I use Firefox as a browser and the text in this journal works better using I-Explorer for some reason, although one is able to figure out what I meant

 

  United States of America LH

A question for readers of this journal.  This page is getting far more hits than any other page in my website.  While I am wondering why this is so, it also gives me a sense of satisfaction knowing that people are actually looking at it.  Whether they (you) actually are reading through it, or have just hit it by accident is my question.  Ronna and I visited Kurgan again over the New Year's Holidays this year (2007/2008) and spent more time with these wonderful new friends.  I have learned to speak and read some Russian, so was able to converse in a small way which proved to be interesting.  Maybe some day another journal detailing that trip including the "banya" experiences will be here also.  An e-mail from you regarding why you hit this page, and what your impressions are would be very welcome and appreciated. 

My Best Regards,  Arlen Gilbertson

pacresag@restel.net

Russian Federation RH

Our work exchange students from Russia

Katya Beloboradova (Katush) - 2003

Marina Dobrydina (Dobishka) - 2004/2005

Katya Postovalova (Kate) - 2004

Meet Katya       Meet Marina       Meet Kate

 

Siberia Trip Journal

April 23 – May 9, 2004

 

Prologue:  The information below was extracted from “Katya’s Page” of our website www.deepwaterbay.com which also has many pictures of Katya, Marina, and Katya2.

 

Ekaterina Beloborodova (Katya) contacted us via e-mail in April  of 2003  after finding our website while searching for potential employers in the upper mid-west.  She was participating in the "Work & Travel USA Work Exchange Program" which is only for students.  After working for us she went home to finish her last year of college in Kurgan, Russia, which is in western Siberia just east of the Ural mountains, and is almost exactly on the "other" side of the world with their day starting eleven hours before ours.  Katya graduated in the spring of "04" with a major in English and a minor in German.  Having never hired anyone to work fulltime, we were somewhat apprehensive about proceeding with a job offer.....especially to someone halfway around the world but we decided to give it a try, as she spoke impeccable, unaccented mid-western English.  Katya immediately worked her way into our hearts, and by the time she had worked the allotted four months she had become part of the family.  We left April 23 for Siberia to visit Katya, her family and friends, Marina who is her best friend, and another Katya, Katya Postovalova, who would be coming to work for us in the summer of 2004.  Marina would also visit us in the fall of 2004 after working for her second year at a special needs camp in Missouri.  Marina then came back to work for us during the summer of 2005.  Two weeks in Russia, living and touring with friends from that country instead of an organized tour!!!  What an ending to an unexpected e-mail from the other side of the world!!!

March 10, 2006 Update/Newsflash......Katya had met a friend of ours, Bill Zimmerman and they started a "worldwide" love affair via e-mail and telephone after she went back to Russia.  Bill went to visit Katya and her parents in the spring of 2005 in Kurgan, Russia.  Katya came back to the USA the end of January, 2006 on a marriage visa and they were married on March 10, 2006 with a reception hosted by us on March 18.  In February, 2008 they purchased a home in Casa Grande, Arizona which is near Phoenix, so we will have one more reason to visit Arizona in the wintertime.  They had lived for a year in central Minnesota where there are four definite seasons, so this will be quite a change.  Sooooo....another unexpected ending to this e-mail from the other side of the world

 

April 23, 2004….11:10 AM CDT

We left Minot on time at 11:10 AM, after rushing (Ronna says) around for a day taking care of last minute details.  We sat next to a guy from Minot who is a sergeant on the Minot police force…..also in the air force reserves so was on his way to San Antonio for a training conference.  We met a lady getting off the plane in MSP who got to talking to us as she was also looking for the flight to Amsterdam.  Brit, a retired school teacher from Oslo, Norway had been in the Kenmare area for the past five weeks and was on her way home after visiting an aunt who is in a nursing home in Kenmare.  She seemed quite interested in us and may very well visit some day as she travels a lot.  We then ate lunch in the food court, a piece of pizza, instead of going to a sit-down serve you place as they were all crowded.  A couple ladies sitting next to us from Sacramento, CA were on their way to Grand Forks, ND to visit a student son who is in the flight school.  They were also interested in us and took cards, so may have more visitors.  Now we wait to load for Amsterdam as it is a little after 2 and the flight leaves at 3:20.

 

Well, we tried to see about getting better seats as we were in the middle of a 5 seat row….the aisle or double seats by the windows would be much better for an 8½ hour trip.  No luck as the flight was full, so ended up with seats E & F in row 31.  We entertained thoughts of a couple of enormous people plopping down on each side of us as we waited for the plane to load.  One came walking down the aisle towards us that definitely would have filled up a seat plus parts of the adjoining seats, and walked right on by much to our relief.  Next came a couple with a small child, and the little slight (thank goodness) mother sat in the seat next to me while her husband and child had the window seats across the aisle from her…..and the seat next to Ronna never was taken, so she is thinking of the possibility of a more comfortable nap than she had been envisioning.  It turns out that they are on the way to Budapest, Hungary where they will visit some missionary friends in the surrounding area.  Their names were Joan & Earl Korhonen from Cumberland, WI where he is a pastor of the Free Lutheran Churches, (Hosana and Timberland-Ringebu).  Joan was raised on the MN side near Moorhead, so has kind of the same roots as Ronna.  She has an uncle that farms by Tioga who is in the seed business and also has a seed cleaning operation.

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Joan & Earl Korhonen with the lucky son who got to make the trip with them by the gate where we deplaned in Amsterdam  

 

Arlen at Amsterdam phone booth....saw lots of this color of green in this airport

11:00 PM CDT, Friday, April 23

We landed in Amsterdam about 6 AM Saturday their time (it was still Friday at home and 12 hours from the time we had lifted off in Minot) right on schedule with a 3 ½ hour layover here before leaving for Moscow at 9:30 AM.  There were what they call transfer counters where a person gets a boarding pass for the next flight, as Northwest/KLM did not have the capability to issue boarding passes for each other, and we were switching from Northwest to KLM for the final flight. 

 

We found our gate easily so just waited there for a couple hours.  An elderly lady came into the waiting area and walked up to us with a sweet smile on her face.  She asked a question in Russian which we could not understand.  Then she tried English in a very broken way, and we were able to understand enough between hand signals and her broken English to exchange the information that she had come from New York where she had a son.  She would spend 6 months there and then had to go back to her home city on the very eastern side of Russia for 6 months.  We took out a map we had along and showed where we were from, and she showed us where she was from, a city called Vladivostok on the eastern coast of Russia.  After getting to Moscow, she was still looking at a 10 or so time zone flight to get home. 

Ronna with the Russian Lady

 

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The KLM plane we would fly to Moscow in, looking out from the gate window

We had bulkhead (front row) seats, so had some extra leg room during an uneventful flight.  Before landing we were handed some papers to fill out with our visa information, etc. to have ready with our visas during the processing of non-citizens.  The bottom part said it was about departure, so I just filled in the top part………when it was finally our turn to go up to the processing agent, he shoved the paper back at me and tapped on the bottom part very sternly with his finger and it finally dawned on me that he wanted that part filled out as well.  I was going to leave and go back in line to fill it out, but he shook his head and pointed at the counter so I proceeded to fill it out there which held things up a little……I would find out very soon that holding up a line and standing in line are a way of life here.  Ronna saw what had happened and borrowed a pen from someone in line and filled it out while a couple from in back went on ahead of her.  After passing through that line we were at the baggage claim area, and the first bags we saw were the big bags with red, white, and blue straps around them.  We took those three bags and started looking for the suit bag with no luck.  After ten minutes of searching and wondering what to do, I happened to look at the back side of the baggage conveyor where the bag had happened to fall off and was out of sight.  What a welcome sight it was……after collecting that bag and loading all 300 pounds which included the 70 or 80 pounds that we had carried on in backpacks onto a couple carts, we headed for customs.  There were two lines, one for those with nothing to claim, so holding our breath we chose that one and maneuvered everything right on through.  As we came through the other side, there in the crowd that was watching through the glass was Katya’s face.  She yelled at us and in a short moment was the long awaited reunion, plus the first meeting of Katya’s dad, Alexander (Sasha).  Katya ran and got Richard Maxwell, Teo, and their driver, Yegor, to help with the luggage.  Yegor’s car was a small SUV style similar to a Chevy Blazer or Ford Bronco, and it was quite a project to get the two 40” long rolling bags plus the rest of the luggage into it. 

Yegor's SUV, Ronna, Yegor, Teo, Katya, Alexander (Sasha), & Richard

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The first of many bus rides in Russia....Teo, Arlen, & Sasha

As there was not room for even half of us to ride in it, Richard went back with Yegor to their bach to start a meal while Teo rode with Alexander, Katya, Ronna and I on a bus.  When we arrived, they had already carried the luggage up the flights of stairs to the third floor apartment, and there was a wonderful aroma coming from the kitchen.  Shortly we were sitting down to a pasta dish covered with gouda cheese, one of Richard’s two specialties….we would sample his other specialty a couple weeks later when we had a curry with rice before leaving.  We waited for a couple more guests to arrive, Fred & Sally Ryan, who are from California (more on Fred & Sally later).  They brought a dessert for us, but as they had another appointment, they just said HI, and left after introductions.  As we had finished the meal by about 6 PM, and we were not sure how much time we would have to see some of the sights in Moscow, we decided to go to Red Square for the evening…..we were still too “wired up” to go to bed.  Katya’s dad goes to Moscow 2 or 3 times a year and is well acquainted with all the sights and the history involved with them.  He wanted to make sure that we had a chance to see everything, so the four of us took the Metro (subway) to Red Square, about a half hour ride.

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 Street merchants by the bus stop not far from Richard & Teo's bach

Richard, Katush, Sasha, Ronna, & Arlen

April 24, Saturday evening 

We followed Sasha through a maze for about ten minutes to a Metro station entrance.  Instead of going on sidewalks adjacent to streets we were going on pathways between buildings and down alleyways that had little steel box-like sheds lined up on each side.  They were about 7 or 8 feet wide, about 6 feet high and maybe 15 feet long with steel doors with padlocks.  These were garages that people owned. 

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 Alley lined with garages

  Graffiti in Russia  too

Moscow’s subway system is one of the oldest and largest in the world, and it is full of history.  Sasha went up to the ticket window and bought the tickets for us which cost 10 rubles per entry or just under 35 cents in our money, and once you entered you could ride all day switching from train to train if you wished for the same price.  However, if you rode only two blocks and went back up on the street, you would have to pay all over again to get back on. There were statues everywhere of past leaders, writers, etc. in alcoves of the hallways as well as underground “street musicians” performing periodically. The system must be very deep in the ground in places as we went up and down some long escalators at times……the one close to Red Square had 16 light posts about 16 feet apart and it was quite steep, so would have been close to a 250 feet long with a lot of elevation gained in that 250 feet.

I think this statue in the subway commemorates the peasants in the revolution

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 Arlen, Ronna, and Katush by a statue of a sailor

 

 Sasha on the escalator that had no end to it

 Subway entrance to the street...sign says...Outlet or exit to city on top line...to Red Square on second line

We were about a block from Red Square where we emerged from the Metro system, and it was not long before we were looking at beautiful buildings and the large red wall surrounding the Kremlin which is adjacent to Red Square.  This is the area where all of the gold topped cathedrals that you see in the Russia tourism literature are located, as well as the government buildings, the Kremlin, etc. 

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From Metro exit about a half block from Red Square

 One of the first "interesting" buildings that we would see around Red Square

 

 Katush & Ronna looking at another of the picturesque buildings surrounding the square

 

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The building on the right has a huge clock on all sides with beautiful chimes, while the buildings on the left are the "Disneyland" looking cathedral towers

 This is Red Square where the big parades with tanks and all take place....Kremlin wall with Kremlin building in the background

 

 Lenin memorial is part of the wall

Close-up of the cathedral in Red Square

 

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 This circular structure with the steps is where thousands of executions took place

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 Ironically located not far from the church front door

 Close-up of the tower of clocks...part of the Kremlin wall as well as an entrance

 

 Thought this was cool...truck with a spray boom mounted on the front bumper was watering newly sown grass that night in Red Square

 

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This is a different truck that we saw the next afternoon at Red Square set up to water

We walked to one corner of the Kremlin wall...notice the gold topped cathedrals inside...we would see the inside the following day

Sasha and Katush pictured at the same Kremlin corner with the other cathedrals in the background also

 Statue by Red Square

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 The circle that this young lady is standing in is by Red Square, and it is a custom to stand in it making a wish while throwing a coin... a real good deal for the beggars and street people

 This was a beautiful canal with a very interesting statue of horses

It was quite a thing to see all of this, hear the history of the wall, statues, tombs, and buildings as evening fell.  Shortly before 10 PM we made our way back to Richard and Teo’s, doing the Metro in reverse.  Katya and Sasha then left for the Metro again where they had a 45 minute subway ride to their hotel and probably not much sleep as they planned to be back in the morning by 8 AM with their luggage.  We were glad to try out the beds as the time back home where we had left our bed 32 ½ hours before at 5:30 AM Friday was now 2 PM Saturday…..a trip to the other side of the world and a tour of Red Square all in one very long day!!

 

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Cars in the parking lot below our balcony the next morning....quite a mixture!!

Taken from our balcony to show the clothes drying on the balcony of the next building...seemed to be the most prevalent method of drying clothes

 

Sunday morning, April 25

We were up at 6 AM, took a shower and then had breakfast with Richard and Teo.  Sasha & Katya arrived from their hotel at 8:00.  As there was not enough room in a car for all of us, Teo took Ronna, Katya, and Sasha with him to the Metro and they went on the subway.  Richard and I walked a short distance to the adjacent building where Fred and Sally Ryan were staying, and we all piled into the little car that Yegor had brought our luggage from the airport in.  Yegor is a young man that they hire often, and they seem to trust him very much.  After about a half hour drive we pulled up by an apartment building that had a restricted entrance with live guards.  They waved us through, so we took an elevator up to Jon and Gianine Peterson’s apartment.  He works for the consulate in Moscow and is originally from Minnesota, and Gianine (sounds like Janine) is from Brazil. 

 Gianine & Jon Peterson

They have a very nice home, and it felt the same as if I were walking into meeting in any of the many places I have been throughout the USA.  About five minutes later, the Teo contingent arrived and we had a nice international meeting…..Richard Maxwell (33) could just call the world his home as he was born in B.C., Canada, then lived in the Pacific NW of the USA, then Australia when he was about 11 I believe, and then France,  Germany, Latvia, and other parts of the old Soviet Union……he definitely has a gift for languages as he was fluent in the languages of all the countries he has stayed.  Teo (38) is from Romania, Gianine Peterson from Brazil, Sasha and Katya from Siberia, and Jon Peterson, Fred & Sally Ryan, and Ronna and myself from the USA.  The amazing thing is that it felt just like meeting at home, except everyone takes their shoes off at the door in Russia and puts on slippers or just walk around in stocking feet.  We (Sasha, Katya, Ronna and I) opted not to go with the rest of them to a Georgian restaurant for lunch, as Sasha wanted to show us as much of Moscow as he could before we boarded the train for Kurgan at 7 PM.  We took the Metro back to Red Square where there were many more people than the night before, as well as a long line waiting to get into the place where they could view the body of Lenin which is supposedly mummified and open for viewing.  Sasha got us tickets to get inside the Kremlin, so after checking our handbags at a special place we cleared security and spent a few hours looking at the cathedrals, government buildings, etc. inside the Kremlin.  It was quite an experience for someone raised in fear of Communism and everything that was represented here, although a major part of it was about the Czars and their history too. 

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 Sasha, Katya, & Arlen in front of the world famous Bolshoi Theatre 

 A class posing with a man dressed up like Lenin in Red Square

 Two guards stationed by an eternal flame in Red Square

 There were different places commemorating Russian cities...this one is for Odessa which is where Arlen's grandmother came from....

 Ronna & Katush on the walkway to the Kremlin visitor's entrance 

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 The white and red building is the guarded entrance to the walkway where we cleared security to get in

 Katush & Ronna by one of the two huge doors at the entrance

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 Sasha & Arlen by a huge cannon which was built to scare the enemy...it was never fired

 Katush & Ronna standing by the piece that had broken out of this huge bell.....the piece is as tall as they are

 This chime tower had bells hanging all over in it

 We were inside these cathedrals, but they did not care for pictures to be taken of the many icons and tombs inside

 Cathedral with the tower of many bells...these buildings were inside the Kremlin wall

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 As we were leaving the Kremlin entrance you could see the "SAMSUNG" building not far away from the walkway with Samsung spelled in English, which I thought was interesting

We stopped at one of the many “tourist trap” stands surrounding Red Square and picked up a few souvenirs…one a matrioshka doll of the past leaders with Putin the large outside one, and a tiny little Lenin for the final last one which was kind of ironic.  Sasha had stopped at a little kiosk that had something to do with the Russian Orthodox Church and Katush thought he was getting another icon for himself, but when he came over he presented me with a heavy little brass bell for a souvenir.  We backtracked through the Metro system again to Teo & Richard’s bach where we had left our luggage, and man-handled it downstairs to the curb where Yegor the driver was waiting with his vehicle.  We now had an extra bag which Sasha and Katya had with them, so it was quite a seminar on packing a car which we would master to a very high degree before departing from this country.  Sasha rode in the only other seat in the front with a large bag on his lap, and Katya, Ronna and I shared the narrow back seat with a couple backpacks.  After a seemingly endless trip of about 45 minutes in which I often wondered if the car was going to sputter its last and just die in the street, we reached the train station.  Yegor had the hood up and I think was adding oil when we headed into the station with the luggage in tow….thank goodness for the huge roller bags that we could stack extra bags on.

 

6:00 PM Sunday

After checking in the station to see which platform the train to Kurgan was, we headed out track-side to find it dragging the 300+ pounds of luggage with us.  After a good hike we found the train and the car that had our compartment.  Outside that car was a young man with two huge black dogs on leashes, one with a huge leather muzzle.  They appeared to be Rottweilers or something similar and looked to be in excess of 100 pounds each.  I took a picture of them out on the platform not realizing that they would be occupying a compartment a couple doors down from ours in the same car.  Standing at the entrance to the car were two young ladies dressed in almost a ladies military style uniform, and they were checking the tickets of those boarding.  I did not realize at that time that they would also be riding in our car in their own compartment, and would be overseeing the needs of those in that car….kind of a “flight attendant” of the rails.  As we were taking pictures of the Moscow station, the dogs, etc. out on the platform I wanted Sasha to stand by them for a photo, but they didn’t seem too amenable to it, so I did not push the issue.

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 Sasha on our train platform at the Moscow (MOCKBA) train station

 Arlen standing by the sign in the window that tells one that this is the Kurgan-Moscow train

 

 The two young ladies in uniform talking to each other were the attendants for our car

 These three were also in the car with us ...probably on the way to or from a dog show

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 Katush pouring water for Ronna...each on a facing bunk by the little table under the window

 Sasha in front of the closed door, and Arlen & Ronna sitting on a bunk with another above

The next project would be packing all the luggage into a compartment no bigger than our king size beds at home, and still leave room for four adults to spend a day and a half in.  With a lot of innovation and also a lot of exercise, we had the bags situated in such a way that we could sit facing each other on the bottom bunks in relative comfort.  Sasha went back to the attendant’s compartment, handed one of them some ruble notes and came back with 4 bottles of water of about a liter and a half in size.  They did not have plain water at that time so these were kind of a carbonated mineral water which is not one of my favorite beverages.  He then went back, and after paying more came back carrying 4 sets of bedding….sheets, pillow cases, and wool blankets.  I have no idea what any of it cost as I did not understand the language well enough to figure it out, and he would not tell me nor would he let us pay for anything, so I guess it was a good thing that we had bought our tickets in advance anyway.  The train had pulled out at 7 PM right on time, and we had a little over a couple hours of daylight to observe some of the countryside east of Moscow. 

 

April 25, Sunday night on the train

There was a toilet at each end of the car which the attendants maintained, and also there was a hot water tap in the hallway at one end which dispersed steaming hot water for coffee and tea.  The little 18” square mini-table sticking out from the wall between the bunks in the compartments had a little silk flower bouquet and an assortment of instant coffee and tea packets.  Sasha had stopped at one of the little kiosks (mini-convenience stores that we found would be everywhere) and picked up a sack of food……cheeses, bread, sausage, fish, etc.  We had a little snack while watching the countryside and by the time it was dark we were definitely ready for our second night of rest regardless of what the bed might be like, so we rolled out a cloth covered foam pad on each of the bunks and made the beds.  They were very comfortable, and the rocking, rolling motion was actually quite pleasant.  The train stopped once in a while during the night, either at a town or to wait for another train coming from the other direction to pass.  It was at one of these stops that I realized that the dogs that we had seen on the platform were not only on the train but in our car, as they were out in the narrow hallway by our door barking.  Apparently the handler was taking them outside for a while during the stop.  I was the only one that heard them bark, so apparently my bunkmates were getting a good deep sleep. 

 

Monday, April 26….still on the train

6 AM Moscow time  

I was awake before 6, so I dressed and crawled down from the bunk.  Grabbing a camera, I stepped out into the hallway to watch the day break from a hallway window.  It seemed that nothing had changed as far as terrain or activity in the countryside since leaving Moscow, an observation that would not change all the way to Kurgan except for the leg through the Ural Mountains Russia is noted for its birch trees, and they were beautiful here, but it was impossible to capture what they looked like in that early morning light, even though I did try.  There were occasional fields interspersed along the way, and some hay fields that had a few big round bales still out in them.  You never saw farm machinery anywhere, so it was in buildings or stored somewhere, and I counted one cow between Moscow and Kurgan, a distance of at least a thousand miles, so they apparently were also inside.  A lot of the land looked permanently swampy instead of just being wet from spring melt.  There were many villages along the way, and observing them from the train tracks may not have presented the most complimentary way to view them.  There were a surprising number of very old log houses, even in Kurgan, which looked very cozy, and there were also many clusters of little barn shaped huts all along the way on little plots which are called “dachas”.  People in the cities come out to them in the summer and grow little gardens on them.  They are on little plots about 40’ by 100’ and lots of garden produce come off of them.  The logging industry seemed alive and well in Russia, as there were many sawmills and piles of logs the whole way between Moscow and Kurgan.  Along with the innumerable birch trees were lots of conifers which appeared to be like a ponderosa pine and fir trees, both which would be used for logging. 

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 Daybreak Monday morning and the first of many views of the beautiful birch trees that we didn't know Russia was known for

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 One of the many train stations we would see ...this one had some interesting designs which was unusual as most buildings did not have much color.  If you look closely, or enlarge the picture, you will notice the slanted iron work in the windows....most ground floor windows on all the buildings we saw in Russia had this type of iron

 Another train station....more typical in color

 This rig was probably for handling baggage or freight at the station pictured on the left

 Typical little market we could see from the train window....the four words in the top line of the signs say...cigarettes beer coke vodka

I am guessing these covered hopper bottomed cars are for hauling grain

 The first pelmeni we ate in Russia, right in our compartment delivered from the dining car....kind of like a ravioli only the outside is made of a bread like dough instead of pasta

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 We saw many little clusters of cabins and huts, and it is anyone's guess as to what they had been used for, or whether they are still in use

April 26, Monday afternoon on the train

I crawled up into my bunk and took a short nap in the afternoon, as it was the middle of the night according to our biological clocks yet.  I was awakened by Katya who had a question for me as to what the word “quadrangle” meant.  One of the train attendants had heard us talking English, and had come to the correct conclusion that Katya was an interpreter.  She was taking a University class in English and was doing an assignment in her free time on the train.  She had come to our compartment during my nap and asked if Katya would help her, so she did.  It turned out that she was the one that was not caring to have her picture taken with Sasha as we boarded the train.   As Tuesday evening approached we started up into the Ural Mountains, so had a chance to see some of them before dark.  They were not like I had expected, as I had pictured them like the Rockies in America, or the Alps in Europe.  They are much more like the eastern mountains in the USA which are not as rugged or high.  There were however, places where there were still significant amounts of snow.  Knowing that we would have to get up at around 4 AM to get everyone cleaned up and the luggage ready for a 5:55AM arrival in Kurgan, we got the bunks ready and went to bed by about ten.

 

April 27, Tuesday AM…still on the train from Moscow to Kurgan

I was the first one up about 4 AM Tuesday Kurgan time (which is 2 hours earlier than the 2 AM it would be in Moscow, and 11 hours earlier than the 5 PM Monday it would be at home), and had first dibs on the one restroom that was still working.  One of them had a pin come loose in the flushing mechanism so it was inoperable shortly after we had left.  The plan had been to get up early to beat the “get ready to get off the train clean-up rush”, so I was fortunate to have gotten up when I did.  As I left my compartment another was coming out of one a couple doors down, but I was closer to where the remaining restroom was, so beat him to it.  He was waiting outside as I emerged all shaved and shined.  Shortly after we pulled into another town, so the rest of our crew had to wait for a half hour to use the restroom anyway.  They lock the restrooms while in the towns for obvious reasons, as there are not holding tanks on the trains.  Anyway, we were all cleaned up and ready to “detrain” as we pulled into Kurgan 33 hours after climbing aboard in Moscow.

 

April 27, Tuesday 5:55AM….33 hour train ride over

We were standing in the narrow hallway outside our compartment looking out the windows, as that is the side of the train the loading platform was on.  Standing out in the early morning cold waiting for us were Katya’s grandfather, both grandmothers, Marina, and her dad, Nikolai.   Victor, the grandfather was holding flowers which were presented to Ronna along with a hug.  Next were the introductions and the first of many hugs with this “new” family.  The train attendant that Katya had helped the day before was standing on the platform by the door, so we asked her if it would be all right for Ronna and I to be in a picture with her, and she agreed to pose with us very willingly for what turned out to be a great picture of her between Ronna holding a bouquet of flowers and myself……quite different from the attitude she portrayed as we had boarded a day and a half prior.   Marina’s dad, Nikolai, had an SUV type car there, and as we had become quite proficient at packing the big bags we soon had everything stowed and were on our way to Katya’s home.  Marina who may be called by her nickname “Dobi” from now on in this journal had to go directly to a university class, the grandmothers went to work, and Grandfather Victor went back to his home.  Katya who will be referred to as “Katush” from now on, her dad, Alexander who will be referred to as “Sasha” mostly from now on, Ronna, and I piled into the car with Nikolai.  Nikolai drives truck for a living and is quite adept at handling a vehicle.  His car seemed new, in fact it had that “new car” smell, and the speedometer was up around the 120 km/hr mark going right down the streets in Kurgan some of the time.  That would be about 75 mph, so it was quite a ride…..he seemed to know where every one of the many bumps and large potholes were as he moved back and forth to avoid them, and we soon were at the home of Katya’s parents where her mom, Yelena, was waiting with a breakfast all prepared.

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 This is what we went to Russia for...to see Marina (Dobi) and Katya (Katush)....pictured here as we are meeting them for the first time are Nikolai, Dobi, Grandpa Victor picking up luggage, Katush, and Grandma Masha's face

 They wouldn't think of letting us help carry our luggage, so I am at the back of Nikolai's car packing it in while they drag it over

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Grandpa Victor, Grandma Masha, Ronna, Katush, Grandma Nelya, Nikolai, Dobi, & Sasha

  Same group, only Sasha is taking the picture and Arlen is in his place by Dobi

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 One of our train attendants happily posing with Ronna & Arlen

April 27, Tuesday…..first day in Kurgan

Breakfast was the first of many Russian meals to come in Kurgan the next two weeks……the first thing you will notice about the food that Yelena set out at breakfast was that it is very esthetically pleasing as well as tasty.  She would combine thinly sliced tomato, dill pickle, cheese, meat, etc. to make very colorful little open faced sandwiches.  The thin pancakes were wrapped up burrito style with Russian cottage cheese in some, and a sausage like meat in the rest. We found this to be true at all of the meals that we were to enjoy during our stay.  She left to teach school as we were eating. 

 Katush's mom, Lena modeling the sweater we gave her

 Lena's kitchen...the little stools that can be put out of the way under the table, or some even stacked on top of each other were typical where ever we went

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 Notice the attractive way Lena prepared the meal

We were to have Katya’s room, as she moved out to the living room to spend the nights, and we were soon moved in where we took a nap as we had not had much sleep since leaving home on Friday.  Dobi arrived after finishing her classes around noon, and she had been there about 45 minutes before we woke up, so we had a chance to finally meet her after spending a winter of chatting back and forth via Yahoo instant messaging on our computers.  We decided a walk would be a good thing after being cooped up in the train compartment for that long, so Katya, Dobi, Ronna, and I started out for our first look around their “little town”.  When we first met Katya last summer, she would say she was from a little town in Siberia.  I had the impression that it would be something like the town of Parshall which has about 800 people.  When I asked how big her “little town” was, she said, “Well it isn’t quite 400,000 anymore”.  It made the point very clear that everything is relative to what you are used to, as to her Kurgan was a small town compared to the 1.5 million in Ekaterinburg, or the 10-12 million in Moscow.  They pointed out the place where they buy their internet phone cards, the little grocery store which is less than a minute from Katya’s, etc.  The first thing I noticed was an assortment of items, mostly clothes that were spread out on some concrete behind the building next to their building.  It would be the first of many street merchants I would see who seem to set up just anywhere, and have a variety of things to sell. 

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 This street merchant's wares are displayed on a concrete pad behind the post office...notice the large "gypsy" bag behind the merchant that the clothes had been carried here in

 Close-up of the merchandise...it all looked new...use of this location must have been first come first serve, as there might be a different merchant here tomorrow...looks like "Gypsy" bags had been cut up and spread out to lay things on

 The front of the building in the two pictures above this one...houses the post office and is where the girls run to buy their phone cards which they use for long distance and the internet

 This is a typical building (block of flats) in this part of Kurgan...seemed to be hundreds of them, all very similar with the same floor plans in the flats

 Each flat would have a balcony, a lot of them enclosed where the clothes would be hung to dry...notice the individual attempts to add a little color at some of the windows

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 This shows the proximity of the buildings with the paths between...also notice the covered insulated hot water line that goes from building to building...you see these everywhere and must heat the buildings as well as provide the hot water for the households

 This was an empty dirt lot that had a cross in the center where those of the Russian Orthodox faith would come to worship...this little boxcar looking building had just been moved in to be used as a church building...notice the lady going in

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 The church, the internet center in the middle where Katya used to go to e-mail until she got her own computer, and a new building going up that is to be a supermarket I believe

They then took us into a store, and I thought it was a department store at first.  The first part we went into had a variety of auto parts from outside pieces of a car to the different gears and bearings that would be in a transmission.  I really believe you could have built a complete car by individual piece from that one place.  As we walked into another part of the building, there were different clothes hanging in clusters from floor to ceiling with a clerk at each location.  I finally figured out after seeing some of the same things at different locations that it was more like a flea market with each little area having different proprietors, and not a one owner department store at all.  Therefore, those with similar items were competing with each other for a sale.  As we walked through one section, one of the sellers figured out who we were as she was a friend of Dobi’s mom and knew we were coming.  We had a picture taken with her and another who looked like her sister, and she later told Dobi’s mother that everyone else in that complex thought we were an American delegation, each with a personal interpreter (Dobi & Katush), who were there to check them out.  After looking around a little more, we headed back to Katush’s to get ready for the big family get-together in our honor.

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 The two gals in front that look like sisters had one of the little booths and they came out from behind to pose with us while Katush took the picture

 Stuff from floor to ceiling

April 27, Tuesday night….family get-together at Katush’s

That night was the first of many gatherings and too much good food.  Katush’s grandfather Victor, grandmothers (ba’bushkas) Masha and Nelya, brother Sergei who is a year younger (22) and who lives with grandma Nelya, mom and dad Sasha and Yelena, Dobi, Katush, Ronna and I were soon all gathered around the table filled with ethnic cuisine.  As always, first was the toast to newly made friends, this time by Sasha which I responded to with much the same remarks, followed by a never ending supply of food.  Katush’s brother, Sergei, has worked in some of the higher class eating establishments and knew how to fold dinner napkins in many unique ways, so Ronna received some lessons from him while we were waiting to eat. 

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 Katush's brother, Sergei, demonstrating napkin "art" for grandma Nelya & Ronna

 Katush, Dobi, and Grandma Nelya smiling at "Ronnishka's" successful attempt

After the meal we distributed some of the gifts from the ND and USA items we had so painstakingly collected the past couple months, and they seemed to be well received.  Katush had mentioned different times last summer that her dad collected bells, and that he would often ring each one to check the different tones that they had, so I had picked up two when I was in Washington D.C. as well as a couple more from Ebay for him.  He seemed to enjoy them, and we heard him ring his way through his collection more than once during our stay.     

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 Ronna and grandmas Maria & Nelya

 Arlen modeling the Russian wrestling t-shirt that Sasha gave him with Maria, Ronna, & Victor....Victor & Maria are Sasha's parents

 Sasha was not only handy with his guitar, but he could also sing

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 Lena sings along with him while Katush listens...they knew some American rock songs too

April 28, Wednesday

Katush, Dobi, and Sasha had our next ten days all planned out for us, and it was nice to have some sort of schedule to work from.  Dobi had class this morning, so Katush took us to where she goes to school, the University of Languages.  The buildings for the various departments of the University are scattered throughout Kurgan instead of all being at a centralized campus, so Katush’s was one place by itself and Dobi’s engineering school was at a different location.  We hiked to a bus stop where a person usually doesn’t wait over a minute or two for the right bus.  There were numbers on the buses to indicate which areas they serviced, and most of the buses were what we call vans (3/4 ton size) that had 10 or 12 seats in the back plus a couple in the front next to the driver.  They were in all states of repair ranging from quite new to “hold your breath and pray that it makes it”.  The price of a ride was the same, 7 rubles (a little under 25 cents), whether you got off a block later, or rode for a half hour to the other side of town.  You paid the driver after he had taken off, and he handed you a ticket for each rider to prove that you had paid.  The seats up behind the driver were not the place for foreigners to be, as those riders ended up being the conduit for the money and tickets going back and forth between those in the back and the driver.  This was our first tour ride of Kurgan not counting the express ride home that Nikolai had given us the morning before, so we had a chance to observe and ask questions.  Not too far from her school was a large complex all walled in that makes military tanks, and they had one mounted up on a pedestal like stand at the entrance.  We got off at a bus stop about a block from her building. 

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 Bus stops were everywhere....notice the assortment of buses

 This building houses the University languages department

 Katush graduated from here in the spring of 2004 with an English degree and a minor in German

Katush is through with her classes now and is writing her thesis, so only comes here sporadically to have it checked.  She checked the class schedule on a bulletin board in a hallway, and figured out where Katya2 would be having class.  Ekaterina Postovalova (Katya) who shall be referred to as Katya2 from now on is coming to work for us the first part of June.  We had only been in e-mail contact with her, so this would be our first meeting.  It was a bit of a surprise for her to be called out of class and see us standing in the hallway, as we had never really set up a formal meeting. After we chatted for a while she mentioned that her friend, Nadezda (Nadya) Okladnova, was also in class.  Nadya had applied to work for us before Katya2 had, but opted to work on a sort of dude ranch in Wyoming instead.  Katya2 went back in and brought Nadya out with her, so we had a chance to meet her too.  She was one three girls that had applied to work for us who had accepted positions elsewhere, but had indicated that they would still like to meet us when we got to Kurgan.  We would meet the other two the next week, so had a chance to see all three. 

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 Katya1 and Katya2 with Ronna...first time we met Katya2 who would come to work for us in a month

 Arlen & Ronna with Katya (Kate)

 Nadya, Katya2's friend with Ronna, Arlen & Katya2

April 28, Wednesday afternoon and evening

We took a bus back to Katush’s about 1 PM where we collected the gifts that we had brought for Dobi’s family, and walked over to her home which took about 10 minutes.  Thank goodness for backpacks, as I had my laptop computer as well as extra camera gear along.  As I mentioned about Moscow, sidewalks as we know them are virtually non-existent with people walking on roads and hard packed dirt paths going every direction which must get very muddy when wet.  About halfway between the places was a large empty dirt lot with a traveling zoo parked on the very uneven surface.  There were maybe 10 or so old covered wagons which didn’t look too road worthy parked in a semi-circle with some animal pictures painted on them.  We walked right next to them maybe a half dozen times in the next week, but never stopped to see what they had as we couldn’t tell if they were open for business of not. 

 Back side view of the traveling zoo

 

 View from farther back showing the path and the zoo...Katush lives in the distance straight ahead and to the right, while we are not far from Dobi's building maybe a quarter mile behind us

 Taken just outside of Dobi's building....an older woman or grandma (Babushka) with a toddler...a fingerprint on the camera lens didn't help this ladies face as well as some of the next pictures I took until I noticed the problem and fixed it

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 Taken from the other side of the zoo wagons which had some color....Katya2 and her parents live in the building you see to the left, so she lives right between Katya1 and Dobi, as Dobi's building is about 1/4 mile past the zoo

We arrived at Dobi’s flat about 2 PM where we met her mother, Nina, and younger sister Maria (Masha) who is about 17, and Daisy, the little house dog.  The table was set in the kitchen, and we were soon consuming another delicious meal of chicken and mashed potatoes.  After we passed out some of the things we had brought for them, Nina left for work and we looked at some of the trip pictures that I had transferred to my computer.  We tried to load them onto Dobi’s computer from the camera with no luck, so will have to burn a CD on my computer and transfer them that way.  Nina returned later in the afternoon with pelmeni, a little pasta covered ball with a spiced meat or sausage inside which is usually boiled but can also be deep fat fried.  We were soon back adding to our daily caloric intake.  Nikolai arrived home from work about 9:30, and after cleaning up looked at all the pictures on the computer. 

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 Nina with her daughters, Masha & Marina (Dobi) who is holding Daisy

 Dobi with dad and mom, Nikolai & Nina

 Talk about a Russian beauty!!...Dobi's little sister, 18 year old Masha

 Arlen, Nina, Ronna & Nikolai...Nina wouldn't let Ronna go out without something on her head as it was quite chilly, so Ronna ended up with a real Russian ladies hat

 

Masha with her friend Daisey

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 These pictures are some that Dobi had taken, but too good not to use....Masha again

It was close to 11:00 when we left to walk back to Katush’s, and although we were not aware of it at the time, her dad was not very happy with us walking around at that time of the night as he felt responsible for our safety.  Another side note is about Sasha’s guitar.  I noticed it right away sitting in a corner of the living room and picked it up.  He had done some repair work on it himself, and it had quite nice tone with a very resonant pleasant bass.  I happened to have thrown my finger picks in my shaving kit just in case I happened to run into one, so had some fun and relaxation with it throughout our stay.  Sasha plays quite well, and the whole family is very musical from the grandparents on down, as we would find out at a couple of the gatherings.

 

April 29, Thursday

Yelena had gotten up early to fix another of her specialties called pirozhke, little Russian pies…..finely chopped green onion with egg (like an egg salad in a fried bread dough pocket like a little burrito)….very tasty.  A big day was planned starting with a tour of a world renowned orthopedic facility, lunch at Dobi’s, a school program put on by Katush’s class at the University, dinner at Grandma Nelya’s, and a dancing festival in the evening.

 

Thursday AM

After breakfast, Sasha, Katush, Dobi, Ronna and I again headed for the bus stop and rode to a stop that was near the orthopedic center.  Sasha went in to a shop by the stop and purchased a box of candy, and then we walked down the front entrance stopping by a large statue of the founder to take pictures.  Sasha called on his cell phone and found that they would not be able to give us a tour at 9 AM as planned, and that it would be at least a half hour before we could go in.

 World renowned orthopedic center in Kurgan

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 Dobi, Ronna, Katush, and Sasha on the phone calling to see how soon we can get in.....statue of founder G A Ilizarov

 

  With some time to kill he decided we should go tour a wrestling gym that was nearby, so we walked the half mile or so to it passing by the facility where Sasha works too.  Katush mentioned that that was the first time she had ever seen where her dad works as we passed it.  The trainer at the wrestling gym was a friend of Sasha’s, and he had a class of eight 10 to 12 year old boys working out.  One of the boys he trained here went on to become a world champion in the heavyweight division of Greco-Roman style wrestling.  Sasha mentioned that the prison where he works sponsors and pays for some of the activities at this gym, although it is mostly government funded.  A couple tee-shirts from here would be another of the many gifts I would receive from him. 

 Sasha's work is not far from this Russian Orthodox chapel which is under construction...it was between the orthopedic center and the wrestling gym....so this will be his church

 Front view of the church

 Just another shot of a hot water line we walked beside on the way to the gym......this is very close to where Sasha works

 Sasha with the wrestling trainer....notice all the plaques and awards on the wall

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 Arlen & and the trainer on the mats while the little guys wrestle

After meeting the trainer and watching the boys perform for a while, we walked back to the orthopedic facility which was now ready to give us a tour.  Sasha had some work done on a knee here last year and knew the PR lady who ran the visitor’s center.  She would be the recipient of the box of candy he had purchased earlier.  She couldn’t believe that we did not know about this facility as it is world renowned, and people come from all over the world to get structural problems taken care of.  Apparently they can make six footers out of 7 footers, or six footers out of 5 footers depending on which way you need to go just by compressing or stretching the bones using a special device that the founder, G. A. Ilizarov, had invented.  We were shown a half hour video about the origin and successes of the facility, and then a gal by the name of Luba (which means love in Russian) gave us a walking tour which was very interesting. 

  A display showing how the shaping and stretching rods attach to a bone

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 Some of the pieces used...looks like an erector set

 

 Some of the administrative staff at the center...Luba, second from the left in blue and white gave us the full tour

Thursday Afternoon

We went back to Dobi’s for lunch where we tasted another first, okroshka, which is a cold Russian soup….also very tasty.  We then took a bus back to Katush’s university building where we watched her class perform what they call “The Last Bell” in the theatre.  This is a tradition for the University’s graduating class in languages to perform, and it was really quite funny even without knowing Russian, as it was two hours of non-stop little skits and commercials about school life and the idiosyncrasies of their teachers. 

 

The next stop was Grandmother Nelya’s flat which is in a building next to the school that Katush attended and that her mother, Yelena, teaches English in.  Katush’s family lived here with her grandparents the first ten years of her life, so she was right next door to her school, and she pointed out places where she had played here as a little girl.  The flat right above Nelya’s is occupied by her other grandparents, Victor and Masha, who are Sasha’s parents, so she was raised with plenty of baby sitters available.  Obviously Sasha and Yelena didn’t need to go as far as some to find a spouse with their parents living right above or below each other.  Nelya served a delicious meal of pasta with a meatball sauce, homemade cherry juice to drink, and home canned cherries for dessert.  Looks like we will have to book a couple extra plane seats for the ride home the way we have been eating. 

 

 

 Eat, Eat, Eat...first time at Grandma Nelya's flat...Dobi, Katush, Sasha, Ronna & Nelya

The evening entertainment was at the school next door, so we walked over there where we met up with Yelena who was still working.  A community theatre group was performing a dance production in the school auditorium…..performers and groups of all ages performing all types of dance from modern to ballroom.  One really cute performance was a group of nine females from adults to kindergarten age that were lined up with the tallest in front so it looked like only one person, and when they split up in descending order looked just like the matrioshka dolls all dressed alike.  This was a great ending to a very full day.

 Many beautiful costumes

 

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 The matrioshka doll dance

    

 

April 30, Friday

Yelena was up early preparing another specialty called belyashi’, a fried bread pastry with a sausage meatball in the center.  We were scheduled to be back at the school where she teaches to meet with two English classes.  The first class was a tenth grade group of 8 girls and 1 guy, and their assignment was for each of them to have a question ready for us.  Their English was quite good and it was a fun experience for us.  They presented us with a birch plaque with a scene painted on it. 

 Tenth grade class...lucky Alexi and 8 young ladies

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The question and answer session...Alexi hidden behind the teacher who is a good friend of Katush's mom, Lena

The next group had over thirty students, and they were eleventh graders with the gender mix being closer to 50-50.  They didn’t have “canned” questions from each one for us, but some of the students did have quite a few different questions.  One asked me if I was a “real” cowboy because of my clothes, and another asked sports related questions as he was an NBA fan.  I told them that I wasn’t sure what they thought a “real” cowboy was, but that I did raise cattle and had roped calves off of a horse.  After meeting with the classes we were ushered into the principal’s office where we were served tea and candy while chatting with some of the teachers and administrators. 

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Tea and goodies at the principal's office...Katush, Ronna, Lena, some administrators, the truant officer, and Arlen

The eleventh grade class that we spoke to...doesn't look any different than a class in North Dakota

I have also neglected to mention that during our whole stay in Russia, Katush and sometimes Dobi were working all the time as interpreters which must have gotten very tiring, although they did an excellent job and it was good practice for both of them.  Another thing that seemed unusual about the school was that there were students of all ages……from kneecap level to young adults all mingling in the hallways between classes which is something you do not see at home where students are divided into grade school, junior high school, and high school. 

 

Knowing that we had to get up very early in the morning to catch the electric train to Ekaterinburg, we went back to Katush’s and rested that afternoon.  Sasha had gathered three books about the Kurgan area from early history to current history, and after showing them to me also presented them to me.  Then he came out with a large bath towel sized cloth covered with all sorts of pins and badges.  He explained what they each represented in Russian history, then picked out a dozen or so that he had doubles of and presented them to me also.  Before I would leave he would have given me a set of old shoulder decorations for his dress uniform as well as a hat. 

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 Sasha models his dress uniform

 

 Those hats are even bigger than they look when you get close to one

 Sasha, Lena, & Katush

 Some of the pins that Sasha gave me from his extensive collection

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May 1, Saturday AM

May 1 is a beginning of a national holiday season that runs to around May 10, so we were up at 4 AM to see if we could beat the rush to get tickets at the train station as we figured lots of people would be traveling.  Yelena again had breakfast ready before we left.  The taxi we had ordered had not come so tried a different one that did show up.  We picked up Dobi on the way, and made our way to the station where there were already long lines at the ticket sales.  We split up so we could work two different lines, and then use the person that got to a ticket window first to buy all the tickets.  After about 45 minutes we had our tickets and headed out to the platform where that train would depart from.  There are usually a couple cars (wagons) on that train that have better accommodations with 2 seats in place of the usual 3, and there is a table between the next two seats which face the first two…so four people are able to sit comfortably facing each other with a table between them.  Definitely a much better way to spend 5 hours for the extra cost of 78 rubles ($2.71) per person….it made the total cost of the 5 hour ride to Ekat $7.92 per person. 

 

May 1, Saturday Afternoon

The train arrived on time at 1 PM, so now we had to look for Harriet and Alla.  After looking for about 5 minutes, Dobi spotted Alla who was looking for us and we soon were all introducing ourselves.  We decided we should try to buy the return tickets for the next afternoon, so went to the place where they sold them.  There standing in line was the other lady we had come to Ekat to see, Ksenia.  She is an older lady who works as a music teacher, and she was there to buy a train ticket to Moscow for the church convention that would be held there in a month.  Also in line buying a ticket was a friend of hers, Anastasia, who is a registered nurse.  These tickets cost half of their respective month’s salaries so it was quite a sacrifice to get to convention.  It was quite a coincidence that all of us would end up in one place in a city of a million and a half people.  After buying our tickets as well as a couple for Harriet and Alla who would accompany us back to Kurgan, we took the tram to their bach where we had a lunch of mashed potatoes and roast beef with all the trimmings.  Harriet Saman is from the Netherlands not far from Amsterdam, and Allah who is in her first year is about 25 years old and from the Belarus part of Russia, a “Belarusky” where they speak a bit different dialect than mainstream Russian.  She also spoke a little English which was nice for us.

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Group picture shortly after arriving in Ekaterinburg...Dobi, Katush, Ala, Harriet, & Arlen

Waiting around for the tram

This is what the inside of a tram looks like

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Hiking from the tram stop.....getting close to the building where Harriet & Ala reside...you would learn to travel light if you lived here very long

May 1, Saturday evening

As it was early in the evening, we decided to take the tram back to the city center to watch some of the May 1 celebration.  There were hoards of people everywhere you looked and lots of celebrating going on.  One thing I found interesting at the center were the horses with young riders.  The owners or riders were making money giving rides, and it looked like they were doing well on this day anyway.  We then walked down the main shopping street which was a couple blocks past the city center, and it was a very beautiful street about 5 blocks long.  After another tram ride we were back at their bach and getting ready for bed about 10 PM

On the way to the city square and the big May 1 celebration

The city square....people everywhere...they just throw bottles on the ground as there are people that make a living gathering them up

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This young girl was making money giving rides on her horse....there were quite a few doing this

Here she is getting ready to give the little girl a ride

We thought these two were really cute, as the little girl was upset with the little guy

She had two Barbie dolls and he was bothering her with a remote controlled car

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This little square had a huge statue of Lenin

 

This street not far from the city square was the main shopping district in Ekat

May 2, Sunday

We had a breakfast of toast with peanut butter and honey just like home, and then took a walk in a nearby park with Alla as guide, while Harriet stayed back and got ready for meeting as well as preparing some dishes for lunch.  It was a beautiful morning with birds singing and the trees were budded and ready to leaf out.  There were a few with wheel barrows picking up the trash generated from the night before, as they get paid for all the bottles, etc. that are left laying around.  We found a few flowers blooming in a couple places while there was still ice on the pond and little snow banks in other places. 

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Early Sunday morning Ala took us for a walk in a park that was not far from their flat

Looks like spring is not far off....how beautiful these first new flowers looked...especially when all around them it was dirty and barren from the past winter

Meeting was at eleven, and it was only us who stayed at the flat plus Ksenia.  Katush translated for Ronna and I, and Harriet translated for Ksenia which takes a little getting used to both for the speaker and translator.   Harriet had fried chicken while we were walking and then put it in the oven, and she had also prepared rice at that time, so we had another big meal for lunch.  They had another meeting scheduled for 2 PM, which was to be kind of an English class.  A Latvian man named Boris came for the class.  He looked to be in his 40’s at least, and he spoke very broken English so it was hard to converse with him.  He got the idea across that he was a design engineer for what he called entertainment devices (we found out later that he had designed telephone shapes), and now was teaching a class in engineering design.  Harriet had kind of left us alone with him so we tried to talk English which is what he had come to learn…. they usually do a parable for the second hour which is when most of the English students leave….it ended up with all of us telling about ourselves including Boris telling his story.  He had met workers as far back as 1982 in Latvia, then moved to Ekat in about 1993 to give his son a better chance for a good education than he would have gotten in Latvia.  As his life got more difficult to just survive and keep bread on the table, he had quit coming to meeting.  He mentioned that he felt very good to be there that afternoon.  Ksenia, who had stayed for lunch and the afternoon also told her story which was very interesting……she is one in a million and a half, as she is the only one coming to meeting in all of Ekat. 

Anastasia, the registered nurse and Harriet....Sunday afternoon at Ala & Harriets

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Ronna, Katush, Boris, and Ksenia...Boris from Latvia had quite a story to tell about his life

Ksenia is a music teacher

Anastasia

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After we all told a little about ourselves the afternoon was gone.  We had planned on having a restaurant meal with the girls before leaving on the train at 6:14, but the afternoon took more time than anticipated, so we packed up and headed for the train station planning on picking up provender for the ride there.  There was a grocery store right there, so didn’t buy from the many little kiosks and street merchants who were peddling many things from food, drink and souvenirs…..we had another lucky break on getting the upgrade car…..fun ride……1 guy and 5 girls…..well for the guy anyway……

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Arlen & Ronna enjoying the upgraded car where we had facing seats with a table...time to work on the journal...thank goodness for the computer

Arlen with Harriet and Ala having some lunch...yes, those are real sour cream & onion flavored Pringles potato chips

Eat and sleep...Katush sleeps while Dobi looks at pictures on the computer

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Dobi finally crashes

Sasha & Yelena were both waiting trackside for us as the train made a short stop close by where both Marina & Katya live about 11:15 PM, and we all walked home together.  Harriet and Alla went home with Dobi for the night.

 

May 3, Monday

Yelena, Sasha, Dobi, Harriet, Alla, Ronna, and I toured the town center with Sasha showing us the many statues and memorials…his grandfather’s name was on one of the plaques commemorating those lost in WW2 at one memorial where there is also an eternal flame burning…..at that place we ran into a couple young missionaries, one who knew Dobi and Katush…she was from Wyoming and had been there almost a year while the other who had only been here two weeks was from Utah….they were glad to talk to someone who could speak American…their apartment and also the place they had leased for their doings was close by. 

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 Took a shot of some of the vehicles while waiting for the bus to come

 Each big bus has a ticket seller...Sasha is getting our tickets here... in the smaller van type busses, the driver takes care of the tickets

 A memorial with an eternal flame at the town center in Kurgan

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 This is part of the same area with tributes and memorials at the different stations on the perimeter

 Just a few steps from the eternal flame here, Katush and Dobi met a couple of missionaries from the USA that they knew

 Sasha takes the picture....Dobi, Ronna, Arlen, Lena, Ala, Katush, & Harriet

We just meandered down the streets looking at the statues and memorials scattered throughout that area, finally stopping at a department store to see what they had to offer where we bought a couple colorful throws (couch blankets) for 320 rubles ($11.11) each. There were many street venders selling a variety of items from jars of canned pickles and tomatoes, to sunflower seeds, to luggage bags to name a few.  Ronna wanted a bag like the one that Katya had brought with her to our place that she hauled a lot of stuff home in, so we bought one from a lady standing there with maybe 30 of them hanging on her arms.  Katya called it a Gypsy bag and they came in about 3 different sizes all looking identical to the one Katya had…Harriet said, “Oh, we call those Chinese Samsonite”.  They fold up to almost nothing, yet the fabric is strong enough to hold over 50 pounds of luggage if it doesn’t need a lot of protection.

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 Finally inside a real department store where we bought the cloth throws

 They would add quite a little weight to our baggage on the way home

 There were many street vendors of this type...the crates with the white plastic top and also the yellow one had sunflower seeds...we call them  "Russian peanuts" at home...always a mess around their sales area and it looked like they ate more than they sold

 This is the lady that Ronna bought her "Gypsy bag" from....you will notice these in some of the other pictures, as the street merchants use them to pack their merchandise to the sales locations

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Sasha had intended for us to tour a couple museums, but they were both closed because of the holiday weekend.  There was an art and craft store open that had many local paintings, sketches, different pieces made out of birch and birch bark, some jewelry, and little boxes made out of semi-precious mineral.  One painting caught our eye as it showed a log house with the colored shutters in the foreground with a background of apartment buildings, and it was much like the scenes we had been looking at from the buses and walking through as we went from place to place.  It was around 1530 rubles (about $53) so we bought it, and had them keep it for us planning on picking it up the next day so we wouldn’t need to pack it around the rest of that day.  As we purchased it we noticed all the items made from birch, and thought they would be perfect for take home gifts as the Kurgan region is known for its usage of the many beautiful birch trees that are everywhere, and we wanted something that was made by Russian people instead of Taiwanese.

 Lena checking out the fruit at this stand...it all looked really good, and was displayed very attractively

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 Arlen coming from one of the flower vendors with roses for the "Babushkas" who would be at the gathering that evening

 Harriet checking out the fruit at this stand...Ala looks on and Ronna and Katush are coming this way

 Some clothing vendors

We started on our way to Ylena’s mom’s place for another “family gathering” so bought a rose from one of the many flower vendors on the street for each of the “grandma’s” who would be there….Nelya, Maria, & Nelya’s sister Svetlana.  I found out that you don’t give an even number of flowers to anyone over there as a gift, as that is for funerals….so never a dozen roses for your sweetheart….either eleven or thirteen.  This would be just one of the superstitions they adhere to that we found unique.  We had been to Nelya’s before going to Ekat for a meal, as it is adjacent to the school where we watched the dance performance, but this was to be a much larger affair.  Harriet, Alla, Dobi, Katush with her mom, dad, and brother Sergei, Grandpa Victor, Grandma Maria, Grandma Nelya and her sister Svetlana, Svetlana’s daughter, Natasha, and her little 3½ year old boy, Roma, plus Ronna and myself in the little flat.  The living room was a wall to wall table filled with food, with Harriet, Alla, Ronna, and myself (the guests of honor) sitting on the couch side.  The meal started with the usual toast and clinking of each one’s glasses (again declined the vodka part so that was put away), and then came the food.  Nelya had prepared a hot salmon pie in individual wrapped portions which was delicious, along with many salads including a tasty herring salad, red caviar which is supposed to be the best was spread on thin toast, and the homemade cherry juice to drink.  I am guessing some of the dishes were made by Grandma Masha who lives in the flat above.  The two grandmas started singing after the meal was over, and Katush’s mom, Yelena, joined in.  They have nice voices so it sounded great even though we didn’t understand the words.  The songs would be old patriotic songs that most would know, like our America the Beautiful, or the Battle Hymn of the Republic, as they seemed to know them very well, and even Alla joined in once in a while.

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 Masha, Svetlana (Nelya's sister), Roma, Katush, Lena (Hiding), Sasha, Victor, Harriet, Ala, Arlen, Ronna, Nelya, and Natasha

 Satiated...what a meal!!...we found that the guests always sat on the couch that was used for dining table seating

 This was classic and beautiful...Nelya, Masha, and Lena singing many songs from memory

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 Victor & Masha, Sasha's parents who live in the flat directly above Nelya who is Lena's mother

Now it was time to make the trip up one flight of stairs to Victor and Masha’s identical flat for ice cream.  Victor took a calendar from the top of the TV and said to me, “You like…it’s yours”. I had him sign it….then he kept bringing pictures from the old days from somewhere for us to look at…then a big manual that showed everything about fixing any part of the car that he owned.  It was a wonderful fun time for everyone including Alla & Harriet

 

 Masha passing out individual ice cream treats of different flavors and types

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 Ala, Natasha, Ronna, Roma on great aunt Nelya's lap, and Harriet with her perpetual smile

We all rode a bus back to Katush’s part of town where Alla & Harriet went back to Dobi’s for the night.

 

May 4, Tues AM

We were up at 5 to accompany Harriet and Alla to the electric train station.  They along with Dobi happened to be waiting at a stop a couple down from the one we got on, so waved at them to get on our bus and we rode to the station together.  There was also a slight drizzle so used the umbrellas for the only time on the trip that morning.  The ticket line was not long so we soon were out on the platform waiting for the train where we looked for the “upgrade” cars which we did not find.  Apparently sometimes they have some and sometimes they don’t. 

 Ala, Harriet, Arlen, Ronna, & Katush at the "electric" train station early in the morning...wasn't real busy, but looks like plenty of people to me

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 At the platform where the Ekatrinburg train leave from...looks like lots of electricity overhead

 Here comes the train

After the goodbye’s, Dobi had to go to class and we took a bus back to Katush’s, where Ylena had another nice breakfast fixed, this time a herring salad.  We hurried back to the bus station with Katush to catch a ride to her University where we were scheduled to talk to the French majors who were English minors.  That class included Maria Baronova (Masha) who had been interested in coming to work for us but opted to go with a couple other girls to Myrtle Beach to work for Papa John’s Pizza, as well as Yelena Zdorovets who also was going to come to our place, but then decided to go to Maryland to work……the extra travel to the upper Midwest was a consideration as well as wanting to be in a higher profile area of the USA. There were also two other students of the 15 or so in the class who were going to the USA this summer in the Work & Travel USA program that had brought Katush to our place last summer.  The class was made up of one guy and the rest girls, and we had a good discussion telling them about ourselves and answering questions. It seemed that most understood some of what was going on, which is amazing as it was their third language.  After class we had a chance to talk with the two girls who had contacted us, and gave each of them a couple gifts we had brought from home. 

 

We were scheduled to meet Katush’s dad, Sasha, at the art shop where we had purchased the painting the day before, so we hopped a bus and headed that direction.  Sasha had not yet arrived, but the lady proprietor recognized us and gave us the picture which was all wrapped with a protective covering along with a certificate of authenticity.  We were somewhat apprehensive about getting it home in one piece as it was about 16”x22” with glass in the frame, and we had thoughts about the glass breaking in such a way that it would tear the canvas.  We then picked out many nice birch art items for gifts to take home.  Sasha arrived and we followed him to the art museum that we couldn’t get into before….it was still closed so we then walked to the natural history museum which had also been closed, and he gave us a tour of the Kurgan region from archaeological days to the present which was very interesting….it kind of shows how it is caught in a time warp between the 1930’s and the present with a combination of all practices and items used in the time frame still in use today.

 

 At the museum of natural history...had Katush stand by this sea shell to give a perspective on how big it was

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 I enjoyed this display of haying equipment...the little hand scythes for cutting, and the pitchfork made out of a tree branch

 

 This little domestic display shows a samovar on the table which is a metal boiler w/spigot for dispensing tea water...the containers on the shelf are made of birch bark similar to the kind we brought back as souvenirs

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 Medieval weapons found in the area 

 More old weapons and a chain link coat

May 4, Tuesday, 2:10 PM - 4:10 PM

It is now well after noon and we were to be at Katya2’s (she is coming to work for us this summer starting early in June) at 2 PM to meet her family, so we took the 20 minute bus ride back to Katush’s, freshened up and walked over to Katya2’s which is right between Katush’s and Dobi’s homes.  Actually it is right next to the traveling zoo I have described earlier.  We were scheduled to be there between 2 and 4 but were about 10 minutes late.  The doors were open when we got up to their 3rd  floor flat which was identical to all of the other ones we had been in, and another table full of food filled the living room with the couch as the seating along the one side.  Vladimir, Tanya, and Katya2 were waiting for us, and they were happy to see the people from America who their only daughter was going to stay with for the summer.  They also have a son, 28, who lives in Ekat.  A few minutes later Vladimir’s mom, another Katya, arrived….she didn’t say much and they said she was a little hard of hearing, but maybe no worse than Ronna or myself.  We sat around the table and after the toast to our health proceeded to start on another Russian meal of super large pelmeni and three salads…one a delicious crab salad.  Vladimir had a red 1½ inch long streak coming down from his forehead into his right eyebrow, and in the course of the conversation Tanya mentioned that he had an accident working on a car or something the day before when a tool had hit him there.  He seemed somewhat self conscious and much more quiet than Tanya the mother who was very talkative.  She was an engineer at one of the plants in Kurgan, and he was a worker in one.

Ekaterina (Katya2), Ronna, Tanya, Vladimir, and grandma Katya in front

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 The Postovalov Family

 

The next “appointment” was to be at a friend of Katush’s dad at 5 PM, so we hurried back to Katush’s and got ready for that………remember we had just got up at 4 PM from a 2 hour long meal and were expected to sit back down to another like it at 5 PM.  This man who is in his forties is a documentary film maker, who also makes TV commercials.  We were running a little late which seemed to be the norm for us, so hurried to the bus stop again and took a bus into the city center close to the train station where we had about a ten minute walk from the bus stop.  This apartment building was a little different from the ones we had been in as far as the configuration of the rooms in the flats, but it had the same kind of stairs and elevator as in all the rest.  We were greeted by Alexander and Vera Golubkin, and ushered into another living room filled with a table full of food.  Also in this room in one corner was a computer system, and in the adjacent corner a television that was also hooked up to the computer.  After the introductions, Alexander showed us some clips of his work while sitting at the computer, and showing the work on the television in the other corner.  He had captured some amazingly beautiful scenes.  He had just won a nation-wide award in December for the one documentary (about 3 generations in war and how they all came back which was very unusual) that he showed us, and it was not hard to see why he won the award as we viewed it.  After about a half hour of looking at his work, we started in eating again and continued eating while he was still showing clips of his work.  The water glasses at the table contained some holy water that purportedly had magical power…someone bathed in water from the very same spring that it came from and had made it through war safely.  It must work because we were never ill over there and also made it home safely.  He presented us with a very nice calendar with Kurgan scenes, and it also had information about the places where the stockpiles of chemical weapons were in Russia, telling about one town in the Kurgan region that had over 13% of the nation’s supply.  He also gave us a CD of his work, as well as a CD of a local talent singing folksongs.  They had two boys, Yegor (12) and Vladimer (Vova, 8).  It was the oldest boy’s birthday that day, so we gave him a t-shirt that I had picked up in Washington D.C. a few weeks ago with USA colors and a USA flag on it.  He was very happy with it and went and put it on.  We had some great discussion with Alexander, and it was close to ten before we left to take the bus back home.  He also had lined up a tour of a farm the following day for us, and he planned to use some of the footage from that tour on another documentary film.

 Alexander & Vera

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 Ronna, Katush, Sasha, & hostess Vera around yet another table full of food

 Alexander, birthday boy Yegor (12)modeling the shirt we gave him, Vladimir (Vova, 8), and Vera

 Alexander showing Arlen his new digital movie camera which he is just learning to use

Wednesday, May 5

Sasha left early to check on getting our passports stamped, and his car broke down on the way back……better then than on our way out to the farm, as it happened right next to a shop that was able to repair it later.  He called on his cell phone, so Dobi’s dad, Nikolai, brought his car over to take us to where Sasha was stranded.  Sasha stayed with his car as they were going to repair it soon, and Nikolai took us to the place where we were to register (or check in) which we should have done a week ago.  We had no idea until Harriet asked us the weekend before in Ekat if we had gotten registered yet.  They have a law that anyone, citizens included, must register if they stay in a place over 72 hours, so if your grandmother from fifty miles away comes to visit you for more than three days, she has to go to this office, check in and get her papers stamped.  It wouldn’t be such a big deal, but I was told that this process can take up to three days depending how they feel at the office, and whether you looked at them a little cross-eyed or not.  I wasn’t feeling nearly as fortunate at the time as others later told me I was, because I thought the hour plus that we spent there, being tourists as we were, was ludicrous and totally a waste of time.  While we were there Nikolai went to pick up Dobi, as she had school that morning.  They drove up just as we finished the process, so we piled in and headed back to pick up Sasha where the car was being worked on.  It was not there, and they indicated that it had been fixed, so Nikolai called Sasha on a cell phone to see where he was.  He was back close to the OVIR where we had just come from, so we went back that direction and connected up again. 

 

Nikolai then drove to the place where he works with Sasha following, as he wanted to show us the truck he drives.  He hauls fuel with a tandem tanker truck which has a tanker trailer behind.  He locked up his dog first, and then we had a tour of the shop and the place the drivers hang out waiting to be dispatched.  They had a banya (sauna room) built there, and they wanted me to experience a “Russian banya”.  After they described it to me, I thought I would pass on it and let the next guests be their victim.  They sit in the steaming hot little room, drink, and switch (beat on) each other with birch branches…….supposed to be the ultimate in an experience, but sounded kind of kinky to me at the time.  Later, talking to others who had experienced it, I was told that it is a healthful, invigorating experience, so maybe next time.  We also met some of the guys he works with, and I was offered beer and vodka…….still a little too early in the morning I thought.

 

 Dobi's dad Nikolai with his tanker truck that he delivers oil products with...brick building on the left is where they dispatch out of and make repairs

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 This tractor is right behind the truck...thought it looked interesting

 The new "banya" they have built here in the shop building

 Some of the machines inside the building....not just your "ordinary" drill press or turning lathe...there was also a lounging room next to the banya that appeared to be like a "second" home to the guys that work here

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Wednesday, May 5, 12:40 PM

After the truck tour, we all headed over to Alexander and Vera’s about 20 minutes early for once, as we were to meet there before going out to tour the farm.  Vera had tea, candy and some fruit ready in a short time and we again were sitting around eating.  We then left for the farm with Alexander1 and Alexander2 in one car, and Dobi, Katush, Ronna, and I riding with Nikolai who was grumbling about the slow car that he had to follow. 

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 Nikolai's car on the left...Sasha's at the pumps putting on some fuel before we leave for the farm

 Shot from the car...little grocery store like the one close to Katya's home with a very typical block of flats behind it...notice the enclosed balconies with some paint on them

Tried to get a shot showing a little log house and a block of flats in the same picture, but this car got in the way

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 These log house were sprinkled throughout, and the only color would be on the shutters....either red, yellow, blue, or green

We reached what looked like a small village, and were told that it was the remnant of a collective farm, as well as part of the farm that we were to tour.  We pulled up to a building that was like an office as we went inside.  Apparently the ones who had just mopped the floors went out the other door as we came in, as they were all wet and very slippery.  We were greeted by two men who turned out to be the “owners” or managers of this operation which I never did really understand…..was it now a co-op or did they own everything??  They had each been the head or manager of a collective farm before perestroika.  The taller guy was another Alexander, and the short one who was the ultimate boss was named Victorosipovich.  They presented us with a couple calendars that advertised their meat processing operation, and as I happened to have one of our ND Horizons calendars in my backpack, I was able to give them one for their office.  The head guy, Victor, sat down at his desk and we sat down to kind of a board room table that was hooked on to his desk with Alexander, the co-boss sitting at the other end facing him.  They had many questions about our farm and we had many for them which I will not go into right now.  The overlying theme was that it was much better and more efficient before perestroika in the mid-80’s, as tearing down the communal collective farms and portioning them off to individuals who did not have the capability or capital to farm each little plot was not working.  After I told them the amount of land that Elmer and I farm by ourselves with no hired labor, and which is small in comparison to most of our neighbors they could not believe it.  After telling them that the same family farm also ran a cow-calf operation and a bed and breakfast operation they seemed to think that it was not possible.  We did have a bit of a problem converting acres to hectares, and bushels/acre to tons/hectare, but we did get some sort of idea of what the comparison would be.  After we finished the tour of their meat operation which I shall describe next, as we were leaving they took me aside and said there is something that we would like to tell you.  We can hardly believe and can not comprehend how two of you can do everything on a grain farm that is half as big as what we plant, and we have two hundred and sixty men working for us in just the farming part.

 Victor & Alexander....each a manager of a collective farm in the old days, and now co-owners of this farm...they presented us with two calendars advertising their meat business exactly like the one hanging on the wall behind them

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 Victor, Arlen holding a Russian flag they also presented us, Ronna, & Alexander

To back up a little then, we left their office and got into the cars to go to their meat processing operation.  They rode with the other two Alexanders, so now there were three Alexanders and a Victor in that car.  After driving about 50 meters from their office we stopped at a steel gate which was across the driveway.  They sat in the car and started honking the horn, and after a couple minutes a man came from the adjoining shed that the gate was attached to who unlatched the gate and opened it.  If one of them would have got out of the car and done the same, we would have already been at the meat plant as it was about another 100 meters down the trail from it.  They did the same thing as we were leaving the area, so this guy must just hang around there to open and shut the gate for them, which might be the beginning of an explanation of why it takes 260 men to farm twice as much as the two of us.  The meat processing plant was quite familiar to Ronna and I who have both worked in one close to home, only this one operated on a larger scale processing 25-30 beef plus lots of hogs in a day.  We were taken to the plant office where the overseer, a lady named Nadezda (Nadya) met with us.  Also with her was a man who was second in command.  They passed around some white overcoats and she took us on a complete tour of the plant starting with the kill floor where they were dropping the entrails out of a beef as we walked in. 

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 The beef are rolling on a rail...stopped at this station where a worker up on a platform guts it or takes out the entrails from the body cavity

 At this station it is split in half by another worker with an electric splitting saw

We then went through the coolers where many large halves were hanging and on to the cutting or boning room where about 6 workers were working around a single table about 5 feet wide and 12 feet long on a half a beef that was laying in one piece.  I asked about making other cuts for steaks and roasts, and they said that they had already cut those in the morning and were now just working on beef that was being entirely boned out.  They were quite impressed to know that Ronna knew what they were doing and that she could do the same thing. 

 A cooler full of large beef halves...not sure what is on the floor....look like hides that are turned inside out

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 A big boning table where 6 workers worked on a complete half at the same time removing the meat

We then went into the packaging and sausage preparation room where the grinders, mixers and tumblers were.  The racks for the smoker were filled here and taken into another area where the smokers were.  They didn’t seem to need much cold storage as each days production was taken from here right away to the many little markets mostly in Kurgan.  We looked at their shelf in the meat area of a grocery store the next day and saw that it was almost empty, so there must be a good demand for their product.  We were then ushered back into the office where they had samples of the various sausages and meats that were made there with some bread to go with them.  They mentioned that they were quite famous for a couple of the different sausages that were there.  Ronna and I both were impressed with the quality of the meat and with the fresh smell in the place, if such a thing is possible in the mind of one not used to a slaughter house.

 

 These gals were stuffing a brat-like sausage...it was neat to watch them filing them that fast and making the twists at the right time

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 Plant manager Nadya explaining the function of this curing machine (for hams, etc.) to Ronna...notice how Katush is listening as she has to interpret words that she doesn't know a lot about

  Alexander, the movie maker filmed the whole tour...one reason I put this picture in was to give you some idea of the sunburst patterned iron work in the window....you see this same pattern in ground floor windows in all the cities we visited

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 This is in the office where we received our white coats.  They had a plate of samples of the different meats they produce here below Nadya and Ronna's hands.

 Ronna, Arlen, and Nadya the plant manager who was also our guide...she seemed to be a really neat individual....Sasha &  Alexander the farm owner in the background

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 We are just leaving the office building, took a picture through the windshield of a rather large house in the distance....none of the others were even close to this one in size or appearance

 Sasha's car in front of ours, with the farm owners waiting for a gate to open

After leaving the farm we stopped back at Alexander’s, the documentary guy, to drop him off.  He told us that he had taken quite a bit of film out at the farm and planned to see that we got a copy of it somehow…maybe one of the girls coming to work for us would be able to bring it.  From there we went to a bank to exchange some more dollars for rubles, and that is quite a process for even their own citizens.  They need to have their own passport along, or they can’t even exchange currency.  A few days before we had checked at one of the many drugstores to see what the price was for a drug that I had been using to heal a toenail that had been damaged, and it was about $40 for a month’s supply as compared to $250 in the USA, but they only had one package or about a half month’s supply.  We had been checking once in a while at the various small drug stores that are everywhere to see if another one might have it, but had not found one so took some time now to check a few more.  The second or third one did have the drug only it was about 20 or 30% higher than the first and it was packaged in boxes of 10 instead of 14 like the other.  I bought a month’s supply of those, and we tried one more where we hit the jackpot….they had it in the same type of packs as the first and for a similar price so got some more.  I am not sure if none of the drugs need a prescription here or what, but this particular drug needed one at home.  We then headed to Dobi’s place where we spent the evening, and had a meal of chicken and potatoes.  We then made the walk back over to Katush’s around 9:45 before it was totally dark as  her dad worries if we are out walking after dark, with Dobi coming along for a “sleep-over” at Katush’s which they do often.  We told Yelena about the day, and showed her the pictures of the last few days that she had not yet seen.

 

Thursday, May 6

Woke about 6 or so, heard the shower was being used so went back to sleep and didn’t wake up again until close to 9…….must have needed some recharging.  The girls had not gotten up either so we showered up and then started packing our bags while they were getting up.  Hopefully we will get most of it home without damage, as we have received some very nice keepsakes and some of them are breakable.  About 11 AM we had a brunch featuring pancakes made by Yelena much earlier. These were stacked on a plate flat instead of making a “burrito” type roll out of them that would be filled with cottage cheese or meat like we had the first morning there.  The batter is poured into a frying pan covering the whole bottom, so one is made a time, and they are very thin like a crepe’ with much the same texture.  We “Americanized” them by putting a little peanut butter on part of one first and then adding some juicy currant jam over the peanut butter before folding the cake a couple times into a triangle……very tasty.  We packed some more thinking we might be able to leave one of the big roller bags for Dobi to use when she comes to the USA this summer.  We soon realized that we would need all the capacity we had to take back the gifts we had received and the souvenirs we had picked up.  About 1:30 PM we thought we would like to go to a grocery store to see what it was like, as we had been only in the little convenience stores that are on almost every corner, except for the grocery store in Ekat by the train station when we didn’t have a lot of time to look around.  Sasha had the car parked outside, so he offered to take Katush, Dobi, Ronna & I to one nearby.  It was very similar to one you would see in Parshall with a good selection of everything, and some brands that we recognized.  One difference I did note was that when entering you go through a gated area which has a guard standing by it who takes a very good look at you……something you never see in grocery stores at home.  We mainly wanted to take some of the Russian candy home, and we also picked up a variety of teas as they have a lot of good tea.  They also had shopping carts which seemed small and fragile compared to what we were used to because they were about a third the size.  Of course they didn’t need to hold enough food for the next week or two like at home either, as they could come every day to shop unlike us.

 Looks like any small town USA grocery store...the shopping carts were considerably smaller though

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 Katush reading labels for Ronna

 Filled the cart with candy and tea

Thursday, May 6, 3 PM

We were back to the grind of more packing.  We noticed one corner of our big older roller bag had broken loose, and things could fall out if it separated more.  We asked about a large needle and some strong thread as well as pliers to pull the needle through.  They brought what we needed and I started to sew it back together.  Sasha saw me doing it, and said, “No, I will do that”.  He told me to finish getting the next bag packed and he would sew it later when he got back from getting his parents who lived about 20 minutes away.  Ronna had a large purse that she had overloaded on the way to Russia, so the tab holding the strap on top had broken.  He had taken that and fixed it like new, so we were more than willing to let him make this repair too.  We packed the last bag, and I spent some more time writing in my journal.  Writing all this down as it happened was time consuming, but there is no way a person could recall all of the events and beautiful gestures towards us of the past two weeks, so I am glad I took the time to do it.  Thank goodness for laptop computers.  There was to be a family get-together for our last night with Katush’s parents, grandmothers, grandfather, and Dobi’s parents all attending.  Katush, Dobi, and Ronna were making a salad and Yelena had many things already prepared.  A table was set up in the living room with the curve around couch serving as chairs on one end and one side.  It soon was covered with more food and we waited for everyone to arrive.

 

Thursday 6 PM

Katush’s grandma (ba’bushka) Nelya, Yelena’s mother, was the first to arrive, and it was the beginning of another flood of gifts.  She gave each of us a hard cover book to be used as a journal which had our names engraved on the cover in Russian.  She had previously already given Ronna a beautiful blue top and me a blue dress shirt, both which fit perfectly.  Also she brought a large box of candy from her sister, Svetlana, and Natasha, Svetlana’s daughter, and it is supposed to be the best candy you can get in Russia.  Next came grandpa Victor and grandma Maria (Masha) with a huge candy bar for Elmer and a couple smaller, large candy bars for Ronna and myself…..the names of the bars had special significance and were to be eaten at a time when Ronna and I were together and feeling very close…..something to do with whispering in the name of them also.  I told her that we both had enough hearing loss that whispering was out of the question, and she thought that was quite funny.  The get-together was supposed to start about 6, but Dobi’s parents called and said they would be a little late.  After they arrived about 7 it was apparent why they were late, as Nikolai and Nina entered with their arms full of food and also carrying a large bag.  Nina had made a special treat of stuffed red and yellow peppers, and they were hot and ready for the table.  She puts the raw hamburger type meat mixed with rice inside the peppers and freezes them that way…..these were from last fall.  They were delicious and we were back at it again…feeding our faces.  Yelena had made homemade Russian pizza which has mayonnaise instead of a tomato sauce.  There were also little dishes of herring, etc.  Along with the meal were the traditional toasts starting with a beautiful one by Katya’s dad, which I reciprocated telling them how much we appreciated their love and hospitality.  The saying in Russian for only a very little wine or vodka when they are plying you with it, is sem ka’pel, translating into “seven drops”.  The problem is that a continuation of “seven drops” could add up to more than a little.  Katush’s grandma Nelya is quite a lady, and her eyes just sparkle and talk….her whole face lights up as she would make various comments.  Some of the few English words that she knows are “seven drops” with the o in drops having a hard sound like dropes, and she kept trying to get us to tip the wine glass up.  Both of the grandmothers have beautiful voices and they sang some more of the old songs from long ago. 

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 Final gathering in Kurgan....Dobi, Victor, Arlen, Ronna, Nina & Nikolai (Dobi's parents), Sasha & Lena (Katush's parents), Nelya & Maria (Katush's grandmas)

 Colorful and delicious stuffed peppers, Pizza, a herring dish, and more

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 Sasha pouring for the toasts

 Clinking the glasses

 And words of appreciation for new friends

 Gathered in the foyer as the grandparents, Nikolai, Nina, & Dobi leave for the night..notice the ladies hats like Ronna received from Nina

 

Dobi’s mother, Nina, told Dobi to go get the bag that they had brought with them, and she was soon pulling more gifts out.  I thought maybe it would be a table cloth or a throw blanket for the couch as I saw cloth.  She pulled out an absolutely beautifully made sweater with a zipper front and handed it to me….very heavy and warm and it fit perfectly.  Next came an apron of a different type material than either one of us had ever seen….one of a kind and very beautiful.  Then came a birch bark container filled with halvah candy that I had told them that I liked, a beautifully hand painted covered container for the kitchen, a little car that was a replica of the car that they own in which Nikolai had given us more than a few thrills, a chunk of ham and a stick of summer sausage for our trip from that meat processing plant we had toured, a couple of cans of Russian beer, and a bottle of Russian vodka.  While we were sitting there overwhelmed, she brought out a tiny gift wrapper shopping bag about 2” wide and 3” high and set it in front of me with the words, “This is special for Arlen”.  Talk about feeling unworthy….brings tears to my eyes just typing this.  It was quite heavy for something so small.  Inside was a little square box with a silver pocket watch and chain.  It had some Russian writing on it, and it was a commemorative edition that was very special.  Anyway, it looks like the bags will be as heavy going home as they were on the way.

  Sweater, shirt, blouse, Apron, a couple throws, birch bark containers, and much more safe on the dining table at home

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 Lots of stuff to try and pack in such a way that it would make it home in good shape

  Everyone left about 9:30, as they planned to get up early to either take us to the airport or meet us there.  Sasha, Yelena, Katya, Ronna & I cleaned up and put away all the dishes in their special places, folded the table back down and moved it back into Katya’s room where we were staying.  Each flat in Russia seems to have identical wood tables like this that fold down to about 10” by 36”, so take up very little room when not in use.  When the drop leaves on each side are folded up with the legs pulled out under them for support they must be about 60 or 70” by the 36” wide ….very functional and we can testify that they hold lots of food.  We were all packed and everything was cleaned up, so we had a little time to sit in the living room one last evening and just enjoy each others company while pondering where these new relationships would go from here. We were in bed before midnight with the alarm set for 5 AM.

 

Friday, May 7

Yelena again had the table set, so we had some breakfast before leaving.  Dobi’s dad, Nikolai, was to stop by at 6:30 with a car, and promptly at 6:30 the door chime rang.  Nikolai, Nina, and Dobi came in and all gathered in the foyer for another “Russian” tradition.  Chairs were brought in for everyone and all sat down for a minute in silence, a ritual that brings good luck on a trip.

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 Breakfast table waiting for us for the last time...wondered if Lena ever slept

The bags were all hauled down to the cars, as Sasha had kept their car there overnight for the trip to the airport.  I rode in front with Nikolai, Ronna, Katya, and Dobi in the back, and Nina rode in the other car with Sasha and Yelena.  After a half hour ride we were at the airport where there was one plane sitting out on the tarmac.  Standing in the parking lot were Sasha’s parents, Victor and Masha………Grandma Nelya had to work so could not come, so we had essentially the same sendoff as arrival….two more mothers and one less grandma. 

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 Katush with grandma Maria outside the airport

 Arlen on the left with a big roller duffel bag

 What fine people...we will miss them all

 Nina & Kolya (Nikolai) by the doorway to the gate where we would check the luggage

As we checked in we were told that we had 80 some kilos (about 180 pounds) too much luggage, so I was supposed to go to a side office and pay extra.  The lady in there said that it was supposed to cost 1600 and some rubles extra which would be about $60, but she would let me by for 1200 rubles if I didn’t need all the paperwork.  I figured that there would be no further paperwork check past this point so I agreed.  I did not have the correct amount so gave her two 1000 ruble notes which she said she could not change, but then she got up and went to her purse in  the corner and pulled out 800 rubles…….most likely it was the final destination of the 2000 rubles.  The security check or whatever you call it was a breeze and we soon were in the waiting area to board.  Soon they opened a door and we all headed out onto the tarmac to board the lone plane that was in the airport.  As we walked towards it, there waving at the chain link gate separating the parking lot from the tarmac was the whole contingent that had traveled there to see us off.  It must have been a half hour before the plane took off, and they stood there the whole time and were waving as the plane left.

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 This was unbelievable....standing here waving a half hour later when we taxied out

 Our plane...the only one around...don't know why but the green rims on the wheels caught my eye

May 7, Friday 8:05 AM

The plane was quite full, and as we were almost the last ones on we found seats close to the front, in fact there was no one in front of us on our side.  The seatbacks will fold all the way down to the front, and most of them did the first time the pilot hit the brakes.  The ride was very smooth after lift off, and the flight attendants looked like the stereo-typical stewardesses of yesteryear….very young and fine looking.  They came around with a tray of hard candy before liftoff which was to help equalize the pressure on ones ears I suppose, and then they came around with trays filled with glasses of what looked like vodka and wine or champagne soon after take-off so we did not take any…..we found out later that it was probably water and an amber colored juice.  Then came a clear plastic container filled with a meal of dark bread, a roll, coleslaw with some beet in it for coloring, salami pieces, a cream cake like a dingdong, and a piece of chocolate candy.  A few minutes later came a sealed tin foil pan with a hot meal of a hamburger on a bed of something that looked like pearled barley, and both were the most unappetizing food that I tasted on the whole trip.  After landing we stopped out on the tarmac again, and a very modern bus was waiting to take us to the terminal where we just followed the other passengers to the baggage carousel where all of the bags showed up in fine shape.  There were some fragile and breakable items that we had to pack in the checked bags, so were happy to see that they made the first leg of the journey home.  We found two carts which were the only way that two people could handle the amount of luggage we had, and went out into the unsecured area of the terminal where we met Richard and Teo who had just arrived, so the timing was perfect.  I had no idea that this airport was two hours from where their bach was, and I didn’t really find out until we arrived two hours later.  There was a train platform right outside the terminal doors so we bought train tickets and had a 40 minute ride on a very nice train. 

 Teo standing by our two carts of luggage....Richard was getting our train tickets to the city center

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 Taken from the car on ride to our evening abode...parking must have been a problem as these had the back wheels up on the sidewalk and the nose or front out on the street

The Car Ride

At that train station where we got off, they planned to rent a car (I will explain rent a car later) that would take them to their place.  There were men standing all along the train platform where we departed asking if we needed a taxi when they saw the amount of luggage we had.  Richard ignored them and started talking to a man who said that he would take us to their bach for 600 rubles, about $20.  At that time I had no idea that it would be over an hour, mostly at a fairly high rate of speed.  We then followed the man out to the front of the train station where some cars were parked and he proceeded to walk around looking as if he couldn’t find his car, and asking questions of different people.  We later figured out that he was trying to find someone willing to take us that distance for 500 rubles which he eventually did, so he made a 100 rubles acting as the dispatcher.  We got everything squeezed into every available space again, and headed out for their bach with Teo acting as guide.  Richard had another commitment, and left from there to take care of it.  There was quite a change in the two weeks since we had flown into Moscow with the trees all leafed out now, and it was just like a beautiful summer day in North Dakota.  I had the window part way down and took some pictures of the beautiful huge buildings we were passing on a super highway that had I believe 6 lanes going each way.  I thought we would be at their place in no time when I considered the cost of the ride and the speed we were traveling, but it was over an hour before we arrived.  It makes sense that it would take a while after asking Dale what the population of Moscow was.  He said it was ten million, and more like 12 million depending on what time of the day it was.  Anyway, we pulled up in front of the familiar building complex where the two flats were located and unloaded the car.  We gave the driver his 600 rubles and I was going to give him an extra one or two hundred as a tip, but upon looking in my wallet I found only 2 ten ruble notes along with some 1000 notes.  I felt like a cheapskate only tipping him 20 rubles, but didn’t feel like giving him almost twice as much as he wanted for the fare for a tip, so I gave him only the 20.  He seemed very appreciative even though it was a small gesture, and I was glad I did. 

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 Also taken from the car....one of the most magnificent buildings we saw

 Never figured out what it was...Teo thought it might be a hotel

May 7, Friday…..Living in Moscow Again

We soon had our luggage in the first floor flat that the women workers use when they are there, and it was where Fred and Sally Ryan from California had stayed while brushing up on their Russian before leaving to teach for a while in the Ukraine.  It was also a relief to not have to haul it up to the third floor of the next building where the brother’s bach was as they did two weeks ago.  Teo gave me a big skeleton key and showed me how the door worked, and also told us the code you punch in to get into the building.  He then left and told us that he would call us in an hour or so to tell us to come over to their flat for a meal.  We checked the luggage to see what condition everything was in, and it seemed to have made the trip very well.  We were ready for some rest as we had been up since three in the morning Moscow time, and we had just made our first Russian trip with out a “babysitter” which was somewhat exhausting and intimidating.  Shortly after noon Teo called and we went over to their flat where we met Dale Benjamin for the first time.  Dale wondered if I would like to check any e-mail, and when I said that I would like to let those in Kurgan know that we were safe he went on-line with his computer, and I checked my mail.  There was one from Elmer at home telling that he had finished the barley seeding and was ready to start the wheat and durum.  I sent a note telling those in Kurgan and Elmer that we were OK.  Dale and Teo had a delicious meal prepared….salmon steaks with a special sauce on them, rice, and a fresh fruit salad.  Teo and Richard left to meet with someone in a little village that afternoon, so Dale wondered if we would care to take a walk as he also had some grocery shopping to do.  We were happy to accept his offer as it was like a summer day out, and we followed him to a park across the street from their building.  It was on the edge of a reservoir that had looked like a river maybe 2 or 3 hundred meters wide, and on the other side were a bunch of cruise ships which were in harbor getting ready for the cruise season which will start shortly.  Also there were huge barges of gravel sitting in the middle with a tugboat at the downstream end of them pushing just enough to hold them in place until it was their turn to get closer to the other shore where large machines were unloading them and dropping the gravel onto huge piles on shore.  As we walked along the shore Dale pointed out a spot where they would walk across on the ice in the winter time saving them the long drive around in a car.  After a half mile or more we hiked back away from the water to a grocery store where Dale picked up some groceries and we picked up a couple different kinds of ice cream for dessert.  We walked back to the flat a different way following the streets instead of the park trail. 

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 What a great place for a walk!...right across the street from their flat

 That is the cruise boat terminal on the other side...the workers walk across on the ice in the winter time to a meeting on the other side....saves a lot of time and money as it is a long way around by vehicle

Ronna and I went to “our” home where I continued working on this journal, and Ronna got some rest and read the Moscow study.  It wasn’t long before the phone rang and it was Dale explaining that there had been a change in plans for the night, as we had planned on going over to have their weekly study with them which was to be Ephesians 4.  A man who could not make the study earlier in the week had planned on them being with him this night, so we were invited to ride the metro (subway train) for an hour and fifteen minutes one way to attend this study meeting.  As we had gotten up in a time zone two hours earlier than them and had a wearing day behind us it did not seem wise to take a chance on making Ronna’s headache any worse than it was……..you would have to ride the swinging, swaying, noisy metro for about five minutes to appreciate what a two and a half hour ride that evening would be like.  We instead took another short walk in a direction that we had traversed a couple weeks ago to the metro station entrance where there were some outdoor markets located.  Especially interesting were three truck/trailer rigs set up as traveling meat markets with a showcase on one side with lots of good looking fresh meat in them.  We bought a coke and a sprite at one of the little side stores, and walked back to the flat where we called it a day……..a big day.

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 Mobile meat market....there were two or three trucks in a row here selling meat

 A potential customer checking out the display of meat

 Other street merchants in the same area

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 This one had some beautiful flowers for sale

May 8, Saturday AM

I lay in bed until after 7:00 even though Ronna had gotten up earlier and was all showered up and ready for the day.  I called over to the men’s bach about 8:00, and Dale answered the phone.  I was wondering about checking my email to see if the contact we were to meet in Amsterdam later that day had answered, and also to check on things at home.  He said the other two were still “horizontal” as they had gotten back from the study quite late the night before, so I was reassured that we had made the right decision to stay back and rest for the next leg of the journey home.  He was just leaving to check on an invitation or something…..maybe for the upcoming convention in Moscow which was a month away.  He said to try back a little later, and he also mentioned that we could expect the sister workers (Ho Sun and  Priscilla Farring) to be knocking on our door about 10 AM as they were on the train from Ekat which was a 27 hour ride.  We were glad to hear that as we had given up hope of seeing them….Priscilla’s sister is married to my second cousin once removed or something like that, Orris Lopston, and she is also Eva Myer’s niece.  The phone rang about 9 with Richard telling me to come on over and check my e-mail, so I went over to their flat and there was an Elmer update from home, but no message from Amsterdam.

 

When I got back to the flat we had stayed in, Priscilla and Ho Sun had already arrived so we got a chance to visit with them.  I believe Ho Sun had labored in her homeland of Korea for at least ten years before coming to Russia when it opened up.  She had some interesting stories about what it is like to be an Oriental in Russia…..almost every time she rides the train the guards pick her out and ask to see her passport and question her, and apparently this last train ride was no exception all though she did not elaborate on the details.  The phone rang and we were invited over to the other flat for our last Russian meal……Richard’s other specialty, two different curries (one with a little more zip to it than the other and both delicious) with rice, and a fresh fruit salad with yogurt.  So as I think about it, our first and last Russian meals were Richard’s two specialties almost exactly two weeks apart. 

 

 Group shot of our Moscow hosts, Teo, Dale, & Richard after our last meal in Russia as well as Ho Sun and Priscilla

May 8, Saturday, Noon

We had eaten a little early because we knew we were leaving for the airport at 12:30 PM, so we were all done and sitting around chatting when the phone rang about 11:45 AM.  It was Yegor, their usually dependable driver calling to tell us that he would not be able to make the trip to the airport for us.  Even though it was 45 minutes until we had planned on leaving, we now were not sure of a ride so decided to try to get to the airport anyway we could.  We said our goodbyes, and hauled the bags down to the street while Dale went about the process of “renting a car” which I mentioned I would explain earlier.  He walked to the far end of the building where some traffic flowed by and held his hand out, and it wasn’t five minutes before he was back.  The first two cars that stopped were not interested in the job when they found out that there was a lot of luggage involved, but the third car was willing to take us.  I checked it out as it came driving up, and I wondered how in the world we would get all the luggage plus four adults into that little car.  It also had a smashed windshield that he could barely see out of, and was in very sad shape.  I put on a seminar for both Dale and the driver on packing a car, and that guy is probably telling stories every night about what he all hauled to the airport that day.  He had agreed to take us there for 200 rubles which is a little less than $7.  We literally held our breath the whole way hoping it didn’t break down, and it was a huge relief when we pulled up to SVO international airport.  A ride of that distance would have cost from $30 to $40 at any of the cities I have flown into, so I gladly gave this guy a 500 ruble note which was 2½ times what he expected, but about half of what I am used to paying.  “Renting cars” like this in Moscow is very common as a lot of the car owners are looking for a little extra income, Dale explained while we were dragging the luggage into the terminal.

 

We grabbed a couple carts to throw the luggage on and found the KLM line to check in.  It didn’t take long listening in line to figure out that the plane was still in Amsterdam, and could possibly be very late which was the second great piece of news of the past hour.  When my turn came I handed her the piece of paper from my computer, and she looked at it like it was from outer space.  I pointed at the confirmation number that I had highlighted on it and she said, “Oh, an E-ticket”…..then she punched in the numbers and a piece of paper came out of her printer with our names on it which made both of us very happy.  She explained the delay and told us what line to get into to check baggage and process out.  That would be our longest wait in line yet, as it took about an hour and a half to get to a baggage checker who also issued the boarding passes.  With the baggage checked through to Minot, we now headed for the last line we would have to wait in and it was not a long one….the one where they check our visas and process us out of the country.  This is the one that would have been a disaster had Harriet not mentioned the need to get our passports registered, but they just glanced at the passports, stamped them and sent us on through to the gate area.  We spent our last rubles on some snacks and sat around waiting for the gate area for our plane to open.  Next to the place where the cart sat that we bought the snacks from was a large glassed in display that caught my eye as it seemed to be completely out of place.  It contained cowboy items, and was a Marlboro cigarette advertisement containing a full length yellow slicker, a bridle, rope, and a Crates brand roping saddle which is a high-dollar saddle that should have been on a good roping horse instead of in the Moscow airport.  We had helped a Russian lady with a disability in the baggage line, and she now came walking up using a cane and dragging a roller carry-on.  She had lived in New York for the past 18 years, and was now headed home after a visit.  We had been sitting on the floor, but went looking around for a seat for her as she was really weary after going through the lines.  After finding one we got her to it, so she could rest up before processing through to the gate area.  She also was worried about what she would do in Amsterdam, as she knew the delay would make her miss the New York flight.  We finally lifted off exactly two hours late, and headed for Amsterdam.

 The "Marlboro Man" cigarette display in our gate area...notice the roping saddle...on the left the little kiosk where we bought some snacks to get rid of the last of our rubles

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 Taxiing down the runway...one last look at the beautiful birch trees that Russia is famous for

 

May 8, Saturday, 7 PM Amsterdam time

After deplaning in Amsterdam, we again went to the transfer counter to redo the boarding passes for our next flight which wouldn’t leave until about 10:30 AM the next morning.  She handed us a paper that we were supposed to take to a checkout line where we would be given a voucher for a free hotel, dinner, and breakfast.  We had been planning on just spending the night at the airport if we couldn’t contact a friend who has stayed at our B&B a couple times, so this was quite a pleasant surprise.  I am not sure if they would have given us this treatment if the plane had not been delayed, because the voucher had the words “delayed plane” stamped on it.  As we were standing in line to pick up the voucher we saw our friend Murray waving at us through the glass partition, so we soon were on a shuttle bus on the way to a very nice hotel with Murray tagging along.  Also on the bus with us was the Russian lady who was worried about where she was going to stay.  As I was one of the last ones on the bus and standing right by the door, I was also one of the first ones off, and as also I know something about check- lines at hotels I made a bee-line right to the desk and was the first one to check in.  We told them that the lady with the cane was with us too, and would they please issue her a room even though she was farther back in line.  When the lady came up to present her voucher the guy behind me started grumbling, and the young gal looked at him and said, “You look like you are able to stand for a while yet…this lady is disabled”, and then she proceeded to check her in.  We helped up her up to her room, and then we went down and had a nice steak dinner on KLM.  It was good to see Murray for a while, and get some idea of what he does here.  He is from the eastern part of ND, and close to our age.  We had a great room overlooking some greenhouses and open fields…..and we were definitely ready for some rest.

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 This is the view from our motel window the next morning looking back towards Amsterdam...the buildings in the distance are greenhouses

 Our dining room at the motel where we had both dinner and breakfast free...quite different from what we had experienced the past two weeks

 

May 9, Sunday AM in Amsterdam  

We woke by about 6 AM and got ready for the last day of the trip.  We were booked for the 8 AM shuttle back to the airport, so stopped by to see what the breakfast was like.  We didn’t have a lot of time to check it out which was a good thing, as it was the most magnificent array of things to eat you could imagine.  As I looked around at the people it made sense, because they were from all over the world with many different breakfast appetites.  We sampled a little of a lot of things and headed out to the bus.  It wasn’t long before we were back in the air on our way to Minneapolis

 

 On the shuttle heading back to Amsterdam airport

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 Amsterdam airport

May 9, Sunday noon in Minneapolis

A little over 8 hours later we were dropping into MSP airport, where we would be subjected to one more ordeal.  We had to collect our luggage that we had checked in Moscow from a baggage carrousel, and haul it through customs.  It was about 80 degrees and humid, so I was soaked by the time we had it rechecked.  We happened to have a stick of summer sausage that Dobi’s parents had given us, and as no meat of any kind can be brought into the USA, we had to go through the Agricultural line where they confiscated it.  Voluntarily telling them might have been a good thing, because they never even opened any of the rest of our bags which might have held us up for a while, and we didn’t have a lot of time to catch the next plane.  The hour flight from MSP to Minot was on time and we were on the ground by 4 PM and back home by 6 PM CDT, approximately 40 hours after leaving for the airport in Moscow.

 

Our Thoughts and Our Thanks

 

Ronna and I had looked forward to this trip with equal excitement and apprehension ever since we booked the flights early in January.  Without a question it exceeded our greatest expectations, and gave us a fresh appreciation for the many blessings we have taken for granted.  It made us more aware of the fact that what you have is not what counts, but what you are and how you treat one another.  It gave us new insight on the value of one soul, when you see first hand the lives that are given and the effort put forth to find one.  There were many people who were instrumental in making this trip possible as well as memorable, so I won’t try to name them all because one runs the risk of forgetting someone.  However, were it not for son Elmer’s willingness and ability to keep the farming and ranching part going at home, the trip would not have happened as it was both planting and calving season while we were gone.  Without Dale Benjamin’s help from the very beginning with the visas, booking our train and plane tickets in Russia, and seeing that we got back and forth to the airports, this trip would have never been possible.  If Alexander Belobordov (Sasha) had not made the commitment to see that we would experience Russia’s history both in Moscow and in Kurgan, the trip would not have been nearly as memorable.  And lastly we thank Katush and Dobi, our interpreters and reason for going to Russia in the first place.  One e-mail from the other side of the world only a year ago has surely impacted a lot of people, and who knows what the final result of it will be? 


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