Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Outwitted by Technology, Inwitted by My Wits Alone*

I accomplished my job of delivering my 53 severely culture-shocked students back to their homeland, but not before having to deal with a rather frustrating airport lost luggage scenario. Six girls in my group had their baggage either lost, incinerated, or thrown from the cargo bay over the Atlantic, we will probably never know which. The Russian staff refused to acknowledge my Anglophone pleas, and seemed apathetic to a point of near sadism. Seeing my students' anguish over their year's belongings' disappearance reminded me of the priceless advice my father gave me from an impressionable age, which is to always avoid at all costs the checking of any luggage. Thank you, dad.

Finally, I was able to make my way into Moscow and let my adventures begin! My only hindrance was that my phone said nothing but SOS, and I could not get wifi, and I apparently have grown quite attached to these technologies. I like to think I am rather savvy with arriving in foreign places with no plans or directions and generally finding my way about in a blundering and yet vaguely successful manner, but without a guide, map, or any functioning wireless internet receiving device, after a mere moment's shock I transformed into the MacGyver of international backpackers. Armed with only:

A. A Cyrillic Moscow Metro map stolen from a magazine in the "AirExpress" that connects Domodedovo to one of the rings of Moscow City,

B. A blurry recollection that Godzilla's was somewhere between two metro stops named after famous Russian literary figures,

C. One week's worth of Russian language training, thankfully including the alphabet, numbers one through ten, and the words "please" "buy" and "ticket,"

I managed to make it to my chosen housing establishment, resorting only twice to simply standing in the middle of a crowded street shouting "BOLSHOI KARETNYE SHEYST!?!" until a disgruntled passerby would shove me in the correct direction as they hurried by.**

Sometimes I astound even myself.

I checked into Godzilla's, a lovely place with some of the best wallpaper I have ever seen in a hostel, and promptly passed out in my bunk. It was maybe 6pm at this time, but I had lost all sense of minutes and hours and knew only the sweet sensation of horizontalness*** until an hour or three later when even that great comfort could not protect me from the gnawing sensation in my gut, which had somehow transformed into a gaping-mouthed beast who could only be appeased by large amounts of exotic and unrecognizable foods. I knew this beast well, and I could not deny it its demand!

I ventured out into the warm afternoon, and moved through twisting alleys that quickly gave way to posh broad avenues lined with sinfully expensive Italian boutiques and gourmet groceries and cafes. One place, a local chain called Coffee Mania, charged over 4 USD for an espresso. I moved away from these places, continuing my beady-eyed hunt for all things pickled and/or covered in mayonnaise. I quickly came to a pedestrian street lined with sidewalk cafes, bistros, and the Moscow outpost of Le Pain Quotidien. Glancing at the prices of these restaurants, I remembered being told that Moscow was ranked literally the most expensive city on earth, and it all made sense to me. I settled on an unassuming little place called Cafe Cena, which I can wholeheartedly recommend to anyone who is not well versed in Russian cuisine and does not dare to make a 500 ruble commitment to a food they have never seen or heard of, let alone read its name. Cena was a little cafeteria with various cold salads, soups, blinis, casseroles and other hot foods, all laid out before you to pick at leisure. After peering at everything with great interest for longer than was socially acceptable, I piled a rather large selection of pickled beets, cabbage, and other weird looking pickles on a plate, and paired it with a steaming cup of a soup that appeared to have, upon close inspection, more pickles, beets, onions, olives, and salmon in it's rich tomato broth. A chunk of black bread and a tall black beer, and I had assembled the strongest tasting meal I have had since eating something called "El Volcán" in Mexico City. And all that for only 320 rubles- a steal!

Satiated, I wandered the neighborhood, noting fashion trends, fancy cars, attempting to read Cyrillic, and looking in a really interesting bookshop**** until the clerk told me that they were closing, it was 11pm.

The sun was still up.

I somehow found my way back to the hostel again to befriend foreigners***** , shower the endlessly patient, beautiful, and impeccable English-speaking staff with inane questions, and write this blog entry, which I promptly lost and had to rewrite. Oh technology, how you torture me.


*If you are wondering if "inwitted" is actually a real word, I hate to break it to you but it is possible you are reading the wrong blog.

**I highly recommend ins tactic for anyone who has no shame, can read Cyrillic, and does not bruise easily.

***Would you be ever so kind as to see asterisk number one.

****Of which there are many in Moscow; They Russian people seem to be impressively well-read and rather intellectual overall, from what I can gather from my extensive research into the topic. You certainly don't see American metro stops called Whitman and Twain, do you?

*****And what fun to finally fit into that category again!