Thursday, February 28

Organic Groceries in Moscow

Here's the Moscow Times Article, but since that link may change at some point here are the addresses listed at the end. Placed on this blog not for my 5 readers (hi, y'all) but instead so that I don't lose them:

BIO Gourmet, 40/1 Ul. Ostozhenka, M. Park Kultury, 246-1128

Grunwald, 30/1 Rublyovskoe Shosse, 413-0565

Globus Gourme has seven stores in Moscow, two of which are located at 22 Ul. Bolshaya Yakimanka, M. Polyanka, 995-2170 and 19 Novy Arbat, M. Arbatskaya, 775-0918., 984-7400

Azbuka Vkusa,, 504-3487

Dzhagannat, 11 Kuznetsky Most, M. Kuznetsky Most 628-3580

Put K Sebe, 16 Krasnoproletarskaya Ul., M. Novoslobodskaya, 746-5347 and 6 Novokuznetskaya Ul., M. Novokuznetskaya, 951-9129

Organic Lab, 1 Tishinskaya Ploshad, M. Belorusskaya and 8 Novinsky Bulvar, Lotte Plaza, 617-0888,

Tuesday, February 26

More on the Snow Hotel

Here's what all the igloos look like from the outside:

Snow Hotel Igloos

And here's a much better picture (thanks Bree!) of our bed:
Our Octopus Bed

And me and my reindeer friend:
My Reindeer Buddy

We interupt these trip posts

For some randomness. I just had an amazingly easy interaction with SFUSD Payroll!! Amazing. My mom hasn't received my W-2, which is probably because I never changed my address with them and so I called. a) Someone actually answered b) she took the time to look for my W-2 and discovered, that yes, it'd been returned to them AND, here's the real kicker, c) she actually took the new address over the phone!! I hadn't changed it before because they had no on-line system and you actually had to physically mail in a paper to them. I couldn't handle it. I just kept forgetting to print out the form and then find a stamp. So hopefully my mom will soon be able to dictate my W-2 to me so I can request an extension so that I can get my foreign residency status and therefore won't have to pay taxes (on foreign income) again until I start earning more than $87,000 a year while abroad, not likely. But I wonder if that will delay the refund of what the government owes me from the taxes I paid out at SFUSD. Hrm...

Where were we... Dog Sledding!

Right, I have yet to tell you about dog sledding. We had another relaxing day of walking around the city (err, town) before heading off to dog sled. The idea was to do a night time sled and try to see the Northern (aka Polar) Lights. So we go all bundled up for being out in the cold

Ready to dog sled
(At our favorite spot in the lounge)

Ready to Dog Sled
(Note, I'm wearing 2 hats)

and were ready to be picked up at 5. Our driver, Michael (please pronounce every letter as he is German and pronounces it funny), arrives and tells us we don't need to be wearing our coats as it's an hour ride out into the Pasvik Valley. A rather terrifying hour as Micha seems to like to drive fast on the snowy roads. Yet we arrive in one piece. We put on warmer shoes

Sledding Socks
Felted booties inside felted boots. Very wooly warm.

and then we head out to the dog garden to harness our dogs. In total there were 6 of us, 4 tourists, Micha and his girlfriend Franny, our guides. Franny has already made the list of dog sledding teams. Each is a team of 6 dogs, two lead dogs in the front, the smarter dogs, two in the middle who "run like the hell" and I forget what the two in the back are for. The dogs are all chained to their individual dog houses

Dog Garden
(note this picture is from earlier at the ice hotel in the day light, obviously)

So you walk to the appropriate dog, unchain them, hold them by the collar so they are standing on their hind legs and walk them to the sled. Holding them this way, they know you're in charge - yeah, right. You get them harnessed to the anchored sled and head off for your next dog. Bree and I got our own sled. Before we left we were given these instructions:

Here are the two brakes, one is the soft brake for slowing, this big metal bar is the hard brake for stopping. The metal bar has hooks on it you try to force into the ground.

Then we were given these rules:

Rule 1: Don't let go of the sled. Even if you fall hang on!
Rule 2: Don't forget rule 1.
Rule 3: Make sure the rope holding the dogs is always straight, if it's not you're moving faster than the dogs, so then use the soft brake.

And that was it. Then we were off. I was the first driver and it was a bit scary at first, but thankfully my training has a teacher has enabled me to be able to commit rules to memory. So when we rounded a corner and I fell I held onto the sled. As I was being dragged along on my knees, Bree yelling "You ok back there" I remembered to hang on. After controlling my laughter, because it was actually quite funny, I stood back up and was in control the rest of the time. I drove for about 30 minutes then had the relaxing job of riding in the sled as Bree brought us back home.

Things they don't mention in the brochure:
  • Before you start it's incredibly loud. All the dogs are barking "PICK ME! PICK ME!" and once they're on the sled you really have to make sure it's anchored so they don't run off without you.
  • It smells! ie Dogs can poop while running! And they do... a lot. So if you're riding in the sled it is smelly!

    After the sledding we ended with yet another fish dinner in a long house. There's a long fire place in the middle. Good thing too because the wall looking over the river was only covered with plastic for the winter. Dinner was fresh pink trout. Delicious :)

    Post Sledding Dinner
    Down to one hat now!

    By the long fire
    The long fire.
  • Novgorod Photos are up

    Saint Sophia
    Originally uploaded by Traveling Em

    A few of them anyway. I've got Bree's photos on my computer but need to upload them to flickr. And I still owe you stories. But really, I have a lot of grading to do, so I'm actually going to work while at work.

    Sunday, February 24

    Stay Tuned

    Dog sledding, snow shoeing and the return to Russia all yet to come!

    Snow shoes

    Snow Hotel

    After our first day of walking around, we went to stay a night at the Kirkenes Snow Hotel.

    Kirkenes Snow Hotel


    Modeled after the one in Sweden, this is basically a bunch of small igloos all connected. Inside it's a constant temperature of around 4 degrees. We slept in heavy duty sleeping bags. I was actually hot at one point. And we ate a delicious meal of reindeer sausage, cod and salmon. We also shared an $80 bottle of wine. It was good, but not that good.

    Dinner at Snow Hotel

    It was hard to get photos of the rooms because I don't have a wide angle lens, but here are a few photos for you.

    Honeymoon Room
    This room was chosen by another couple. We picked the octopus room - basically octopus tentacles encircled our bed. But I could only manage a photo of its head
    Octopus Head Board
    ok, that picture is quite terrible sorry. But that orange light was on all night, which means when you wake up at 4, you have no concept of time.

    Here's the foot board.
    Foot Board

    In the morning we walked around and looked at the reindeer. They're short! I didn't expect that. But they're so cute. One followed me around :)


    We took a sled from our hotel to the snow hotel and back in the morning. It was about a 20 minute journey. I'm not convinced that the sleds were any faster than walking.

    On the sled


    Oh, Norway, how I love you. Let me count the ways:

  • Real Winter - ok, last year it was below 30 C all winter, and this year it's been more around -10, but that's still winter like.
  • You've been non-smoking in all indoor places for 4 years.
  • You make me think Moscow is cheap.
  • You're beautiful!
  • Your people are very friendly.
  • You have very accessible nature.

    Even though it was incredibly expensive (we're talking $12 beer, $5 soda, $20-40 entrees, yes, I know, I'm always about the food), we had a great time in Kirkenes. We booked our entire trip - including the hotel in Murmansk - through Anne at Radius Kirkenes. And she was great about helping us when we had to cancel our shuttle after we found out about our visa restrictions.

    Welcome to Kirkenes
    Welcome to Kirkenes,

    You're really far away rom everything.
    You're really far away from cities people have heard of.

    On our first day we just walked around, like this guy, except maybe we're not so hip:
    Hipster crossing

    And we soaked in the sun,

    Admired how cute town was:
    Looking over Kirkenes

    Norwegian WindowNorwegian Window

    We also went to the war museum, which in addition to information about WWII also included some modern art such as a dress made from shirt collars:
    Top of Dress

    Kirkenes, being the last stop before Russia, was invaded by the Germans in 1941. Hitler thought he could bust right through and head into Russia and get to Murmansk. Murmansk was Russia's only port connection with allied supplies. Kirkenes was bombed over 300 times. The town was completely destroyed by Russian's bombing the Germans out. As the Germans left they burned anything that was left standing. Amazingly though, very few residents died thanks to shelter in Andersgrotta, their bombshelter:
    Below ground it's huge inside.
  • Muransk

    Well, it's been a great week. Bree (name slightly modified - though this is what her mom originally wanted to name her but her actual name has a bit more "oomph") and I are great travel partners! Although perhaps we encourage each other to drink a bit too much, we were always up early every day and off exploring.

    We started the journey with a flight to Murmansk. This is the largest city in Russia (though maybe the world??) north of the Arctic Circle with just over 350,000 residents. Our flight was quite easy on an old Aeroflot plane. If you pushed an empty seat forward it fell flat. This was the source of much amusement to me. The flight from Moscow is just about 2 hours. Our bags arrived with us, everything was great. We waited in the snow for only 10 minutes, waiting for the bus that was parked only a few feet away. Ah, Russian systems. Of course, the people waiting for the bus have to stay out in the cold. Anyway, our bus ride was only $1.50 and in just under an hour we'd made it to our stop. It was a short, but uphill, walk to our hotel.

    Waiting for the busThis is actually on our return to Murmansk, but you get the idea.

    With PutinAlso at the airport, me with Putin.

    Once inside, we didn't want to venture out into the cold again, so we stayed in. We had a lovely dinner in the hotel actually with vodka, pickles, trout and salmon. The next day was exploring Murmansk. This is a cute port town. Parts of it reminded me of Oakland with the big port cranes, Monterey with parts that resembled Cannery Row and South San Francisco with the apartment buildings all close together. Another nice thing that we noticed was that there were many birds! I hadn't realized the absence of birds, other than pigeons and huge crows, in Moscow until we were surrounded by tweeting. It was really nice.

    Lots of birds!
    Hockey Player
    Lots more graffiti in Murmansk.

    Alyosha, a WWII soldier looks over the city.

    We only had half a day in Murmansk, but that felt like enough time. There's not really all that much to see there. So we headed back to the airport. Originally, the plan had been to take a shuttle bus into Kirkenes. However, our diplomatic visas restrict us to where we are allowed to leave and enter Russia. The border with Norway is not one of those places, however, the Murmansk airport is ok. So, we return to the airport only to find out that our flight has been canceled due to ice in the originating city and the airline is going to put us on a shuttle bus. We explain our visa situation and are assured that they'll call ahead to the border to explain. Sure enough, we get to the border and are only detained 10 minutes by the Russians. Amazing!

    Plenty more photos in the Murmansk photo set

    Friday, February 15

    And we're off!

    The college counselor and I leave tomorrow for our Arctic Circle adventure. We fly north to Murmansk, Russia tomorrow. Sunday we'll be heading to Kirkenes, Norway. We'll spend 5 nights in Norway. The agenda is dog sledding, snowshoeing, saunaing (wow, I can't believe spell check didn't highlight that one!!), reading and knitting. Hopefully we'll get to see the Northern Lights. We're back a week from Sunday. I'll let you know then :)

    I've been playing with Google Maps. Click on the blue bubble to see the city names.

    View Larger Map

    Thursday, February 14

    Valentine's Day

    I'm not so into the idea of Valentine's Day. In America, the past few years, I'd cooked a meal at home because I tend to hate prix fix menus (on holidays that is. I loved Pizzaiola's Fixed Monday menus, of course they've now canceled those). I've enjoyed the day a lot at school today though. Students were encouraged to wear red, white and/or pink and they did overwhelmingly. Maybe it's because it reminded me of my days teaching at O'C, but it was almost like the students were in uniform. And the grade 10s (of which I teach 3 classes) had the most students dressed to show spirit. This is huge as these students tend to be the least spirited as a group.

    We also had a very fun assembly. Yes, a fun high school assembly. One of the student bands played so I was rocking out. Then I got to go up and recognize all my math students who one at our tournament. Then they hosted a mock "Dating Game." I don't remember if that was the name of the show, but it's where you have a male looking for a date and 3 female contestants that he asks questions to and then eliminates. Well, they did two games, one with a male and 3 females and then another with one female and 3 males. The later was by far the most amusing. The girl was a senior and after she was blindfolded the 3 male contestants who volunteered were all 9th and 10th graders. And these boys were hams! One of them was one of my students who drives me crazy in class, but this role was perfect for him. When asked to sing his favorite love song he got up and with great accompanying dance moves broke into "Baby Got Back." So funny! He was picked as the winner of the "date" and he walked up to the girl with the rose he was supposed to hand her between his teeth. So funny.

    And now tonight, I'm heading down to the school cafeteria for an evening of dinner and choir music. Should be lovely.

    So that's Valentine's Day in Moscow, year 1.

    Tuesday, February 12

    Math Team!

    That's right, the geekiness never ends. I loved math team in High School. I never did all that well, but I still had a great time. So I jumped on the chance to help coach our team here. It was a huge learning curve for me, trying to be prepared for our extremely bright and fast students, but somehow we made it. This past weekend our school hosted the CEESA (Central & Eastern European School Association) Math Counts tournament. Teams came from Helsinki, Budapest, Bucharest, Sofia, Prague, Warsaw, and Kyiv.

    There are two groups - junior level (9th and 10th grade) and senior level (11th and 12th). Each team consists of 3 members. Yes, only 3! It was quite a challenge here picking the 3. Especially since we hosted. So, what we did instead was submit our "official" 3 and then we submitted 1 unofficial junior team of 2 students and then another 3 unofficial teams in the senior level.

    I'm so proud to say that our official teams took 1st place at both levels and the unofficial teams took 3rd place. It was a great weekend of math :)

    Quiz Night

    Our PTO hosted a Quiz Night. It was super fun! You had to reserve tables of 8 and the table I had been on fell apart at the last minute. However, at the very last minute (2 hours before starting time) a friend backed out and I got his spot. So I took it. I'm so glad I did. We had a blast. I love trivia of any kind, but especially team trivia. And this was so well run! They had a different style for each round all modeled after TV quiz shows. There was Jeopardy!, Wheel of Fortune, Price is Right, some British show, Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader?, etc. There was also a "compete the song lyric round" where each table nominated someone to go up and sing. I was nominated by our table and out of 20 contests I ended up winning the whole round! I got really lucky. The first song was "New York, New York" and during the 2 rounds of singing it, I always got to finish the second line of a stanza. So I could work of context clues and rhyming to figure out my part. Once we were down to 8 or so contestants they changed the song to "American Pie." While I was at TIP for summer camp, I learned all the words to that song. It was fun!

    Wednesday, February 6

    Grocery Store Foibles

    Did I spell foibles right? Is it even a word? Who knows, I obviously don't.

    Anyway, I've been meaning to post random grocery/food buying stories for a while now and while I sit waiting for a student who has been absent and said she was coming to see me I'll add them here.

    An alternative title for this post could have been the $60 shrimp. Yes, that's right, I went to the grocery store one day and thought I was going to pay $8 for a 1 kg (2.2 lb) bag of frozen shrimp. Not so terrible. While I was checking out, I noticed that the price suddenly jumped, but I was busy collecting all my groceries back in my basket to then later take to the lockers were my bags were to pack. The total was really high - about $90 - for what I had bought, however, my Russian is not good enough to go through the items and argue. It was only upon packing up the bags and looking at the receipt that I discovered that my $8 bag of shrimp was actually $60!!! I haven't been back to the store yet to see if I just looked at the wrong tag or if the price was listed per 100 grams. Nonetheless, I was pissed. But you can bet your ass, I will be enjoying every single one of those shrimp.

    I have more foibles to add, but I fear if I don't post this now, I'll never get around to it.

    Sunday, February 3

    Whoo Boy!

    What a week! Report cards for the first semester were due and for the first time in my teaching career I didn't fail a single student! 2 got D-'s which at our school means they had roughly 50%, but still. And it's unclear whether another 2 (well, one of these two is also one of the D- two) will earn credit due to so many absences. But we'll see.

    And then last night I threw a cocktail party! Yay, fun! I wish there was a BevMo or other such place to buy cheap booze here. As it was, I made a bunch of appetizers with some great help from friends and asked people to bring drinks. I would have rather offered a stocked bar, but oh well.

    The first guests showed up early at 7:10 and the last left at 3:30 in the morning. Yes, me, up until 3:30!

    Which reminds me I haven't updated in a while! Bad Traveling Em! Last weekend I had another true Russian dacha experience, this one in the winter. I work with a guy whose married to a Russian woman. Her family has this great dacha about an hour outside of Moscow. So my friend the college counselor, who I'm going on February break with, this guy and two of his Russian friends all went out to the dacha. When we arrived it was -2 inside the house. We immediately got the fire started and B and I worked on getting food ready. The guys went for drinking water from a spring and got to work on heating the sauna. At 1 a.m. after snacking and a liter of vodka, the sauna was ready. So we got naked and went to sweat in the dry heat and hit each other with Birch branches once you get really hot you run out and lay in the snow. It was great. They spoke nothing but Russian all weekend and I immersed even more. My understanding is getting better and better.