Yekaterinburg, Russia

I know I promised pictures, but the Internet at this hotel is purchased in MB bandwidth, so uploading a photo or video is currently out of the question. As soon as I can get an unlimited connection, I’ll share the scenery.

On Friday, I met with realtor companies all day to get a snapshot of the rental market here in Yekaterinburg. While translation was a big issue (they kept referring to apartment complexes as “houses”, throwing me for a loop when I tried to clarify availability), the meetings largely went as planned. I had read about an expatriate happy-hour that takes place on Friday nights at the Atrium Palace, the only 5-star hotel in the region, so I planned my evening around that. I walked around the city for an hour or so, taking a few pictures and welcoming the cold weather. The hotel was barren upon arrival, with a few older couples drinking coffee in the lobby, so I went upstairs to the restaurant, hoping to run into some fellow English speakers that could help me better understand what it’s like for a foreigner to live in Yekaterinburg. Alas, I was disappointed, spotting only a few people seated down for dinner. Maybe I misinterpreted the happy-hour memo. I sat down and indulged myself with a medium-bodied cabernet and fish doused in pear sauce – what a life, eh? Just for fun, on the way out I poked my head in the bathroom and fascinated over the rose petals on the sink. Laughable.

When I woke up on Saturday, I discovered – much to my dismay – that President Medvedev decided to start a new annual holiday in the country. Apparently very few shops would be open on Sunday and Monday, so I had to shuffle around my schedule and push everything forward. It was an exhausting day. I still have yet to find out what the “Holiday of Equity” means. Are we supposed to wear masks, sing songs, eat special foods? Who knows.

Due to the holiday, Halloween was celebrated on Saturday night instead of Friday. I met my translator, Ksenia, and 5 of her friends at a bar called Keeer (yes, 3 e’s). One of them spent 5 years in the U.K. and effortlessly darted back and forth between Russian and English English – bilinguals never cease to amaze me. Even when the conversation wasn’t directed at me, everyone made an attempt to speak English, just so I could feel welcome. How’s that for Russian hospitality? After a few beers, vodka was ordered, and to be honest, my memory gets a little fuzzy after that. We ended up going to a medium sized club, where the head DJ was wearing a Darth Maul mask and reenacting the scene from Michael Jackson’s Thriller when I walked in. Oh, what a scene.

I paid for my late-night debauchery the next morning, when I couldn’t stomach water or food for the first half of the day. Late in the afternoon, I went to a megastore – think Costco on crack – to record more prices, spending several hours trying to navigate the aisles with Ksenia and her two friends who were helping me locate various items. When I finished work around 10:30pm, we all went to McDonald’s to celebrate (the double cheeseburger was phenomenal), then I was invited with them to drive to the Russian countryside for a few hours for a gathering of friends. It’s popular here to rent “bases”, or cheap motel rooms, in the countryside to throw parties during the winter. The ride took about 40 minutes, and when we got out of the car all I could see were a few buildings and many, many trees. Partying in the middle of the forest? Good stuff. I met more friends and drank more vodka (a recurring theme in this country), learning that alcohol, not English, is the world’s most understood language. Max, a friend who had not spoken English in 6 years, dragged me out to his car where we listened to Eminem and other American rap artists. He said I was a “cool guy,” and I patted him on the back and repeated the very same words.

I woke up this morning and went to the few stores that were open, making phone calls with Ksenia in the afternoon. It’s just after dinner and I have plenty of paperwork to do before tomorrow morning, when I catch a 6am cab to the airport. I’m meeting Ksenia and her friends in a few hours for some last minute drinks and goodbyes. In the meantime, I’ve got some work to do.

Signing off until Baku.