Sunday, June 24, 2012

Adjusting to life in Moscow

Someone asked me the other day how we had dealt with the culture shock. I responded that we had done well. A lot of things that are different don't really matter. We are guests in their country and we need to be the ones to adjust.
We are trying to expose ourselves to the good things Russia has to offer. After all, it's not like we are likely to come back to Russia. We take advantage of the sight-seeing opportunities we have and foods to experience.
As I write this, I am listening with delight to church bells from the Orthodox Church we visited a few weeks ago and can see clearly from our window. What a heavenly sound!
Many things are smaller:
Washing machines and the detergent boxes. You only need 1/8 cup for the machines.
Cereal boxes. Each box has about 4 servings (but you pay as much as you would in the States)
The refridgerators in the apartments and the freezer section is a lot smaller. We have learned to 
   adjust accordingly.
Paper napkins are tiny. (and flimsy). I choose to use papertowels which are about the size of a
    paper napkin and sturdier.
Aluminum foil is also flimsier.
The oven is small. I can fit in an 9 X 13 pan, or a smaller muffin tin. BUT I can't use the oven
       when the washing machine is on because it trips the circuit breaker. If we are able to find a turkey for Thanksgiving, about 7 lbs will be the limit.
Servings in a restaurant are much smaller than in the States (which is a good thing).. The servings are adequate for one person.

Some things are bigger:
Unhappily, their flies are very large. :o(
There is a black bee here the size of a bumble bee and aggressive. Not happy about that either.


We are trying different Russian foods.
K'vass is a non-alcoholic  drink made of dark rye bread. It is pretty bad. We tried it and it was served warm (yuk) and tasted like beer. (double yuk). We were encouraged to try it again at a stand where it was served cold. Better but still yuk.
Russian cookie made in Tula, Russia. It is gingerbready, baked in shape of a matroushka doll (nesting doll) and filled with yablahka (apples). Quite yummy.

Less salt and sugar and little spiciness is one way to describe traditional Russian foods. If you were to buy a Snickers bar over here,(which they do have)and also M and M's, chances are you wouldn't like it because there is less sugar in it. In baking, little salt is used (which is a good thing I guess, except that the food tends to be bland). I don't think they know what the word spicy means, even though they do use lots of fresh herbs and "non-spicy" spices. Cinnamon is very popular here. Russians like their drinks served warm; water or soda or juice. (I don't know about the liquor).

We really enjoy the potato dumplings (similar to pierogis). Cherry-filled dumplings (like a pierogi)  topped with a light cherry sauce is popular and is considered a main dish. Dave had a milkshake and it was more like a smoothie. Very light on the sugar (a good thing) and small, served in a milk glass.
Potatoes are a big thing in Russia and are served fried with onions and peppers. They are very much into all kinds of meats and salmon is a popular fish.

One food we have seen at the buffet and have been warned about is holladeeyets. MEAT JELLO.  The top looks like murky jello w/ a suspicious layer of brown on the bottom. One of our missionaries said that he tasted it and it came right back up. A Russian native told us that he would eat the holladeeyets his grandma made, but wasn't real happy about it. I think that is something we will forgo. Isn't it lucky for us that we don't generally eat meat? ^^

Things you don't find here are cake mixes, canned soup and spaghetti sauce. Peanut butter and cornstarch are hard to find and I miss canned pumpkin and almond or rice or soy milk. I pretty much hate the shelf-stable milk but don't have a lot of choice there if I want a bowl of cereal or to make pudding.

Their jams and juice are wonderful. The bread at the bakery is yummy and very reasonable pried at about $1 a loaf.

Certain foods can be found in abundance. Buckwheat, millet, quinoa, rice. Buckwheat is a biggie. i have made a delicious buckwheat loaf (in a meatloaf pan) which is really yummy. It makes a great cereal and I am still experimenting with it.

Some things are just different:

It truly is a different world here. You take a couple from a small New England town and plop them in the middle of the largest city in the worl (15 million people) and there is definitely some things to adjust to.
Sirens, explosions, and firecrackers at all hours. Fortunately I haven't heard gunshots. BUT also we hear the sounds of children laughing and the church bells ringing.
Even though we live in an older section of Mitina it is still a safe area.
Drunkeness is very visible. Staggering, falling-down drunkeness. It's not uncommon for someone to take a swig or two from a vodka bottle as he sits on the bus or in the metro. It's not uncommon to see vodka bottles left where the owner finished them; the sidewalk or thrown into the grass.

There is much more smoking here as well starting with the very young. No wonder the life span for a man here is only 57.

And yet.........
because the large majority of the people who live in the city or surrounding cities live in apartments and do not have cars, the bus or metro or your two feet are the forms of transportation. We see many old women (babushkas) walking slowly along, sometimes with the aid of a cane, on their own power to get from here to there. You don't see as many old men.

Kamikaze pilots:

We live on Piatnisky Highway, a four lane highway that the Russians easily turn into 6.  There are too many cars for the roads and highways. They drive like kamikaze pilots! There is no enforced rules of the road. Some of the cars speed excessively, they appear to be offensive drivers not defensive. It is every car, truck or bus for themselves. And as for pedestrians, BE CAREFUL.
We have had experience with VERY rude, dangerous drivers (when we were in a car) who forced us off the road and polite drivers who stopped to let us cross safely.


The LONG days lasting from about 4:30 am - 10:30 pm ...Russian children are still outside playing when we retire. I guess they need to play outside as long as they can, because come winter it won't be as much of an option. Since we haven't lived here during a winter yet, we will report on that later. Not looking forward to those short days and bitter cold though. :0(


Dogs are EVERYWHERE, both strays and family pets. We've seen a handfull of cats and lots of birds. We have forest behind us and a lot of empty land on our way to the office. We have not seen as much as one squirrel anywhere. I am wondering if the dogs eat them? It's strange.

Some things are the same:

Russia appears to be trying to  "Americanize" in some ways. McDonalds, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Burger King are very popular.


We are loving our experience here. One thing we have become aware of is our need for better communication. Dave is starting to take Russian lessons from Galia on Tuesday for 1 1/2 hours. She will come to the office. I have committed to my own personal Russian language study using the tools that Carson, our tutor from the MTC taught me.

I want to be able to communicate with the old lady I sit next to on the bus. I want to learn more about my three new "friends" who work at the productee and the fruit and vegetable stand. I want to understand the members at church (to  degree anyway) Russian is a hard language to understand, but we are going to try to improve our communication skills (which can only get better).


We feel blessed to have become good friends with some very special people in the office. We have dinner together every other week, either at one of our homes, or we take turns choosing a restaurant. We love having the mission office elders in our home a couple of times a month. We love our sight-seeing trips with our friends and have a couple exciting trips lined up. One to see Russian dancers, visit some museums and more sites in this beautiful ancient city.

We feel blessed to be able to stay in touch with you online. I love seeing mom and Shauna and other friends on skype and talking to Dave's mom and Mike and Kev by phone. I love hearing from you on FB or email.


Friday, June 15, 2012

Riga Latvia

Because of a visa snafu, Dave and I were required to leave the country on the 14th and come back on the 15th. So, it looks like we are going to enjoy a day in Riga Latvia after all! (I was in error when I said the passport dates were wrong. It is the visa that is issued by Russia that was wrong).

After much work on the part of our office elders, tickets for the flights and reservations for the hotel were made, and our driver to and from the airport lined up.

Our driver Vasily dropped us off at the airport (again) and we took the hour and a half flight back to Riga (again). We arrived in Riga in the early afternoon.  After lunching at TGI Fridays (again) at the airport and changing rubles to lats (Latvian money), we took a taxi to the Raddison Blu Hotel. Our driver was very amiable.  One lat is the equivalent of $1.80 American money. Exchange rate varies.

Our waitress, Toosha, (nick name for Natalie in Latvian) was dressed in Latvian dress (she reminded us of Shirley Temple when she played Heidi), was so helpful and provided us a map and book of things to see in Riga.

There is a different "feel" in Latvia from Russia. People are generally friendlier and many speak English which is a big plus! Riga Airport is on the small side and is very nice and easy to get around.

The hotel we stayed at is LOVELY. After unpacking (that took a couple of minutes) and a short rest we took off on foot for Old Town which is across the river from the hotel. Old Town is where Medieval Riga was located. WOW.

It was about a 15 minute walk over a bridge into Old Town. The weather couldn't have been more beautiful! It was 70 degrees, dry and there was a light breeze. This is the Misisipi Paddleboat we saw from the bridge.

Riga Latvia is steeped in medieval history. We walked our feet off! and we enjoyed every minute of it. :o).  There is definitely a European flavor to this lovely country. There was a man in the Square playing beautiful saxophone music. Tourist groups and individuals from all over the world walked around enjoying the architecture and the narrow cobblestone streets.
                                  This was taken inside one of the old churches in Old Town

Latvian vendors were selling their beautiful wares and it was fun poking around and enjoying what these talented people had made. There were lovely mittens and socks handmade from lambs wool. Amber is a stone that is used often in making jewelry and knick knacks. I picked up a cute turtle w/ an amber shell. I love turtles and have a small collection back in the States. This little guy will make a great addition! The mittens I got are also very unique and beautiful in a flower pattern. They are almost too pretty to wear! I also added on to my stamp collection with a Latvian stamp.

Old Town is probably around a square mile. But there is so much to see, one can spend hours there as we did, immersing ourselves in the history and beautiful cathedrals to be found there.

St. Peter's Church is one of the best examples of Gothic architecture in the Baltics. It was built before 1209. Just imagine! Walking around and seeing buildings that were around since the 11th century. The church tower, which has an observation platform where one can enjoy an eagle's eye view of Riga, was burned and rebuilt many times. It was meant to be the main church in town. It is the oldest stone building in Riga.

This is the Cat House. Note the cat on the roof from whence the name comes from.

This is Dome Cathedral. It is the largest cathedral in the Baltics and was founded by Latvia's Teutonic conquerors in the beginning of the 13th century under bishop Albert. The famous organ of Dome Cathedral was made in 1884. It is one of the biggest organs in the world comprised of 6718 pipes.

Riga Castle was built around 1209 by the Order of the Sword Brothers. It was destroyed in the civil war and rebuilt for the Livonian Order. It is now used as a hotel.

The Swedish Gate was added to the city's old fortification wall in 1698 to celebrate Scandinavian occupation of Riga. At the time, the city's executioner resided in the apartment above the gate. He was an exeedingly romantic and considerate fellow, he placed a red rose in his window the night before a good execution, duly notifying the sick and curious public of the pending sordid act. Very thoughtful, eh?

The most stunning of the architectures (at least to Dave and I) is this building called the House of Blackheads. Blackheads was an organization of unmarried foreign merchants existing in several Baltic towns. It was first mentioned in 1334. Sadly, it was destroyed in 1941 during World War 11  and rebuilt in 2001 for Riga's 800th anniversary.

This statue greets you when coming into Old Town. We like to think that this represents The Three Brothers. The Three Brothers are the best examples of residential buildings in medieval Riga. The "eldest brother" was built in the 15th century and is the oldest stone dwelling in Riga. The other two were built in the 17th and 18th centuries. Sadly, we were not able to get a good photo of these three  houses that were "attatched" to each other, but shows the different architecture.

This building is called Stone Head, for the many stone head faces on the front of the building.

We enjoyed walking along the narrow cobblestone streets. There are businesses and restaurants on the street level and apartments up above. It is quaint and beautiful.

We enjoyed  a delicious Latvian meal in an outdoor cafe in Old Town. Dave had a salmon dish with potatoes and a special Latvian sauce  and Barb had a white fish with potatoes and a special spicy sauce. They were both delicious and we are sure the first time we have had fish from the Baltic Sea!
We capped off the day with a little Latvian pastry. There were many to choose from.  We each chose one to bring back to the hotel and enjoy (which we did!)

This morning we enjoyed the nicest breakfast buffet that we have ever had (REALLY). It was huge and had an international flavor. There was something there for everyone! Sausage, scrambeled eggs, all kinds of fruits, museli, nuts, potatoes, sushi, vegetables, (cukes, olives, etc.) fish, all kinds of homemade pastries and delicious breads and the most wonderful homemade jams. DELIGHTFUL.

We arrived at the airport without incident (even though our taxi driver was about as personable as an old shoe and smelled just as bad). We returned to Moscow a
n hour late due to inclement weather. There were severe storms that delayed our landing by close to an hour. We experienced severe air turbulence. :o(    .

THIS TIME, however, we are happy to report that we proceeded through passport control in Moscow without incident. (However the woman who was behind the counter was on the cranky side). Once again, we met with heavy Moscow traffic and arrived back at our apartment after an hours' drive which would normally have taken half that. Thank heavens for Alexander! We so appreciate him!

WE HAD A WONDERFUL TIME IN RIGA, LATVIA. Until we meet again, dos vidonya.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A Visa Trip Gone Bad?

One thing that we have to do as missionaries in Russia is leave the country every 90 days to renew our visas. It is very expensive for the Church, but must be done for the time being. It is not something I have been looking forward to. Anyone who knows me well knows I do not especially look forward to new experiences like this. It is totally out of my comfort zone. (then what the heck am I doing in Russia you might ask?) Good question. :o)

Arrangements were made for us by our wonderful office elders who explained everything in detail and said it is a breeze. Well, it turned out to be more like a mini-tornado instead.

We left this morning with our driver Vasily for the Moscow Airport, got through passport check and security check just fine. It was a nice flight to Riga, Latvia and we entered their country without incident. We left a couple of hours later, a little sad because we really wanted to look around this beautiful ancient city. The flight back to Moscow was also pleasant until...........

We didn't make it through the passport security!  The date on the passport was wrong. We were asked to sit down and wait.....and wait.....and wait some more. Our poor driver and the office elders who had come to get us at the airport were playing a waiting game of their own.

Through cell phone communication we were given a suggestion which worked and we were able to FINALLY get through and meet up w/ Alexander, the elders, and go home. (after more than an hour)
Wait, did I say home? No, we could not go home. We had to go to the mission office and get a few things taken care of that were most timely. It appeared that we had to turn around and go BACK to Latvia TOMORROW.

Our office elder (in charge of visas and trips) had to make new reservations for us to return BUT there was a catch this time. We could not come back into the country until Friday. Which means reservations for a hotel as well.

OH NO! That means that we have a day to sight see in beautiful Riga, Latvia. It's going about it the hard way, but nonetheless, we will take advantage of this opportunity. The alternative would be to not have a valid passport for at least 3 months. Not good. So, off to Riga we go tomorrow for an unplanned mini-vacation.

We will be sure to post lots of pictures and interesting facts this weekend.

On a more somber note however, as we were sitting in the airport waiting I had the most helpless feeling. We were in a foreign land and no one around us could speak English. I knew that we would ultimately be fine and I felt safe with Dave and we do have connections to help and protect us, but it just wasn't fun at all. So, now what do we do? We repeat our trip tomorrow, but hopefully it will end on a much happier note.


I have mentioned how much we love work in the office and getting to know our young missionaries. We have learned some of their stories. The sacrifice they make to serve is great.

One Russian native Elder L., is very dear to my heart. What a fine young man he is. He is always so happy to help me understand something in Russian, to translate for me or help me with train reservations (his specialty and only for our Russian missionaries). I recently learned that he hasn't seen his mother in 4 years. She wasn't happy about him joining the Church and less than happy when he chose to leave medical school for almost 3 years to serve a mission. He will be reunited with her mom in a couple of weeks' time and then back to medical school to become a fine psychiatrist. I hope she realizes what a gem she has in this wonderful son of hers.

Another missionary shared that he remembered being very small and his mother bundling him and his little sister up well and taking them out in frigid weather to a store where they were promised bread. Another missionary remembers standing in long lines to receive whatever it was being handed out. Sometimes a piece of cheese, or something else.

One young woman who has served for almost 18 months left her alcoholic mother and sister whom she was supporting. I wonder what she has to look forward to when she returns home in a few month's time?

Today I was thrilled to see Elder M, He was Elder L's companion and I didn't think I'd ever see him again because he was being transferred to Kakisthan. It was great to see his smiling face one more time before he leaves for this little country to serve out the rest of his mission in a country where the missionaries are not welcomed with open arms.

Well, another adventure awaits us tomorrow. We will post in a few days and share our experiences in the beautiful country of Latvia. Until then, dos vidonya.