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.




10 comments:

  1. It sounds as if things are going remarkably well. I'm impressed Jack is already sleeping throught the night! And don't knock the bidet - nothing better for doing hand washing!

    ReplyDelete
  2. It is so good to "hear" your voice, even if through the blog, and what a good start to the adventures! Jack seems to be adjusting fast to the new surroundings. Does the mall have a carousel? :) love, courtney

    ReplyDelete
  3. I enjoy reading your blog! Good luck with the transition.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hi there,
    I'll try this again....great to read your blog and things sound better than expected- that is a good sign. You are a brave gal and the adventure and experiences you will have will create such incredible memories. Looking forward to seeing the before and after pics of the amazing size apt....love to all, the Cutlers

    ReplyDelete
  5. Glad to see you made it safely! I was cracking up about your son's ability to eat ice cream and sleep at the same time. Too funny. And wow, your UAB got there fast, no? Good luck with everything!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Sounds like a pretty good start to your new life :) Welcome to Russia, I can completely envision in my mind's eye every step you've gone through so far.

    ReplyDelete
  7. So glad to hear you guys made it safe and sound and that you had a very eventful first week. ;0)

    ReplyDelete
  8. Such a great first post in the new land!! I am so happy you love your apartment. The plane ride and Moscow airport sounded so awful/scary; you guys are such troopers!! Love the Jack pics. So brave Rutherfords :)

    ReplyDelete
  9. What an adventure. Good job surviving the long flight. Wow, your apartment looks awesome and it sounds like Russia has seriously improved since the decline of the Soviet Union. Good luck learning Russian. TV will be a good way to learn. I swear I learned more Dutch from a few weeks of TV than I did living in Holland for three months without TV before that. Commercials and kid's shows are especially educational. Can't wait to hear more.

    ReplyDelete
  10. We miss you guys, cannot wait to visit! love, Alexis & Mike

    ReplyDelete