Tuesday, May 29, 2007

More Lena visits New York

Central Park

Central Park

Grand Central Station (and another flag)

Chinatown (freaked Lena out a bit...totally understandable!)

Bubble Man in Chinatown

Old guy in Little Italy

Food magnets in Little Italy

Zepoles...guess how many I ate! After being overwhelmed by Chinatown, we headed into Little Italy and were thrilled to find a summer festival going strong on Mulberry street. The food smelled great!

Erin and Lena in a gold bulb

Drinks at The Coffee Shop

Heather joined Lena and I for dinner at The Coffee Shop...Lena's first encounter with a real New Yorker:-)

Late night fishing in Battery Park

Monday, May 28, 2007

Lena visits New York

Lena, a Russian friend from Berlin visited New York (and the US) for the first time this weekend. We were crazy tourists, covering most of big sites between 125th Street and Battery Park and from the Brooklyn Bridge to the Meat Packing District. Lena is quite the photographer so I was thrilled that she wanted to use my camera this weekend. It was fabulous and fascinating to see the city through the eyes of a NYC and USA newbie. I'll let her pictures (and a few of mine) describe the sites we saw.

Brooklyn Bridge

Lena and Erin on the Bridge above South Street Seaport

We didn't go to the Statue, but this is the next best thing

Garment District, "Nothing to it butt to do it."

Lena found all of the sailors walking around because of Fleet Week, plus the NYC police, plus a plethora of American flags to be something quiet unique (is that diplomatic enough?!)

Here's one of those flags AGAIN and New York pride on full display

What kind of BS...

...is Erin saying about Times Square?!

"New York has lots of smells"...and many of them seem to be coming from the sewers.

Times Square ads

Dreaming about Mexican (and the American flag AGAIN)

Staircase at Carnegie Hall

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Daily Horoscope

I think I like what the Daily News has to say better than the Post.

NY Daily News:
Happy birthday, Gemini! Being social, and mixing and meeting with people is a Gemini specialty - one you do extremely well. Couple this with an amicable business manner, and you have a winning formula. However, even though you love to be everyone's new best friend, be prepared this year to let some people vacate life to make room for new acquaintances. It's a year of endings, which will open the door for beginnings.

NY Post:
May 24, 2007 -- By all means try new and exciting things over the coming 12 months but be wary of people who try to push you into experiences you don't really feel comfortable with. A Mars-Neptune aspect on your birthday warns you are easily led, which might sometimes be fun but could also end in disaster.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

I’m in a New York state of mind

Outdoor markets, indoor markets, a protest dance parade, a subway series, all with an authentic NYer…what I wonderfully NYC Saturday I had!

Matt (he’s the authentic NYer) planned a lovely day, which started with lunch at Republic, an Asian restaurant off of Union Square. For London lovers, I can describe the restaurant as a slightly up market Wagamama. You sit at long tables with other people and have a choice of noodle dishes, soups, salads and smaller dishes like chicken skewers and wontons. We think the people next to us were either eavesdropping on our conversation or having relationship issues, because they didn’t say a word the entire time.

We left the restaurant in search of a plant at Union Square Market and were met on the street by whirling dervishes and the Long Island Dance Studio (the announcer was actually saying “Long Island in the house.” ) What on earth!? I read today that it was a parade to protest the city’s no dancing in bars rule. (I mentioned this earlier in the year.) It was so random and yet so New York and worked somehow.

Stop #3 was the Donut Pub (14th Street @ 7th Ave.) Why? Because we both read about it earlier in the year. Its donuts are supposedly better than Dunkin Donuts and it isn’t a chain. One honey dipped, one sugar ring and a police officer thrown in for good measure…a wonderfully authentic (and tasty) stop!

From the Donut Pub, we were off to Chelsea market. The building started out as the National Biscuit Company complex, which made everything from Saltines to Oreos. Today, the building is filled with plant and food stores. We mainly window shopped, but did pick up a hearty (read “hard to kill”) houseplant and ingredients for guacamole. I will definitely be back to shop at the fruit and veggie store. It had more varying varieties of produce than I’d ever seen before! I had never really been in the Meatpacking District either, and loved walking around the neighborhood!

My New York experience ended with a Subway Series game. Do non-New Yorkers know what that is? It’s a baseball game between the New York Yankees and New York Mets. Perhaps a Michiganian can best appreciate this rivalry. It’s just as intense as the MSU-UofM rivalry. Unfortunately, the game did not end well for the Yankees…but the homemade guac was excellent!

Friday, May 18, 2007


A fun tidbit from Russia that I forgot to mention is Kvas. I first became fascinated with “the Coke of Communism” after reading a New York Times article about it in 2003. It’s a dark drink made from fermenting bread and it used to be sold out tanker trucks during the summer in Russia. Most of the things I’ve read about it say it is slightly alcoholic, but one Russian woman told me it wasn’t and was even her boyfriend’s favorite thing to drink while driving (perhaps that explains my crazy taxi ride to the airport.)

Anyway, I finally got to try kvas last week. My Russian friends told me it was an acquired taste so I might not like it, but I thought it was great! It smells a bit like soy sauce and tastes a bit salty initially, but finishes sweet. It was also better the colder it was!

I didn’t bring any back, but apparently it is widely available in Brighton Beach in Brooklyn (the Russian enclave in the city.)

Interestingly, I found an article online, which said that Coke is in talks with beverage companies in Moscow to start bottling the drink. The article says that "Kvas can contain berries, fruit or birch sap, has been supped by peasants since the middle ages. Until the end of the 1980s it was sold flat and unfiltered but Russian soft drink manufacturers were forced to produce a carbonated version to compete with the influx of fizzy western drinks after the fall of the Soviet Union."

(I, of course, took a picture of this wonderful drink and will post it later today.)

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Refuse to believe it!

An unbelievable story in the NY Post caught my eye right before I left for Moscow, so I saved it for…now.

A professor at the University of Hertfordshire in Britain studied how fast people around the world walk, based upon walking along a 60-foot stretch of pavement. Which city has the fastest walkers according to the study? NOT NEW YORK! WHAT!? According to the study, New York City comes in at a shocking 8th place. Singaporeans walk the fastest and people in Malawi walk the slowest.

Here’s the 10 top list:
4.Guangzhou (China)
6.Curitiba (Brazil)
8.New York

Apparently, people were secretly timed walking 60-feet on a busy street, which was flat and wide enough for people to walk at their maximum speed. Perhaps the article was just not being technical, but the term “busy” seems very subjective to me. There is no way that Berliners walk faster than New Yorkers. Thoughts?

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

More Russia

34,000 feet somewhere over Canada: has a bit of time and distance given me some perspective on Moscow? Maybe, let’s see…

The city is a fascinating mix of contrasts. On the one hand, the wealth in the city, as seen by London prices at restaurants and lots of fancy cars and shops, is shocking. You’ve come a long way baby! But on the other hand, bad roads, very dilapidated apartment buildings and a certain hardened look on the faces of many Muscovites show the toll that communism took. Interestingly though, many of the apartment owners have made the decision not to renovate, allow the value of the land to continue to increase and then sell and get rich! (Ah the joys of capitalism!)

Another thing I am still trying to get my head around is the police and military involvement in everyday life. On the one side, the police never stopped me and I even saw one soldier gladly taking a picture with a Japanese tourist. The other side, however, is that the police and military presence is overwhelming. Citizens also seemed very obedient when told certain parts of town (i.e. All of Red Square for weeks) were closed for no good reason. (NYers would go ballistic!)

On a more personal note, my biggest “wow, I’m in Moscow” moment came while discussing the city with Sergej. I often talk about the wonder of living in a unified Berlin last year. But as he pointed out, it was also not too long ago that an American would have only been allowed to visit as part of a special group, might have had a minder and would not have been able to freely shop at stores around town. (Though a minder would have been able to help with understanding street signs!)

In case my postings have been a bit scattered, here are some trip highlights:

Wed- arriving a speaking German for the first time in 7 months

Thurs- reception at the German Embassy

Fri- Nighttime tour of Moscow. We saw some of the oldest and most beautiful subway stops in the city. The subway was designed with “the people” in mind, both in terms of the art and its ability to double as a series of bunkers.

Sat- Cathedrals! I went into a church off of Red Square and the Cathedral of the Assumption and was awestruck. Orthodox churches are totally different from Catholic cathedrals in W. Europe. They are very, very colorful, lots of incense is used and male/female choirs sing songs that sound quite joyful (obviously didn’t understand the words.) I was also amazed that there are no pews so people stand throughout the services and to see that people throw their whole body into doing the station of the cross movement, kind of bowing as they make the sign (I think it’s called the station of the cross…can you tell I’m not catholic!)

Sun- Visiting the Tretkayov Russian art museum. Arkhip Kuinji is one of my new favorite artists. Trying Bulgarian food was also awesome! It reminds me vaguely of Greek food and I’ve already researched Bulgarian restaurants in NYC.

Mon- taxi to the airport—the driver ran red lights, drove between lanes of cars and my throat hurt after the 1.5 hour trip because the air was so toxic.

Now it’s time to get back to all my favorite things at home, but I return with many fun memories that I will not soon forget!

Monday, May 14, 2007

Trip in pictures

In short, I had a great Sunday. Somehow I still don't have my head around the trip, so I'm going to write a posting on the plane ride back to the good ol' US of A this afternoon. In the meantime, check out the trip in pictures.

Old and new German Chancellor Fellows at Red Square (well near the Square...it was closed because something was being built for a military celebration)

A view from the outside of the Kremlin. State Kremlin Palace (closed to the public) in the background.

Kremlin--State Kremlin Palace and Church of the Annuciation

Americans at the German Embassy (where some of the best grape leaves I've ever had were served!!)

Gosudarstvennyy universalnyy magazin--GUM-- Russia's biggest, oldest and fanciest mall

St. Basil's Cathedral-- commissioned by Ivan the Terrible to celebrate the capture of Kazan in the 1500's. The domes have only been painted with bright colors since 1670.

Spectacular-- what more can I say!!

Russian rainbow:-) The modern building is a Swisshotel and is representative of all the building and renovation that is going on in the city.

P.S. Condoleezza Rice arrives is Moscow today. I've spent the last week dealing with issues of international affairs. I leave the city in her capable hands;-) (At least she can read the subway signs!)

Sunday, May 13, 2007


What should I call this posting? “Thank goodness for the Russian fellows”? “God Bless America”? “Moscow detests tourists”? Any of these sentiments would be appropriate to describe the last couple of days.

First, thank goodness for the Russian fellows. Their hospitality, especially that of those from Moscow, has been incredible. It is a true testament to the importance of the Humboldt fellowship in fostering not only German-American but also American-Russian relations. Sergej and Nicolai could not have been nicer, taking us on Moscow for tourists and Moscow for insider tours around the city!!

“God bless America” and “Moscow Detests Tourists” are a couple other thoughts that came to mind yesterday (along with some other choice words.) I am not suggesting that everything be written in English, but lack of signs written in Russian but with the Latin alphabet leads one to quickly wonder if Muscovites really want tourists in town. The fellows insist that Muscovites are dreadful, stuck up and not representative of the rest of Russia. (Perhaps I now understand why Peter the Great moved the capital to St. Petersberg!) Frustration extends beyond just signage. Take our trip to the State Armory (without a Russian fellow) yesterday. We were told to go to three separate lines yesterday before finally being allowed to buy a ticket, but were then forced to also buy the audio guide and given “three minutes, go, go” to get into the museum. (Different prices for tourists and Russians are also completely common.) But of course I had to deposit my backpack at another spot first and pay to do so. We hurried to make it to the museum, only to stand behind 40 other people in the rain who were also waiting to go through the security. Then we had no choice but to put our coats in the coat closet (stop #4 if you are counting). Then we were given the audio tour, but with the caveat that we only had an hour to use it and would be fined if we weren’t back in an hour. In security line #2 we were told that no cell phones or cameras were allowed so we needed to take them back downstairs to the coat closet (where big signs in English say they are not responsible for valuables.) Back upstairs we are pointed away from the security line and to an unlabeled staircase, which is the actual way to the State Armory (not the Diamond museum where we had been no electronics.)

The Armory itself is fantastic! Catherine the Great’s coronation dress, royal carriages, fabrage eggs and gifts from other countries are among the highlights! There actually were signs in English in some of the display cases, though they had clearly been written before 1989 because they mentioned “brilliant” military victories won by the Russians and that the Fabrage was a “capitalist workshop.” The audio tour was also good (until my battery stopped working halfway through…no refund!)

Let’s just say that I’ve also been struck with a bit of Stalin’s Revenge (must had consumed some of the water without realizing it.)

But alas, I am determined to make my last day here the best yet. I’m off to the art museum and then to do some shopping (Sergej has generously agreed to come with me!)

I promise the next posting will be much more positive!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

So far so good...

I arrived in Moscow yesterday and am happy to report:

1. I haven’t been arrested
2. Everywhere I’ve been has had t.p. (p.s. I discovered that Charmin has mini rolls to go!)
3. Perogies are great, borscht is decent, blinis and caviar is not really my thing

No seriously, my first 24 hours have been great! One of the Russian fellows I knew in Germany picked me up from the airport and took me and another American fellow on a tour around the city.

Most interestingly, yesterday was Victory (in WWII) Day, the most important holiday in Russia. The entire city celebrated ALL DAY LONG! A variety of music stands were set up, hammer and sickle flags and Russian flags abounded and soldiers from WWII wore their medals and carried flower given to them by passersby. There were fireworks in the evening, but alas I was pooped! Speaking of which, notice that in the picture taken from the airplane, the sky is completely cloudy and in the picture of me in front of the Kremlin there are blue skies. How could that be you ask? It's because the Russians dropped silver oxide into the clouds to get them to dissolve so the weather would be nice for the holiday and the fireworks...no joke!! Also notice the ribbon I'm wearing--everyone was wearing them so I was trying to blend in.

I’ve seen the Kremlin and St. Basil’s Catherdral (Tetris anyone) but only from the outside. Saturday and Sunday will be the big sightseeing days.

A couple more thoughts:
1. it is great to be speaking German with the Germans and Russians again, though I also feel compelled to speak German to random Russians because it is the only foreign language I speak.

2. Many buildings have air conditioners that can be seen from the windows. This is in striking contrast to Germany and very similar to the US. This and other observations have me thinking that the US and Russia were developing quite similarly during the Cold War even though we were sworn enemies and each liked to think of itself as superior.

More later, watch this space☺

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Mother Russia

My trip to Moscow is now just a few days away. It finally dawned on my earlier this week that I should really purchase a travel book so I could make a sightseeing list and learn a bit of tourist Russian.

I'm super excited but am also now a bit concerned. Among the most worrisome facts in my guide book:

- You can't take Rubles out of Russia or exchange them anywhere but inside Russia. When you do buy them, you need crisp bills, without tears and that were minted after 1990.

- You should not walk over manhole covers because they are prone to collapse

- You should consider bringing your own toilet paper because the ladies who run the bathrooms distribute toilet paper and sometimes it isn't enough

- Police officers often supplement their income by charging "fines" to people who jay walk or commit other minor offenses-- $5-$10 is the going bribe rate

Now I know that you have to take advice in travel books with a grain of salt, but even if one of these things are true, I could be in for quite a bit cultural adjustment.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Floating Lady and other characters

The promenade was abuzz with activity on Saturday. A glance to the right revealed an unpleasant event—there was a jumper on the Brooklyn Bridge. I wouldn’t have noticed but I overheard someone saying that the pedestrian walkway on the bridge was closed because of it. I could see the police cars at the midpoint of the bridge but didn’t see the guy. (Update: police got him down.)

A bit further down, there was a guy doing tai chi. Couldn’t tell whether he was really into it or not really all there. There was also a guy who had brought a cage full of little birds out to the promenade for a sunbath. A little boy on his way to the playground was most intrigued!

Another interesting find was the “Floating Lady” pool at the pier below the north end of the Promenade. I read a NYT article about this last fall and was amazed to finally see it in Brooklyn (and if it was there all winter and I am just now noticing it, then I win the dunce award…but I think it is a new arrival.) Similar to the Badeschiff in Berlin, the floating lady pool is a pool built into the hull of a cargo ship. The Badeschiff was probably cooler because it was hip, had a tiki bar attached to it and was very close to the water level. The “Floating Lady” will be a public swimming pool and will be moved from BHeights and dock elsewhere once the renovations are completed.

The NYT article points out that the Floating Lady is not the city’s first floating pool. William Tweed (of Tammany Hall fame) opened 5 floating baths in the 1800’s. By the end of the 1800’s, more than 20 pools were stationed on the shores of the city. Women got to use the pools 3 days/week and men got them to use for 3 days (and could swim sans suits:-o) The pools ran into problems when health inspectors proved that raw sewage was being dumped into the water nearby, water that was also getting into the pools. There haven’t been any floating pools in the city since WWI.

This new pool will certainly serve a good purpose in the summer, but NYC is in need of a German-style Badeschiff…it could be the next hot thing…a pool and beach with city views, cocktails and good music. Plus the Berliners dome their pool and use it as a sauna in the winter. A NYC version could be used all year long too!