Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Time to Answer Your Questions

Maria asked if a different brewing system is used in making coffee.

I asked around and found that most people prefer instant, as they believe that there is a lower caffeine content. It is possible to buy beans and ground coffee, but it seems most people prefer instant. I believe that the comments about alternative filtering systems are right on the mark though; I found beans, but no filters. I would have to estimate, however, that 90% of the shelf space at the Russia Market and the Metapom Market are devoted to instant. There is, however, a tremendous selection of teas, most of it loose, much of it herbal.

Ray asked if church attendance may be higher in Luhansk than other regions.

I honestly cannot say. But while the chapel was quite full, there could not have been more than 100 people there in a city of more than a half million. There are several smaller churches in the area, however. I am told that, like in America, attendance spikes at Christmas and Easter. The observation that mostly middle aged and older people go to church is confirmed by my sources, including one of my students, who I saw at one of the smaller churches. I believe that my comment on the failure of the Soviet authorities to effectively discourage religion comes from the fact that there was/is a rather extensive religious infrastructure in place. While the Cathedral is new, the seminary is not; if I had to guess, it is about 40 years old, placing the building and the chapel squarely in the Soviet era. One of the smaller churches I visited is between the corner of Defense and Soviet Streets and the town square, placing it right in the middle of the most prime real estate in the city. Again, that church was almost definitely built during Soviet times.

This also comes to the point that Susan made about the Russian Orthodox Church. I do wonder if the Soviets were more tolerant of religious activity in the republics. The chanting, buy the way, was mesmerizing; she knows how much I love chant ;-)

I was fascinated by Rick’s comments on Chernobyl. I suspect that there may have been some harassment, but that the type of interference that we hear about with China and the Catholic Church did not exist. But that is based on the assumption that there was some logic to the Soviet policy; why control something you officially condemn? Perhaps I give them too much credit.

Kate made mention of Dunkin Donuts.

While it is sorely missed on a personal level, it is very refreshing to be in a place where there are no McDonalds, Burger Kings, or any sort of corporate/standardized chain stores. The stores on the commercial street seem to be rather small concerns (except the Metro store) and they are very concerned with customer service. There is an attendant at most of the counters (bakery, candy) and I have never seen a line longer than 1 customer, as they have 7 or 8 registers open every time I have been in. As a matter of fact, there seems to be a burgeoning “kiosk” culture, where small entrepreneurs set up shop in the larger markets or directly on the street. But if someone opened a coffee shop, say like The Last Drop in Philly, or Brew'd Awakening in Lowell, I suspect they would make a killing, as long as they also catered to the reduced caffeine market.

Linda asked if I could send a post card.

I would love to, if I can find one. I have looked and just have not been able to find any. I will ask around. Perhaps Luhansk is not considered a “tourist” center. The Post Office even sells greeting cards, but no post cards. I will bring in pictures, though. I think the kids would get a kick out of some of them.

Denise asked about the cultural life, especially the ballet.

The University has a fantastic arts facility and while I was there, they were practicing ballet. The instructor seemed very strict. No one I have talked to about cultural life has mentioned the ballet, but they are all musicians who like to talk about the Philharmonic Society, which they say is quite good. Everything is closed for the summer, and I can’t blame them, it is horribly hot. I will ask around some more.

This just in, there is a ballet troupe that performs at the Ukrainian Theater, but it is not a very big operation. There are smaller schools, but nothing major.

Rick also mentioned the difference between what our perceptions were of the Soviets and how they are perceived here.

I have had quite a few conversations on the subject with my colleagues and students. They are quite open to talking about it. Let me emphasize that no one wants to go back to the way things were. They are glad the Soviet Union has ended and are happy to be part of the market economy. That being said, they also realize, probably better that Americans do, the limits of the market. The Soviet Union provided a modicum of stability and predictability to peoples’ lives. One of my informants called it security. When that is taken away, some people like to wax romantic about the past, despite the fact the complained about it during the time. I am told that many older people do just that. The young are indifferent.

Suffice it to say, our perceptions of the Soviets were always clouded by the political conflict between our nations, and like any perceptions based in fear, they are many times a little distorted. They were not horrible monsters (with a few exceptions, such as Stalin), nor were they the answer to all the world’s problems. Most of the Soviet people were just like us, trying to make a living and taking care of their families the best way they could.

There seems to be a real optimism about the future here, and I wish them all the best as they try to make their way through it.

Big News!!!- I found a cafe where I can get decent Latte. Expect a full review in the future.

If you have any other questions, please let me know.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Settling into a Routine

It has been quite a while since I have had a little time to discuss how things are going, as I am staying very busy, which is a good thing. In this installment, I’d like to discuss my daily routine, and some of the things I have seen and done in my free time.

Those of you who know me well, know that I am a creature of habit; once I find a routine I stick to it, unless there is a compelling reason to do otherwise. I seem to have fallen into a routine here, based around my teaching and meal schedule, which would be hard to break, even if I wanted to. But I have no complaints, and if I have to work in a place where my knowledge of the language is pretty limited, Luhansk is a pretty congenial place to do it.

I try to get up at 6 or so every morning and review my teaching plans for the day. When teaching multilevel classes, it is imperative to have activities ready for all levels. I was under the impression when I arrived that most students’ experience in English would be pretty low. I was very quickly disabused of that illusion. Most of my students have had some formalized English instruction and quite a few actually work as translators. So I have to make sure all my ducks are in a row when I walk into my classroom.

I have all of my meals at the University café, which is a student run “mini” restaurant where Hotel/Restaurant Management students have their practicum. Ukrainian food tends to be “stick to your ribs” meals, and I have to say, I have grown quite fond of it. Breakfast tends to be a smaller meal, but not insubstantial. It is served either hot or cold. The staples seem to be chicken, fish, cheese, and eggs. For example, my first breakfast consisted of shredded chicken in a butter/cream sauce topped with cheese and baked. Let me tell you, I thought I died and went to heaven. Sometimes they give me a seafood/egg salad, which is also quite good.

There is also generally a side dish of cucumber and tomato slices, or, as a special treat a smoked sausage. The tomatoes are of a different variety than I am used to in the US, and are a bit sweeter. I don’t normally eat tomatoes, but with a little salt these are not so bad. The smoked sausage tastes exactly like Lebanon Bologna, which of course brings back childhood memories. It is slightly different, however; Lebanon Bologna tends to be larger in diameter and a little less fatty. It tastes just the same though.

No one seems to brew coffee here; it seems to be all instant. I couldn’t even find coffee filters in the supermarket, although the appliance store did sell coffeepots. With breakfast, I get a small cup of instant, which is OK. I have decided to make it my quest here to find a really good cup of coffee.

After my 7:15 breakfast, I have to walk to the University. It is only a couple of hundred yards, and I get there in plenty of time for my 8:00 class. There is a “Nescafe” coffee machine in the lobby, and I can get a decent, but very small instant latte for about 25 cents. There is a concession stand in the lobby as well, where students can buy pastries, juice and water. The lady there knows me and we can negotiate buying a couple bottles of water reasonably easily. Most water here is sparkling mineral water; I am getting used to it. You have to drink quite a bit to stay hydrated in this heat.

Class usually consists of giving a lesson, reviewing vocabulary, and practice, practice, practice. My morning translator, Natasha is a great partner and has been a big help. Her English is immaculate and she is very good about making sure the students without English experience understand my instructions. The AM class has a very high proportion of advanced English speakers; what they seem to want and need most of all is a native speaker who will work on the finer points of conversation with them. These students are also very good about helping the basic students.

I have an hour for lunch, so I walk back to the café and have “dinner.” The afternoon meal is the major meal of the day in Ukraine, and it is very big and filling. I am always served soup first. Mostly this is a chicken/egg soup, although I have had a lamb stew and borsht, which is a vegetable and beat soup served with sour cream. There is also a meat and vegetable dish. If the meat is not stuffed into something (crepe, pepper, cabbage) it is smothered in a sauce. These seem to be butter or cheese based. The stuffed cabbage tasted just like gulunkies, which my Mom made sometimes; instead of a tomato sauce, something akin to French dressing is used in Ukraine. I can hardly finish this meal.

In the afternoon class, we do things the same way, except I have Irina for a helper and translator. Like Natasha, her English is immaculate and I just couldn’t survive without her.

The theme of this week’s class was talking about ourselves to people. We used mock job interviews to do this and the students also developed English language resumes. This was also a sneaky way to get their backgrounds, which helped me tremendously to know what their needs and interests are. I have doctors, lawyers, policemen, university professors, and people who just graduated from high school. I also have a large number of the music faculty. One fellow is an organ player, who was telling me about playing Hayden’s organs, including his personal one in his home. I will have to hook him up with my friend David who is also an organ player.

After the students leave for the day, they let me stay in the lab to check my FPC e-mail; I can’t read it at the internet café I have been using. The lab closes at five, but the attendants graciously let me use it for a little while.

Depending on when I get out of the lab, I will go to my room to relax or go straight to the café for dinner. Dinner is a smaller meal, generally consisting of a meat or fish dish and a simple dessert. In desserts they use a sweetened cream cheese that tastes just like cheese cake.

After dinner, I will walk to the Internet Café, which is in a concourse under the intersection of Defense and Soviet Sts. Most of the stations are taken up by young men playing video games. They seem to take it very seriously. After checking my personal e-mail, I have to check on the classes I am teaching online, the History of Art and US History Since 1945. As is generally the case, these classes are pretty laid back, and I read over the student responses to my questions and monitor discussions.

After checking my classes, I walk to the beer garden and have a beer and read my book. They have gotten to know me at the Garden, so it makes life much easier to get things accomplished there. I have been drinking Tuborg Gold, from Denmark, which was the only brand I could pronounce. The women who work there are very nice and I think they put on a CD of classic rock songs for my benefit last night. They normally play Russian pop.

On Saturday, the students came to class and each of the English Department faculty I have been working with (Oksana, Natasha, and Irina) took a group of students while the 4th group listened to my lecture on the history of the US. After about 45 minutes, we switched groups. Most of the students took some US history in high school, but their knowledge was pretty basic. They seemed to like the lecture and we were able to have some discussion on it. We also made some decisions on our final production. One inventive young lady suggested that we do an act from Shaw’s Pygmalion, and then went on about how appropriate it would be for this group!

After class Saturday, I had the rest of the weekend free. After a nap, I walked to the central market, but it was closing up. So I wandered the back streets around the market until I found my way back to the University.

After my usual evening routine, I stopped by what seemed to be a bar/restaurant and thought I might get a decent cup of coffee. Instead, I got the absolute worst cup I have ever had in my life. When the waitress brought it out, it was in a larger cup (a good sign), but it was dark and I really couldn’t see what it looked like. Then I took a sip. It was crunchy. It had the viscosity of 5W-30 that was run 10,00 miles, then sat in the oil pan for a year. It sort of tasted like coffee-- that much was certain-- but that was all that could be said for it. I choked it down as best as I could and there was a gritty sludge about a quarter inch deep in the bottom of the cup. Yuck. I asked for the check and it came back at almost 11hr. which is the equivalent of about $2, which was wildly overpriced for a cup that size, even if it was actually really good coffee. No wanting to make waves, I handed the lady 15hr, to which she only gave me 2hr change. I guess she wanted to make sure she got a tip. When I got back to my room, I had to floss to get the sludge out of my teeth.

I woke up very early on Sunday, and couldn’t fall back to sleep, so I decided to walk to the Orthodox Cathedral and catch the service. Big mistake. By car it seems pretty close; you can even see it from the University. But I think that’s because it is so big. It took me a half hour to walk there, by which time I was late. The service was quite beautiful, even if I could not understand a thing the priests said. The service was not held in the cathedral, but in a chapel in the seminary, which is right next door. The icons were much older, as far as I could tell, and there was a particularly beautiful one of Christ next to the door, which people would kiss as they entered and exited.

The chapel was reasonably full. There are no chairs or pews, so everybody stands. The priests stand mostly with their backs to the congregation, sort of like the Catholics did before Vatican II. There were not many young people, but there were a few. We were always taught that the Soviets discouraged religion, but it seems that they were unsuccessful. Indeed the vast majority of people grew up in the Soviet era. It is the young people, those who are growing up in the new market economy that are not going to church. This is not either good or bad, but it is interesting how our impressions of the Soviets were wrong in some respects.

I played it smart on the way home and took a cab. Best 10hr I ever spent.

In the morning I did some work on class and napped, then after lunch went back to the central market. It was open this time, and I have to say, the place is a labyrinth. The market is a series of stalls spread over about 4 city blocks. Several of the areas have been recently renovated with canopies, new paving blocks, and lockable steel stalls. Much of the older section is still wood.

The stalls sell everything from motor scooters to intimate apparel. There seems to be some organizing principle, i.e. you don’t have motor scooter stalls next to the shoe stall. But other than general categories, everything is pretty well mixed up. Unlike a flea market in the US, the market only sells new products (auto parts are the only exception I have found). I was a little disappointed, as I wanted to find some traditional Ukrainian crafts to buy for friends back home. But it was fun walking around. I did find the woodworker Natasha introduced me to and I bought a carved box for 35hr, and if you see it, you'll know it is worth every penny. I did run into a coin dealer near the pet stalls (kittens and puppies) and bought a 50th anniversary medallion of the Soviet Revolution, and a three penny piece from Nickolas I.

All in all, it wasn’t a bad day. But I didn’t get much rest either!

Tuesday, July 04, 2006


Getting Around Luhansk

Over the last three days I’ve had the opportunity to explore the city a little, and I have to say that I am now pretty comfortable with the area around the University. In this installment, I will talk a bit about the University and the surrounding neighborhood.

Luhansk University’s main campus facilities are on Defense Street, the battle line between the Soviets and Nazis in WWII. The area was almost completely destroyed in the battle for the city, so most of the surrounding area is pretty new, with no buildings older than 60 years. Most of the architecture is in the utilitarian style of the Soviet area, with the usual wear and tear associated with buildings of that age. From what I have been able to see of the interiors, however, a lot of effort has been made to make them comfortable and homey.

The University buildings are newer and in a more modern style. I am told that extensive renovations were begun about 8 years ago under the current president and much effort has been made to modernize the facilities. I will be teaching in one of the two main buildings. It has a large central staircase leading up to the four floors. For the most part, I will be in one of the computer labs on the second floor. The arts building, which is not on the main campus, is much older in the more traditional Soviet formal style, having served as a cultural center for workers. There is a beautiful painting on the rotunda showing a scene where workers and party faithful greet each other. Back in the Soviet days, they would put a big Christmas tree in the rotunda and invite all the children of the city to a party and give each a present. That’s a side of the Soviets we never learned about in school.

One of the first things I noticed was that most rooms and hallways did not have their lights on. This is, no doubt, to keep the heat level as low as possible. As I have learned from hard experience, the weather in Luhansk swings wildly between the extremes. In the winter, -40۫۫ C is not uncommon, while in the summer, 40۫۫, such as we have had in the last several days, is normal.

Air conditioning is a relatively new phenomenon, and to have an air conditioner installed can take up to a week, as demand is very high. Luckily, my classroom is one of the rooms that has it. The technology in my lab, and, from what I can tell, across the University is very good. The language default on the computers is Russian, however, so you have to be very careful what buttons you push. Luckily, everything is in the same place as the US version of Windows, so it is just a matter of remembering where everything is.

The feel of the campus is much like Temple, a large urban university in the middle of a large city. With 20,000 students, it is comparable in size to most large US institutions, although almost all are gone for the summer. Unlike Temple’s main campus, there is tremendous effort put into the grounds. Landscape Design students have built a beautiful botanic garden with a grant from the EU. There is also a sculpture garden with pieces excavated by the archeology department. These peaces are from the pre-Ukrainian people who populated the area 3,000 years ago. Archeologists here are working on the meaning of the works, which were found in small artificial hills, or tumuli, which were not, however, exclusively associated with graves.

The neighborhood around the University is a commercial district, with shops, hotels and casinos all along the street. All of this has developed since the collapse of the Soviet Union. It is almost like Walnut St. in Center City Philly, but with many more kiosks. Here you can purchase snacks and drinks, including beer, which you can drink as you walk around. The streets are filled with people, some shoppers, some couples, and parents talking their children for a walk or bike ride. I have noticed that people do not make eye contact, but will talk to you if you ask for help. Most people have a very basic knowledge of English, which has been a big help to me.

I have been on a few excursions around the city with Oksana, the Asst. Department Head of the Foreign Languages Department, and Irina and Natalia, two of the faculty members. Our driver, Yuri is a master of Luhansk traffic; the drivers here are very aggressive. You have to be very careful crossing the street, as cars will pop out of nowhere and rarely deign to acknowledge your presence. All of them have been very kind and generous with me. Oksana’s sister was getting married this weekend, so Irina took me around to the city on Saturday and Natalia on Sunday, when we also took a quick trip out of the city. All of them were indispensable in getting money changed and finding international phones.

We went around and looked at the monuments, both Soviet and Post-Soviet. All of the statues of Lenin, except for one have been removed. The last one was saved in the interests of history. There are several monuments to Soviet generals and many to the veterans of WWII, all of which are quite touching, especially a new monument along Soviet Street (no one seems to care enough to change the name). About 30 km from the city, there is a monument to the Ukrainian Rus who chased away an invading Mongol army in the 7th century on the site where archeologists believe the battle to have taken place.

I also visited the home of Vladimir Dal, the great lexographer of the Russian language, who was a native of Luhansk, sort of like a Ukrainian Dr. Johnson. On the central square of the city, there is also a monument to the Ukrainian national poet, which replaced one of the statues of Lenin. We passed by the monument to the rescue workers who died helping the victims of Chernobyl.

The city is very green. I am told that this is odd for this time of the year. The hot, dry climate of the region usually kills the grass and defoliates the trees by now, but an unusual rainy spell about two weeks ago gave the city a brief reprise. By the time I leave in early August, the trees will have lost their leaves. The hot and dry climate also produces a lot of dust, and as there is usually a strong breeze blowing, it gets everywhere.

At night, the city is just as busy as during the day. I feel very safe on the streets, which are still very busy, and I find a long walk after dinner to be very relaxing. I have been going to the beer garden after dinner to relax a bit. The garden is in a park, and children are around us playing. There are several stray dogs that live in the park and beg for food. One inventive mutt walks up to tables and starts bouncing to the beat of the music that is playing. That dog has rhythm, let me tell you, and he gets a lion’s share of the handouts. There is a pack of about 3-4 dogs there, and they seem to do quite well.

The central market is a maze of stands where you can buy everything from local vegetables to books, and anything else you can think of. I had the chance to chat (through Natalia, of course) with a local woodworker who sells hand carved boxes and wall hangings. The carvings are in the eastern European folk style and quite good. He seemed to appreciate the compliments I made.

All in all, I don’t believe I will lack in things to do here in Luhansk. I am told there is a good philharmonic society and choral society, a good organ somewhere, and Ukrainian and Russian theater, but they are all closed for the season. That’s a shame, but between work and wandering the streets, I’m sure that there’s more than enough to keep me out of trouble.

Saturday, July 01, 2006


The Road to Luhansk

I knew that getting to Luhansk would be a long and tiring journey; I was taken aback by the details, however. It’s a long story, but I’ll try to make it as simple as possible.

Getting to Logan was actually pretty easy. My driver seemed to know the ins and outs of the business, so it was smooth sailing. And despite the formidable line at the Air France terminal, it moved pretty quickly. The only glitch was that the woman could not check me through to Donetsk; I would have to do that in Paris and Kiev. No problem, though, I could check in at the gate. (Keep that statement in mind.) By 5pm I was checked in and ready to go for the 7:50 flight, cold beer in hand, and enjoying a decent French Dip sandwich. All in all, it was not a bad way to spend an afternoon.

The troubles started when the flight was delayed by a half hour, not bad by any standard, but a concern as I only had one and one half hours to transfer planes in Paris. The woman at the gate assured me that one hour was more than enough time to do what I had to do, since I could check in at the gate.

The flight to Paris was rather nice, a bit cramped, but comfortable. I do have to give Air France credit, however. The food was excellent. If you remember the Jimmy Buffet song, “He Went to Paris,” and the line, “French wine and cheeses put his ambition at bay,” you’ll know what I mean. Great dinner and great snacks. And don’t forget the wine and cheese. They were very good.

This was the end of the pleasant aspect of Air France.
Once we got on the ground, we disembarked in the middle of some runway and loaded onto shuttles where we driven to Gate E. From there we had to walk to some point I am assuming was on the opposite side of the building. The signs said that we were going to Terminal B, but what they really meant was that we were going to the shuttle for Terminal B.

Charles De Gaul Airport is shaped like a figure 8, with one end open. It is architecturally interesting and visually stunning. There is a lot of construction and renovation work going on, but it is not destroying the over all effect. But while it is nice to look at, it is a disaster to get around.

The Terminal shuttle literally drives around the outside of the building, in a big circle, picking people up and dropping them off, but only in designated areas, One guy I was standing next to watched his plane board and leave while we were stuck in traffic 10 feet from the drop off area. Needless to say, he was bitter.

Paris traffic is supposedly legendary, and if the example of the shuttle busses at the airport is any indication, it makes the Big Dig and the Schuylkill Expressway look like walks in the park. It took 45 minutes to get from Terminal D to Terminal B and I got to the gate at precisely 10:00, a whole 5 minutes before takeoff of my flight to Kiev, plenty of time, considering I was told in Boston I could check in at the gate.

I suppose it would have been enough time if I could have gotten to the gate, but the “gate keeper” wouldn’t let me near it to check in, and instead told me to go to the Air Algeria counter for reasons neither I not the fellow at the counter could understand. She then told me to go to the main Air France counter and join the other 50 or so people with the same problem.

After quick calls to my wife and Ray (FPC Dean of Graduate and Professional Studies) to inform them of the situation, I stood in line for about one and one half hours, while the friendly, but not particularly helpful Air France people found flights and hotels for people. One poor Bulgarian woman, a nurse working in South Africa, was literally in tears over the situation. Most people were just bitter and angry, as they missed the next connection, and the one after that.

I had thought I had a tremendous stroke of luck when I finally talked to somebody and he told me I would be on a flight that was leaving in three hours. Better yet, my luggage would be there waiting for me. Quick e-mails to Ray and Oksana, my contact in Luhansk, another quick call to my wife and then spent some time hanging out with Tim from Seattle who had the same problems I had. Lunch was a delicious “sausage” (salami) baguette sandwich and a Coke, courtesy of the people at Air France, and a latte. Right on time we were on the way to Kiev and things were looking up.

On the flight I met two interesting folks. Bill is a plumber from New Jersey turned book agent, who just got a deal on a book on understanding eastern European women. I don’t think I’ll be reading the book any time soon, but I did get some good plumbing advice. The other fellow was a NCIS agent who had an assignment in Kiev. I forgot his name, but he was a nice enough guy, though.

I was rather surprised at the size of Kiev airport. It is quite small, but that is a good thing. Luggage claim was a disaster, mostly because my luggage wasn’t there, nor a good deal of the people’s on the flight. Since I only had an hour, I played my cards smart, did not commiserate with the other passengers, and headed right for the lost and found. (First in line, folks!) We found the cases in Paris and since I had a connecting flight in ½ hour, the woman walked me through customs and off I went.

Remember I said Kiev Airport is small, but it is very well organized. I did have to leave the building to walk to the domestic terminal, but after sitting and waiting all day, it was a nice chance to stretch my legs and hustle. The check in was lightning fast and off I was again to Donetsk, where Oksana was waiting for me, apparently much longer than either of us planned.

I had e-mailed Oksana and Ray called, but she hadn’t gotten the message in time so she sat in the car with out driver for an extra three hours. She spotted me right away, and I’m not sure who was more relieved, her or me. The ride to the University was interesting. There was not much to see along the road at night, but it was fascinating to watch the driver negotiate the roads, which ranged from 2-4 lanes.

Oksana took me to the café for breakfast, and I have to say I am now a big fan of Ukrainian food. At some point I will write on this in detail, but let it suffice to say, I will not be losing any weight on this trip.

Most of the morning was spent working on the technology aspect of the class I will be teaching. The computers in the lab and the AV equipment are top notch, so no problems there. The only issue was that we could not load some audio from outside web sites, but we had fun “codek hunting” (and Barbara, you know how much fun that is).

Oksana and Victor, head of the Earth Sciences department (he called it geography, but the English meaning does not do them justice), took me through a tour of the building and grounds. They have a series of natural history museums which is quite fascinating. Luhansk is geologically very interesting, and most of the stuff in the museums is local and all of it collected by students and faculty in the university.

After lunch I had a meeting with the Acting President of the University to exchange greetings and go over some last minute details. The University’s President was elected to Parliament and is in Kiev until his term is over. Both men are well liked and respected and for good reason. It is under their watch that the major growth of the university is taking place. As I learn more about the university, I will write some more on the subject.

I had to go shopping for some cloths to tide me over until my bags get here, so we went to the moral equivalent of a Sam’s Club, called Metro. It sold bulk quantities of things like Sam’s, but did not have the warehouse feel. It was more like a big supermarket where you can buy milk and motor scooters in one place. Oksana and her husband were indispensable in getting me what I needed.

After dinner I took a walk around the neighborhood and checked out the “Russia” supermarket and the beer garden set up in a park. The park has some monuments to WWII soldiers, which are quite beautiful in the severe Soviet style. There is also a broken fountain which must have been absolutely stunning when it worked. But now it is a nice place for parent to take kids to ride their bikes and young people were hanging out playing guitars, which was quite nice.