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Thursday, August 29, 2013

Riding the "ъ" Bus

Several people suggested that I take a bus around the "Golden Ring Road" of Moscow to become acquainted with how the bus system works and how the city is laid out.  This turned out to be a great suggestion, possibly because of the amount of time I have looked at the map reviewing where I went.
Rather than being laid out in a grid fashion, Moscow has the old city centre, consisting of Red Square and the Kremlin, with a road running in a circle around it.  Called the "Boulevard Ring" it has two lanes running each direction and gardens in the medians.  The next ring out is called the "Garden Ring" which has four lanes of traffic each direction and no boulevards.  It was originally built in 1591 as a line of defense around the city.  1683-1718 the road indicated a customs border for those entering into the city to pay their taxes.  Markets began springing up around the outside of the ring as a way to evade taxes with the last of these markets being closed in the 1970's.  There are two more ring roads around Moscow, but  this is the road we were going to follow.
The Garden Ring is also referred to as the "ъ" ring, thus the name of the city bus we were looking for.  Moscow has a wonderful public transportation system in place.  The Metros or subways are timely and can get you almost anywhere.  The same ticket works on both the Metro and the busses.  Another great thing about the transportation tickets is that they are interchangeable and can be used for more than one person.  I bought a 20 ride ticket at the Metro station and just swipe it for each kid as they go through the turnstile to get into the Metro.  I used this same ticket for my bus ride.
I suggested this outing to a new friend so we left the embassy, walked a block to the main road and got on a bus for our 16 km ride right outside the American consulate.  Soon we arrived at Gorky park where we wanted to get out and explore a bit.  Walking on an overcast, cool day took us past gardens of flowers past their prime, summer amusement rides weary from the long hours and the almost empty wooden deck along the river that thrives with sun bathers on long summer days.  We stopped to watch three tap dancers as they practiced on the hollow sounding deck.  
Back on the bus a few stops later three gypsy women got on.  I actually don't know if they were official gypsies or from anther Baltic region, but to me they fit every description I have read of a traditional gypsy.  The boarded the bus and as one woman created commotion with the driver, the other two women effortlessly slipped under the turn-style.  They had clearly become experts in riding for free.  The last woman swiped her card and the bus took off.  They were dressed in long black velvet peasant style skirts with ribbon between each layer of gathered fabric.  Jet black hair was piled on their heads covered in silken scarves tied in a mysterious, intricate fashion.  I found them striking and mesmerizing not because of their beauty but because of an unseen force that they carried with them.
We reached a bit of a snafu when half way through our trip the bus stopped and dumped us all off.  As confused as the rest of the passengers we followed to another bus preparing to leave.  After a few minutes the new, bewildered looking driver let us on.  Several people tried to say something but he was making them all pay.  Not wanting to cause any ripples it seemed worth it to me to re-pay the $1.00 fare.  Another woman was not to be cheated and talked the driver into letting her through another door.  
We stood the entire ride so we could better see out the windows.  Large Stalin architecture covers the city.  Several buildings stood out but I am not oriented enough yet to know what they are.  We soon found ourselves back where we had started, in front of the American consulate.  

Monday, August 26, 2013

Settling In

We landed in Moscow 1 1/2 weeks ago and so my mind has been soaking up the new atmosphere that we are now living in.  I haven't been out sight seeing yet but rather just settling into how life will be for the next two years.  So here's a little run-down on what I've been up to.
Sleep - Moscow is an 8 hour time difference from Michigan so the fuzzy-head feeling of travel is just now wearing off and we (well not Elena) are able to get out of bed without hitting the snooze button 10 times.  I did sneak in a nap yesterday!
School - We arrived on Thursday night and hit the ground running.  New student orientation was on Saturday and the open house on Monday.  The girls started school bright and early Tuesday morning.  We are all thankful the bus comes an hour later in the morning than it did in Bogota!  They were a bit overwhelmed by the size of the school (3 times bigger than their last school) and lack of warmth and friendliness they had at the old school, but I'm guessing in about a month they will be very settled in and have forgotten what it was like the first week here!
Suitcases -  Our suitcases, including the door-checked carryons did not arrive when we did, nor the next day nor the next.  If fact if took 8 days for us to receive our luggage.   We knew the luggage had made it to Moscow by the third day, but the airport seemed very reluctant to hand it over.  So this meant that every night we dropped our one set of clothes into the washing machine so we could wear them again the next day.  I was so thankful for the generosity of other teens on the compound who made sure my girls had a variety of outfits to choose from.  When the suitcases did arrive there was a broken jar of cherry pie filling in it.  That wouldn't have been so bad but because the suitcases sat, the moisture had spread leaving many clothes moldy.  So I spent a lot of time soaking, scrubbing and bleaching.
UAB - Our airfreight actually arrived before our luggage did.  For most of us this was wonderful because clothes were packed inside.  Elena had outgrown every stitch of clothing she owned in Bogota, so she was still stuck with nothing.  One of the 4 boxes had gotten wet on the outside so you guessed it, everything was moldy.  Some of these things went straight into the trash and other things were given many hours of soaking, scrubbing and bleaching.  I'm really hoping that no water gets into our two shipments still to come!
Grocery shopping -  We have to eat so I have braved the city and begun to figure out what it will look like to shop here.  I've already placed an order on Amazon for a grandma cart to pull back and forth because there is no "domocilio" (delivery) or taxis to load everything into here.  I have to get my stuff home on my own.  I'll blog more about shopping later.
Social - Living on the compound is great.  If the CLO office has a back-to-school coffee I could pretty much show up in my jammies.  Both weekends have found us on the green in front of the apartments enjoying dinner with lots of other families.  
the Metro - Saturday was pretty much dictated by getting Elena to and from her new soccer club.  Club is a very weak term for the organized scrimmages but a perfect way for her to keep her foot on the ball and gain more confidence.  To get to the fields meant walking to the Metro, transferring lines and walking to the field.  This took a bit of planning and going over the map with my neighbor.  All went fairly well.  This morning I attempted the Metro again on my own and managed to make it to a PTO coffee.  I was only 30 minutes late.  I'm going to love the easy and consistent transportation around here.

So all in all I'm beginning to make my way around this city and new life.  I haven't had my camera out yet.  That's right, not one picture which is so unusual for me, but within a week or so I'm sure I'll be snapping pictures all the time and I can't wait to share them with you!

- Kris

Saturday, August 17, 2013

First Impressions of Russia

The wheels touched down on the tarmac and the plane burst into applause.  The girls and I looked at each other and started to laugh.  "Welcome to Russia" seemed to be the greeting.  Weary we made our way smoothly through immigration then stood waiting at the luggage belt.  We waited and waited until all the luggage had been claimed.  We stared at the empty belt with our shoulders drooping a bit realizing our luggage had not made the same journey we had.
The woman at the lost luggage counter was nice.  Her heavy accent caused me to look at the girls frequently hoping they had caught a word I had not.  She handed over reams of paper for me to fill out.  Each time I made a small mistake she grabbed the paper away sighing "no good, no good" and had me start over.  Perfection was a must.  She ask that I list and claim a value for everything in the 6 suitcases and 3 carry-ons that had been door checked back in Grand Rapids.  I really had no idea.  The girls and I settled in on the task starting with the memorable items.  "1 flute, 1 camera, 6 maple syrup, underwear - "what do you think girls, 30 pairs?" - t-shirts possibly 20?
She asked the girls to wait with her while I walked the papers over to customs.  This seemed logical.  I would be happy to clear my list of things so that as soon as the suitcases arrived they could be delivered.  The gentleman was nice.  I slid the papers across the desk and he began copying.  New papers with my lists and luggage tag numbers added to the stack I had given him.  He paused and asked a question to clarify an item then began copying again.
Eventually the red stamp came out.  Boom, boom, boom.  Three stamps carefully placed on each page. Papers were placed in different piles then he handed me the remaining stack.  I trudged with my papers over to the original desk where the girls were waiting.  The woman took the papers, inspected them then began ordering them into more piles.  She handed me a single paper.  "This is your copy."  A phone number was circled and a tracking number underlined.
We walked out the exit and into Chad's arms.  It took him awhile to realized we had no luggage.
It's been three nights now.  Each evening we change into Chad's boxers and t-shirts.  I drop our clothes in the washing machine so they will be clean the next morning.  A new friend spent a fair amount of time on the phone for us today.  Apparently the suitcases have made it to Moscow, they just seem to be a bit reluctant to hand them over.  A bag of clothes sits by the door.  Some new friends to the girls raided their closet for "teen" clothes.  A fresh look in the morning will be a welcome site!

- Kris