Safe and Sound

Yes, it has been a ridiculously long time since I last posted. We have been traveling, running from airport to airport, and I have found it extremely difficult to keep up with the blog. The past four weeks have been a whirlwind of excitement, exhaustion, movement, and momentous sights. There are many new stories and updates on their way!

In the end, Shayne, Polya, and I have all made it home, safely and soundly. We are all settling back in to life in the U.S. Not to worry, there are more Russian blog posts to come, along with posts about our adventures in China, Japan, and Hawaii.

Our time has been life changing, as are the people we have encountered along the way. We miss you all so much! We are incredibly grateful for everything that we have experienced.

More coming soon….

Глуять

There is a word in Russian–гулять–that I really enjoy. It means to walk, although that does not quite encompass the whole. The real meaning is to walk around, to stroll, to wander around, or to walk without a particular destination in mind. Basically, walking for the sheer pleasure of walking. I wish we did more of this in the U.S. In Russia, this happens more in the warmer seasons of the year. As the weather warms up here, you find more people out and about.

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Jose and his first meeting with Eleanor Pray

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Eleanor Pray

Our first walk around Vlad happened almost a month ago. After a visit to the Catholic Church here (more on that coming soon!), Yasha and I were joined by our friend Jose to take a walk around the city. We giggled, we frolicked, we ate, and explored. Here are some of our findings…

The monument to Eleanor Pray was a particular favorite of Jose’s. Eleanor Pray was an American woman living in Vladivostok from 1894 to 1930. Born in Maine and raised in New Hampshire, Eleanor moved to Vlad in 1894. She was extremely important to the understanding  of the lifestyle in early 20th century Russia. Eleanor wrote more than 2,100 letters that have been cataloged and transcribed, the majority having been written to her sister-in-law. The vast collection of both letters and photographs have given a unique insight into the mercantile lifestyle in pre-Russian Revolution Vladivostok.

We stumbled upon a beautiful back alley that had great graffiti. Not to mention the intense ice formations found along the gutters. The housing had intricate detailing, and, as usual, we found a cat that wanted to become friends.

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We ended the walk with eating at one of our favorite places,  Хохлома. Jose makes an excellent Russian uncle, reading to us from a book of Russian fairy tales.

A Day in the Life of Yasha

Here, we have the pictures of what Yasha sees during an average day in Vladivostok.

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Yasha took these pictures on a Wednesday, and this is typical of what he encounters. Classes have been challenging, but this particular Wednesday was fun because they got to play the Russian version of “Telephone.” The first attempt was less than stellar, but the second and third rounds went a lot better.Yasha said he loves how colorful the city is, especially now that spring has almost arrived. He thinks it is interesting that within a city as busy as Vlad, there are still places where you can find peaceful moments and quiet places to escape the noisy hustle and bustle of the city.

Plane Rides

By the time we arrived at the airport, we were very tired. We decided to go a bit early in order to ensure we got there on time and in case of any difficulties that might arise. Instead of a bit early, we ended up arriving incredibly early, almost 3 hours ahead of schedule. It may have been a little much, but the indoor warmth and chance to relax before our flight was enticing.

As we have experienced before in Russia and other countries in the world, the airport did not have dedicated desks for each airline, as do many airports in the U.S. This meant the desk we needed opened up only one hour before our flight, and we had no way to check in early. Since we were already there, we looked for places to sit and lunch to buy. While waiting at the airport, we each also took care of work: Yasha and Polya attacked their homework with vigor, as I worked on my writing.

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Our first flight from Khabarovsk occurred without incident. We arrived at an extremely tiny airport in Благовещенск, right on the border with China, for a short layover. We were told it would be only about 40 minutes. What we did not know was there was a mechanical issue with our plane large enough that the plane needed to be replaced.

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Courtesy of http://www.mapsoftheworld.com. Vladivostok, Khabarovsk, Blagoveshchensk, and Irkutsk are all located on the right-hand side of the map.

As these things go, 40 minutes turned into 5 hours. All of the passengers we arrived with started to exit back out through security and we followed suit. We learned a lot of new Russian words and phrases while waiting for our replacement plane to arrive.

“Your airplane is delayed.” “Самолёт задерживается.”

“I left my ticket on the plane.”” Я оставил свой билет на самолёт.”

“That was a foolish thing to do!” ” Что было глупо сделать!”

Because we thought we were going to get right back on our plane, Polya left her ticket in the seat pocket, not thinking anything of it. We had to employ the help of several airline workers to get it back. They were gracious about it, but the man who finally brought it out to us warned her to be careful not to do it again, smirking the entire time.

Another travel tip we learned is it is valuable to watch other people from your flight, to make sure you know when to return to your gate and where said gate is. We kept an eye on one particular man–long-coat guy with a шапка– and made sure he was always in sight. Where he went, we went. It was reassuring, as Russian seemed harder to understand in this part of the country.

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First glimpse of Siberia

Finally, our “Being Stranded in Siberia Adventure” ended. Around 9:30pm, we got onto a new plane and continued to make our way toward Irkutsk. Even though we were excited to be on our way, there was a small concern that our scheduled hostel shuttle would not be waiting for us, as we were expected at  6:00pm, but in reality, made it in around 1:30am. Luckily, there were no problems once we landed. Our transportation was ready and waiting for our weary souls. We made our way to the hostel, checked in, and promptly went to sleep.

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Irkutsk from the air

 

 

Khabarovsk Exploration

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We’re here!

After twelve hours on the train, we finally arrived in Khabarovsk. Nikita was very sweet; he offered to escort us off the train and find us a taxi to take us to the center of the city. After hiring a cab, we left our new friend to head off into the unknown.

It was a grey and extremely cold day. And by 7:00am, we were starving. Our cab driver dropped us off downtown and we immediately went in search of breakfast. Having not eaten a real meal on the train, we were naturally ready to gnaw on our arms. Unbeknownst to us, Khabarovsk restaurants do not open until later in the morning, the earliest usually around 9:00am. Instead of eating, we had no choice but to walk around the city.

Khabarovsk is the capital of the Khabarovsk Krai region, and only 19 miles from the Chinese border.The city had a very different feel than Vladivostok. With a population around 570,000 people, it is a smaller city than Vladivostok, which has about 603,000 people. There was less hustle and bustle in the streets and the people seemed more reserved. We got more than one interested looks as we made our way down the main thoroughfare.

We came across an impressive church at the end of the main street. Its name was The Grado-Khabarovsk Cathedral of the Assumption of the Mother of God (Градо-Хабаровский собор Успения Божьей Матери) and is one of the largest cathedrals in the Russian Far East. The cathedral stands almost 200 feet tall and is located right on the shores of the Amur River. The icon of Jesus looks out toward the river with very serious and omniscient eyes.

Once we reached the Amur River’s bank, we turned around to return the way we had come. As we continued to find our way back along the main road, we saw other fascinating sights, including the ocular homage to T.J. Eckleburg from The Great Gatsby and the symbol of Khabarovsk Krai, a sitting bear on a field of white holding the historical coat of arms of Khabarovsk City.

After several hours of cold wanderings, we found a restaurant that was open for breakfast. It was a little cafeteria style place and we were grateful to find it. We very much appreciated being inside, sitting down for a little while, warming up, and eating.

Once we were full from breakfast, we needed to find a way to the airport to catch our plane to Irkutsk. Polya’s quick eyes found a bus sporting the word airport. We hopped on and headed toward out of the city.  In about 30 minutes, we had found the airport!!

Khabarovsk

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On our way!

One of my lifelong dreams has been to visit Lake Baikal. In late March, we got our chance!

Right away, let me explain some of the realities of living abroad. Trying to travel almost 2,400 miles across the country is a daunting experience, especially with less than fluent speaking abilities. Not to mention, we had major issues with our credit cards. As responsible travelers, we informed our credit card companies that we would be traveling abroad, the countries we would be visiting, and the duration of our trips. Apparently, this is not always enough. While trying to buy plane tickets, our cards payed for our first plane tickets, then were repeatedly declined in our attempts to buy the second. By the time we figured out a way to get them all paid for, there were no longer seats available of the flight from Vladivostok to Khabarovsk. We honestly thought this was the end of our Siberian adventure. Fortunately, our Russian mama Svetlana helped us navigate the Russian websites and find an alternative…the train.

Definitely a new experience, we were excited about the prospect of taking a different form of transportation. Buying tickets was not the easiest feat with our budding Russian skills. A very helpful (and saintly patient) ticket woman named Ксеня (Ksenia) helped us to figure out what we needed to buy. We did eventually manage to get three tickets next to each other for the train to Khabarovsk. Showing up and actually locating the train? Completely another story. The ticket location and the actual terminal are two different places. After a trip into the wrong building, we finally found the correct station.

Once aboard the train, we prepared for our 12 hour ride to Khabarovsk. Beds were made by unrolling mattresses on the various platforms. Polya and I were in one compartment  on the upper beds while Yasha was in the compartment next door, also on an upper bunk. As the passengers trickled in, we started to notice there were a lot of younger people, early teens, around our section. As we found out, there was a school group on their way home from a visit to the universities in Vladivostok. Teachers from a school outside of Khabarovsk had taken their 17-year-old students for college visits, and, because they also taught 12-13 years olds, those kids came along as well. Imagine. Three foreigners on a train with twenty Russian students. It definitely made for some good conversation.

The kids very much wanted to speak English with us. I was utterly impressed with their ability to communicate! At age twelve, these kids were speaking better English that we were speaking Russian. We befriended a young man, Nikita, 17 years old, who was extremely helpful. He explained many things about the train, Vladivostok, Khabarovsk, and had a lot of questions of his own about America. One of Nikita’s teachers was interested in our views on the situation in Ukraine, although we did not speak about it much. Nikita took the conversation in another direction, explaining to us what was happening along the train tracks. Every so often, there would be brush fires along the tracks. Being an easy-to-panic American, I asked if this was an issue, to have so many fires going on in the countryside with no apparent fire people putting them out. Nikita explained that these were controlled fires done every year to burn up the brush, all to avoid uncontrolled brush fires in the warmer months. It makes perfect sense. Once that was explained, it was a beautiful site to see, especially during the evening hours. The kids taught Polya how to make bracelets with little plastic rubber bands. The сыр balls (cheese balls) we purchased were a hit with the kids. As the night wore on, we connected even more with everyone’s mutual love of music. Polya played her eclectic foreign playlists and we even attempted to learn to play a Russian card game. It did not go over well, I still do not understand what the rules. But at least we tried!

Around 11:00 pm we finally went to sleep. I have to admit, that was one of the worst nights of sleep I have ever had. Horrible. After finally managing to climb up into my bunk (which was quite a trial), I tossed and turned all night. I had thought the motion of the train would be soothing. Alas, it did not work out that way.

Finally, we arrived in Khabarovsk at 7:00am, exhausted and ready to explore. More on our exploration to come…

Really COLD

We knew it was going to be cold here in Vladivostok, especially coming from the warm islands of Hawai’i. Some days are colder than others…this was one of the coldest thus far. The temperature was somewhere in the 20s, with the wind chill making it about a billion degrees below 0. And yes, that was the official temperature. Lucky us, we were all completely out of food and had to brave the cold in order to eat. A quick ten minute walk to the OK! Supermarket was enough for us to handle that day. Here are a few images from our trek.