Sunday, November 29, 2009

Russia - Day 8

The last day! St. Petersburg decided to send me back home with an OK day, chilly and cloudy but without rain. The nice thing is that on a nice day like this the citizens of this fair city come out in droves, so people watching becomes great fun. Everyone dresses very chic here, so in a way it is like being in a fashion show.

I visited the Ethnographic Museum, and was in awe at the remarkable variety among the Russian peoples. I also solved the riddle of the hats and boots. Since time immemorial these folks have tried to wear every possible contraption on their heads, and every possible pointy shoe on their feet. No wonder the new generation feels (and meets) the challenge of the ages! I also concluded that these are the toughest people on Earth, extending as they do from the Arctic ice, to the tundra, to the taiga, to the mountains, to the deserts, and the Baltic coast. Finally, I now understand that the Baltic Sea is the equivalent of the Mediterranean Sea at high latitudes, with people moving and fighting along its shores ever since the crusades.

My next stop was the Russian Museum, hosted in the MikhaelovskyPalace. It is another fabulous collection of art, but this time featuring exclusively Russian artists. They certainly span the spectrum of styles represented in the Ermitage, from icons, to portraits, to depictions of crucial moments in Russian history. I liked some very large scenes of fully developed seas, and the Russian impressionists.

In the throes of artistic rapture I convinced myself that I was never going to come back, and that I must a reproduction of my favorite piece of art, so I went back to the Ermitage, paid my entrance fee, and bought a museum-quality reproduction of Rodin's "L'EternelPrintemps"! There go my Christmas presents to myself for the next few years!

I finished my day with the performance of the Circus at the Fontanka River. This circus was established in the late 1800's and has become quite the tradition in Peter. It is a great place to see families having fun, and the artists are quite spectacular. Cirque du Soleil eat your heart out!
Well, this is the end. Tomorrow I return home. The flight departs at 6am. I will stop in Munich from 8 am to 3 pm, so I will probably take the metro to downtown just to take a look around, and then back on the plane for a 7 pm arrival at SFO. All good things must come to an end :(

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Russia - Day 7

Today I woke up at an impossibly early time, and tossed and turned in bed until I could bear it no longer. I started early for the meeting with the tour to Novgorod, under a crisp night sky. I got there at 7:30, just as a light rain set in. I waited patiently until short before 8 am, and then puzzled at the fact that other tourists were nowhere to be seen. I attempted to ask one of the ladies in the kiosk where I had booked the excursion, but she shrugged and uttered a stream of incomprehensible Russian pointing to another (closed) kiosk and the place where the bus was expected to appear. So I waited somemore with a sinking feeling that I had been had. Finally the kiosk I had been referred to opened at 8:30 so I could try to find out about my excursion.
Another stream of Russian, where I seemed to detect the info that the tour had been canceled for lack of people, and an offer for an alternative tour to Vyborg. OK, so Vyborg it is, although I had no idea where that was.

We drove out of Peter (that is what we Russians call St. Petersburg) into a landscape of rolling hills covered with aspens, in between which there were small hamlets with ancient but very large wooden houses, as well as others with modern "dachas" (Russian for countryhouse) of a modern vintage. It took me a while to realize I was driving over the Fennoscandian Precambrian shield, heading for Finland!

We never made it across the border, but Vyborg is as close as you can get to Finland without leaving Russia. It was first established by the Swedes in the middle ages, at a time when Sweden had control over Finland (their language are very different, so very likely Sweden had annexed Finland before the 12th century), then Peter the Great conquered it, then Finland became independent and took it over, then Russia stepped onto Finnish territory, then the Finns got it back, and finally it became a permanent part of Russia after World War II.

The end result is an Medieval city with strong influences from both Finland and Russia. For example, all tourist signs are in both Russian and Finnish). The city sits in a small bay, in the innermost corner of the Baltic Sea (or the Gulf of Finland), and has been a very important trading port since antiquity. There is a water castle, of course, to defend the entrance to the small bay, which now houses a historical museum.

The visit was pervaded with a constant cold rain, but that didn't stop our plucky guide (who spoke uninterruptedly for the two hours it took us to get there) and her brave group of tourists to go splashing through the town. I was very glad for my Gortex jacket all along! A friendly young man figured out I was in lala land with respect to the perorations of the guide, so he very kindly translated the main points (including the instructions on when and where we were to meet for the trip back!).

We also stopped at a park called Mon Repos (My Rest), where the local prince had his time off. A very pretty natural park with lots of small fake Greek temples and kiosks overlooking the complex shoreline. It was while I was at one of these kiosks that it came to me: I was looking at a glaciated landscape over the Fennoscandian shield. The small hills were rochee moutonnes, stripped of their cover by the continental glaciers, and the complex shoreline was a fjord developed on the field of rochee moutonnes. I have never felt so close to the Ice age!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Russia - Day 6

Well, as it happens my new hotel has internet, so at least tonight I
can continue my narrative (tomorrow I am going to Novgorod all day, so
I will probably skip the internet).

I woke up late, packed in a hurry, and got down to breakfast just a
few minutes ahead of Chrissy and Gustav. Ten we sat in their room
chatting for the last time and planning our next trip (probably
Ethiopia next November). When the taxi arrived, around 11:15, they
drove me to the metro station, and then headed out to the airport in
fairly heavy traffic. I will miss my dear friends!

A short metro ride brought me to my new hotel, where I dropped off my
stuff, and then I took a walk to buy a ticket for the circus for
Sunday afternoon. The Circus at the Fontanka arm of the Neva River is
quite a tradition in St. Petersburg, where it has been in continuous
operation since the end of World War II.

From there I walked to Nievsky prospekt, to buy a ticket for a day
excursion to Novgorod tomorrow Saturday. 1000 rubles for the bus ride
seems tame compared to the rates charged by some of the taxis here in
St. Pete.

A short metro ride and a walk of a couple of blocks brought me to the
Arctic and Antarctic Museum, where I was planning to spend a good part
of the afternoon. Alas, it was closed! It is annoying enough that
museums around the world close on Mondays, but in Russia they have the
added injury of closing one random day in the last week of the month
for cleaning and maintenance (a "sanitary" day). Well today was it.

Not knowing what to do I went to visit Vasilisky Cathedral (very nice
example of onion towers and Russian Orthodox architecture), and "die
Kleine Markthalle" (my name for the market of fresh vegetables and
fruit, meat, fih, adn caviar). The sigt of caviar sharpened my
appetite so I stopped in a small restaurant for a very Russian meal of
borsch and blinies (crepes) with salmon caviar. Yum, yum.

To finish the afternoon I took yet another metro ride, and a long
walk, to visit the Museum of Political History, where an enormous
collection of artifacts documents the liberation of the peasants from
serfdom by Nicolas II, the revolution of 1917, the ascent of the
communist party to power, the Soviet era, up to Gorvatchov's famous
address to the Soviet citizens calling for the dissolution of the
Soviet Union 20 years ago. The museum spans two houses that were used
by the Bolcheviks as early headquarters, with its most famous room
being the one Lenin used as office and forum during the early months
of the revolution. An interesting history lesson.

And now I am back in my hotel, a little tired of all that walking. I
need to make sure I wake up early tomorrow, so I think I will turn
early tonight.


Russia - Day 5


A real quick note just so I don’t forget what we did today: It was
raining pretty steadily throughout the day, so after saying goodbye to
Anna (she headed home today) we decided to start with a visit to the
Russian Naval Museum (another of my favorite outings wherever I go).
It was very nice in terms of ship models, but all signs were in
Russian, and there was much too emphasis in war and Soviet power. An
exhibition of real-life stern masks was really impressive. After the
visit, Gustav’s unerring instinct drew him to the most exclusive and
expensive restaurant in St. Petersburg, where we had lunch
(Chateaubriand steak and some very good wine).

Thus fortified we walked in the rain to the Cathedral of Saint Isaac,
a monumental building that in the time of the Soviets housed the
Anti-Religion Museum (I believe they chose it to expose the decadent
trappings of the Orthodox Church). The cathedral is now restored to
its former glory, though I don’t know if it has been consecrated anew.

More walking in the rain brought us back to the hotel, where we were
delighted to find out that our order for tickets to the ballet had
been fulfilled. So, after an hours rest we headed for the
Michaelkovsky Theater, to see Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. We were at
stage level, stage right, in a box, from which we could literally see
the white of their eyes (otherwise not the best seat in the house,
because about a third of the scene was hidden from view by the legs of
the proscenium). The ballet was mesmerizing! The mastery of Russian
dancers is fabulous, and the Queen of the Swans was a study in
fluidity and beauty in motion. We were simply fascinated, and can only
regret that Anna was not able to be with us to see this marvel of
Russian art.

Since Gustav and Christine are leaving for Germany today, I am going
to leave this luxurious hotel today in favor of more simple
accommodations. That means I may not be in e-mail contact again until
next Tuesday.


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Russia - Day 4

Today was a sit down day. It started normally enough, with a breakfast that seemed to drag on because we all came at different times. From there we took a taxi for a very misty ride to Katerinsburg, a baroque palace that grew around the country residence of Peter the Great and Catherine I, was built up to palace proportions by their daughter Elizabeth, and was finally lavishly decorated by her daughter Catherine II. Together with the nearby palace of Alexander, the two structures housed over 80,000 pieces of art. In addition, the palace of Catherine II was famous for its gold-gilded halls and its Amber Room (where every wall was made of a mosaic of amber, lavishly decorated with amber-inlaid tables and wall decorations.

Early in World War II, the Bolchevik curators of the palace stripped the walls and doors, and packed them with every piece of portable art to send to Moscow for safe-keeping. The only room that could not bestripped was the Amber Room, since the mosaics were to delicate, so they covered the walls with a thick layer of plaster. Indeed, the Hitler forces occupied St. Petersburg from 1941 to 1944 (the St. Peterand Paul fortress notwithstanding, as the 19th century fortress was not capable to stop an assault by a 20th century army), and Katerinburg was used as barracks for the occupation forces. The German army never reached Moscow, and after their retreat from Russia the palace curators came back to find it in smoldering ruins. The roof had caved in, the outside of the palace had been heavily damaged by bombarding, and the Amber Room had been stripped of all its amber.

Reconstruction must had been very slow in the post-war years, since the Soviets has little interest in recreating the lavish trappings of the palace (they did repair the building, the façade, and some of the rooms, but in a very sober Soviet-era style. With the dissolution of the Soviet Union there was renewed interest in restoring one of the famous historical monuments of Russia, and in 20 years they have made astonishing progress in the restoration. After much work, two tons of gold, and an unimaginable amount of amber (most of it fake, man-made amber I suspect), the main rooms of the palace are open for visitors to enjoy (of course, after paying a very hefty entry fee). They are indeed breathtaking, although they brought to my mind the ridiculous disparity of wealth distribution between the Romanoffs and the Russian peoples.

After coming out of our visit Gustav claimed he was faint with hunger and thirst, so we had to find a restaurant and sit tight through a trickling of orders for food and drink. Russians must be baffled bythese people who sit at the table for hours, slowly putting in orders for a bite of this, a shot of vodka, a bite of this other thing, aglass of wine, maybe a little dessert, another glass of wine, a bottle of water, a glass of Amaretto, a coffee, another dessert, and so on and so forth. No wonder in Germany they put so much stock on “ein gemuetliches restaurant”!

Finally we peeled ourselves off from the comfort of the restaurant,and Chrissy and I managed to drag the family for a walk through the palace gardens. They are imperial in size and lay out, but drab because of the winter and Soviet neglect. And then we came back to the palace complex, and Gustav decided that he had another glass of wine. I was ready to scream! Two glasses of wine later we finally called for a taxi and got back to town, where my wonderful Chrissy insisted on atour of some of the metro stations. It may not be Moscow, but the metro of St. Pete is also nicely decorated (including Lenin portraits and revolutionary stars from the time the city was renamed Leningrad). Grumble, grumble, we heard from Gustav and Anna, who were making common cause for finding something to eat and drink. Again!

So we are walking through the street, when Gustav spotted a pizzeria with a huge display of wine bottles. “This is it” said he with conviction. “We eat here, and damit basta!” And then the coalition between Gustav and Anna fell apart, because she wanted to have Russian food. Big argument followed, with both parties being stubborn thanmules. Gustav pulled rank over his daughter, but she repaid him byrefusing to eat anything, while at the same time complaining bitterly that she was hungry. Chrissy and I kept out of it, munched on our pizza, and I reflected on the many times in which these two have fought with each other. Not a happy meal.

So we go out, followed by our little dark cloud of bad vibes, looking for a place where Anna could eat something. Nothing would satisfy her,and I thought she was going to go on a hunger strike until she spotted a Mexican Cantina! Yes, right in the middle of St. Pete there is aMexican restaurant, and Anna made a beeline for it. So we sat down todinner for a second time, and started again the ordering game: AMichelada, and then some nachos, and then a strawberry margarita, andthe a glass of red wine (I give you one guess for who ordered it), and then some cactus salad, and then another glass of wine, and then . . .It was exhausting, but at least harmony had returned to our little party, both contestants having gotten their way. Sigh. Indeed“Turismus muss Weh tun”!

Russia - Day 3

Mein Fuss tut Weh! However, as a famous philosopher once said “Turismus muss Weh tun”, and today was the best example of such simple law of nature. Indeed, we spent all day walking inthe halls of one the great museums of the world: The Ermitage.

We arrived shortly before 10:30 am, the opening time, and entertained ourselves trying furry hats hawked by a street vendor (I did buy myself a replica of a Soviet Army furry hat :) in the big esplanade known as Alexander Square. The main museum is housed in the palace known as Winter Palace, to which two large wings have been added (respectively known as the Little Ermitage and the New Ermitage. The whole complex houses the art collection started by Catherine the Great in the early 1800’s. Today the Ermitage is the peer of Le Louvre, ElPrado, and the British Museum in terms of being one of the four great art collections in Europe.
The museum had evolved into an overwhelming accumulation of paintings, displayed three or four high on the walls of the imperial palaces, as shown in old photographs of the rooms.

Nowadays, however, the museum has been modernized under the philosophy that less is more, so walking through its halls is a real treat to the visitor. I was particularly impressed by the sculptures, my favorite pieces being August Rodin’s“The Eternal Spring”, a statue of Moliere as an old man (which masterfully depicts the wit and skepticism of the old philosopher), anEgyptian statue of a woman wearing the thinnest of veils around her body, and many 17 and 18th century reproductions of Greek and Roman statues.

We rejoined as a group in the cafeteria around 1 pm, took a half hour break, and then bravely jumped into the fray to keep visiting the museum.

Among the paintings I particularly enjoyed works by Da Vinci, Rafael, Tizziano, El Greco, Matisse, Monet, and Picasso, as well as The Lady in the Black Hat (I don’t remember the name of the artist, but this piece intrigued me enough that I had to come back and see the paintingat least a couple of times). I really should have bought a souvenir book, because otherwise is hard to remember all the beautiful pieces I saw :(

By 5 pm we were dead and wisely decided to say goodbye to this wonderful museum and go for a well deserved meal. Chrissy’s tourist guide recommended a restaurant specializing in traditional Russian cuisine at 88 Nievsky prospekt. Gustav and Anna wanted to take a taxi, but I found that ridiculous: “Nievsky prospekt is just around the corner. We must walk.” Gustav argued unsuccessfully that number 88 was too far, a notion I poo-pooed. “The street starts here, a couple of blocks and we will be at 88”. Famous last words! Each block had only two to four buildings, of a rather imperial size, so we had to walkabout 20 blocks to get to the restaurant. Needless to say, Anna andGustav were not happy pups.

Dinner was OK, but I am getting the feeling that there is not much to traditional Russian “cuisine”. The borsch (beet soup) and fish soup were tasty, but the “Peasant steak” was a very simple fried pork steak with broccoli (and we all know how I feel about broccoli), and the“steaks” were thin cuts of beef served with French fries. We had a good time joking with the waitresses, who didn’t speak any English but were most helpful and imaginative when we attempted to order our meal by playing charades. They must have had this strange feeling about foreigners, however, who seemed unable to order a full meal in one go.

I was overruled on walking back home, and a short taxi ride brought us home in perfect time for another killer game of Rumme Cap. This time I actually won one of the rounds!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Russia - Day 2

I woke up to the sound of rain on the pitch dark room. Groan! Rain isthe one thing that can make miserable the life of a tourist. I turnedon my iPod and enjoyed the first two chapters of “Twilight” as I turned this way and that inside my warm covers, but at 7 am I gave up, jumped off from bed, took a bath, and went down to breakfast. Alas,the Kobbergers were notable for their absence, and it was not until 9am that I saw signs of life from them. All for the better, because by the time we were ready to go the rain had abated somehow, so bravingthe elements became less of an issue. The friendly concierge gave us a ride in his car (making a little business on the side) to the plaza where a tourist bus starts on a city tour. Chrissy and I did this oncein Paris and really enjoyed it: For a flat fee the bus line runs in aloop through some of the best sights in town. While in transit a recorded narrative tells you interesting tidbits about the city. The best part is that you can get down anywhere you want and then catch the next bus an hour later. So we did that and stopped at a remarkable church (Kremlin style) built at the place one of the czars was assassinated in the early 1800’s. It is called the Church of OurSavior at the Spilled Blood (la Iglesia del Salvador sobre la sangre derramada). Besides its gruesome origins, the church is a fabulous example of the style of Orthodox church with colored “onion” towersand a dazzling display of icons. The icons have been made with tiny mosaics that shimmer with bright golden, blue, red, and a myriad other colors, creating a monumental collection of biblical and evangelical images. Very cool.

We passed through the Hermitage museum (but didn’t get down because wewill visit it tomorrow), the banks of the Neva (accent in the “a”), crossed the bridges, and finally got off at the St. Peter and Paul fortress, built to protect the city against the Swedes, who for a short time in the early 1700’s had occupied this portion of Russia.The main landmark is the cathedral built inside the fortress, with its150 m high gilded spire, but many of the fortress buildings now host aseries of rather interesting museums about the history of the city andthe Romanoff imperial dynasty. The dynasty came to an end with theBolchevic revolution and the execution of czar Nicholas II and his family (including princess Anastasia). By that time we were gettingpretty tired, so we made a nurturing stop in a small café within the fortress, where for little money we had a wonderful meal (for me itwas a herring and beet salad, beef tongue, rice, and a pork chop baked in cream, everything generously irrigated with a dark beer).

The tour ended with a drive down Nevsky prospect, the main shopping street of St. Pete. Dusk was setting in as we went into a giant“market”, of the type we were told are present in every Russian city. It is a massive two-story building, not unlike the mercados of Mexico,but with the difference that this particular one has evolved into high end boutiques. In other words, it is like this giant department store, where each small section is a different vendor. Like in Mexico, all watch shops (or fabric, or hats) are clustered together, so the shopper can do comparison shopping without having to walk all around the market. Pretty cool!

When we got out it was night already, and Nevsky prospect was ablaze with light. Shops, churches, restaurants, and commercial buildings are brightly illuminated, inviting the innocent to spend their rubles in all possible ways. We managed to fend off temptation, jumped in the metro, and headed back home. A short walk, and a brief shopping spree in a small supermarket, and we were comfortable back at home, ready to spend an evening drinking white wine and playing Rumme Cap (a newversion of Gin Rummy). It was a good day!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Russia - Day 1

Wow, it is dark outside! I ended sleeping in, until 7 am, because the“day” outside was black. Not until 8 am did some light filter in, as Iwas having breakfast. Given that it is Sunday I decided to go to thezoo, figuring out that I would be able to see Russian families going for a stroll. I was ready to take off, when I remembered to ask the receptionist if she had heard anything from the Kobbergers. “Oh, yes.They came in at midnight.” Excellent! So I called Gustav up in hisroom, woke him up, and we arranged to meet in an hour or so.
So there I go toward the zoo, walking quickly. Unfortunately I underestimated the distance, so it took me nearly an hour to get there. Nice walk, though, with the company of early risers walking their dogs, and great looks at the canals. St. Pete is built where theNeva River meets the Baltic Sea, and there are canals everywhere (a little like Amsterdam, although Rotterdam would be a better comparison).
I got to the zoo just as they were opening, so I didn’t get to see alot of people. Clearly a visit to the zoo is reserved for later in theday. I enjoyed myself quite a bit, however, looking at European and Asian animals. The zoo, like the rest of the city is being renovated from its Soviet era neglect.
On the way back I realized that my time was running short, and my left foot was hurting, so I jumped in a tram that appeared to be heading inthe right direction. I had to negotiate buying a ticket from the ticket man, who after the transaction asked me where I was from (Ithink that was what he asked). I told him I was Mexican, and he mulled about it for a moment and then broke a big smile and asked me where was my big hat. I told him I was traveling incognito as the Russian Anatoli, and pointed to my fur cap. He though about it for a moment and then made a joke about the Russian Mexicans at which we both laughed. I have has my first conversation! My new friend tried to explain to me where we were going, I realized I was going the wrong way, and got of the tram with the sympathy of both my fellow passengers and the ticket man, who wished me good luck by rising his closed fist (something like signaling “go get ‘em, tiger!).

Fortunately for me I spotted a metro station, and dove into its deep interior to take a short ride to the center of the city. The metro in both St. Pete and Moscow runs really, really deep, so after I negotiated buying my 10-ride pass I took the longest escalator down. Then confusion set in, because the instructions on what train goes where are almost impossible to decipher (they don’t use symbols forthe stations, so I had to decipher the Cyrillic alphabet in the best way I could). Finally, I decided to gamble, thinking that the worst that could happen was that I would have to backtrack. This time I guessed right, however, and in a few minutes I was in downtown, and from there a short walk under a hesitant sun brought me back to the hotel around noon. Alas, I had been too late, and the Kobbergers were already gone for a midday stroll.

I used the opportunity to take a nap, so I was ready to party when Gustav called me around 2 pm. We met in the bar (as is usual with us), and it was with great happiness that I said hello to my dear friends Christine, Gustav, and their 19 year old daughter Anna. After acopious libation and a cheese platter we decided to make use of this broken day by spending the afternoon in the Zoological Museum, famous for its collection of mummified Ice Age mammals (mammoths, horses, andrhinos). It is a grand, old-style collection, but by the time we got out, at 6 pm, the sun was long gone, and the night was well settled in.

From there we went to a fabulous meal in a ship moored along the banks of the Neva. I had the Russian soup “borsch” (a beet soup) and rabbitragu; Chrissy had caviar and Solyanka soup: Gustav had chicken Kiev,and Anna had beef Strogonoff. As you can see we were being typical tourists :)

After dinner we walked for a while along the banks of the Neva, enjoying the lights, and eventually came back home to a fierce game of triomino (a new version of domino played with triangular pieces). I must add here that the Kobbergers enjoy games, so it is an oldtradition among us to play something every evening while we deplete Gustav’s stock of Bordeaux wines.
And so ended the first day.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Dobreyden from Russia

I am here! It is so exciting!! OK, so things started not so wellbecause after waiting for hours in Frankfurt I finally had to make itto the boarding gate. I waited until the last minute for boarding andI never saw Chrissy and Gustav, so I assume they missed the flight.

Anyway, after a 2 hour flight I got to St. Petersburg without problems, and found that everybody at the airport speaks English. Nice. The was a Bankautomat after you go through costums, so I got out 10,000 rubles (about $350) and got ready to step into the world.

I was thinking on taking the bus and then the metro, but it wasalready pitch dark when I finally came out of the terminal, and it wasraining. So, I took an airport taxi for 700 rubles (about 25 dollars).Alas, the driver didn't speak English, so I practiced my Russian (whatlittle I have) and realized that this is going to be tougher than Ithought. The 20 km ride to the city was wet and a bit dark, as it goesthrough the industrial part of the city. The temperature was fine(about 45 degree Farenheit), but there was light rain.

I got to Alexander Haus, which is a proud member of the Small LuxuryHotels group. Indeed, Gustav seems to have found the most expensive hotel in all of St. Petersburg! The people are real nice, however, soI am just going to take it like a man and wallow in luxury :)

After I got settled (all of 2 minutes) I decided to go for a littlewalk. The rain had stopped, and my new orange jacket was toasty warmso I did enjoy myself quite a bit. The streets are a bit dark, and thewet weather cuts on the evening stroll, but I saw plenty of olderpeople walking their dogs, families with kids walking through thepark, and quite a few young people hurrying to do the days shoppingbefore heading for home. The fashion amongst young women is tall,leggy, and skinny. Add to that super tight pants, boots with styletto heels, a trendy jacket, and a funky "cap", and you have the perfect image of what is trendy in St. Pete these days. The "caps" remind meof the tight "helmets" that the flappers wore in the 1920's, but theyhave the advantage of covering the ears from the chilling wind.

I stopped at a little 24-hour supermarket, where I bought "pivo"(beer), some herring in a cream sauce, bread, and clothes detergent. Oh, I also bought a pear, but I didn't know I had to weigh it, so thevery patient cashier had to call a colleague to do it for me. These silly foreigners!

After my transaction I came back to the hotel, and I am ready to havea snack, wash clothes, and then watch a B-movie in Russian while I have my supper.
All is well in the eastern front!