Monday, March 11, 2013

An Extremely Busy Weekend = An Extremely Long Blog Post

Kristen says...

Hello again.

We have had a most remarkable weekend. Apparently one of the perks of being abroad with the State Department is that you get to take part in many events, both those sponsored/co-sponsored by the Consulate and those that are purely local.

This past weekend we had the opportunity to take part in THREE of these experiences:
1) A visit to the tall ship Nadezhda, one of Russia's five tall ships (meaning "traditionally rigged...think Columbus or The Pirates of the Caribbean")
2) A jazz concert given by Ty Stephens and SoulJaazz at the local Philharmonic
3) A real Russian circus!

It all started on Saturday morning, when Chris and I went with our social sponsors to the pier where the Nadezhda is moored. We met Ty Stephens and the members of his band Soul Jaazz when we got to the pier, which was really cool. They were very nice, and very humorous. I was "transported" back to my high school days working technical crews at our local community auditorium listening to their inside jokes and "traveling man" ways. They were good people.

We were welcomed to the ship by a formidable woman who explained to me in many Russian words why I needed to step carefully on the slippery wooden deck (apparently I am doing a really good job of "looking Russian" because people continually stop me to ask questions that I have no idea how to answer!) and then we were given "the grand tour."

And what a tour it was!

We started at the front of the boat (yes I know there is a technical term for that), which gave us a nice view, but, as it was very cold and snowing, quite chilly. Our guide told us she was purposefully keeping us outside to give us an idea of what the cadets have to go through. As she pointed out, a multi-masted sailing ship can't sail itself...cadets have to be working on deck come rain, snow, or presumably, hurricanes.
The view from the was snowing the entire time we were on the boat
Yeah, it was cold that day...this is ice forming on the top of the water in the bay next to the boat
The building that says "Vladivostok" on the top is the rail station...the end of the Trans-Siberian Railway
 Next, thankfully, we went inside to the classroom on the ship. (One of the ways the Nadezhda is used is as a training ship for future officers.) There we were given more information about the ship (and tall ships in general) and watched a couple of videos. Then we saw some of the bunks, the library and had tea in the Captain's dining room before we left.
The ship's route on its most recent trip around the world
We were very kindly given pins with a picture of the ship as a remembrance of our trip
It was kind of hard to get down from the ship, but we all made it without incident
What a fun time we had!
Later that night we went to the Philharmonic to watch Ty Stephens and SoulJaazz perform. It was a great show!
The windows at the Philharmonic
Our ticket and the stage
I didn't get many good pictures of the performance because the lighting was really "hot" and everyone was washed out.
I can't say that jazz is my favorite style of music, but Ty sang many Broadway standards so I was appeased.  :) Chris loves jazz, and he really enjoyed the concert. One thing that really impressed me was that the pianist didn't use sheet music--he used an iPad!

There were also a couple high-school age girls who came up and sang (in English) with the band, which was really neat! They were quite good, and apparently learn jazz by watching YouTube videos, which was very impressive.

On Sunday, we went to the circus.
My image of a circus from my US-upbringing is of traveling tents, elephants, and tons of creepy clowns. In Russia, the circus people travel, but the buildings are permanent. The local circus building hosts various circuses at various times of the year.

The circus we saw on Sunday was originally from Moscow, and there were no elephants, horses, or even creepy clowns. (There were clowns, but their faces were not painted and there were only 2 of them.)

The carnival atmosphere was evident even before we got into the actual circus area. The hallways outside the arena were filled with booths selling food, toys, and the opportunity to have your picture taken with some of the "circus animals..."
The halls outside the circus. It kind of reminded me of the flea market at the Iowa State Fair
The "circus animals" with which you could have your picture taken included -a snake, -a rabbit, and -a chicken...
You know those machines at tourist sites in the US where you pay 50¢ to turn a crank flatten a penny? This must be the Russian version...only where you use a big hammer instead of a your toes!
FYI: There were signs and an announcement was made that it is actually illegal to take pictures of any of the circus acts, so my pictures only show the space, but if you click here you can see some apparently sanctioned photos of some of the acts...
We had really good seats (we sat in the Director's Box, no less!)
Our view
Our "box" is in the white area to the left. See if you can spot Chris...
 Some of the sights we saw were:
-Two guys keeping their balance on what looked like a small double-ferris wheel made of human-sized hamster wheels (oh the suspense!)
-A fire eater, who later was run over by a car (and was miraculously unhurt)
-A trapeze act (thank goodness they used a net!)
-Some Cirque du Soleil-type acrobatics
-Circus animals, including the predictable (dancing (and jump-roping) bears, a jaguar, a monkey) and the less predictable (cats, a porcupine, and, yes...a cow!)
I love seeing what other countries find exotic...remember the raccoons in the zoo in Honduras?
What an interesting experience it was!

There were probably only a dozen total performers (if you don't count the animals), which surprised us, because for a small crew they put on a really good event.

Seeing the trained bears was neat and sad at the same time...they did seem to be well-cared for, though; glossy fur, no bones showing, treats after every trick...but still, you kind of wanted to run down to the ring, take off their leashes and tell them to run away (and then get out of the way so you didn't get eaten!)

All-in-all, I enjoyed it. There were moments of suspense, of humor, and the almost three hours passed quite quickly.

Now it is Tuesday, and I've finally recovered enough to write this very long post. We have other events planned for later this week and early next...but I'll tell you about them after they've happened.

Have a nice week!

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