Monday, April 19, 2010

clifton: Russia Trip-Day Seven

Editor's Note: Engage Russia's newest team member, Michael Clifton, made his first trip to Russia earlier this month. Michael is a media producer living in Kiev, Ukraine. This summer Michael will start leading Engage Russia production trips while Marc Hooks is in the States meeting with churches and others who are interested in becoming Engage Russia partners. The following is posted from Michael's personal blog.

Date: 3 April 2010

Departure day!! No one to meet, no where to go, except home. Our flights home weren’t until evening, so more tourist-y events would fill the relaxed day.

I missed my wife’s birthday this week, so I had some shopping to do. After some morning chat, our host, Ed, convinced us that we should go up to “Sparrow Hills” where Moscow State University (МГУ) is located, because it is the highest elevation point in Moscow. From this point you can see all of Moscow on a clear day. This day wasn’t completely clear, but we could see almost everything.

Russia's Harvard

Moscow State University is called the “Harvard of Russia”, because it is the premiere university of Russia. I was excited to see the campus myself as there was a picture of МГУ in my Russian language textbook. I thought that this main building was one-of-a-kind, but shortly after arriving and mistakingly pointing out every similar skyscraper as “hey, that’s МГУ”, I found out that there was a series of seven buildings with similar architecture built in Moscow. These are called the “Seven Sisters.”

View from Sparrow Hills

From an “observation point” in front of the university campus, we could see the majority of Moscow. The elevation drops off quickly into the rest of the city. Right in front of us was the Olympic Stadium (pictured at the top of this post) which was the main stadium for the 1980 olympics.

Marc and I still had shopping and packing to do before our flight, so we travelled across town to the Izmailovo Souvenir Market via Metro.

Above Ground Metro Station

The two main Metro stations we used were intriguing. The Metro at Sparrow Hills (Воробьёвы горы) is located below one of the main highways going into Moscow, yet is still above ground at that point (coming down from the hill). Instead of tiled walls, the sides of this metro were glassed-in for a panoramic view of the area.

Statue of Partisan in Metro Station

The Metro for our exit into the market is called Partisanskaya (Partisan) Metro that serves as a memorial for the Russian partisans who helped defeat the Nazis in Russia. It used to be named Izmalovskaya Park Metro station. There are statues “hiding” behind columns appearing ready to “ambush” intruders. Another unique feature of this station is the fact that it has three tracks running through it. Instead of a middle platform with tracks running on either side of the station, there is a third one running down the middle of the station as well. At one point, this particular metro line splits into two. Getting on the correct line here would ensure that you get where you intend to go.

Shashlik Chefs (Say it 5x fast)

The market was buzzing. A bright, warm Saturday saw all sorts of tourists and locals alike. I heard more English spoken than I had the entire week. There were fur hats, Russian toys, matryoshka dolls (Russian nesting dolls), soviet era pins, antique cameras, and most importantly to our stomachs at the time, “shashlik.” The shashlik chef recognized Marc at a distance of about 20 feet with smoke in between. His English was great. We ordered our food and looked for a place to sit. In the process, other people walked up and the chef switched easily into Korean and French. A-mazing! The universal language chef was cooking up the universal food of “shashlik” or shish-ka-bob.

Entering the Bazaar

We filled our stomachs and then walked around to fill our bags of trinkets to bring home to our families. I found a few pins of Kiev Dynamo soccer team for Nathan, a wooden snake for JoJo (that he named his “Ding Ding Snake”), and a traditional Russian doll for Abigail. Those were difficult to decide. What was easy was what I got for Angela. Marc had told me about Uzbek pottery before the trip, and I knew that would be the perfect gift. Many of the folks in this part of the world (particularly the women) rave about Polish pottery, but Marc preferred Uzbek pottery to Polish. I would agree with his assessment. As a returning customer, Marc garnered a 10% discount for himself and his friend, me. I picked out a tea set which included a pot, four cups and saucers, and a large platter/plate. The salesman wrapped everything up securely and we went back to the apartment to pack and get to the airport.

Ismaiolovo Bazaar

My check-thru luggage was full on the way over here, but it was going to be stuffed on the way back. I had to figure a way to get all that I had just bought safely back to Ukraine. I could not get the pottery in my carry-on bag, so it had to go into my (handle-less) suitcase. Amazingly, everything fit in snugly.

We got things packed quickly and headed to the airport shuttle train. We arrived at the station and bought tickets within two minutes of its departure. Talk about close!! We had a comfortable ride back to the airport. Marc and I had to depart each other at this point, because my flight left two hours later and our flights departed from different sides of the airport terminal.

I feared a little that my check-thru luggage might have been overweight. I didn’t even check it on the way here. I was relieved to see that the scale read 19.5Kg (the limit is 20Kg). Breathing a sigh of relief, I got my boarding pass, went through passport control, and waited for my flight home.

Upon arrival at the Kiev airport, I saw something that I never knew would be allowed in an airport. People were carrying oil lanterns from a separate flight. Most of these appeared to be Orthodox priests. Apparently, I witnessed the Eastern Orthodox tradition where candles and lanterns are lit at a central Orthodox church in Jerusalem on the night before Easter and spread through a crowd who transport the flames to various locations around the globe.

My friend and colleague, Brad, was there to pick me up out front, and I arrived home safe and sound. My wife was glad to see me, and even more delighted to see the gift I brought back (that had no damage from the flight or packing). It was good to travel but better to be home.

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