Sunday, January 08, 2006

Day 2 - Moscow to Yaroslavl, Part 2

Day 2, continued - Having finished our blini, Katja decided it was time to go for a walk in the snow. It was for my own good after all ... my soft American lifestyle demanded that I go for at least an hour long walk in the snow. It actually wasn't bad out at all ... I had forgotten my gloves back home and as long as I kept my hands in my pockets, I was fine. One lesson I did learn, however ... even a small breeze sure makes a difference on your exposed face. I guess I should have known this, I've worked outside in the winter many times. But there is a difference when you can take a break from the cold by jumping into your car or truck ... and truly being exposed to the elements.

After our walk we decided upon some coffee and tea. I then had to buy some AA batteries for my camera. Seems I forgot to recharge my CRV-3 cells so I was going to need 4 AA batteries if I was going to continue making pictures. This led me to reaffirm my inescapable conclusion of Russian Capitalism: Add as many steps as possible to the purchasing process. You see, you can't just walk into the store, pick up the batteries you want, walk to the counter, pay and walk out. No ... that would be too efficient. You have to browse the batteries behind a locked glass case, hunt down the attendant, wait until she decides to acknowledge your presence, and then ask for the batteries that you want, purchase, and pay. I actually thought I was getting a pretty good price on the batteries until I realized it was the price per battery ... not the price for the package of 2 or 4 AA cells. Anyway, it wasn't so terrible, just one of those cultural shopping experiences that stands out to an American. I suppose it never occurs to a native Russian that there are added steps in the purchase process.

After this we were off to a local supermarket for a few grocery items. We had to have something to eat on the train after all. To Katja, this means bread and cheese. She also grabbed some bananas and some fatty dried smoked kolbasa. The kolbasa was a concession to my American manhood and her impression that I require some meat. I really admire the Russian ability to eat dairy products. It seems to agree with me while I am there. Somehow when I am in the US, I tend to balk at dropping $5 or $6 a pound for a good block of cheese. But I think I should probably revisit that. Katja was also sweet enough to find a small jar of Russian pickles for me to try. When I was here in September, she was very suspicious of any pickles from the store, and advised me just to eat those that her mother made. This time, she decided to let me try some of the mass-produced stuff ... after all, it was my funeral if they turned out to be bad. I have to admit, her mothers pickles were far more tasty. Also ... I didn't point out to her that there was some mildew under the cover, on the edge of the lid away from the pickles. This didn't give me a warm, fuzzy feeling ... but the pickles seemed fine, if a bit bland and soft. Yes, Natasha's (K's mom) pickles are much, much better.

So now all we had to do was wait for our train. Katja needed to use the bathroom, so we went to the train station for one of her favorite restrooms (I got the feeling this was a joke among her friends, that she was persnickety about toilets). This gave me an opportunity to look around at the station in the snow and snap a few photos. The snow really added a nice touch to the busy and festive activities of the city. We didn't have long to wait before we were picking up our luggage and dragging them through the snow to find our wagon number. I don't think Katja required it, but I opted for the first class accommodations. The difference in price wasn't enough to make my forgo the comfort and extra room. After all, I was on vacation. We were traveling on less comfortable trains on later days during the trip, so might as well enjoy the nice ride while we could. Well ... maybe it wasn't all that enjoyable a ride. I once had this romantic notion that tea in Russia would always be a great affair, with loose leaf teas brewed and served from carefully crafted ornate china pots. Ah, little did I know that the teabag is everywhere. Lipton, no less. The prevalence of American products in Russia will be a rant for another time, however.

And so we made the 3 plus hour ride to Yaroslavl. It was some cold when we got to Yaroslavl that night. Even Katja was a bit surprised by the sudden change in temperature. We grabbed a taxi from the train station ... apparently he had never heard of where we were staying (The Exeter House). Eventually he found it ... rather quaint little 4-room place that it is. After ringing the bell a few times, the clerk finally let us in. No smile for us, rather a look of annoyance. She asked us to fill out some forms, which required everything except your blood type. Why in the world you would need to list what city you were born in, when checking into a hotel is beyond me. It remains part of the mystery of Russian beaucracy. I think it is almost force of habit to have such forms for people to fill out, as most of the hotels I visited didn't require quite so much information. Upon filling out my form and the clerk seeing my passport, I was informed that I didn't need to fill one out ... only Katja. That made even less sense, but what the heck. We placed our order for breakfast at 10:30 am the next morning. We went to our room to find a rather clean and neat mini-apartment. Two small single beds, of course. You see these even in many peoples homes, or a day bed or convertible sofa/chair. It leaves me wondering how the Russian people ever sleep together or procreate.

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