Friday, August 31, 2012

First Impressions

Hello all! It's good to be back after a long blogging break! It's hard to believe that I'm writing this from our new apartment in Yekaterinburg, Russia. Honestly, the apartment itself already feels like home. Maybe that's because I've spent most of the past three days holed up in it with Jack, somewhat terrified to venture out into the real world... At any rate, I thought I should fill you in on what's been going on since we arrived!

All smiles pre-flight

I'll start at the beginning: our flight to Moscow from D.C. I knew a ten hour flight was going to be hard, but I figured worst case scenario, Jack would sleep three or four hours. The flight left at 5:00 pm and by 10, I was ready to kill someone (maybe the consumptive child hacking up a lung across the aisle. I swear, you've never heard someone cough or sneeze so much in your life. John was convinced we'd all walk off the plane with tuberculosis). Finally, Jack fell asleep. So did John and I. All was well for about thirty minutes, when something (I blame the plague-ridden eight-year-old) woke Jack up. Hysterics commenced. Finally John and I gave up on sleep, and at 3 a.m. or so, we dragged our butts off the plane and into the airport.

The Moscow airport is a truly terrifying place. It's just one giant open room with a bunch of check-in desks lined up in rows. Everything else was chaos. No one spoke English, you had to go from one line to another without any rhyme or reason, and I was completely baffled by the fact that everyone was shrink-wrapping their luggage. Sarah, seasoned traveler that she is, had seen this before, but it was a first for me. Jack fell asleep the second we got off the plane - natch - so we wheeled him over to a lounge and spent the next three hours in blissful silence. By the time we got on our flight to Yekat, Jack was still asleep. We were scheduled to arrive at 7 p.m., and I knew the only hope for Jack sleeping that night was if I didn't let him sleep too long during the day. But an hour into the two hour flight, he was still snoring away. Then John and I made the mistake of trying to wake him. More hysterics ensued. From hotel door to apartment door, the trip was close to 24 hours. It felt like a week.

I'll be honest, the drive to our new house was disheartening. The airport is about twenty minutes from the city, and between the two is a whole lot of nothing. It wasn't even a particularly pretty landscape. (There was a wake-boarding center, randomly enough.) Then we arrived in the city and I really started to panic. Anyone who has been anywhere in Europe knows that even the most beautiful cities have their ugly parts. The same is apparently true of Yekaterinburg. Only that was all I saw when we first arrived. But then we got to the apartment, and I started to feel slightly less on the verge of a nervous breakdown. The building isn't much to look at from the outside, and the elevator is down-right scary, but people, once we opened the door? Hallelujah! It's ENORMOUS! And clean, and modern, and yes, it has weird Euro touches like a bidet, but did I mention it's huge??

Part of the foyer, with menfolk for scale.
There are three large bedrooms, 1.5 baths (the master bathroom is large enough to hold eight of our old bathroom), a nice-sized living/dining area, a hallway you could sail a boat down, and closets that bring tears of joy to my eyes. Honestly, it's soooo much nicer than I expected. Good thing, since I'll probably be spending a lot of time here come winter.

That first night was kind of rough. We all went to bed around 11 and Jack woke me up at 5. I managed to keep us both awake until almost 11 a.m., and then we napped together on my bed. John had to work his first day here, but he came home for lunch and told me about his day, and then he returned to work while Jack and I watched movies on the computer and putzed around.

Jackie taking a much-deserved nap.

That evening, one of the other FSOs, K, came and graciously played tour guide for the next few hours. The weather is really nice right now, and it still stays light out pretty late. We took a tramvai (sort of like a San Fran bus) up the street and passed a beautiful park and several really amazing buildings (and more hideous ones, admittedly). Then we arrived at what will no doubt prove to be my refuge come December: the mall (or malt, as Jack calls it). One of several, actually, but this one was fabulous. Aside from the large grocery store, which has an amazing variety of, well, everything, there is a Nordstroms-esque department store with a Whole Foods-esque grocery store. I spotted a Mango, a Naf-Naf, a Zara Home (!), plus a bunch of other stores I didn't recognize but fully intend to explore at some point.

Did I mention they have Skippy? $8 a jar and worth every penny.

After we did some quick grocery shopping and K rode the escalator about a thousand times with Jack, we went to an Italian restaurant that had delicious food AND an English menu! I was thrilled. It was getting late, however, and high chairs aren't nearly as ubiquitous here as they are at home, so Jack was starting to revert to his alter-ego. He slept pretty well that night, thank goodness.

Triumphant after flinging K's brush over the ledge.
On Thursday, I spent the first half of the day organizing what little stuff we have, and then I had my first truly awkward encounter with the natives. I was heading downstairs to meet John when the very sweet but very non-English-speaking security guard stopped me. Apparently he wanted to introduce me to the rest of the security team, but I had no clue what was going on. I did manage to give out our names and Jack's age, and say "Ya nee gavaryu pa Ruski" (I don't speak Russian) a couple of times, but they seemed convinced that with enough gesticulating I'd be able to figure out what they were saying. Fortunately John arrived and managed to translate, and we headed off to lunch at a hotel with a few other people from John's work. I even walked home by myself (baby steps, people) and figured out how to get back into our apartment, thanks to more gesticulating on the security guard's part.

The "park" outside our apartment building. Sad, I know.
That evening K took us on a fairly terrifying taxi ride through the city, during which Jack somehow managed to fall asleep. We had dessert at the beautiful Hyatt, where a really lovely expat works (and lives with her family). I couldn't for the life of me get Jack to wake up - I even tried feeding him ice cream, but all that accomplished was proving that Jack can apparently sleep and eat ice cream at the same time - but when the daughter of the expats, who was clearly disappointed with her new playmate, shouted in his ear, he finally opened his eyes. Then the two of them played hide and seek and all was well. I think it's safe to say Jack has his first friend in Yekaterinburg.

Which brings us to today! Jack slept fairly well last night, John is at work, and our UAB (unaccompanied baggage) arrives any minute! I don't remember what the hell I put in there but at least I'll have some decent sheets (seriously, the ones they provide have a thread count of 10, and the toilet paper is half-ply). My mom and dad arrive on Monday, and tomorrow John is presenting a children's program that Jack and I get to attend. All in all, it's been a remarkably good first week here. Now I just have to learn some Russian and I'll be good to go, at least until winter hits in about three weeks.

But hey, there's always the malt.

Friday, August 24, 2012

The Move

I talked briefly about our move on my other blog on Monday, but for the future-FS folks who may not have read it, I thought I'd go into a little more detail here, since even though we've all moved, not everyone has experienced a State Department move. And it is different.

First of all, in all our moves (including several military moves), I've never had so many darn movers. We had four the first day, six the second. And we didn't have THAT much stuff! Our house had two bedrooms, an office, and a partially finished basement. I can't imagine what this is like for families of four or more. Yikes! And I've also never had stuff going in so many different directions. Between HHE, UAB, our luggage, and storage, there were a lot of moving parts. It was impossible to keep an eye on every mover at all times, so I can only hope the right things end up in the right place. I should mention that the movers packed everything really well, and they were relatively efficient (aside from the guy who took about two hours to wrap our snow tires in packing paper; that was ridic).

This is what happens when you buy enough beer and wine for two years.

As I noted before, State doesn't move on weekends, so you'll want to take that into account when you plan your move. Since we are leaving on a Monday, we could either move over a week before our actual leave date (like we did), or do it just a few days prior to leaving. It seemed a little silly to stay in a hotel for ten days, but since State pays for it, and this would have been way too chaotic three days before leaving, I'm glad we chose to do it this way. Jack is actually much happier in the hotel than he was in our house, which probably looked completely unfamiliar the last few days.

Soooo happy to be in the hotel!

The only thing I regret was not planning out the UAB better (unaccompanied baggage). I had no idea what 600 pounds looks like, and I also didn't expect them to pack it first. So in all the madness I somehow ended up forgetting to pack the diapers and wipes. And Jack's toys. Whoops. Something to keep in mind for the future, perhaps? We're lucky we're going to a post where most things should be available (albeit expensively), but if you were going somewhere more remote and forgot those kinds of necessities, it might be a long month or so until your HHE arrived!

All in all, it was a pretty low-key move, mostly because I couldn't really DO anything. I've never felt so useless during a move. I actually sat on the stairs and played with my phone for a good chunk of time. On the second day I took Jack to the hotel for his nap while John stayed behind to supervise. The State Department definitely took care of things. The only casualty? One of my Limoge boxes, which I broke myself. Don't worry, the reading pigs are safe. But the French vegetable stand is going to need some gluing come Russia.

Any questions? Feel free to ask! We depart for Yekaterinburg in three days. Next Friday's post should be...interesting.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Costco Craziness

Today was the day. The big day. The COSTCO day. We came. We shopped. Did we conquer? John likened us to Egyptian slaves pushing giant slabs of pyramid across the desert, so perhaps not. But we came in under our predicted budget of $1500 (just barely). All in all it was a successful day.

With one of our two carts. We were not pallet people, but we were close.
The watermelon will not be coming to Russia. Just FYI.

Jack sports his new wannabe Uggs.
Sorry for the short - and late - post. But the count down is on. It's madness around here, as you can see. Oh, and for the record, the State Department movers don't come on Saturday. A good thing to find out the week before your scheduled Friday/Saturday move, right?

Friday, August 3, 2012

It's the Little Things

Well, folks, it's August. That means I can no longer say, "Next month, we'll be living in Russia." Because THIS month, we'll be living in Russia. Aaaiiiiieeeeee!

Today the pre-mover moving people are coming by to get a feel for how many boxes/packers/straightjackets they'll need to pack us out in a couple of weeks. I *think* I know what's coming and what's going in storage, at least as far as the big stuff goes.

But I still have to make decisions about all the little stuff, and unfortunately, there's a lot of little stuff. I managed to curb my terrible habit of collecting small, useless objects over the course of the last ten years, but there are holdovers. You know, my collection of tiny glass animals...the ironstone pitchers I used to amass...the Limoge box assortment that my parents have given me over the years. I love all these things, but do I want to move them to Russia? I haven't committed yet, and I'm rapidly running out of time.

Then there are the books. Oh, the books. I love books (duh) but I don't necessarily need my Complete Jane Austen collection, do I? Are you crazy? Of course I do! John, however, does not need his college text books with their yellow "used" stickers still holding fast to the spines. Of this I am certain.

It's hard to make some of these decisions. On the one hand, I love the idea of streamlining, of keeping things simple over the next two years. On the other hand, our apartment isn't going to have our furniture in it, and it's probably not the domicile I would have chosen if I had my druthers. All the little stuff will be the only source of charm in the place. And if seeing my Limoge piggies smiling down on me from a curio cabinet makes me happy, then maybe it's worth hauling them across the planet. I'm just not sure!

Look, they're reading! Who doesn't love reading pigs?

In the meantime, John is building up a wall of "vital" supplies on our sun porch. You know, eighteen-pound sacks of pizza flour, crates full of sustainably caught sardines, chia seeds by the barrel. I've already told him that if our kitchen can't accommodate his pre-apocalypse-level hoarding, it's going in HIS half of the closet.

The greyhound figurine, on the other hand, should fit nicely in the front hall.