Saturday, July 16, 2005

Bargaining in the markets

Bargaining: I haven't talked about bargaining here yet, I think. Bargaining is fairly common, if you speak enough of the language. A couple of quick rules a' de thumb: How formal is the sales setting? The less formal, usually the lower the price - and a little more flexibility. Marked prices are a sometimes a sign of less flexibility. If it is a tourist market there will be more price gouging and more flexibility. The honest ones show up though. They won't bargain, and don't seem too insulted when you ask. And all this may hold and may not. For instance, some street produce sellers will bargain a little, some won't. You just have to ask. Typical of competition, where there are more vendors, you can shop price a little more.

We have a gamut of merchants here, from American style department store settings to babushkas and dedushkas setting out a box with stuff by the sidewalk. Sometimes not even a box or a table to set the stuff on - they might lay out their items on a cloth on the ground, or even hold what they have to sell in their hands. I saw a babushka near the metro entrance today selling band-aids and bottles of antiseptic. She held a box, with an assortment of band-aids, in one hand and the antiseptic moved from the other hand to a tricky sort of single hand presentation when she needed a hand. I was tempted to buy something just to get her some money. I mean, she was out there obviously making an honest attempt to offer something for sale - quite enterprising. But, the fruit selling babushkas do better from me, I'm afraid. I bought more rasberries, and widened my horizons to what appear to be blueberries today. There seems to be a consensus among the babushkas on what the value is for a given amount - they get $50 rubles for the same plastic beer cup - about an 18 oz-er.

I saw what I believe are the same gooseberries I first met in Wales - a large grape-sized green-white pale globe of a berry, sweet and delicious (tastes like chicken, hehe, yes that's a joke!). These were pale green with white vertical striping. Bought a watermelon today, too. $20 rubles per kilo, so a 15 lb melon cost 140 rub, or about $5. Not a great price, to be sure, but not real expensive, either. And, it is a damn good watermelon, too. Very sweet.

I went back to the CD market by myself - starting to recognize the Cyrillic alphabet combination in the Metro station names. Of course, when I got there I couldn't find the merchant from whom I bought the CD I wanted to return. I did find the stall that I THINK sold it to me, but then of course it worked perfectly when I tried to show the guy. Ok, no problem, I just copied all the stuff from that CD on to my hard drive. Then I went to find a coffee grinder. I'd bought coffee a week or so past, and I thought it was ground. I was wrong, it was whole bean. BTW, there is no problem finding coffee and tea in the groceries here. AND, there is a wide selection of both. Coffee in American and European roasts, whole bean, ground, instant; tea in black, English varieties, green, and herbal blends. Prices vary widely but seem to me to tend toward the American price range. American tea blends by brand name will get twice their Americal retail here, I think.

Ok, so I was on about finding a coffee grinder. I can use this as an example of three things - the multitude of merchants here in the markets, the pricing range, and the availability of goods. Number three first, I actually could find a coffee grinder for the home. Number one, I could find the same grinders in a multitude of stores in the market I went to. Just as I have described the other markets and vendors, they tend to have many many small stores, 6x6 to 20x40, and locate them all in one big location. So I could have bought at least 10 coffee grinders from different stores, and that is only considering the ones I found in a bewildering array of hallways and glass window displays. So, number two, the price range was from 480 to 550 for the same Braun coffee grinder I buy at home for around 15-20 bucks. Run the numbers yourself. If you can find any difference between pricing ranges in the two countries you can knock me down with a feather.

Which brings up another point I've mentioned. If you're coming for a longer spell, like me, why bother bringing your electric appliances? You can get the same goods here for about the same price, and they work with the local voltage already. Some of our stuff, tho, is OFTEN already compliant with a 220 V system - shavers and computers are 2 examples.

As for shopping, I think I have described that to my satisfaction. Most people will probably think I've beaten the horse dead, but this is all the kind of stuff I would have found interesting and possibly useful before coming over. And even if I wouldn't have, I HAVE had a lot of fun getting this knowledge so far. But, I've got a feel for it now, and it is time to move on to other kinds of travel stories.

Do'svyadanya for now y'all.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Wowie zowie - Go Vino!

The excitement is far from over. Vinokourov has pulled back some time, and I do not think the yellow is a sinecure for Lance. The Discovery boys have been working hard for days now, and they must be losing some freshness. Man, they were strong today! But Vino? GREAT job there! Who knows what will happen now? This is a Race! The trick for Vino will be just like I said for Voight - he will have to be consistent. AND, he will have to do this trick again, and better! He is, after all, still over 4 minutes down on Lance. I would like to see Vino on the podium with Lance.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Some new and interesting Russian links

For the metro pictures:

Other Russian architectural impressions:


Traveling in to Moscow tips and techniques:

A Bilingual metro map

General Info

The official Metro site - in Russian.

Our walking tour of Moscow - finished!

More walking tour of Moscow. Let me see, where did we stop last time? At the Red Gates, weren't we?

Ok, then, let's start on the outside of the Red Gates then. Just a short walk away is GUM, Moscow's famous "department" store.

It isn't a department store now, and I don't know if it ever was. It is an indoor shopping center - gorgeous, and high-priced. Arched, iron-framed skylight ceilings let in the sun on small shops, fountains, and cafes. Not to mention letting in the sun on the tourists too. Background noise is a dozen languages.

From there we'll walk a block or so in the other direction back to the Bolshoi theater. We buy our tickets and go in to see the Bolshoi company dance. All the seats in the house are good seats. The floor seats are chairs, fitted with red velvet cushions, and held in place by iron frames. Quite comfortable, actually. You can see the six balconies of box seats. The "czar's" box is quite elaborate and large. This all looks as though it was designed and built before the Bolshevik revolution, but then was altered to reflect Soviet design themes. You can see the Soviet emblem over the czar's box, and woven into the luxurious stage curtains.

From the Bolshoi we go to the Metro - Moscow's subway system. We'll get on at the theater station and go get some dinner. Street musicians are common in the Metro and in the street underpasses that Moscow uses rather than mix pedestrians with cars for major thouroughfares.

The metro is a remarkable
underground rail system. Many of the stations are to me surprisingly beautiful. I recall some very beautiful details in some of the older stations in the New York subways, and the Atlanta system is kind of interesting, but these stations are marvelous. The floors, and often the walls are stone. Cream colors, red colors, black colors, many colors of beautiful stone. The ceilings and walls have designs and decorations individual to the station - with a theme for that station. I think the themes may reflect something that the station once served or was located near, but what do I know. I know there is a link that will show you some of the stations, and more of Moscow, too. The trains run frequently and are quite busy. I've included a photo of a Soviet era bronze that I particularly liked. There were some art-deco era lamp fixtures in this station that looked a little abandoned. They would bring a fortune on Ebay. But, I do think the gov't is proud of these stations, and I did see signs of maintenance and upkeep. The cars often looked nearly ancient, but are also obviously kept up with good paint and maintenance.

There are some signs of graffiti and trash, but also it is apparent that this stuff gets fixed. So, it is a city, like most others, and once again, I see signs that the economy and the city are healthy. Speaking of healthy cities, I think I have mentioned that so far Moscow has seemed to have less air pollution than I would expect from a city of this size. In speaking with one of our locals at the office, it turns out that Moscow used to have quite bad air pollution, but the government took measures to either shut down or control industrial polluters. The end result is that automobiles are probably the major polluter now, and the condition there is probably as I noted earlier. Today you can find Mitsubishis, Subarus, Mercedes, and Hummers. Five or ten years ago, the number of automobiles was certainly fewer though.

Anyone for dinner? Traditional Russian dinner! The soup is kvas soup - a chilled summer soup with a fermented non or lo alcohol Russian beverage as the base. Nice fresh veggies go inside - radishes, onions, etc etc and cilantro! Cilantro turns out to be a popular spice here. Next for an appetizer, I have stuffed eggplant. I think I had pork for the main dish, also quite good.

So now I say dobroya noiche - good night - I feel like I'm talking like one of those stupid travelogue films!

Later, y'all.

The Tour resumes normality - for the Tour

The Tour - well well. It has been a bit unpredictable at the start, but now we are back to the Lance performance. Taking the yellow jersey so soon - it was too soon, or would normally be considered too soon. Sure, his team is probably the strongest in all of cycling, but the race is young. And, this shows in the first of the mountains, when all of a sudden Lance is alone, on a climb, with three T-Mobile riders in the same group. And, each one of the three is considered a threat for the yellow. But no Discovery riders are there! Where are they?

The next day the Discovery team is there, at the front, making a show of riding the pace, and they are not slow. They are riding strong, but we have to wonder if it is just to regain lost face from the day before. Even though they are riding strong and fast at the front, they are also doing more work than other teams this day. And in spite of this there is an escape group - a group with at least one rider who has been in yellow before. Jens Voight is not considered a threat, but he is a strong rider this year, and the Tour always has surprises. When the day is done we see a new name for King of the Mountain - Rasmussen, who has been powering over the first climbs to gain KOM points. When the last climb is done he feels like his legs are good, so he goes for the stage win - and takes it. But Voight picks up enough time to be 4 minutes ahead of Lance. This is a risk for Lance, but he doesn't seem worried, and the Discovery team doesn't try to reel these guys in.

Normally this would be the strategy - let these early guys go. But the mountains have started early this year, and the number of mountain stages is changing the pace of the race. Jens is a strong rider. If he can keep up with Lance through the next few mountains, he will be a real threat. Four minutes could turn out to be insurmountable as a lead. But, too, Voight is not his team leader, he is there for another man who is his team captain.

Today's race though - now we see the Tour come around to it's usual style. Voight could not stay with the lead group and lost his 4 minutes plus another dozen or more for good measure. One rider said it well - now we will see the contenders and the pretenders. Today's stage has shaken the picnic blanket, and the hangers-on are away and off on the grounds below the feast. Sure, things can change, but now I think it is down to two, and perhaps three, men. The strongest of the strong, the Names, are too far back. Vino, Ullrich, Kloden, Basso, Leipheimer, Julich, take your pick. They would have to get a real break, and somehow manage to take big time out of Armstrong. Nobody will let them get that far ahead, and the Discovery team has shown their usual strength and teamwork today. Today, we feel assured that Lance will take the yellow in Paris, and his position as the strongest bicycle rider of all time. At 6 Tours, he was close to Eddy Merckx. Now, it is Eddy Merckx who will have to be close to Lance Armstrong. Of course, we are playing with dreams and mirages, comparing riders from such different eras. Both riders were so dominant, though, and both for so long.

It is a good Tour. Rasmussen and Valverde look great. I think we may see them again next year. And perhaps we will see Voeckler again next year too. He hasn't done much this year, but he is still young. Next year Ullrich will be a little older. I think Vino and Kloden will have a better chance at the podium next year. We shall see, and this year isn't done yet! There is plenty of room for surprises and attacks, even if you won't find my money anywhere but on the Lance spot!

Monday, July 11, 2005

Babushka rasperries

Monday, July 11, 2005 10:32:18 PM

I swear, Moscow right now has more than a little bit of Wild West / Las Vegas flavor. The economy is absolutely wild. Officially I think it is "stagnant", but this must be due to the manufacturing sector. The streets are busy, the markets are busy, street musicians are busy, stores are busy.

I go out to find a particular restaurant. I don't find it, and walk too far. I can't find the restaurant in the crowd of strange business signs, street stalls and vendors. The babushkas (grandmothers) can be seen in the street vendors sometimes. As I'm walking I go through an underpass, and on the other side, next to the train station, are a group of babushkas selling produce and some other things. I would think they've grown this stuff themselves in their garden areas. One is holding two large plastic cups full of raspberries. I think she picked the raspberries herself - her hands were all purple with stains! This lady was with another babushka - and I swear, I could have seen their like in Santa Cruz or Ft. Lauderdale. They were that universal in their dress. One in pants, with a green cloth floppy hat - the crush type hikers tend to like. Could have come from REI. The other in a long dress, but still dressed like a gardener. I can't understand the numbers they say, so I just show them some rubles. They point to the fifty as reasonable for their raspberry container, so I get both that they have. They are in plastic cups the size of beer cups at the football game. I probably paid them more than they were expecting, but it was still cheaper than the stalls, and the stalls are cheaper than the berries in Watsonville, which are cheaper than the in rest of the US. Huh, a good deal, I guess!

Yup, I think it was a good deal, but it wouldn't have been if the berries were no good. But, when I eat them I know I had nothing to fear - these raspberries have an intense flavor - much better than any others I have tasted this year. This has been a berry good year. (Cough, cough, huh!) It really has been a rich year for berries. When I left Aromas we had been picking the nicest blackberries I have had in so many years - since I was last picking blackberries in Oregon, what, in the early 70's? Anyway, they were absolutely ambrosiac, and I know they weren't even among the best of years for blackberries. But they were soooooo good. Now, I am in Russia, eating fantastic raspberries. And I don't recall ever liking raspberries so much. The blackberries here are small, and only good, not great. But the raspberries! Whoooaa! They have other berries I haven't even tried yet - a couple of kinds of blueberries, and some types of smaller berries, perhaps they are currants.