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Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Moscow




Jenny, Brian, and I arrived in Moscow on Monday morning, December 19, after a day of travel from Atlanta via New York. I made it through customs first, and found our driver, who spoke no English whatsoever. There were supposed to be four of us, and when only three of us had arrived in Moscow, the driver became very confused. We couldn’t communicate (despite holding up fingers and speaking English with bad Russian accents) that there were only three of us.

Finally, he walked us out to a van. There was snow everywhere. He started the van, then went back into the airport, while we hoped the van didn’t blow up.

After some time (10 minutes? 15?) he came back to the van, and we were on our way, down snowy roads with slow moving traffic. Stands of antifreeze were alongside the roads.

After over an hour, we arrived at the Marriot Tverskaya, located along the main street leading to the Kremlin. After checking in, we got all bundled up and walked down to Red Square and touring Saint Basil’s, the oft photographed cathedral in Red Square with all the multi-colored turrets. Outside Red Square, I purchased a black Russian hat, which, with my long black overcoat, gave me the authentic look (or at least an authentic tourist look.)

Afterwards, we went to the GUM, a huge shopping mall bordering Red Square and had lunch. I had Gray Soup (basically a cream of mushroom with beef), beef carpaccio, and eggplant stuffed with blue cheese in a wine reduction sauce.

After a while, I realized that I could read many of the Russian words, as they were English words spelled phonetically in Russian. As I became familiar with the Russian alphabet, things got much easier.

We headed back to the hotel for a while before heading back out for dinner, eating at the Pilsner Urquell restaurant. Brian had salmon, Jenny had dumplings stuffed with “smoked product” and I had pork loin with dumplings and sauerkraut. We also had a liter each of beer. We also enjoyed a selection of cheeses meant to go along with the beer.

After dinner, we wandered the streets in the snow, drink beer on the streets, and sang with three Russian teenagers in an underground crosswalk (“Yellow Submarine”, “Jingle Bells,” “Back in the USSR”) before finally returning the hotel bar. Jenny had a flaming shot called a B-53 with Kahlua, Bailey’s, and Absinthe.

Tuesday morning, I started the day with two double espressos downstairs in the lobby bar of the hotel. Afterwards, Brian, Jenny and I headed back down to the Kremlin, this time via the subway. This was more complicated than it seemed, first because we couldn’t find the station. After resolving this problem, we had a harder time finding the right track.

We had lunch at the GUM again, this time at a café which specialized in crepes called Colours. I had one with salmon and caviar with horseradish. A live band in Santa suits played music while we ate.

While we were out, snow began falling. Large snowflakes falling on my overcoat actually had the shape of crystal-like flakes cut out by school children. It felt much colder than the day before.

We met Sheri and headed to our meeting with our driver who was quite late because of the heavy traffic and snowfall. We arrived at the offices just in time. Our driver dropped us off, but we weren’t sure we were in the right location. We walked into one building, handed the security officer the address, and we gathered (correctly) that we were not in the right place. Sheri noted that I had a conversation with him, somehow magically empowered by the Russian hat. In any case, we figured that we weren’t tragically lost, just a building off from our real location.

The ride back to the hotel afterwards was much shorter in duration because of lighter traffic after 10:00 pm. The driver took us by the Kremlin where Sheri finally got to at least do a “drive-by.” He tried to drop us off at the wrong hotel, but Brian was successful in directing him to the right location.

Once inside, I spoke with the hotel bellboy Alexei, who had been a source of advice and guidance throughout the trip. He directed us to a bar hidden on the second floor across the street. Once again, no one spoke English. They had lots of shots listed in English, so we were successful in ordering drinks. I was able to make out the word “quesadillas” in Russian, so we ordered that along with some cheese (which the waitress understood.) Brian wanted to grab his camera, so he and I headed back across the street to the hotel, this time with the Russian menu in hand, so I could seek Alexei’s advice. Coming back, we knew the Russian words for shrimp and calamari (or at least where to point to “calamari” on the menu.) The calamari was pretty good (very breaded, but delicious breading.) The shrimp looked big but had very little meat and even less taste.

We ended the evening there with a shot called “Losted”, which had God only knows what in it, but it was topped with Absinthe. The waitress lit it on fire, and gave us straws to drink it with while blue flames escaped from the cordial glass. I downed mine in time to look up and see Brian catching the table on fire from laughing into his drink.

On leaving, the snow was still falling hard; Jenny found a fresh patch of snow and proceeded to make a snow angel. Brian videotaped the hilarious spectacle as Sheri and I laughed.



The next morning I met Brian and Jenny for coffee at the coffee house beside stairwell to the bar from the night before. Our waitress was delighted to have the opportunity to try her English. It was still snowing pretty hard, with a good deal of accumulation.



Luckily, our driver this time was on time, despite the heavy snow. We made it to the airport in plenty of time to catch our flight back to New York.

The snow, the exotic architecture, the strange alphabet, the difficulties in communication all combined to make this a very special trip for me. At the beginning of this trip, I thought I would probably never again go to Moscow because of the difficulty in obtaining visas, the length of the journey, and lack of a reason to return. But in the end, I was very enchanted with the city, and hope to one day return.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Sao Paulo

Just arrived in Brazil, and staying at the Intercontinental Sao Paulo (http://www.ichotelsgroup.com/h/d/ic/1/en/hd/saoha) . Unfortunately, my reservations happened to be made for last month, so I´ve had to get an Executive Room... oh well.

Here's the view from my room:




Sao Paulo is huge. I couldn't believe how far the skyscrapers stretched out.

[Later] On Wednesday, Dec. 14th, John and I had a free day before our flight flew out after midnight. We took a cab to Iguatemi shopping mall--a huge mall, elaborately decorated for Christmas, with great stores. Check out its website at www.ventoharagano.com.br). There, we feasted on chicken, rumpsteak, sirloin, and short ribs while drinking caipirinhas.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Bogotá

After the 12 hour airplane tour of South America, I finally arrived in Bogotá and at the hotel where my meeting was with about 10 minutes to spare.

Unfortunately, I didn't get to see much of Bogotá, with the exception of the crowded airport. I did notice lots of Christmas lights.

Word of advice: if you ever find yourself leaving here to return to the US, get to the airport EARLY-- at least 3 hours if not more. A scene from the Bogotá airport:

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Traveling through... Peru and Equador--


A funny thing happened on the way to Bogota, Columbia. Namely, Lima and Quito.

I knew my flight on LAN to Bogota was a connecting flight through Lima, Peru. And I was wondering why it took so long to get to Bogota. What I didn't know, until Cindy and I were snacking on ceviche in the Lima airport, was that the plane also had a stop in Quito, Equador.

Landing in Quito was breathtaking--mountains and ravines. I took a picture as we left Quito, a city which straddles the equator.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Buenos Aires



I've got to say, I love Buenos Aires.

First of all, it reminds me of Paris... I love the architecture. But compared to Paris, it's cheap!

The first thing I did was head to the hotel, where I hope to stay again. It was called the Hotel Madero by Sofitel. I loved the modern look, and very attentive service. Check out the pictures in the gallery at http://www.sofitel.com/sofitel/fichehotel/gb/sof/3658/fiche_hotel.shtml .

After checking my bags, I caught a cab to the Casa Rosada, just to see the balcony where Eva Peron used to stand (not to mention Madonna.)















Since the cab was only 2 Argentinian Pesos, and I didn't want to break a 100 Peso bill, I just had the driver drive me around, showing me the sights. Eventually, I had him drop me off in a shopping area where I did some Christmas shopping and bought myself a shirt.

Getting back to the hotel, I met my coworker Cindy and we headed to work. Afterwards, we joined another coworker at a hip restaurant, Cero. Even though it was a restaurant, it felt like a club. It even had a dj.

The next day, we headed to Pilar, Argentina to a corporate golf tournament. After a late night and early morning, I fell asleep poolside where I got a nice little sunburn. Here's Cindy by the pool:



We headed back into Buenos Aires for more shopping down Florida and to have lunch. Lunch was great. I had a huge, delicious steak with white linen service for about $6 at El Palacio de la Papa Frita. Known for their huge puffy french fries, the 50 year old restaurant is a "must visit."

Afterwards, we headed to La Recoleta and to the cemetery there which holds magnificent mausoleums, including the tomb of Eva Peron. Afterwards, we had coffe at La Biela, a famous little coffee shop in La Recoleta, before heading back to the hotel.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Rome




In Rome, we stayed at an awesome hotel, the Trelussa Palace. Once again, Mom took detailed notes-- Here's what she had to say:

We arrived in Rome at 8:00 a.m. We took the bus to the city center and a taxi from there to the hotel. Had to wait in line for the taxi for about an hour. We went everywhere. We took streetcar to the Coliseum, walked to the Vatican. We saw so many beautiful things – (Roman Forum).


I bargained with a salesman (on the street) for Catherine’s hat. I also bought 20 postcards from a man on the street for 1.00E. They were 40c each in the stores. It rained on us a lot. We walked where Paul & Peter were in prison. We saw where Pope Paul was buried. We rubbed the feet of St. Peter (the statue). This is believed to bring good luck. We also saw the Pantheon, saw Piazzia San Peitro (St. Peter’s). We had lunch on the streets (Pizza) so good. We rode the taxi twice. The driving is worse in Rome than Germany. They were selling umbrellas everywhere. We were asked to buy one every minute but Frank would say “no, I’m already wet.”
Maria (works with Frank) took us to supper at al 34 Restaurant. We had spinach ravioli. It was so good. A man gave Maria and I a rose then begged John, Frank, and F.T. to pay for them. John paid for them. We saw Trevi fountain. It is believed if foreigners toss a coin into the fountain it insured his return to Rome. We threw our coins in. Frank had done this on a previous trip. We also saw Spanish Steps.
November 30, 2005
We had breakfast at the hotel. Sweet rolls were delicious – John, Frank, F. T. & I took a streetcar to the Vatican museum. Everything was so beautiful. We saw the Pope. Had lunch at Garden Lino. Best Pizza I have ever eaten. We took taxi home. We went to top floor to see the garden. We saw two lemon trees. Frank & John had to go to work at 5:00 p.m. F. T. and I went shopping. We went to a grocery store – so exciting – we had not been in a week. We looked at the prices of everything. We bought crackers, cheese, and salami. Bought a large Diet Coke. We had supper at a Pizzaria-Chinese restaurant. Orderd spaghetti with mushrooms.I didn’t like it. F. T. said it was o.k. This was the first meal I didn’t like. We walked down the street and got pizzas. It was cheap and good. The shower in Rome was so different. Water came from the top, side, and back. Had a Bidet in the bathroom. Our lights came on when you put your key in the key holder on the wall – also came on when you opened the closet door. No washcloths. The handle to flush the commode was on the wall. Frank paid 3.20E for a bottle of wine and I paid 5.00E for a corkscrew. Price you have to pay since you can’t carry a corkscrew on the plane.
At the grocery you packed your own groceries. Liquor is sold at the grocery store. Frank got home from work around 10:30 p.m. and John and Maria came by for wine and cheese & crackers.
Little gas stations on the street (just the gas pumps).
December 1, 2005
Had breakfast at hotel. Took van to the airport. Left the airport at 11:00 a.m. for Atlanta. We flew first class in seats 1A & 1B. This was an eleven hour flight. We had lunch, snack, champagne & wine on the plane.
When we got to Atlanta, Angela was waiting for her plane to Raleigh (she had been in Atlanta for the day at a meeting for her job).
This was a wonderful trip. Our 40th Anniversary. Thanks to Frank, Angela, Chris, and Betty Jane. Thank God for a safe trip. Our car was at the airport.

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