This site contains the archives of my travel blogs from 2010-2016.

I'm now blogging via Medium. For other life updates, including opportunities or requests to collaborate, visit my personal website.




Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Secretary of Defense Gates Visits St. Petersburg


Secretary of Defense Robert Gates fires the noon cannon at
Peter and Paul Fortress
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates' visit to St. Petersburg last week caused a lot of commotion around here.  Here he is, firing the noon cannon at the Peter and Paul Fortress.  The cannon is fired every day at noon, usually by a special "Director of the Cannon."  Only VIP guests get the privilege of stepping in for a shot.  I wish I could be a little more descriptive of the whole event, but for now all I can offer is this nice photo and a general overview.  One of the highlights was the visit to the Peter and Paul Cathedral (the spire you see behind Dr. Gates).  This is where the Russian tsars are buried; from Peter the Great to Nicholas II -- and their families.  We also had an Orthodox choir (quartet) serenade us in a room with special acoustics. The way the sound resonated from everywhere and filled the room was incredible.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's Coin

A really neat souvenir was given to those of us who worked on the visit.  Each Secretary of Defense (as well as many other high-level figures) has their own coins minted, which they may give away at their discretion.  Upon leaving St. Petersburg, Secretary Gates' advance team said that the Secretary was very impressed with the Consulate's work and how smoothly his visit had gone here, and everyone who worked on the visit was given a coin. Here's an example of Rumsfeld's coin; Gates' is very similar.
Overall it was a really neat experience!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Flashback to Shanghai

My Belgian host parents, Philippe & Michelle,
during my visit to Brussels in Jan. 2011
My Belgian host dad, Philippe, just got back from a week-long business trip to Shanghai.

He says he didn't have much time for sightseeing, but walked down to the Bund (a river through the middle of the city) to see the illuminated boats.  I spent a balmy summer evening with my friends at cafe on the Bund when I was in Shanghai in 2008. It seems like a LIFETIME ago -- a life where I could order dinner and drinks - anything on the menu - without having to worry about the bill. I love St. Petersburg, but I will never get used to paying $10 for a very average cup of coffee.  

Oh China....those were the days when I bought an extra suitcase and filled it to the brim with really cool souvenirs for my family and friends: genuine silk scarves, hand-painted porcelain figurines, special Chinese cosmetics made with seaweed, original drawings and paintings, books, jewelry, handbags, clothing...all for around $200!

Phil also mentioned walking past seniors doing Tai Chi every morning. I always liked seeing them, too. So calm, peaceful, and controlled -- like the Chinese warriors you see in films -- but you can't help but smile when you see them because you wouldn't expect it from the senior citizens. 

Chinese senior citizens practicing Tai-Chi
Thanks for the photos, Phil.  Good luck with the jet lag!

The California-Texas Travel Dictionary

I don't usually engage in the perpetuation of email chains or forwards, but every now and then something so funny comes along that I can't help but share.
I don't know where this originated, but it certainly made me laugh.  Here's your daily dose...

The California - Texas Travel Dictionary
Intended for use when listening to main stream media.
A lexicon, with translations for Californians who are visiting Texas , or vice versa.
In California
In Texas
Diverse or Lifestyle Choice
Sinful and Perverted
Arsenal of Weapons
Gun Collection
Delicate Wetlands
Undocumented Worker
Damned Illegal Alien
Cruelty-Free Materials
Synthetic Fiber
Assault and Battery
Attitude Adjustment
Heavily Armed
Taxes or Your Fair Share
Coerced Theft
Commonsense Gun Control
Gun Confiscation Plot
Illegal Hazardous Explosives
Fireworks or Stump Removal
Nonviable Tissue Mass
Unborn Baby
Equal Access to Opportunity
Multicultural Community
High Crime Area
Fairness or Social Progress
Upper Class or "The Rich"
Progressive, Change
Big Government Scheme
Homeless or Disadvantaged
Bums or Welfare Leeches
Sniper Rifle
Scoped Deer Rifle
Investment For the Future
Higher Taxes
Healthcare Reform
Socialized Medicine
Extremist, Judgmental, or Hater
Victim or Oppressed
Criminal or Lazy Good-For-Nothing
High Capacity Magazine
Standard Capacity Magazine
Religious Zealot
Church-going, God fearing
Reintroduced Wolves
Sheep and Elk Killers
Fair Trade Coffee
Overpriced Yuppie Coffee
Exploiters or "The Rich"
Employers or Land Owners
The Gun Lobby
NRA Members
Assault Weapon
Semi-Auto (Grandpa's M1 Carbine)
Fiscal Stimulus
New Taxes and Higher Taxes
Same Sex Marriage
Legalized Perversion
Mandated Eco-Friendly Lighting
Chinese Mercury-Laden Light Bulbs

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Moscow in Photos


It's about time I posted some photos from my recent adventures. Two weekends ago I was in Moscow, last weekend I spent hanging out with the John Forté band, and this weekend...well, I'm sick.  The downtime is a good chance to post some new content.

At Moskovskiy Vokzal in St. Petersburg, a large map of
Russian train routes decorates the main hall.
The Red Square was our first stop on my whirlwind tour of Moscow.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

My Mother's Biggest Regret

I found out a few weeks ago that my mother's biggest regret in raising me is having let me leave home without having learned to cook. If you ask me, it's a pretty minor issue. I mean...I'm a productive member of society, I'm not addicted to drugs, I'm getting a good education, I'm seeing the world. Even if I don't have a recipe database in my head, at least I know what good, fresh food tastes like – thanks to my mom.

But, all the same, she's taken it upon herself to further my culinary education via “distance learning” – a term many universities are using for their online courses. Every few days my inbox fills up with messages titled,

“Our dinner tonight,”
“Our dinner tomorrow night,”
“Make this as your Sunday dinner,”
“A great gluten free recipe!” ...etc.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Another Oddity of the English Language

I was recently having a conversation with one of my Russian colleagues regarding the seemingly arbitrary use of "the" in front of certain country names.  Ask most people why we call Holland "the Netherlands," and they'll probably say: "Because it just sounds right."  But how is a non-native speaker to know what "sounds right?"

I did a little research, and came up with this excerpt from DePaul University's Editorial Style Guide.
Countries whose names are plural are preceded by the article "the" in written and verbal use: the Philippines, the Netherlands, the West Indies. Country names that denote a political entity also are preceded by the article "the": the Czech Republic, the United States, the Orange Free State, the United Arab Emirates. Countries named after the “patria”—the fatherland or motherland—do not need the article "the": America, Britain, France, Russia, New Zealand; contrary to popular usage, Ukraine and Sudan are never preceded by "the."

Dreaming of Sedona

This is the sort of photo that makes me miss the West.

Sunset in Sedona, Arizona

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Orphanage No. 9

I wake up every day with an incredible sense of anticipation for what the day holds. No two days have been alike since I've been here, and every day has brought at least one new experience that I never thought I'd have. Honestly, this is the most amazing internship in the world. I can't think of anywhere else in the world I'd rather be right now.

The band: Brian, John Forté, Patrick, and Ryan
Today I accompanied our Public Affairs Officer to St. Petersburg's Orphanage No. 9, where the Consulate hosted and provided translation for John Forté and his band.  John has an amazing story. Having grown up in a rough, what he calls "not very affluent" neighborhood, he knew his only chance to step out of that community was academics, and so after committing himself to his studies he received a full-ride scholarship to the prestigious Phillips Exeter Academy and then continued at New York University. He made some great connections early on, and his music career exploded. He told the kids at the orphanage today that "sometimes when you get what you think you want early on, at a young age, you don't know how to handle the pressure."  His music had taken him all over the world, but when his new album was "met with critical acclaim yet experienced commercial failure," he says he blamed everyone but himself.  He was then released from his contract with Atlantic Records, and decided to pursue a solo career as an independent singer-songwriter. Just one problem, though: by that time he had spent all the money he had earned.  He was approached by some people who said they could help him get the money he needed, and unfortunately he joined an illegal enterprise - something having to do with cocaine - and that one bad choice landed him with a 14-year prison sentence when he was caught.  The room full of 100+ chatty kids fell silent upon hearing these words from the humble, gifted musician before them. 

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

The Overnight Train: A Necessary Experience

The best way to describe my over-night train ride from St. Petersburg to Moscow would be to say, as Joe -- one of the other interns -- always says, “a necessary experience.” It was a truly Russian experience, to say the least. I ended up in a купе (coupé) with three Ukrainian sailors – soon to become three drunk Ukrainian sailors. Two of them were middle-aged, 50 and 55. And one – Sasha – was younger, thirty-five at the very most. Andrei and Aleksandr, the older men, didn't speak any English but were happy to converse in Russian. Sasha kept wanting to exercise his small English lexicon.

It was fun for the first few hours; I talked as much as my limited vocabulary would allow, while the sailors drank. And drank. And drank. Until all the vodka was gone. Then things took a turn for the worst. I knew it was going downhill when Sasha took a deep breath and said, “So, I have a proposition for you,” in his thick, almost-unintelligible Ukrainian accent. He then proceeded to try to convince me to marry him. Of course I played dumb and hoped that my “lack of understanding” would make him lose interest. Bad call on my part. Instead, Sasha seemed determined to not only make me understand his wishes, but to convince me that marriage would be a fantastic idea. The two older guys must have taken this as their cue to leave, and went out for a smoke – closing the compartment door behind them with a bang.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Moscow Bound

I just got back from the train station; I have tickets for the overnight train to Moscow tomorrow! My Russian professor would be super-proud of the way I obtained these tickets: all in Russian and all on my own!  The real test will come tomorrow when I'll have to actually decipher the cryptic ticket in order to find the right platform, the right train, the right wagon, the right compartment, and the right bunk! That's right, since it's an overnight sleeper train, I'll get my very own bunk.  Some friends who came up from Moscow on the night train last weekend spent the entire 8 hours drinking and chatting with a bunch of Russian students. Not my idea of the best way to start a long weekend of sightseeing, so hopefully I'll be in a compartment full of little old babushka's who'll let me curl up with my Kindle and get some rest.
It's a four-day weekend since Women's Day is next Tuesday, March 8th, and the Russians like to take off the "bridge days" when a holiday falls in the middle of the week....what better time to visit the capital city?

On my must-see list: the Red Square, the Kremlin (hopefully a tour of the inside!), St. Basil's Cathedral, Lenin's Tomb, a ballet at the Bolshoi, the beautiful metro stations, and some busy Moscovites running around like crazy (Moscow is known for being very fast-paced and business-oriented -- at least in comparison to St. Pete.)

I'm dizzy just looking at the metro map. Good thing I arrive at 4am - the metro will be closed so I won't feel bad about splurging on a taxi fare. Now I just have to spot a cab driver who doesn't want to kidnap and sell me into slavery or a sex trafficking ring.  Wish me luck!

Miche: Je vais passer le weekend à Moscou!  Gros bisous, tu verras certainement les photos quand je rentre.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

A Night at the St. Petersburg Grand Philharmonic

One of the really neat things about working at the Consulate in Public Affairs is the opportunity to get out and about around the city for all sorts of events.  Last night I was given a ticket to the Saint Petersburg Philharmonic, and it was amazing!  Not only was this a first-class, world renowned group of musicians, but to listen to them play on the very stage from which Tchaikovsky often conducted was an all-around spectacular experience. 

St. Petersburg Philharmonic Grand Hall
This is what the hall looks like today.  I was sitting in the center left section, eighth row back, and it was both a nice view as well as good acoustics. I borrowed this snippet about the history of the hall from the philharmonic website:

"This Hall, where today is the Philharmonic, was built in 1839 by the architect P. Jacot (the facade designed by C. Rossi) for the Noble Assembly of St. Petersburg.
The first-class acoustics hall, built to hold more than 1,500 people,  became a center of musical life in St. Petersburg 
since the late 1840's. There were well-known musicians of the nineteenth century: Liszt, H. Berlioz, Wagner, G. Mahler, A. Rubinstein, K. Schumann, Pauline Viardot, P. Sarasate and others. Here we first heard many of the writings of the classics of Russian music by Borodin, Mussorgsky, Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Glazunov, and more."

Day of the Defenders of the Fatherland

*This is an article I wrote for the students following my travels as part of the Reach the World program. You can view all my Reach the World articles at my RTW home page.

In Russia February 23rd is widely celebrated as a day to honor the "Defenders of the Fatherland."  It started in 1918, when (on February 23rd) the first military drafts took place in Moscow and St. Petersburg, recruiting young men into the Red Army to fight in the Russian Revolution. In the beginning, it was called Red Army Day, then later, when Russia became the Soviet Union, the holiday was changed to be called Soviet Army and Navy Day. Do you know when the Soviet Union collapsed? It was in 1991, when the union was split up and the Russian Federation was formed (plus 14 other independent countries). Now that there was no more Soviet Union, it wouldn't really make sense to have a Soviet Army and Navy Day. So the holiday was changed again! It's still celebrated on the same day as that first draft for the Red Army, but now it's called “Day of the Defenders of the Fatherland.”

Sasha, Liosha, Andrei, Maxim, and Vitya
Today the holiday is more of a “Men's Day” than anything. Veterans are honored, but so are young men, teenagers, old men who've never served in the military -- even little boys are congratulated! Boys of all ages receive small gifts like candy bars and other sweets. And it's a national holiday, so no one goes to school or work!

My new Russian friends, Masha and Katya, invited me to dinner at their apartment on Day of the Defenders. Masha and Katya are two girls that are roommates, and they host a Cooking Club at their apartment every Wednesday night! How fun! And delicious.
Blog content © 2015 Shirah Eden Foy. Powered by Blogger.