One city down, four to go. After spending over a week in the motherland of Russia, I certainly have a lot to share.
I arrived in Novosibirsk, the largest city in Siberia (and third largest in Russia) after flying through Frankfurt and Moscow, both airports aptly suited to handle the weary, jet-lagged drones such as myself that throng through their gates day after day. Happy to see that my luggage arrived in due form, I hailed a taxi to Hotel Sibir, one of the few business-friendly hotels in Novosibirsk proper. Normally I would have explored the hotels various amenities, but I headed straight for the room, eager to plop down on the bed and call it a day.
My room was suite-tastic. A flat-screen TV, shag carpets, robe and slippers, the works. I slept blissfully. The next morning, I bought a map at the hotel gift shop and set to work, plotting the various outlets I would be visiting and navigating my path through Novosibirsk’s city center. The planning didn’t help much, though, as I soon realized that prices are very difficult to collect when virtually no one speaks English. It was (and yikes, still is) humbling to be in a country where it’s so difficult to communicate. As an English speaker, this is a rarity in the world today, yet while I enjoy the challenge, the mystique, the sheer exoticism of another culture’s utterings, getting work done has been difficult. Side note: one of the first English sentences I heard was during the breakfast buffet, when a fellow hotel guest commented on the ambient lounge music accompanying the meal. “They sure like their noise, don’t they?” What is that supposed to mean?
I hired a translator, Irina, who helped me make phone calls, set up realtor appointments, and accompany me to grocery stores and other outlets to help with permission issues. Without her help, I would have been lost. Well, even with her help I was still a little lost, but nearly as lost as I could have been.
The first night that I didn’t sleep through dinner, I elevatored my way down to the hotel restaurant for some easy, stress-free grub. While I munched on duck and spiced apples, a woman turned on speakers and began singing alongside midi-composed tunes in both Russian and heavily accented English. The one other couple in the room had just finished dinner, so unfortunately I was the only one who could appreciate Que Sera Sera in its unique form.
I ran into a man named Anatoli that recognized me from the Moscow flight, and although we both had issues expressing ourselves verbally, smiles and handshakes ensued. He handed me his business card and wrote an address and time on the back, signaling food with his hands. I looked up the word for ‘tonight’ in my dictionary, just to make sure I understood what he was getting at. Later on that night, I took a taxi to his apartment, about 15 minutes outside of the city center, and was greeted by he and his wife, ushered to the table and immediately poured some tea. He grabbed his camera, hooked it up to the TV and started showing me pictures of a trip he and his wife just took to Spain. A few minutes later, his neighbor, a 19 year old girl studying at one of the local universities, dropped by to help translate. It turns out that she, Anatoli, and his wife were trying to get me to join their Amway network. Apparently Amway, a world-wide retail/network marketing company, has a growing market in Russia. I was a bit upset that the hospitality was focused around me signing up right then and there on their computer, but it was still an enjoyable night. When Anatoli and his neighbor dropped me off at the hotel, another funny thing happened. I said goodbye and watched Anatoli walk back towards his car as his neighbor stood there awkwardly. I told Anatoli that there was a misunderstanding, trying politely to decline what I made out to be a pawning-off-of-neighbor-sort-of-situation. I guess he really wanted me in his Amway network?
As I mentioned in the last post, I celebrated my last night in Siberia with a few local beers (which don’t taste nearly as good as the vodka). My suspicions were confirmed when I walked downstairs to check out the “Dance Bar” only to realize that I was the only hotel guest entering a nightly strip club. I’ll spare any further details.
At 4:30am that same morning, I received a premature wake-up call from a taxi driver who wanted to make sure I was still heading to the airport. I flew back to Moscow, switched airlines, then flew to Yekaterinburg, where I am now. A note on airline meals: there is definitely an art to eating them, one that I have not yet developed a skill for. Any tips?
With one full day behind me, I am excited to be in Yekaterinburg, the fifth largest city in Russia, home to more statues that I can keep track of, site of the 1918 execution of Tsar Nicholas II and his family, the last of the Romanov Dynasty. The city has a lot to offer regarding restaurants and night life, and now that I have adjusted to the time change, I plan to explore. In the meantime it’s work work work. Next post to come soon.