Archive for January, 2007

Mud, Cops and Germos

The Christmas-New Years Holiday is complete and we are back to work. We had arrived in Yekaterinburg on December 30 after a 50-hour train ride. We spent two weeks with relatives and enjoyed the colder weather. New Years Eve delivered –28 to –30 below zero weather; this is perfect and just what you expect for Russia.


After 2006 turned (on the Caesarian calendar the normal western New Year) it started to warm up and by the time we went to the train station to come home, the dirt parking lot was a sea of mud. This part of the world has not embraced the use of salt and magnesium chloride to mitigate snow. The thaw which put temps up to a –2 to +5 just caused a huge mess. By the time we returned and got on the train we were relieved that we had not gotten any dirtier that we had –mainly shoes and pant legs.


During the return trip, the Kaz Immigrations and Railroad cops combined forces to be annoying. They inspected/scrutinized our passports/visas on three separate occasions. One fellow finally told us that they were suspicious of us since no Americans usually ride trains; they are in too big of a hurry and take planes. Between the time of the first inspection and the third, they had apparently verified our residence in Almaty and whom Sophie works for. There is also a general crackdown on undocumented workers right now and that has made the immigrations types extra vigilant and pesky. The U.S. should be as intense with its borders!


Finally and this part is for Leslie Raymond who is fastidious and doesn’t like dirt. She is constantly fighting dirt and what Nadia calls “GERMOZ”. Leslie will attest to having one child who was a Messy-Marvin and the other was born with the “Clean Genes” she possesses. Anyway, we had other kids on the return train that proved to be good playmates for Nadia. “Artour” (roll that “R”) was the nicest little boy. On the raw side was a lad named Sergey about 5 years old. He loved the attention that Sophie and Nadia lavished on him, but his lack of parental supervision during the trip (and we are guessing during his day-to-day life, show him to be a little “maug-lee”). Mauglees lack all social graces and typically eat like animals. Remember the mud I talked of earlier and all the people who walked onto the train. Please imagine a filthy carpet running in the train wagon’s corridor and visualize a round Russian bread (like a pretzel) called a “soosh-ski” being rolled down the carpet runner. Visualize finally Sergey tapping the soosh-ski on the bottom of his sandal just before inserting it into him moth – WHOLE – and then chewing it down to be swallowed in one mighty bite.


I’m not squeamish about dirty bathrooms on trains and other such facilities in this part of the world, but Sergey was just amazing. He probably has the highest immunity of anyone on the train due to his consuming all of these microbes in bite-sized doses, but to see the food go into his mouth after coming off the filthy train carpet was disturbing on several levels.


Sophie is fanatic when we travel, trying to keep things sanitary. We all came back healthy thank goodness. Next time I will be traveling with at least two giant cans of Lysol and share one with the likes of Sergey.


As the Russian vacation ends

We’re down to two days before we board the train for the return trip to Almaty. We’ve had a good rest with lots of memories and new pictures (see the latest gallery here in the Blog). 

We arrived on December 30 with the official holiday staring on New Years Eve – Dec. 31st and running January 9th.  We will be leaving on the 13th for Almaty.

 New Years’ eve weather did not disappoint with the mercury plunging to a minus 28 degrees. We got out visiting 5 of the 7 squares in Yekaterinburg with the goal of getting the kids down as many of the ice runs as was possible. The main square across the boulevard from city hall great ice carvings and a kamikaze ice slide with a huge 30 degree angle – only for kids with very strong stomachs or adults who love adrenalin rushes (Jim Colt take note). 

Christmas gifting has been similar to the Chanukah traditions with presents coming over several days. Orthodox Christmas on the 7th saw Sophie and her sister go to Church followed by the family heading out to the dacha which is located about 20 kilometers east of Yekaterinburg for sledding, hiking and hot lemon tea. Sophie bought a new coat and I got a pair Reichert men’s winter boots; they are made in Austria. These are dress boots with fur lining and soft rubber bottoms for walking on ice. My Nike hiking boots have gotten me by so far this winter with only two slip and falls but their hard rubber bottoms are for rock climbing not ice. The Reicherts are a dream to walk in.

We had one close call with my Nephew Leve breaking his collarbone in a tubing accident (Nadia was on the tube as well but came away unmarked thank God). We sometimes complain in the U.S. abut our regulations and safety requirements – I can tell you after this accident please follow the safety instructions at your favorite resort. This particular local resort had tubing, snow boarding and ski runs but the entire operation was completely un-supervised with patrons just doing their own thing, sledding down the tubing run, tubing down the ski run; lot of ice to slip on as well that could have been easily mitigated. There were also light standards adjacent to the various runs that were not wrapped in heavy foam rubber.

We "assumed" that Nadia and Leve and would be stopped by the berm at the end of snowboard run, but the tube had enough momentum built up it sailed over the berm out of control and hit a metal tube-framed sign just off the course about 150 feet further down the hill. Our mistake: Not having a parent stationed at the end of the berm and the resort operator’s mistake in not having "break away signage" that would have just collapsed when hit by the tube. Safety is still not a part of the Russian life. This broken collarbone could have been a real disaster and I am really thankful to our Lord that injuries were kept to a minimum.


The foods been great. My mother-in-law and Sophie are always at odds over my diet when we come to visit, with Sophie trying to control my diet and my mother-in-law trying to bulk me up; mother-in-law one this year. Here soups are the best along with a fish pie in a light flaky butter crust that is to die for.

 Time to go. The rest of the family is off to a Sanatorium about 2 hours out of the city for an alternative medicine day – breathing treatments, herbs, etc. I will be here drinking coffee and eating lunch with Tabasco sauce – the best "herb" in the world. It’s a comfortable a –6 out right now and I’m heading out for a walk. S Novim Godom.

 More later when we get back to Almaty.