaned which ended with the lady explaining my part in the proceedings “familiar, familiar” which I assume means name then the universal hold your fist to your ear and shout “telephono” were my instructions on how to complete my section of the form. And so went the last of my ready cash and remember you always need cash.

I am not too concerned as I know where there is a cash machine on the way to the pub so I break my own cardinal rule, #6 get cash from ATM’s attached to banks which are open. This way if you have a problem you can just pop in and explain to the nice people that “the infernal machine outside is acting the goat and eaten my card” with a crisp English accent. It will almost certainly get you to someone senior. so I break my own rule and use the random cash machine on one of the side streets. Now it is only after my card gets accepted that I realize that the level of the sunlight in the evening means I cannot actually see what it says on the screen. Now not all ATM’s are alike (ref the IKEA theory) so I have to bend down and peer very carefully at it, English or Russian ok got that one, now pin but which key is the enter the pad or the screen?, damn this one is a bit tricky and the last thing I need is for it to eat my card. I try crouching standing at the side to block the sun but the security filter then blocks my view of what it actually says which sort of defeats the objective. I try putting my Ray Bans over my glasses which I know will not work so maybe if I hold my Ray Ban’s the other way around then as a sort of Polaroid filter. It seems like a good idea in my head. The reality is of course different and whilst I am holding them to my glasses it seems ok I then lean forward and hit the screen with the sides of the sunglasses and nearly push my spectacles into my eyeballs. This hurts my pride as well as physically and not sure it did my glasses any good. Conscious that these things work on a timer I really need to focus. It asks me if I need a receipt so I have to assume I have asked it to do something and bingo out pop’s 3,000 rubles. Not as much as I had hoped for but it will do. By the time I catch up to Judi all she is interested in is “why were you dancing around back there, doing a bit of a jig weren’t you” and what’s wrong with you glasses. I said it was playing music not wishing to discuss the matter further right now.

So a real English pub is it. Why not Irish? This is the Universal standard. You don’t actually see many English pubs outside of England. Well this may have been authentic a while back probably in the 70’s as it is dark and musty and full of smoke. Heavy round backed chairs and huge solid pot ashtrays which take up far too much room on the small square tables. Pubs in England are not like this, since the introduction of the smoking ban and the advent of eating in pubs they are more sanitized and family friendly. Now this is not a complaint just a comment. I don’t live there so it matters not to me but think the “real English pub” is long gone may it rest in peace. I am old enough to remember when pubs had a male only section called a “vault”. Nothing like this would be acceptable these days.

I order a Kilkenny and Judi something dry and white. I note my drink will cost 295rb on its own and the whole of last night cost 350rb somehow the singer has become more appealing.  Anyway we order a steak sandwich for me and a pork thing for Judi both of which are served by a girl who seems to have had her skirt shrink wrapped onto her. She can hardly move one leg in front of the other and of course the skirt is quite short. So we watch as our dinner goes cold as it inches towards us.

During this slow motion section I explain to Judi my “opportunities” booking a flight to the UK next week. I chose Transero a local airline which is linked with BMI. I try and book online but it keeps warning me it is not happy and mentions there are thieves on the internet. So it sort of hangs. Ok phone the helpdesk and they try and convince me everything is ok. So book through “Ivana” got the dates and times got my reference number (handy hint #7 always always always get a reference number) I say fine I will pay when I get to the desk. Nyet says Ivana you need to pay before 10 am tomorrow at our office. Ok where is that Pavaletskya (which I know) so a simple internet booking has turned into a day out. So I manage to find the office. There is a cute process here when you have like a random queue of people not in a formal line but just milling about “so how do you know your place?” I can hear you ask. When you arrive you ask “who is last” and someone puts their hand up so now you know you are after them. A simple but effective process.

The food finally arrives and is just ok however by now we have had a couple of drink and are tired so it’s off home.  We go back via the Metro as I want to see who is playing tonight. There is a solo guitarist, actually not bad and plays a James Morrison song which I can sing along to even if nobody else can.

So ends another week. Quite exciting and a few new experiences to chalk up or cross off the list.


“Parrot-oki” you had to be there to fully appreciate this

So continuing our integration into the local community we choose to go to the local on Thursday night. We will not try and eat this time as we need to get rid of some of the stuff slowly going off in the refrigerator. Judi has cheese on toast and I have something which Judi thinks is a “bilini”. It is small and round and of unknown origin, not pastry but something more like a batter. Also I am not exactly sure if it is a sweet or savory anyway with a couple of slices of ham on it the “item” is polished off in short shrift. Note to self be more careful what you casually pick up in the supermarket. I don’t suffer from allergies so doubt there will be lasting issues. All this done off we go.

The African guy is still there and I have taken to shaking his hand every time I pass in an attempt at some bonding. This seems to be working better than my attempts with the burly security guard who will now nod (but only just) and the only time we have been engaged in any conversation was when he told me off for leaving the car park barrier up. Who knew it was “semi” automatic? (I did wonder why the car park was full that day but no matter) I am getting more response than Judi who has yet to even get any acknowledgement that she exists.

Now as we approach the bar there is loud music coming out. Not that unusual as they have a dance floor in the back. As we enter the music is even louder than ever. This is because it is in the bar itself. A guy who is about 5ft 6in but seems to have a voice which is 8ft at least is belting out something which at this volume is difficult to catch. We try and find the point furthest from the singer however he has strategically places the sound unit in the corner of the room so there is little chance of escape. We end up close to the bar and next to the Parrot. Order drink which is easy with the amount of practice we have had. The bar is about 30ft wide and 50ft long. The speaker may have been designed for a concert hall as it is almost rattling the windows and I swear when he hits the high notes my glass of beer starts to vibrate. It is at this point the Parrot who has had its head und a wing decides to join in. Not that is knows the words and it certainly cannot follow the beat so all we hear are loud squawks. So a little competition for our diminutive singer. His response is to try and drown the Parrot out but now it seems to have become somewhat combative the Parrot only makes a noise to counter and is quiet during the instrumental sections. I have captured it on my iPhone but as yet I am not technically gifted enough to get the wave file off it.

I forgot to say there are only 10 people in the place Judi and I, the singer, 3 groupies and 2 other couples. So maybe this is a private concert. I is most definitely not “un-plugged” it is more over-plugged. There are 10 staff who are struggling to take orders given we can hardly hear ourselves think.

When he decides we have had enough the singer hands the microphone to one of the groupies who tries to belt out a couple of Madonna songs but does not have the lung capacity to make the room shake as much. The Parrot only dances to her and has the good manners not to interrupt.

Outside I can see 3 guys with beer leaning against a wall enjoying the entertainment, probably wandered down from the Metro station up the road. I am sure they can hear all of this down there as it is only 400meters away.

We decide to call it a day. There is a serial killer show on TV soon which Judi really wants to see (should I worry?). I try and get the attention of our waitress who is busy pouring concoctions at the bar.  There is a beer a Cointreau with spray cream, a blue Bolls (in a half pint glass with a straw) and a couple of delicately created things in tall shot glasses. They have 3 distinct coloured layers but I have no idea of their construction. All these are loaded onto a tray and whisked off to the table behind us. Interestingly there are 5 drinks but only 2 people.

We get the bill 2 large beers and a couple of Vodka’s 350 rubles $11 not bad for an evening’s entertainment. I clap the singer on the way out encouraging him to sing with more gusto. I am sure once he breaks a window they will turn the volume down.



A couple of Helpful tips for travelers in interesting places.

Given how many “interesting” places I have found myself I thought I would provide a couple of survival tips for anyone who may at some point find themselves in a strange environment.

Well first of course it will not be strange to the people who live there to them it is normal. Just like my drinking buddies down at the Metro just because you don’t do it at home does not mean it’s weird it just means it’s different.

Ok #1 McDonalds have clean toilets. This may at some point become a critical piece of information and even if you don’t subscribe to their culinary items the toilets can be a god send when you find yourself in exotic places. If you are concerned about the state of that public squat or are a little shy about going behind the bushes then whenever you see this burger joint you have an oasis. Many European countries have laws for eating establishments requiring rest rooms. I am however not convinced they have regulations about the hygiene standards in them.  So don’t be shy you can walk in and if you feel guilty then buy a coke. Try not to use a $100 bill for a $1 purchase though (in any currency) it tends to draw attention to you. So you can consider McDonalds which you can find in almost all countries as your home from home and a comfort whatever country you find yourself in. Starbucks also works but is not as big a brand so you don’t find as many around.

#2 The general consensus is when travelling you should try to learn a bit of the language. Fine no problem with that except if you walk into a restaurant and fluently ask for a table for two you might end up in a place with strange food and no translation (see blog on “What do you recommend”). My process is to make sure I say something loud in English as an opener “nice place” “cool” “this is interesting” what this does is to alert your host that you are one of those “Johnny foreigners”. You can then do your party piece asking for a table. You have established your identity and this normally gets you the only waiter who speaks English and maybe their only translated menu.  You don’t want to end up with a liver and kidney sausage do you?.  Judi will actually get them to bring the menu before she will take a table although secretly I think she is checking they have chocolate mousse before she approves. 

#3 It’s ok to point. I find that a “Point and Pay” approach works fine everywhere. Remember you are a customer and where ever you are in the world there will be lots of people who will be happy to accept you money. Normally I like to see the price of things which of course helps but sometimes things are not labeled. My mother had a saying “If it’s not got a price on you probably can’t afford it” which is apt as I tried to buy a shredder yesterday no price, when they rang it up it was 7,545 rubles ($240) I of course said “nyet”. It would be cheaper for me to hire someone for a couple of hours a month to tear up my stuff. $240 you have to be kidding me. Having an idea of the price save you from using that $100 bill on the $1 item as well.

#4 haggling is like playing Poker you need to know what you are doing or you will get creamed. I can do it but to be honest if the item is less than $5 you could end up spending 20 minutes shaving 10 cents off it and why bother unless you have lots of time or a cruel streak. For larger items you could use Judi’s approach which is to decide what you are going to pay and stick to it. There is no meeting in the middle with my darling babe its clear “my price or nothing” for her. Happy to walk away and have people rushing after her trying that one more time. I have tried to introduce the concept of “negotiation” the response is “fine I am going to negotiate them to my price”. She has some steel in her which at times has served us well. We go a wheelie suitcase in Chang Mai for $10 and we have had it now for about 8 years and it has been around the world a few times now. Now I cannot believe we actually got it given the starting price was $50 but the guy still must have made a profit as they will never settle for a loss.

 Just a couple of things you might want to remember next time you find yourself somewhere “in-tir-yes-nih”

A very nice weekend part two

Well Saturday was such a good day not sure we could top it but it is Sunday and we plan to give it a try.

I am feeling sort of guilty in chiding Judi to get up before she really wants to (normally past noon rather than before) but figure there will be plenty of time to sleep when the snow arrives and the days are dark. Right now it does not actually get dark for long. This is great however it does mean the winter nights are going to be long. We have lived much closer to the equator for a few years where the days are pretty regular. In Costa Rica the dawn and dusk do not really change so all days are the same length.

Anyway Judi is up and wants to go to a park. This is a very Russian thing during the weekends so a sign we are going local. The plan is to go to the Ugly statue of Peter the Great and then Gorky Park. I check the time of the Grand Prix is 4 pm local time so we agree we need to get back for it. I have not managed to see “any” of this year’s races which is unusual.

So off we go remembering to take the rubbish with us. I comment on this because when I arrived and asked “when does the rubbish get picked up” the response was “whenever you want” which I thought was good. What they really meant was “you do it yourself” which technically is the same thing. Rubbish has to be dumped in large bind deposited strategically along the roads. This gives me a choice as to where I throw it but it does rely on actually remembering to actually walk out of the flat with it. You can imagine when we arrived and I had a mountain of cardboard and wrapping from the airfreight it was quite a task. The security guards would give me that “where the hell is he getting all of this” look as I trudged past them again and again with yet another load of cardboard for the bins.

So I know the short cuts through the back streets which means we can be there in 5 minutes. In fact we can see the top of this monstrosity from the flat so it really is not that far at all. We note an English pub about half a mile from home which might be a good place for watching football. Not found an Irish pub yet which is unusual as every city I have ever been in has one or two. I am sure there is one out there.

The statue still looks ugly but it does draw the eye. I am sure people would have said the same thing about the Sydney opera house or the Gherkin in London I suppose if nothing else it is a good landmark. There is some activity on the other side of the road. It looks like a market so we go and see. It is actually local artists and there is about half a mile of them. Fittingly we are in front of one of the Tretyakov art gallery building. Anyway after a while we get picture overload but I do manage to get a couple of web site addresses so I can check back on a couple of really nice water colours (note the English spelling).

At the end of the road we meet the “Garden Ring” (which I still think is names because there are no gardens on it) over the other side is Gorky Park. Quite a famous name as there was a book and a film with the same name. If memory serves me correctly the park played a minor roll but the name still is familiar.  We pay our 80 rubles only one rate here (normally none Russians have to pay more for attractions) and waltz through. The first thing I see is a two humped camel, interesting I don’t think you actually see many camels with two humps. Not sure what the name is but you can google it if you want.

The park is really a funfair with a few fountains and some gardens. It is fairly busy as it is about 1pm and the families are all out lots of kids of different sizes. The funfair rides are slightly dated none of those thunderous things I saw in the US. There is a wooden roller coaster and several rides designed to relieve you of your last meal but nothing too scary. It reminded me of the “fair du midi” which used to come to Brussels every August. Slightly dated but all operating and here they don’t wait until a ride is full they will start it up any time. Looking around the place is full or ordinary people doing ordinary things. Kids squealing, eating ice creams and candy floss. Groups of boys egging each other on, knot’s of young girls holding onto each other so they don’t fall off their high heels. I see whack a mole, air rifles, darts, a small lake etc everything you could wish for at a funfair.  There are a couple of Beer halls so I decide to go local and have a beer out of a bottle (just for the pictures not because I really wanted one you will understand). Judi takes a couple of shots which you can see if you use the link at the bottom. We stumble across a Reindeer as we make our way out. Again not often you see reindeer used as a kids ride but it seems comfortable enough. Furry antlers’ and all.

Out and back across the ring trying to cut through to get back for the race Judi thinks we can short cut the routs if we circumnavigate the “Park of the fallen heroes” I know you cannot but you know babe she has to give it a go. A couple of failed attempts which only lead to blocked gates and fences bring us to the gate. Now this park has a tier system locals pay 10 rubles none locals 100. I think I object to this on principle, I certainly object to paying 10 times more. The book says if we have the visa’s we can claim to be local but nobody seems to have informed the 80 year old babushka on the gate and given our limited vocabulary it is not worth the bother. I could easily ask her for a coffee with milk or a beer but not sure this would help so we pay and wander through. The park is “interesting” and I spent some time here the other week. It has an open air cinema in the middle which doubles as a concert venue. It seats about 100 so it would be cozy to say the least. Note to self do a search to see if there is a schedule of events.  

It is still hot and very bright. It is difficult to think of sun cream and Moscow at the same time but we really need to start as we both have red patches which will probably burn a little late. As we amble back we use a couple of side streets and as usual you turn a corner and there stands a church. There are so many around and they are so stunning it might be a while before I stop commenting. Back at the flat with 30 minutes to spare before the race. We have a choice to watch in German or Russian and it really does not matter. Flip a coin and choose German. An interesting race given Hamilton gets a puncture on lap one and is then out of contention. So this allows us to doze through most of the rest of the excitement. Nice for Webber and the Australian seems somewhat pleased with his first win after more than 100 races. His radio response to winning was a series or ear piercing screams.”Yes,Yes,Yes,Yes”

Dinner out at “Mia Place” an Italian chain, the food was quite good and the pasta fresh which is greatly appreciated. The menu lists the size of portions as well as price. Not just this place but all menus have item, volume and price. A beer and a couple of glasses for Judi to celebrate her birthday last week. She got a couple of bunches of very nice flowers, cards, cake and a couple of tickets to the Bolshoi which given she has not been here long I take as a good sign.

A very nice weekend part one

So it’s Saturday morning (just) and we don’t have a plan yet. You need to understand that is worrying. We normally have a plan so technically the weekend is free.  We went for dinner at the local pub last night and then wandered down to the Metro to listen to the band which was set up and playing old rock and roll songs. Mostly in English but doubt that made any difference everyone seemed to know the songs and people were dancing as well as drinking.

So what to do once Judi is up she needs action. I take an hour to come around in the morning but Judi once on her feet wants to hit the ground running. I can slow her down by making copious cups of tea but I am only delaying the inevitable.

Ok we now have a plan and a list. (lists are always good Judi says)

We are off to Arbat a district to the west of us which has an ugly modern section and an older pedestrian section with designer shops and tourist type stuff.  A quick walk down to Novokuznetskaya metro, a few stops and change to the Blue line then on stop and then back out into the sunshine. It is very bright today and forecast suggests 85 today. We quickly come across the series of flats known locally as “Stalin’s Teeth”. They are quite close together and stick out like a sore thumb. Nestled at the bottom of the first one is what I think is the church of Christ the Reindeer. I need to look into that as it does seem a little odd. Churches are everywhere which I have found interesting. From afar we all have the impression that all the churches were pulled down during previous regimes. If that is the case then there must have been one on every street corner as right now there seems to be one every half mile or so. They are not particularly big churches but they are decretive in style. Lots of arches and domes. Many domes are gold and because they are circular the sun reflects off them all of the time which makes them stand out amongst the grey of the apartments.

Our first stop is a book shop which is listed in the Lonely Planet which is across the road so down the underpass and in. Now one of the first things I see are paper shredder’s. Big deal you might say but I have been look for one since I got here.  I have looked in all the electrical places and computer shops and the lack of them nearly had me blogging about “there is a mountain of paper somewhere”. I do think it interesting that the prime method of destroying paper should be found in a book shop but note that I need to come back during the week and get one plus some office stuff. Not a bad book shop and we pick up a couple of items including a map of Russia for the wall. I need to better understand the geographical set up given I now live in a country with I think 10 time zones.

Back outside and looking for shade I notice a phone shop so now is probably a good time to put some money on my phone. Over here a large proportion of phones seem to be pay as you go. The top up machines are everywhere and a couple of nervous minutes pressing buttons and there is another 500 rubles on my phone. You need to understand there is no English version so to use the assumptive approach. For all I know the button said “do you want me to shred this money press Het for ok” (a nice link to the book shop I think).

Next we find a Camera shop and I get a replacement lens cap for the one I lost in Red Square last week. This was extremely annoying as I pride myself at not losing things. I note the shop as I think it has lots of things I cannot possibly live without.  On past the now closed Casinos which dot the road. They closed a few days ago and it is a big deal here. The government has designated 4 areas in Russia where casino’s can operate and Moscow is not one of them. This applies even to slot machines so the once big bright busy buildings we walk past are now all empty. They are saying it will affect up to 300,000 people so it shows how big the industry was around Moscow.

Next is a high end shopping center one of those you walk through but only buy things in the sale. It is very very nice. You can tell this by the class of security guards who are watching our every move. Not sure if my shorts and sandals are influencing them at all.

Back on the street is it now too hot to do the pedestrian section so we decide to cut across to the European Shopping center just one Metro line over.  This shopping center is one I saw in November on our quick dash over here. It is extremely busy all the time and has every shop you need in the way of fashion. Two pairs of shoes (for Judi) later I stumble across “Massimo Dutti” which is my very favorite clothes shop. They even have a sale on but I resist as the last thing I need is more clothes. I have unpacked 35 shirts already and there are still some to go so stay firm and only go in and out. We are trying to concentrate on tops for Judi. Suddenly she does not have enough. Mex, Marks & Spenser, etc they are all here. The layout of the “mall” is quite confusing as the walks are not straight so you are never sure exactly where you are and there are 4 or 5 floors. So a lot of wandering until we chance upon a restaurant and have a very nice lunch (although a little expensive).

Tiring quickly we head home as I am going to make dinner. A Thai Red curry with some beef I got the other day from a very good butcher I found. I am getting the hang of the hob and can now juggle 4 pans at the same time without it getting upset. This is possibly the limit as we only have 4 pans so doubt I will be stretching its capabilities beyond this for a while.

Afterwards we watch a DVD. Tarantino’s “Grindhouse”  and I can see why it tanked at the box office. We only get through 1 of the 2 CD’s. Maybe save the second half for a rainy day.

So ends day one for the weekend and very productive it was too. Lots of places which will be useful and found lots of things we were looking for so high fives all around

“Birthday dinner and no sausages please”

So it’s Friday and it is JUdi’s birthday (where did the week go) 3 weeks in only a couple of minor adventures. I have been sorting out filing (deep joy) and trying to organize money stuff.

This time last year we were in California celebrating Judi’s birthday with family and friends. With not a hint of adventures to come. It had been my first trip to the West coast and was great fun. We had been wine tasting and had been chauffeured around in a stretch limo with a driver who spent most of his time talking about horse racing. It was all great fun and we ended up in a rather posh restaurant called Cyrus being looked after by a team Judi dubbed “Dementor’s” they were all dressed in black and would come into the room in a line (in step) and place whatever the dish was in front of you and with a “Ta Darrr” flourish lift off the cover. Then march out in silence whilst we all giggled. As I said the whole trip was great fun and there were a couple of adventures along the way. I got to see a real geyser someone had a hire car with no petrol, a sat nav minus power cord, my car was the wrong one and the firm kept trying to get me to take it back. We ate in interesting places one where the staff were ironing the table cloths after putting them on the table. Maybe they had a fear of creases or maybe it was some tradition. We had stayed in San Francisco for a few days and tried to watch the 4th July fireworks down in the bay not a good idea with the fog so whilst we heard them perfectly well we never actually saw any of them.

It is funny to think it was only a year ago and how many things had changed in what is really a short time. It is only when you stop and think that you realize the only constant is change. Who would have thought we would have ended up where we are right now.

So back to the reality of now.
So what about the sausage. Well we decide to go to the local pub and to mitigate the problems we had last week I have been researching Menus. So I have printed out the main food groups like Meat, pork, chicken, lamb etc and the cooking methods stewed, grilled, roasted etc so we might have a fighting chance of ordering something we could recognize. I am prepared (or think I am)

So the “greeter” who is African and speaks English very well seats us and the nervous young guy we had last week is our server.
New menus this week less intimidating than the 15 pages we had last time this is just a big sheet with food on one side and drink on the other. I order “Piva” (beer, it’s easy) Judi dithers a bit and tries to order a glass of wine which proves more difficult.
The place is really a pub so wine is probably a rare order. Anyway given she can not order by the glass she settles for a bottle. I promise to help when my beer is finished. The bottle will cost 280 rubles which is around $9 which to me is not a good sign given the mark up would be 40% that would make it about $5 then take off transportation to get it here I think the wine is probably worth $3 and when it arrives I am proved right.  

Before we get our order we are presented with something “complimentary”. Two glasses of what looks like red wine and some peanuts I say looks like as I am not quite sure. it tastes wine(ish) but really not sure it could be something I have seen around which is like a local tonic. There are lots of versions and last weekend at a local market we saw it being sold from a huge tank (at least a 100 gallon) hooked up to a car. All of which makes you think “how is it made” and possibly try not to consider things like quality control or sanitation. So the beer and wine arrive and one sip is enough for Judi to give me that look which indicates she may want me to finish it. So now we have 2 glasses of whatever plus a large beer a bottle of dubious wine and the vodka Judi quickly ordered to get the taste of the wine out of her mouth. I can see it is going to be a long night and we have not ordered food yet.
On to the food. My preparation is worth it. We decode Lamb chops and pork and remember when you order the meat you get the meat you have to order the extras so I order rice and Judi chips (that’s fries to you Americans). 

Whilst the place clearly is a pub the chef may not be fully aware as the food comes out extremely well presented. We actually get what we order and it is very good. I should not be too surprised. The food over here is fresh and somehow you can tell.
They did get the rice and chips mixed up but not the end of the world. It is no small triumph to be able to order something and for the same thing to arrive so we drink a toast. Me with 2 glasses of whatever, a beer and a bottle of dubious wine and Judi with vodka.
Not vodka and coke they tend to drink it neet here no watering it down.

The parrot in the corner squarks its appreciation and we sit and talk over the week. Judi has been to Istanbul for a couple of days and I with my Ikea adventures. We decide to give that particular shopping village a miss this weekend and try somewhere new. I want to go to Arbat which is 2 stops up and 3 across on the metro as the books say it has a good pedestrian area and lots of great things to see. It also has the church of “Christ the Reindeer” which if nothing else is an intriguing title. We ask for the “Chot” or bill 1,300 rubles or around $43 which is good. Lots of da svi-dan-ya’s on the way out even from the 2 year old who is the child of the landlord who wanders around the place talking to everyone including us. Given her age and our russian language skills we get along very well, neither understanding the other. 

 I consider taking one of the menu’s home for further translation but they are a little too big to slip out with unnoticed.

Anyway if we knew what we were ordering all the time where would the fun be in that.  

“Our first visitor”

Well not sure he actually came to see us but Mr Obama is in town. Probably only a mile and a half away from the apartment.
Lots of excitement and plenty of officials on the streets. I wandered down to the square but it was all closed off for an hour or so. The local stations are having a ball reporting and everyone is trying to get the best background shot of the square so there is a little queue of camera men and presenters lined up at the end of one of the bridges. It should make the news where ever you are.

The general public seems excited and very pleased to have him here although I think there will be some hard conversations around the wepons area plus copyright and trade. The Russians have been considering joining the World Trade Organization for a long time but they are very good at using trade embargos to get their own way so not sure they see it as an advantage to actually join. When you can get what you want they way you do business now why would you mess with it.
Anyway life goes on. Judi is in Istanbul for a couple of days, the taxi was 40 minutes late but she still arrived at the airport with over two hours to spare. (got to love that girl). I have my list of things to keep me occupied so it looks like another trip to the mega center is on the cards. I made it there and back ok last time with only one wrong turn and for some reason in Moscow they do not like left turns (interesting that an ex-communist country does not go left) so you need to be careful. I was just following another car through what I thought was a cut through which ended up being the tram route. i was now facing the right way but not actually on the road. Lucky for me there was nothing coming so I could pass the tram stop (not picking anyone up of course) then mount the pavement to get back onto the road. It’s one of life’s little pleasures learning to get around in a foreign place.

I said yesterday I was backed up with pictures. So many but not all are on the Picassa site. 
This is the link

This should be an embedded version. Not sure how big it will be but just showing that I am still learning about this stuff

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