Thursday, January 31, 2013

Water, water everywhere, and a foray into Russian cooking

1/II/13
Kristen says...

Wow, it's February already and I'm still catching myself writing the "12" for the year...silly Kristen!

Well hello there, happy February...or, while by the time you read this I'm sure it will be February, I believe in the US it's still late January! :)

Today we are experiencing something new in this Russian adventure...rain.
Of course, as you can see, it's taking out some of the snow, but it's also almost immediately freezing, so it's really slick out. Thankfully our car isn't here yet so we're not even tempted to drive, but I'm sure getting around this hilly city will be interesting for some people today...

I am also happy to say that the method of sidewalk ice removal in Vlad seems to be leaning more toward sand and less toward salt, which is making Pip's little paws very happy. :)

We're not just dealing with water outside today, but also inside. Thankfully the leak isn't coming from the ceiling or in through the windows, but from our lovely large bathtub!
We first noticed it last week after we'd had a plumber come unstop the slow drain, so Chris took the front panel off...not surprisingly we found an old, disgustingly moldy wash cloth stuck under the drainage system...which was also angled 90° about 3 inches under the drain (hence why we needed a plumber)...

So far we've had four different people come look at it, some who spoke English and some who did not. The old 90° system was changed, but the leak actually got worse after that. Also, I thought that one of the guys said he'd turned the water off (he pantomimed no water from the bath spout), so yesterday I didn't even get a shower, but another guy from the consulate came and said the water was on to the shower, just that we were not to take a bath (not that we were bathing much, anyway...).

At any rate, the water is still flowing freely from under the tub as of this morning, so hopefully that situation is fixed over the next week or so. It's not really a problem as it only leaks when we take showers, but it is just one more thing to worry about keeping Pip away from...I don't think he's supposed to drink the water here.

Actually, I don't know that any of us are supposed to drink the water here.

In Honduras we knew there were amoebas, but here...we were told not to drink it, but nobody can tell us why...

Anyway, it doesn't really matter was we have this:
Yay water distiller! I, predictably, have absolutely no idea how this works, but the water that comes out tastes pretty good and (knock on wood) hasn't made us sick yet, so that is a good thing. :)

So, we've been in Russia a little over two weeks now, and I'm still playing what I call the "50s Housewife"...and, I have to say I'm pretty sure if I was June Cleaver, Beaver and Wally would be dead. I am a terrible housewife! I am bad at cleaning and organizing, I stress about what to cook every night, and if I never wash another dish I'll be forever happy...

However, all grumpiness aside, I have been able to work out some interesting dishes. I made a veggie stew, some of my delicious (if I do say so myself) pasta sauce, and, branching out into my first Russian cooking foray, Baked Pirohi.

Of course, in usual Kristen fashion, I didn't exactly follow the recipe...mostly because I didn't have sauerkraut (nor, to be honest, did I want it...I'm moving into new foods slowly.) ;)

Here is the dough...it was kind of gray-colored, which wasn't terribly appetizing at the time.
 I didn't start taking pictures until these were in the oven because I wasn't sure how well they would turn out...
The filling is what I had in the house, so carrots, onions, and cheese...yum
 Even after all those were made, I had a bunch of dough and filling left, so I used my new empanada press (clearance at Target) to make some bigger-sized ones, just to use everything up.
 Frankly, they were a little bland, but not bad for a first try. Certainly edible, which is important when making food.

Anyway, that's about all the news that's fit to print. I can't say it's terribly exciting, but it is what's happening here. :)
KF

Friday, January 25, 2013

Apartment and Food in Vladivostok

25.I.13
Kristen says...

Greetings from the 13th floor! (Good thing we're not superstitious!!)

Chris pointed out that a week ago right now we were sleeping during our first night in Vladivostok...I can't believe it's been a week since we got here already!!

As you know, we started the week in a hotel in the center of the city, but we are ending it in our home for the next two years, which is really quite exciting! It's nice to be able to stay put for a while! We got here on Wednesday, and we're already making the place feel like home, even if 90% of our stuff won't arrive for over a month. :/

Here are a few photos if you're interested:
Living room...my favorite in the house!
"Bath" room...no toilet here... (it's down the hall!)
Obvs...
Our "Maisy" room...we already pulled down the border :)
Dining room
Futuristic/Retro kitchen (why yes, those cabinets are metal)
Any guesses as to what this is?! 10 points if you're correct!
Pip found a new hiding place a la Honduras
Best feature...built-in laundry hanger in the 4-seasons room!
 We also have a pretty sweet view out of one side of our apartment...


Yeah...

It continues to be pretty chilly here, and yesterday we saw our first snow.

One of the things I really like about where we're living is that we live less than half a block away from a grocery store...so I make my daily sojourn down the hill to buy that night's food. Since our stuff isn't here I don't have any of my baking dishes, crock pot, or Kitchen Aid mixer, so I'm being creative with the 3 pots, 1 skillet, and, randomly enough, bread pan I was given in the interim...so far we've had a rarebit-style scalloped potato dish and tonight we made "quesadillas" with rice, Russian cheese, cherry tomatoes and onion using a very thin Russian bread, thicker than a tortilla but thinner than naan. It was surprisingly delicious! :)

Food here is interesting...I have been to the grocery store three times in three days, so I've had some time to really look at the boxes...because I have food allergies I have to be careful about making sure I avoid certain things...which is hard when I don't know what they are called in Russian! :)

So far I think I've done well, or at least I haven't had any reactions (knock on wood!) To be honest I've pretty much stuck to what I know and recognize, but today I did try out one new Russian food, pirogi (not to be confused with Polish pierogi...they are different, although spelled interchangeably from what I can see!).

Pirogi is like a filled bun, kind of like the Russian empanada, samosa or calzone...
 You can fill it with anything, I assume, but popular fillings here include potatoes, onions, cabbage/sauerkraut and meat...
I had one of the potato and onion (and maybe cabbage, I couldn't tell) variety today...it was pretty good!
 I'm definitely going to have to try my had at making these before we leave Russia...maybe I can make a Russian friend who will teach me! :)

Also I'm noticing a lot of meat and seafood-flavored chips here... I'm not sure I will ever get up the guts to try those! :)

All-in-all, getting into the apartment has been good for me...it's given me a sense of permanence and made me feel a lot more at home. As I said to Chris when we first walked into the apartment, "I can live here..."

KF

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Greetings from...Vladivostok!! :)

22.I.13
Kristen says...

Hello! Greetings from Russia!! :)

Oh I have so much to tell you!!!

WHAT A COUPLE OF WEEKS!

It started on a Thursday... a Thursday when I drove from Falls Church to Richmond, a lovely 2-hour drive, to get Pip's veterinary documents signed and sealed by the USDA, which I then scanned and e-mailed to Switzerland...

It was the night before packout and we were still trying to pack, which is never a good sign. I also had a nasty sinus headache so I went to bed early...

At 6:20 the next morning I awoke, checked my e-mails...and found out that I would be driving back to Richmond, because I had been given the wrong form by my vet. Sigh.

Of course, the fact that I had to drive back to Richmond meant that I totally missed packout, so there are no pictures of packout this time around...sorry 'bout that. :)

So that was not an auspicious start to the trip.

Luckily, things got better from there.

On Friday (after my second trip to Richmond and packout was over) some of Chris' classmates had a "Bowl Away" Party for Chris and two other classmates who were leaving in the past week...
 Needless to say, neither Chris nor I are really good at bowling... :)

On Saturday night we went out for Indian food with one of my Russian teachers, which was DELICIOUS and super-fun...and kept my mind busy from worrying about the next day's events...like flying halfway across the world. :)

We went to the airport quite early the next day, like 5 hours early, because we were traveling with Pip and everything...this was good, because we had United Club passes that we wanted to use, but this was bad because the United Pet Desk people were rude and unhelpful when we arrived early. Boo.

Anyway, we got there to drop Pip off, were rebuffed, had to go kill an hour and a half, and then were able to go back, actually dropped him off, and spent a nice relaxing few hours in the United Club. Lovely.

At last we got on the plane...we tried to upgrade to first class so we could lay down and sleep, but that didn't work out...so economy plus it was! :S
 Eight (real) hours later we were in Switzerland! How fun! It was my first trip to Swizerland, and we decided to actually count it as a real country because we actually had to leave the airport to get Pip!
Due to a random United glitch (pattern?) we had to use a pet moving company to get Pip into and out of Switzerland (which actually ended up being good because of the whole wrong form thing), but I have to say Ace Pet Moving is a pretty great company and did a great job with our baby!

We had another short layover in Switzerland, and then in a hop, skip, jump and four hours we arrived in Moscow.

We stayed at the Lotte, a gorgeous (and dog friendly!) hotel not too far from the Embassy.

Chris had two days of meetings in Moscow and I had two days of trying to catch my brain and stomach up with my body. I have never actually been hungover, but I'm pretty sure how I felt for most of the time I was in Moscow is pretty close to how one feels with a hangover. Ick.

I did manage to get away from the hotel bed long enough to head out into the city and see some fun Moscovian sights!
View from the 7th floor
The fanciest port-a-potties I have ever seen! Very impressive! :)
Bolshoi Theater!
Exit to Street (we took the metro...which was SO MUCH better than DC's)
Red Square part 1
I just want to say, I am super-impressed that the Sochi Olympics picked actual, meaningful animals as their mascots!


Red Square part 2
Я прогуяться в парке в Москве c моей собакой!
So Moscow was nice.

After two and a half days we boarded another plane, this one for Vladivostok! :) Yay! Finally! :)

The flight to Vladivostok was long but overnight and pleasant, especially because Pip was with us. In the plane. On two seats. Good times! :)
I thought the route that we took, especially at the end, was interesting...
We have been here for just under a week and have seen some fun and interesting things!
The view from our 3rd floor hotel room! You can see a stadium, fountains, the frozen bay, and probably, if you look really really hard, ice fishermen!
Pip and I chillin' in Vladivostok!
These are a few of my favorite things about Russia...why yes, that is a built-in bidet and heated seat. No words. :)
Kristen and the Bear! :)
I don't really think this needs a caption
This is the first/only Western "restaurant" I've seen so far here
View from the 10th floor of a mall Chris and I randomly stumbled into the other day...pretty
Old School Vladivostok images
The side of our current residence...
So, first impressions:
-It's cold (avg temp in the 10s-20s) but not as bad as I thought it might be. With gloves and a hat and a brisk walking pace it's not bad at all.
-WALKING! There are people walking all over the place! It's lovely! We are staying right next to a couple of very pedestrian areas and that has been enjoyable to experience.
-Expensive! Basically 1 dollar = 30 rubles, but when stocking caps cost between 1200 and 5000 rubles ($40-$166), you kind of don't want to buy anything. :)
-I need to keep working on my Russian. I am pretty proficient at saying my husband is a diplomat, but less good at things like, "I would like to order..." or basically anything else necessary for everyday life. So, something to work on.
-Dark! The sun doesn't come up until 9:30 or 10 am...but on the plus side it doesn't go down until around 7:30...

All-in-all, it's been a little tough adjusting but I'm getting the hang of it. We're not even in our final place of residence yet so I can't even unpack, so everything feels a little unsettled...I am looking forward to the next few days and weeks when we move in and all our stuff arrives...but for now, it's nice to finally be in Vladivostok! :)

KF

Sunday, January 6, 2013

T Minus 1 Week and Counting!

6.I.13
Kristen says...

Well, we are in the final stretch. Within a week, we will be in Russia.

HOLY COW!!!

We still have so much to do!!! (Chris just came in and disagreed with this statement (I am glad he is confident), but I stand by it...)

For example, this week alone includes pre-packout, actual packout, getting the car serviced and ready to go, buying the rest of our stuff to ship, Pip's final vet visit, and a "quick" trip to Richmond to get his documents signed by the USDA, sorting our stuff, packing, etc...

And that's on top of all the other things we have already done, which include multiple calls to the airlines to make sure Pip will be on all three of our flights, e-mails back and forth with people on the ground in Russia, researching...

Oh, and my Russian Language test, which was last Friday.

I was so nervous!

I had the choice to take the test either before we went to Iowa or after, and I chose after, because the whole point of me being in the "long course" class was to be studying for as long as possible and finish as close as possible to the time that we left...still, I'll never know if taking from the 21st of December to the 2nd of January "off" (at least off of 8 hrs a day of study) possibly took its toll on my score...

When I was trying to explain my score to my family, I found that this website does a nice job of explaining the different levels. My final score was a 1+ in speaking and a 1+ in reading, which is, again, according to that website, "Elementary Proficiency." But lest you think I am disappointed by these scores, I will just pass on some information that was shared with me. After 16 lessons of the course I was taking people are "supposed" to be at a 2/2...so being at a 1+/1+ after just 7 lessons is nothing to sneeze at.

So obviously all the weeks (20!) of Russian work paid off. I am very happy with my score, and it gives me slight confidence heading into "all-Russian all-the-time" mode...emphasis on slight.

So even though the next week's tasks will be 99.5% conducted in English, I am still slightly overwhelmed with all that must be done between now and our departure. I'm not sure if I will have another chance to blog before we go to Russia, or how long it will take us to get Internet capability once we get there, so who knows when this will be updated again...


So let's just say, "До скорой встречи!" (See you soon!) and hope it is so! :)
KF