Friday, June 24, 2005


The credit cards are kind of a pain to deal with. Apparently there is massive fraud in the region currently tho, and the card companies are even more nervous because of the continued revealings of massive losses of account details.

I'm finally feeling less than strung-out. The foodhere is actually quite good. A surprising amount of variety in the Russian cuisine. Pastries are extremely common, mostly stuffed. For stuffing there is all sorts of stuff - cabbage, meats, sausages, fruit fillings, cheese, just about anything you can think of.
Did you read my journal post about the cafeteria food? Yesterday they had two main dishes at the cafeteria: stuffed green peppers, and veal tongue. LOL. I had the peppers - quite like what we are used to when we get stuffed peppers at home. They offer boiled white rice, and a variety of potatoes as a side. The cafeteria also has boiled split barley as a side with every meal. Plain rolls are uncommon. Replacing them is a thinly sliced heavy bread very much like what we are used to as bread, but heavy and dense. Not bad heavy, just different. It's like an American loaf condensed into a quarter the size. But otherwise, white, rye, or pumpernickle - all the same. Prices are reasonable on food and wine. Moldovan wine is priced a bit like 2-buck chuck.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

My bags are here!

Yes, yesterday morning my bags caught up with me! Clean underwear and shirts! Ha!

I also used the subway for the first time - learning enough Russian writing to recognize words will be essential to finding my way about. The rain has stopped. The Kremlin rings real bells to mark the hours in the morning. And there is much more to talk about. -- Later.


Wednesday, June 22, 2005


Tuesday, June 21, 2005 11:58:24 PM
What a trip. Bumped flights, irregular procedures, lost luggage. And the language difference. Vive le difference - with major tongue in cheek. But I should not complain too much. So far many people speak at least some English, and I still speak no Russian. I am in their country, and I am getting better reception - by far - than would a visitor to the US who didn't speak English.
In Moscow it has been raining, and the Muscovites are commiserating that I have been unlucky - it does not normally rain at this time of year. Regardless, I am not bothered, as it keeps the temperature cool and pleasant. Our latitude is quite far north, so the nights are very short. The rain, I am sure, also cleanses the air, and I suspect that the pollution here is quite bad. Cars are not as prevalent in the city as say Mexico City, Rio, or Caracas. I think the economy here still prevents a lot of automobile ownership or usage. Still, rush hour is bad enough, and when we are driving down the street I smell the auto fumes in the air even in the middle of the night.
Signs of economic prosperity and growth are everywhere here. New building construction, new road maintenance, new automobile and boat dealers. The shops are well stocked with a wide variety of goods, and there are 24 hour shops open. New billboards and street advertisements are everywhere. They are in many places you would not find them commonly in the US, but this is Moscow - perhaps a comparison would be better made to Manhatten than elsewhere. As a matter of fact, the major roads that my hotel, and the office, are on, remind me of nothing so much as Broadway in New York. There are many many lanes and the traffic is nuts, with drivers crossing several lanes frequently to make a destination turn.
Drivers here follow the central/south American driving school more than the American or British. You drive where there is space, with the occasional disregard for the rules of the lane lines, etc. Pedestrians have a certain right to the right of way, but they must in reality believe that they have nothing of the sort. It is much safer, and the driver may easily disregard any rights the pedestrian has. Or, perhaps the driver is paying attention to the traffic coming in on his left, who knows. Better to run and dodge than to be flat meat.
Food: the food so far is pleasantly surprising and quite good. I have seen so far lots of fish, and it is cooked attractively. At lunch in the cafeteria I see cold fish salad with tomato sauce and rice - not a good description but a very pleasant dish. Fish medallions for a main lunch course, fish soup with potatoes slivers. A lovely soup - at first I think it is a chicken soup, clear and inviting. After eating it though, I think it must be a fish stock. There is a light flavor of fish - not strong or overpowering, but light and pleasant. In the evening I leave the hotel to find a 24 hour store, and they stock smoked fish and French table wines. The smoked fish is quite marvelous, although I haven't the faintest idea what it might be. Since it had a leathery skin, with probably large scales, perhaps something similar to a carp, or perhaps a sturgeon. Who knows? It was good. Dannon yogurt is on the shelves too - but they do not have plain yogurt, it all has flavoring. Anyway, yogurt and some thinly sliced rye bread served with the fish as my dinner. This all costs me - with bottled water - about $10, I add a bottle of French Merlot, one step above a table wine, for another $12. I top this with Cookie Crumble Smush from home as my dessert.
So far I have seen: fewer smokers than I have feared, but still plenty. An open and freewheeling economy - in some ways less restricted than in the US. The food is better than I expected, and better than British food used to be. Now, please, lest anyone take offense, I am comparing this to British food as it once was, and now how it is now. But once, and not even that long ago, it was bland and poor, focusing on fats, meat pies, ad nauseum for variety and taste. Not my way to go. It was, at my last visit, often not that way, although traces of that eating pattern were still evident. So here I have variety, with rice, beans, many breads (including stuffed pastries with meat), not too much sugar ( a la USA), meats, fish, and cheeses. I am sure there is more, but this is what I can see. Now, street vendors in Dublin and London had a wider variety of continental European fruits and vegetables available when I was last there, but not by so much, and I have not seen many places here yet.

Oh yes, and my electrical adapters all work, so I am set there.

But off to bed for me. Good night.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Oh, man, more of what happens.

Monday, June 20, 2005 6:11:02 PM
The clock time is currently Moscow time - GMT + 4. Sometime after dawn we overflew Ireland and England. I didn't get to see much. I was the last seat on the airplane - and it wasn't a window. My window side rowmate was sleeping and the shades were down, so I didn't disturb him. When we rolled the shades up, about 8 AM local, we were a little over an hour out from Paris. And, we were very soon over the fields and farms of France - completely new land. Ah, gee, ma, it looks just like it does back home. When we get to the airport - Charles DeGaulle, I feel something of the same emotion - it looks just like the news pictures. Of course, this is in part because this trip has been very tiring - I swear everything that can go wrong has, short of an actual crash. Knock on wood when I say that - we are still in the air heading to Moscow. So let me catalog our incidents to date: Inquired what could be done to make visa happen sooner, told all we needed was HIV test. Got HIV test done early. Doctor didn't receive the fax he was supposed to. Nobody told me until I inquired. Requested resend. Got HIV test - sent visa app out. Visa received, but now I am told we need med results too before going over. All pre-reqs rec'v'd, and all systems go. Request and receive res for Thursday. Get our butts up and to airport at ETD -1.25. When I get to counter, the agent cannot find me in system. She checks res printout - flight is for next Thursday. I am without cell phone now, and it is prior to Pasadena office hours. Since I have previously been told that we only use Delta, I go home, as this is the only Delta connex to SVO. I arrive home after walking 2 miles with bags from airporter stop at Dunbarton. Time is 11:15. Two messages on answering machine to call Pasadena. I call Najat - she rebooked on Lufthansa, but there is no way I can get back to airport in time. We agree to resked on Sunday. Sunday we leave more time to get there and all, arr airport ETD - 1.8. Line is just as long as last time but there are many behind me. I get to counter and agent has trouble with checkin. Following the letter on everything. Bicycle bag is oversize, must charge. No problem, I say, and whip out the new Diner's Club. It refuses charge. Ok, we use another cc. No problem so long as we get done and on board. But soon all the people behind me in line have been processed and we aren't finished yet. An agent is asking if anything else is required before she closes this flight, my agent doesn't answer so that she can hear. At the time it appeared to me that she might have, but that she didn't soon becomes clear. They close the flight and my agent is still checking me in. He calls the gate, and the gate refuses me - they have a full flight. So once again I am stuck in SFO without a flight. This time Pasadena will not be open for me to call, and I don't have the 800 number to call 24/7. So, we rebook for the following day. As we leave, I remember that I can use internet to get 800 travel number, and perhaps make other arrangements. We know that we can book on other than Delta. We stop at the SJC airport to find internet connex. Guess what! SJC, of all the places, does not have a wireless hot spot. They only have wired dialup available. I don't have a modem wire. After searching some alternatives, I locate a spare phone cable and hookup. Unfortunately, I can not get an SBC operator to find the dialup numbers that are valid for my home acct. This takes 30-45 minutes dancing with the operators. I give up and fortunately MS has an automatic connex to a list of local ISPs - wonderful. I pick SBC, can't find my account, so buy a new dialup account. My new The speed is so slow both browsers time-out trying to connect to Parsons and Yahoo pages. I am online, silent, unable to accomplish anything, and increasingly frustrated. This eats up another hour or so. I take another tack, and go to the NWA counter to see what they can do for me as non-rev. They can issue a ticket for that day on Airfrance, out of SFO, connecting in Paris. I take it. However, this is still non-rev = standby. I want to make sure that I have exhausted regular channels.
I retry SBC operators. No go there again. I give up on SBC dialup, and sign on for Earthlink dialup. This gives me a bit of a problem intially, but no more than could be considered normal. After these couple of glitches I am online and communicating. I get 800 number. The 24/7 emergency center has no opinion as to whether non-reving is appropriate, and I know I have a flight. However, I do not know the load factors. I decide to return to SFO to get load factors and sked something else if they are bad. By the time we get back it is 2:10 prior to ETD, and it takes 1:30 to get to counter. Flight is closing, and they want me to standby. About 15 minutes prior to departure, I get the last seat on the airplane. Now there is no time to call 800 travel center or company. I give what contact numbers I can to Suzanne to call. It is a 747, and there is no inflight telephone service.
In Paris, they seem to have lost my bags - although this is a false alarm, it takes 20 or 30 minutes to clarify and find the bags. I attempt to call the 800 travel number to cancel the Delta ticket so that Parsons can get the refund. The French telephone system foils me - I can make a credit card call to a toll number, but not to a toll-free number. It is the middle of the fricking night in CA, but I call and wake Suzanne. I ask her to call the 800 travel center for me.