Posts Tagged ‘food’

Day 3: Dyngus holiday weekend

April 18th, 2011 7 comments

The Russian orthodox christians celebrate Dyngus Day as Verbnoe Voskresenje, or translated (kind of), Pussy Willow Day. This weekend was a really good time to come to Vladivostok as my hosts had time to show me around the city as well as take me to spend an afternoon at their dacha (summer cottage).

On Saturday, we went to the dacha belonging to the babushka (grandmother) of one of my hosts. It was too early for people to be going to their summer cottages yet but we saw the neighbors already sowing some seeds for the spring. The first flowers of spring were pushing through the dirt and I can only imagine how green everything will get in another 2 months or so. We just went to get out of the city and have a lunch of barbecued sausages along with kolbasa, fresh greens (Chinese cabbage, tomatoes, cucumber, dill), and preserved vegetables that babushka had made (eggplant, tomato, bell pepper, carrot, and daikon). There was also homemade strawberry jam (from the last season’s fruits grown in the dacha garden) that I ate with a tvorozhnie pryaniki something-or-other (cheesecake cookie with jam inside).

On Sunday, my hosts wanted to take advantage of the quiet in the streets. Vladivostok roads are all under construction and, on a normal day, they’re usually teeming with cars and people. It’s not as crowded as a street in Manila or Delhi but enough to make a 10 minute commute take more than an hour. It seems that, in preparation for the 2012 Asian summit, the “State” is reconstructing ALL the roads and attractions at ALL the same time. Anyway, on Vyerba day, it was relatively quiet, although shops were still open. I’m amazed at the number of small supermarkets that abound in Vladivostok – there seems to be a supermarket every 200 meters. Eugenia made a perfect tour guide, pointing out the sites and history, as we zipped through the city. There was one statue of Lenin.

Here is why you should come to Vladivostok.

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And to make the day even more surreal, it was the 50th year celebration of Yuri Gagarin’s space flight so we caught a few minutes of an outdoor celebration that involved aliens playing with children and Men in Black break-dancing on stage. As if the day wasn’t bizarre enough, I ended it by watching The L Word with a monotone man doing the Russian voice-over for all the parts.

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Day 1: Russian welcome

April 16th, 2011 6 comments

The only part of the flight attendant’s announcement that I understood was “minus one degrees centigrade”. My first thought was “I’m going to freeze here” and my second thought was “I’m screwed because I can’t understand any Russian and that wasn’t even in Russian”. The flight attendant was speaking in English but had a Russian accent.

I wasn’t feeling any more hopeful about the start of my trip after being turned away at the immigration desk because I had put in the wrong number for my Visa # on the form. Apparently I should have written the number in the top right of my visa and not the number that was shown under “VISA ID”. Go figure. To make me feel more out of place, once I got out of customs, I couldn’t find a working pay phone and I had no idea where I was supposed to meet my couchsurfer hosts. It was a small international terminal so there weren’t many places to look. Standing around outside the terminal exit only attracted random men to me asking if I needed a taxi. I’m assuming that’s what they were asking because the word “taxi” was the only word I understood. Eventually, I got the nerve to try and ask someone if I could borrow their mobile phone to make a local phone call. As I was trying to make one person understand what I needed, another man handed me his phone. Thank you! But looking at the phone, I couldn’t figure out which button on the menu was to make an outbound call. Mental note: look into phone app UI designs later.

Made call, figured out where to wait and then stood outside waiting, amazingly, not feeling cold in my cotton jacket. From then on, everything has been excellent in Vladivostok. My couchsurf hosts, Eugenia and Olga, love their city and drove me around showing the beach and the construction work. Apparently there is going to be a big Asia-wide conference here in 2012 so the whole city is under construction.

After getting to their apartment, we spent hours talking and eating. According to one of my hosts, her favorite thing is to “eat, drink, and gavareet”. I learned quickly that gavareet is to speak. One host speaks English and translated for the other host. It’s hard to explain how thankful I am that they took me into their lives and are making every effort that my introduction to Russia is hospitable, fun, authentic, and memorable. There are behind the scenes stories that I’m going to cherish and will share privately.

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Day 0: Hong Kong

April 16th, 2011 5 comments

There wasn’t a direct (or even remotely close-to-direct) flight to Vladivostok and I was trying to build up miles with oneworld airline carriers so my route to Vladivostok took me through Hong Kong and Beijing. The stop-over in Hong Kong was about 8 hours so I decided to use that time to go see the city, and I had the incredible fortune to have a friend, TW, there who wanted to show me around and had planned my full day itinerary which went something like this:

Walking through a Hong Kong outdoor market

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07:30 arrive HK Int’l Airport, go through immigration, customs and to the Airport Express train. I see a train with Mickey Mouse-shaped head for windows.
09:00 arrive in HK MTR central train station and find TW
09:15 walking tour of HK central, aka “central”, starts. TW knows a lot of the history behind the skyscrapers and most of what I remember is that they’re tall, there is IFR 1 and 2, which was the tallest building in HK until some bank built the next tallest one across the bay in Kowloon. There is some business feng shui thing going on with the Bank of China knife-shaped building. The building with circles that came straight out of the 70’s was the tallest building in HK for a while. The whole time I think to myself that I would be completely lost in about 5 minutes if I had tried to look around on my own.
09:45 breakfast of cantonese noodles and jo (rice porridge of some sort)
10:15 taxi ride through town to the base of the cable car that goes up to HK “peak”. Apparently, in HK, the higher your elevation, the higher your economical status.
10:30 cable car ride up to the peak. This is a very steep ride that goes straight up the hill. At one point, I was leaning over at 45-degrees to try and stand.
10:45 take the escalators up to the viewing deck. There is a mini Disney castle at the base of the escalators. I can’t get away from the Mouse.
11:15 go back downstairs and get a lemon-flavored aloe drink at 7-Eleven in the shopping area at the peak
11:20 taxi back to central
11:35 eat egg tarts at a local bakery
11:45 walk through the local wet market and capture the sounds and smells of fresh fish and produce
12:30 get on the tram heading out of central – we’re having lunch with 2 more of my friends at the Grand Hyatt near Causeway Bay. The crowds are starting to thicken. TW informs me lunch time is coming when everything gets really busy. Some shops don’t even open until noon.
12:50 get off the tram and walk. I’m pretty sticky from the walking and humidity at this point. And it’s not even really hot and humid in HK yet.
13:15 lunch in the air-conditioned Hyatt. I forgot to take pictures of the food but it was good. I had Hainan chicken and tried some of TW’s beef noodle. I introduced my other 2 friends because they didn’t all know each other.
14:30 taxi back to HK MTR station to take train back to airport
15:00 fly through security check and head to gate. I have time to check my email while standing in line. I love free wi-fi and smartphones.
15:35 board plane for Beijing

Thank goodness for free airport wi-fi and for the free local call phones just outside of the customs area because I had no HK dollars nor phone or any other way to contact TW.

I had a 5-hour layover in Beijing and wanted to leave the airport for a while to see what was around the area. However, after going through immigration and customs, I somehow found myself back on the airport tram going back to the International terminal. Signage wasn’t very helpful to me. I decided I was too tired to try and figure out how to get out again so I went looking for the airport hourly hotel in hopes of getting a shower and place to nap. I had to walk past the enclosed smoking lounge to get to the reception area for the hourly hotel but I was greeted by a nice lady who didn’t speak English and a page-long options list with prices listed in Yuen. When I asked the lady how much 50 Yuen would be if converted to US dollars, she pulled out a calculator and typed out some numbers and then showed me the result of “34.154”. I’m pretty sure that there is something funny with her exchange rate so I just say thank you and roam the empty terminal in search of a clock and a place to nap.

I woke from my nap surrounded by Russian-speaking people. At this point, exhaustion has made my line between reality and dream very fuzzy and I go into auto-pilot, hoping that I’m boarding the right plane.

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