Saturday, July 09, 2005

Moscow weather

I did move to an apartment Friday, and I spend the whole weekend just being lazy.

Russian Weather:
I haven't been well-prepared for the weather. But not badly prepared either. If I repacked my clothes, I would pack a couple more polo-type short sleeve shirts, a couple more dark dress-type long sleeve shirts, and a couple more pairs of dark pants. And, an umbrella! In Moscow the weather has been much cooler and rainier than I expected. We did quite a bit of research before coming, but somehow I didn't seem to find a wealth of info on what weather to expect. Shades of memory, the same thing happened when I went to Ireland to cycle across the country! Blast from the past, they had the coldest and wettest summer for 50 years in the history books. Snow in May in Dublin, snow covering the mountains in Wales. Now, I'm not seeing snow here. Someone told me it would be hot and humid in the summer. Well, it's not hot and humid. There have been two days when it has been warm and somewhat humid. Now I've been told - by Russians - that this summer is either exceptionally cool, or is like a more typical Moscow summer than the last few years have been. Hmmmm, the truth lies somewhere in there.

I was able to find out a lot more about other major cities than I could about Moscow. Things like average monthly humidity, average monthly precipitation, and temperature (including highs and lows), average days of sunshine, all those things that will tell you what to expect. I think I found one place with average temperatures for Moscow. I know now that this is the search engines, and not me. When searching for "Moscow metro map" I found more sites with Moscow weather than when I searched for "Moscow weather"!

Here is what I do know - it has been cool. Not jacket cool, but just cool. It has rained several times - enough so that I had to buy an umbrella at the market/bazaar. The rain has not been massive dramatic thunderstorms, just regular rain, but a couple of times there has been plenty of water comin' down. A couple of days have been warmish - say gettin on 80, but not more than that. Some humidity, but not like the central US like I feared. So, overall, so far, extremely pleasant.

This weekend, though, it is warmer for the first time. Temp is 25 C - high 70's F. The sun makes the apt a bit warm, the outside air temp is still nice. It's just the sun and the windows building up indoor heat.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Walking, traffic, and exercise.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005 7:30:57 AM

Well, I have learned Russian words for two, well (as in oh well, or "well, yes"), yes (hehe), no (not always nyet), what, thanks, and some others. "You're welcome" seems to be an all purpose phrase with more meaning than just where we use 'you're welcome'. It will also be used by a merchant to invite you to look at his goods. So it holds more connotation in the more traditional sense of 'welcome'.

I haven't even unpacked my bike yet. I'm getting plenty of exercise, and haven't had much spare time. There is plenty of walking, and space for walking if I wanted just to walk for exercise. But the sightseeing walking is providing some exercise, and certainly as much as my feet can stand. I see a very few tourists exercising, and no locals. However, I am still primarily in the downtown area. Locals frequently get more exercise as a part of their daily lives than Americans. They walk more to get places. The hotel provides a couple of treadmill type machines - boooring. But they get used by the hotel residents.

In addition to the walking I am doing for sightseeing and exercise, there is one other reason I haven't unpacked my bike: the traffic. As I've mentioned before, the drivers follow the Latin American driving style - aggressive. They are, quite frankly, a bit intimidating. At first I noticed that they do make way for pedestrians, but they do not always do this. If the pedestrian can stop and avoid a collision, the driver may take the space. One has to pay attention. It doesn't do to walk and daydream or let your mind wander. In addition to automobile hazards, there are the sidewalk hazards. Scaffolding will be constructed without any barriers, and may have protruding sharp edges. Sidewalk construction, street construction - no barriers. Some building construction has minimal screening as a barrier, but frankly, this may be more to keep people out and protect the site than to protect people. Ok, so you have to pay attention. Well, I can do that.

At least for a while longer, I'll still be walking for exercise, as I sightsee. One can use the metro to advantage here. I want to put the bike together soon, though. Oh, and it's a good thing I brought my fenders, eh? I have seen some parks on the map that look like good destinations to do loops, ala Central Park. I'm going to ask some of the locals about this, but the difficulty here is that they are not bicycle riders, and therefore have little idea of what will work and what won't. No changes from the US there. I haven't seen a whole lot of bicycles here. An occasional mountain bike being used for transportation, a few freestylers riding somewhere on the metro - that's it. Maybe because of the winters? Or maybe because the Russians haven't any good bicycle factories, or a combination of the above.

I think I'm moving again this weekend, into an apartment instead of the hotel. That will give me a bit more room to lay things out.

What's really available to buy?

Monday, July 04, 2005 7:27:36 AM

Russia's economy:

The economy here, as I have said, appears robust. According to one of the expats working here, it is much more so than even as recently as 2000. Apparently they had a currency devaluation about that time. One must also remember that the whole Russian Federation is so new that it is nearly still in the baby stage of being bottle fed. But this economy is much more vigorous than a bottle fed stage. The expat relates, for example, that there were only one or two groceries in 2000. Now there are 4 that I know of within a couple blocks of the office. And, most of those are open 24 hours. The street stalls are everywhere. If one is to assume that this large number of stores indicates profitability, then they indicate a very healthy economy. I'm told that in the smaller cities the bigger retailers are moving in, and the smaller stall vendors are dieing out, but this is a known progression, and would indicate a more stable and stronger economic atmosphere.

Here in Moscow, construction and renovation are evident and frequent. Several tall buildings are under construction, with large cranes visible and active. Stores are busy and well-staffed, as are restaurants. While I do see many tourists, it is hard to say how many. Most of the buyers I see seem to be Russian, rather than tourists.

There is a wealth of products available in the stores that I have seen. Apparently, where choice is less readily available, and computer gear is an example here, internet stores are available, and in sufficient number to create competition. Really though, computer stuff follows the same pattern in the US. The local stores carry some stuff, but a lot of product choice is only available through internet stores. So, the same thing happens here. But the subject of product availability leads me back to:

Products available in Russia:

As far as I've seen, while there is somewhat less choice available, there is no shortage of products available for one's day-to-day needs. Detergents, soaps, toothpaste (they have Colgate, among other brands), shampoos (I actually found the brand I usually buy in the States), etc. I haven't looked for some things - like dental floss, but we are talking pretty far down the scale of urgency, eh? The groceries have wide selections of products. Many are European, a few American brands. So would I change how I packed to come over? Hmmmm. Maybe. Not in terms of personal care items, but I didn't pack lots of extras, either. I packed my favorite brands of products, and they would still be hard to find if they are available at all. But, there are plenty of options, and certainly more options than even 5 years ago.

Soaps, detergents, shampoos, etc.
You might not find your particular brand, but there is plenty of representation by American, European, Asian brands. They might not be cheap, but they are available. Often a Russian equivalent is available, and it will be much cheaper.

I don't need to ship my surge suppresors and UPS (uninterruptible power supply) units, my electric toothbrushes, coffee makers, teapot, or mini stereo, what-have-you. Prices are similar to the US, with a reasonable variety of brands available, at least in Moscow. I am told that choices are not so good in Chelyabinsk, but that IS "in the boonies" - even if it is a city of a million. Think Little Rock, AR, or Memphis TN. If you know where to look, you can find it. Earlier I talked about AA batteries. Russian AA brands are cheaper, rechargeables are available, and not badly priced, and recharging units are commonly found. The prices are pretty much the same throughout the stalls and markets. The grocery stores range from a little cheaper to much more expensive on some of these items. But anyway, this was a concern for me, but it didn't need to be. If I need something I can get a local variety, and not have to worry about the electrical outlet and voltage business.

Plenty of fresh fruit, and not expensive by my standards. Not much cheaper than US, but sometimes you can get a deal, and generally prices run less than US. Lots of European products and US brand names in the grocery markets. Yogurt is hard for me to identify, and peanut butter is available, but if I can judge from the ingredient list I don't think it is up to the standards I'm used to in the US. I'm not buyin' it. Oh, well, I'll just eat other things. Eggs are nicely priced (about $.70 doz), and I think chicken is not too bad (whole is about $3.25 kilo). Salmon is well priced, but is still expensive - just maybe a little less expensive! Fresh fruit is the thing, along with some other produce. Oh, I actually found some raspberries from Watsonville in the grocery store. Our local fruit brand! And EXPENSIVE here! Probably twice US price. On the other hand, for local raspberries I paid 50 rubles ($1.75?) for about a pint and a half of garden rasberries. The stalls have them for 150 to 190 rubles for a kilo. I think a kilo is just about what I got from the babushkas who sold me the local ones.

In terms of clothing, the weather has not been what I expected, nor have the clothing styles matched my expectations. I packed a few pairs of chino-like pants, since in my experience they fit in everywhere. Men wear lots of dark clothes, pants, suits, and even shirts. Not exactly tasteful or stylish by American standards, but it is also not particularly unstylish. Generally, the range of clothing in Moscow is very similar to an American city. A little less branding, the suits are a slight bit different, the colors, as I said, are different (but then, look at Boston). The textures of the cloth are slightly different. But all in all, Moscow could be an American city, and feels as much American as European. I do say that I felt a greater cultural difference in the clothing when I was in Dublin than here in Moscow. Can't say if that is still true - it was a long time ago that I was in Dublin. But that is how I call it.

As for buying clothing and woven material goods, there seems to be plenty of choice here. I think that reports from even 5-10 years ago are seriously dated. That is not to say that everything you could find in the US is here. It's not, but neither do towels, blue jeans, or plain white work shirts seem rare or valuable as they are often purported to be.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Stage 4 - and time to post

Haven't had time to post folks, but I've got to stick in a note about Stage 4 or the Tour. Now Lance is in yellow - and I think he knew his team had to go for everything they could on this one. Too many teams were close, and CSC started last. It was quite obvious that several teams were taking this TTT (team time trial) very seriously. Phonak for instance - dropping riders like flies trying to stay in the running. Discovery - working like a machine, but the effort was visible. And CSC - what a run they had. I could see the effort was costing them, and I had just been thinking to myself that they looked near the ragged edge where - cough, cough - 'things' happen. And, a few seconds later - they did. Zabriskie went down, and it was just a miracle that the riders after him didn't also. My heart breaks for him and the team, because they were right on target, and they were all in on this one. They put everything on the line - they had no reserve of energy - they were spending it all. I think if Zabriskie hadn't gone down, they wouldn't have lost to Discovery. Two seconds? A mere blink of the eye can cost nearly that much. Even if they only lost one second, and the HAD to have lost enough concentration to lose that much, they would have kept Zabriskie in yellow another day.

I will post more photos and comments soon!

Sunday, July 03, 2005

The Tour!!!! You know which Tour I mean!!!

Well, it has started, and Lance looks great. The first stage - a time trial. Lance blows out of his pedal at the start to lose a couple seconds, but still passes his minute man - Ullrich. We know Ullrich is still recovering from a bad crash, and this can definitely impact performance. Lance comes in second by a couple seconds to finish number two.

Nothing we all don't know yet, right? Ok, how about this: Lance was quicker at the halfway mark than the winner. He also appeared to slow in the last couple of klicks, but he didn't look blown when he finished. So you can tell me what you think, but here's what I think: Lance slowed to let Zabriskie win. Sound outrageous? Radio communications are so good Lance would know exactly where he stood, and how much ahead of Ullrich he was, and probably how much ahead of all the other riders he was. He started last, remember, so everyone else had finished and times were known. Maybe that extra effort to pass Ullrich took that little bit out of him - maybe. But maybe he figured "let Zabriskie have the Yellow Jersey for now - let him take the pressure, let him get the rewards, I know I will be there in Paris". He is tremendously competitive, but he has acted like this before - remember the Pirate and the mountain?

The market at Izmalovsky Park

We went to a local market yesterday. It was a bazaar! And, I don't mean that in the sense of bizarre, it was literally a bazaar. Just like the street shops, each merchant has a small space - from a few items laid out in front of themselves - or a 12x12 canopy with hangers or tables, or a section of counterspace in a prebuilt section - up to a 20x20 freestanding space in a section of prebuilt wooden booths. Just about anything you might want. Lots of suits and bikinis and women's underwear, plenty of shoes and jackets, a few booths with some boom boxes and a few electronic goodies. There is a complete section for groceries and foodstuffs. We see quite a few Chinese merchants here with fresh produce of the more Asian persuasion - daikon radishes, Chinese cucumbers, bok choy, etc. Food booths are generously sprinked throughout. We buy a couple large stuffed pastries for about $.75 - cheap. They have a tiny amount of meat and cheese folded inside a tart shaped dough packet. The consistency is like a pizza dough - that the cook stretches before putting in an oven to bake on a hot surface, pizza - like. But the other choice is fried, and I choose the baked.

There is a section with the more touristy geegaws and souvenir stuff. There is a lot of it that is not just geegaws tho - but good stuff. We see typical items - fur hats of many types of furs - fox, sable, wolf in 3 varieties, and more; hand carved chess and backgammon boards, lacquerware, and Soviet souvenirs.

There are also other wood carvings - from lathe-turned tourist stuff like wooden maces, spoons, candlestickes, eggs, bowls, and covered bowls - to really fine examples of joinery and woodworking made from birch burls. This last example - the birch burl woodworking - is a series of boxes, ranging in price from $15 to $500. Their complexity corresponds to their price. The least examples have one compartment. Next their is one compartment with a secret drawer, and wooden hinges. The drawers are exceptionally clever, spring loaded, and worked so that the box must be opened first. And they are disguised so that I would not have expected a secret drawer. The most expensive example is large enough for a generous jewelry box, and it has about 6 secret drawers available when the top is open, with two more on either side of the top itself. The wooden hinges are remarkable, too. The hinge pin is metal, but the hinges themselves are part of the wood. Amazing work.

There is more - linen cloth of exceptional quality and design. Very nice stuff. I am told that they really wear the fur hats in the winter, so I shall have to shop for one - but I will do that later, when I have a better idea of prices. I stop at one as the fur catches my eye - and the shop owner is glad for an audience. He has command of a little English, and well-pronounced, but his vocabulary is quite limited. He tells me that hat I am looking at is fox. Typical of a bazaar, when you catch an owner's eye, or stop to look they are immediately with you making offers and haggling. "This one" "that one" "20 dollars, 40 dollars, 100 dollars, what you want?". The hat stall owner is no exception. Almost all of the stall-keepers are polite, some are more insistent than others. The fur hat stall owner is on the pleasant and polite, but insistent side. The hat I am looking at is nice, the fur is good, but I think it is not a fine example. It appears a bit thin, with not so much undercoat - perhaps a spring fur, or the animal was just not a really strong one. Anyway, I think the fur good be a better quality. The owner doesn't understand me when I try to tell him "later". Since he is quite nice, I finally borrow a phrase book and communicate "later week" to him. Pitiful - I must learn some more Russian words so I can at least communicate some basic concepts.

Speaking of Russian words tho - I am beginning to recognize some of the words and names. The metro names are becoming usuable, as I begin to achieve some recognition of the Cyrillic alphabet.

A post for pictures

A post just for photos of Moscow.

I'll take you on a little walking tour, eh? Start at the first hotel I stayed at: the Rossia. The anglo spelling can vary, but this is fairly close to the pronunciation.

This place is huge, occupying one full city block. It sits right on the edge of the Moscow river. As we leave from the east entrance (or maybe the north, I forget), we see the old British embassy, established in the 1800's. Worth noting are the brickwork and the wooden shake roof.

As we walk uphill, within a halfblock we see the walls of the Kremlin, with their watchtowers of brick.

We turn from our view downhill to the river, and I note the street through here is cobblestone. The cobbles continue up the hill, through the Red Square, which is completely paved with cobbles. As we approach the entrance to Red Square, St. Basil's is on our left.

Now we are in Red Square, and in front of St. Basil's we see the workmen erecting a scaffolding for the 60th anniversary celebration of the end of WWII (or one of the events, anyway).

The main tower of the Kremlin rings out the hour - with real bells.

And, as we walk north across Red Square, we see Lenin's tomb, by the wall of the Kremlin.

On the north side of Red Square are the Red Gates, or at least I think this is their official name. Once again, made from brick. The iconic paintings are remarkable. In front of these gates is the Kilometer Zero marker, from which all roads in Russia are measured. It is a big brass design inlaid into the cobbles, and tourists are supposed to stand on it and toss a coin over their shoulder for luck or wishes or whatever.

By now this page will probably take forever to load, so I'll continue this tour later.