Monday, February 25, 2013

Impressions

Chris says...

Long, long time since my last post. But here I am with a few things to say...

First impressions a month or so in (in no particular order):

Traveling with a dog is a pain.
-It is unreal how anxious/nervous traveling with a pet in cargo is. I wouldn't have it any other way (most days), but the airlines would do all pet owners a real service if they provided some kind of update on your pet throughout long flights. Better yet, someone needs to invent the thing from Star Trek that beams you someplace in an instant.

Language, language, language.
-I'm in the familiar position (unfortunately) of being in a foreign country without a great knowledge of the language. Lesson learned from Honduras is to get a tutor early, and stick to it...and we're doing just that.

Sun!
-One of my favorite things about Vladivostok so far! It is beautiful outside, bright and sunny! I've been told this will change in the spring/summer as fog will become more common. But, for now loving the sun!

It is furry around here.
-I don't think I've ever seen so much animal fur. Its shocking when you walk around the city and see all these women with beautiful fur coats on. Young women, old women - it doesn't matter. Very different from Iowa...and the US in general I think. I'm sure we'll have pictures sometime soon...

I'm not the only gringo.
-I'm not the only tall caucasian around. I don't know if I blogged about this in Honduras - but I was regularly one of the tallest people in any social gathering with locals. That didn't bother me in Honduras, its just something I noticed. Here, I don't stick out because of my height or complexion - but my language ability and American style of dress.

Opportunities abound...
-On the work subject, there is much good work to be done. Plenty of opportunities for Kristen and I to grow personally and professionally. I'm happy we made the decision we did. I'm still getting my feet wet at work, hopefully I'll be swimming laps in another couple months!

Traveling is great, but its even better when you have a loved one to enjoy the experience with you.
-I really don't know where I would be or what I'd be doing if Kristen wasn't with me to enjoy this experience (life). Words don't and can't do it justice...I am the best me when I am around her, and I'm glad we're experiencing all this together.


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Another Walk...With the Camera This Time

20.II.13
Kristen says...

Happy Birthday to my Daddy! :)

Are you noticing a pattern with our posts? We seem to be doing a lot of walking, which is AWESOME, after two years of forced inside-ness in Honduras.

We had a request for pictures of our evening stroll, and the honest answer is "I didn't take my camera..." Oops. :)

BUT, the next day we took another walk, in the daytime, with our cameras. So I have some more pictures for you. :)

One of the things I LOVE about Vladivostok is all the public art. There are many painted murals and metallic art around the city:
Stairway art
I love the old dresses near the old house
It's the city's Coat of Arms incorporated into a block-long mural
The old trolley rails run about 10 feet away from this mural. They are just outside the side of the picture (and covered with snow!)
Paintings and metalwork. One of the paintings says "Thanks to the World" in Russian
Metal version of the Coat of Arms
We're not entirely sure what the story is behind this one...but it's neat, and publicly available to view

There are also some public monuments near us:

 And this...so excited!
(It's hard to see, and obviously if you don't read Russian you won't know that it says "Vladivostok Christian Methodist Church." Excited to check that out some Sunday!)
 We also saw some other fun things on our walk:
All I could think of was the first line of the Monkee's "The Poster" when I saw these... :)
Who says having bars on your window has to look ugly?
 We have also had a little bit of work done inside the house...this is what the Maisy Room looked like last night...


But, on a less happy note, guess what I found after my shower this morning...


Sigh. :)
KF

Sunday, February 17, 2013

A Walk in the Snow

17.II.13
Kristen says...

Today was probably the snowy-est day we've had since coming to Russia--I would guess we have 2-3 new inches today and it's supposed to continue to fall overnight..

It is beautiful.

We were at that stage where almost all the snow had melted off, so what was left was dirty, patchy, ugly...that kind of depressing "end of winter" look...now it's all nice and pure white again.

Chris has been sick with a lingering cold most of the week, but even he couldn't resist the snow, so we three took a walk tonight. (Incidentally, it was perfect walking weather, but also perfect skiing weather...I hear there are some skiing places not to far away, so hopefully we will have a chance to do that before the snow leaves for good.)

Being outside tonight was like having Christmas again. A couple of the buildings near us still have their lights on, and it was so quiet and peaceful. Walking in the falling snow is the best.

Chris said it was good packing snow and proved it by hitting me in the back with a lightly-tossed snowball, but all Pip wanted to do was run around, so we all jogged a bit. It was cold, but not unpleasant.

We were not the only ones who had the idea to stroll in the snow. There were many people out, families, other pet owners, single people, just out for a walk...it was great.

I love being in a place where I can get out and walk around, and where other people do the same!

There is something very freeing about taking a walk in the snow with your husband and your dog. Best part of the week so far! :)
KF

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Russian Pop Concert!

13.II.13
Kristen says...

Last night we had one of our most cultural Russian experiences yet...we went to a concert!

Probably the only Russian act you can think of right now is t.A.T.u. ("All the Things She Said"), and, if you watch the news, possibly Pussy Riot (sorry, it's their choice of a name, not mine) but you probably haven't heard of МакSим (MakSim) (I hadn't...)

Anyway, we were given the opportunity to go to her concert last night, and we decided it would be fun, so we went...and it was!

Here is the link to her YouTube channel, if you're interested in listening to her music.

I especially like the tune of the song Весна (Spring):

This one (Ветром Стать) is a little more ballad-y, but she kept showing this video during the concert so I assume it's a favorite...

She sounds pretty good, although I wish I actually understood what she's saying... :)

Anyway, there were four of us in our party; Chris, me, one of Chris' co-workers, and his friend, who was Russian and therefore the only one who really understood everything that was said and sung. (Funny story, I asked her if she knew all of Maksim's music, and she said she knew it but didn't really like most of it...)

The boys picked me up from the apartment and I got my first taste of "rush hour" traffic, Vladivostok style...

I have to say, from the passenger seat I think this place has nothing on Teguc for traffic issues, but I'm sure once I am the driver I will be annoyed plenty of times while on the road :)

It was an entertaining ride, though, especially given a few of the things we saw:
Obama Sushi!
It's hard to tell, but it's a police car being towed by a truck using a long rope...
огнеопасно means flammable (огне meaning fire, опасно meaning danger)...also notice all the duct tape holding things onto the back of the truck!
Oh well, we made it safely enough, and made our way to the place where the concert was being held...
the Ocean movie theater
Don't let the time on the poster or ticket (below) fool you...the concert didn't start until well past 19:00 (7:00 pm)... :)
Movie theater/concert hall
 Apparently Russian artists aren't so picky as US artists about cameras and such at their concerts, as we (and everyone else) had our iPhones out the entire time...I even saw some nice big cameras.

The movie screen was well-used to project her videos behind her as she sang..
Except when there were technical difficulties
The band was really good, especially the guitarist. And the keyboardist was really getting into it!
Many, many people came up to her during the concert to give her bouquets or elaborate flower arrangements...apparently it's a thing with her
Within 15-20 minutes of the start of the concert people were out of their seats and in the aisles, crowding the stage. It was funny to watch the bouncers because she seemed to be inviting them to come closer and they kept kind of pushing them back

After the concert we went outside to visit the random metal tiger outside the theater


 And then out to a German restaurant for dinner/a "midnight" snack (people keep WAY different hours here than I'm used to! Much more European than Midwestern US...)

All-in-all it was very fun, and a good experience. Apparently she gives a concert here once a year, so before next year's concert I'm going to listen to her music so I'm better able to enjoy it!
KF

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Another Cooking Post...Beet Style!

10.II.13
Kristen says...

I don't like trying new foods.

This shouldn't be surprising to anyone who has read the food-related posts on the blog in the past, but nor should it be surprising that I like to do cook...which is kind of a weird combination, when you think about it...

Anyway, I decided to put on my big girl panties this week and cook and eat not one but two new foods.

The first was buckwheat (which I had honestly only heard of because one of my jr. high classmates had a dog named Buckwheat).

During my many trips to the local "Fresh 25" I have spent a good amount of minutes in the grains aisle. Of course, most of the packages are labeled in Russian, but luckily they almost all also carry images or have see-through windows to the grains inside, so staples like rice and oatmeal are easily found:
Oatmeal
However, I noticed there was a large section of grain-type product that I didn't recognize. They were brown, triangular, and more readily available than any other grain:
 So, I wrote down the word and looked it up at home, and found out that buckwheat is actually really, really good for you. It's a gluten-free potato, rice or bread substitute with high levels of magnesium, fiber and other good stuff, and it's really cheap here...

So I Googled some buckwheat recipes.

I was going to start with the first recipe on this page that had just buckwheat, onions, and cheese, but I kept scrolling and saw the second recipe, one that included beets...and I thought, well, I'm in Russia I'm going to have to try beets sometime, it might as well be in the privacy and safety of my own home...

So I got out the big-girl panties and started cooking:

I started with two beets, sliced (did you know a potato peeler works pretty well if you don't have a grater available?!) which made a little bit of a mess, I can tell you! :)
While I was "peeling" the beet, Chris was chopping and sweating the onions:
To which we added the beets and some water.
  Then we cooked it for a l-o-o-o-n-g time...longer than it took to cook the buckwheat, which was super simple...
 2 bags, boiling water, 20 minutes, done:
Before (top) and after
After the beets and onions were (finally) cooked down we plated the dinner, poured over a little lemon juice and some cheese (the recipe called for feta but we just used the white cheese we had available):
 and, with trepidation on both sides, took our first bites...

...and darn if it wasn't pretty good all around!!

The buckwheat was really nice, had a pleasant texture, kind of like well-cooked rice, but had a bread-y/pasta-y flavor. I liked it.

The beets were like carrots, tender, root-y, but sweet.

Score one for the big-girl panties!

I'm not going to say I will eat beets every day of my life, but they were definitely better than I thought they would be, and buckwheat is definitely going to be added to my list of foods to use in cooking!

During this experience, however, we did have a lucky break from something that could have been a disaster...

The recipe called for either lemon juice or vinegar to be used as garnish. I didn't know how to say either of those and hadn't seen either at the grocery store before, so I wrote down the words on a piece of paper before I went to the grocery store so I could ask for help if I couldn't find them. (The Russian words for lemon juice are лимонного сока, and the word for vinegar is уксус.)

I found the lemon juice on my own, but was stuck with the vinegar. I found this:
which has the word for vinegar, but in an adjectival form (Russian words that end in -ая are feminine adjectives). Everything seems to have percents on it around here, so I couldn't figure out if this was only 70% vinegar or what. I asked one of the friendly sales people, pointing to the word уксус on my paper, and they said that this was the correct thing to buy...

So I bought it and took it home.

It's hard to tell in this picture, but that cap is pretty much impossible to get off the bottle. We both tried, for a long time, and finally Chris managed to get it off, at which point we both about fell over from the strong odor of the liquid inside. It was like vinegar, but way, way stronger and more awful.

 At that point we decided it might just be better to put the lemon juice on our food (I had purchased both, just in case...good thing).

After dinner I decided to Google translate it the name on the bottle...

And found out that I didn't buy vinegar, I bought acetic acid, the main ingredient for vinegar, but at 10x the strength...eek!

Imagine if we'd been able to actually put that on our food! Ouch!

Once again, it pays to be careful when buying foods in a foreign country. Thank goodness for Google translate, stinky smells and hard-to-remove bottle tops! :)

Anyway, the acetic acid went in the trash and I found actual 7% acid vinegar the last time I went to the grocery store so we're all good the next time we decide to eat our beets.

KF

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Out and About in Vladivostok

7.II.13
Kristen says...

My oh my is it cold out today! The official temperature is 9° F, but the "Real Feel" is -15 and dropping!! I took Pip out this morning when Chris went to work and the wind is REALLY strong and crazy-cold. I am NOT looking forward to walking down to the grocery store today!
I may have to use one of Chris' survival blankets to keep warm today! :)
Luckily this past weekend was a little warmer, so Chris and I were able to get out and explore a bit of the city near where we live.
Our handy-dandy grocery store/bowling alley
I love this book mural. It continues around the side, too! I'd love to know the story behind it!
Not far from us is a good-sized outdoor market, but it's pretty different than the market in Honduras. The one in Honduras had a lot more fresh produce and locally made goods, while this one actually has stalls/storefronts with things like soap, dog food, coffee and tea, etc. It was kind of interesting, because there was almost a pattern to what you could find at the stalls. The first would have all kinds of soaps, the next beverages, the one after that pet food, and then it would cycle back to the soaps.

It seems very repetitive, although there are a smattering of clothing stalls and bakery shops (yum!), as well as meat and fish sellers. There is even a stall that sells bulk frozen fruits and veggies, and a seller of plant and vegetable seeds. We will definitely be checking that out when the weather gets warmer (I'm told that will start to happen within the next month, but I'll believe it when I see it!) ;)

At any rate, here are some pics I snapped of the market. (Most of them aren't great, I was trying to take pictures without looking like a total tourist):
The view from a bridge parallel to the market
Inside the market. The yellow sign says мебель, which means furniture, but we mostly saw meat and dairy products in there...so we're not sure about that one
Some of the stalls
A cat outside one of the bakery stalls
The электричка, or electric train runs just outside of the market. You can almost see the tracks in the first picture.
We're going to try this pizza restaurant soon. The building in the background is a movie theater, but apparently they never show movies in English, so I'm not sure how often we'll go to movies here. :/
 As I mentioned, in order to get to the market we had to go over a bridge. This bridge had a lot of stairs to get up and then down, and I wanted to show you the handicap accessibility features that have been built into structures here:
Somehow I don't think this meets US angle standards...
 We saw the same thing in Moscow, so I'm guessing this is a country-wide feature...eek. They look particularly scary when they are covered in ice and snow. Still, better than nothing?

We're still battling with the leaking bathtub this week...on Monday I had no less than 6 people here to look at the thing and try to fix it. They ended up pulling it completely out:
 Then after a few hours of work putting it back:
 And later came back to caulk it (leaving us the leftover caulk, wasn't that nice?!)


We also had painters in to take out the "lovely" pink paint in the hall yesterday:
Before
After














Isn't that so much better?!
They will be back to paint the dining room another day, as well as take care of the yellow wallpaper of the "Maisy" room, but progress is progress! :)

KF