D & ty's Absent Semester travel blog

It took a stumbling drunk vodka swilling Russian to determine the winner of the pot potato contest. And the winner, by a close two point margin (determined on the aesthetic and texture portion of the rubric) was the potato train created by Deana and her team. My team created the Dalai Lama out of potato and instant borsht combination (dried squid for hair and olives for glasses.) My team reasoned that our tie-breaking drunk Russian judge had no real concept of the Dalai Lama - hence we suffered our defeat. Have a look at the photo and you be the judge.

We survived the 52 hour portion of our train journey and actually quite enjoyed it. The real danger on this train journey is the endless eating of fried potato doughballs and the pyrogies bought from the babushkas on the train platform. Couple that with the sociable beer drinking that starts any time one's awake, and the result is a certain weight gain. When we got off the train yesterday we vowed that we would eat less and get our lives in order. As it turned out we went to a Russian buffet and ate and drank well beyond our comfort level.

Russians drink like no people I have known, and it is a cultural norm - not an excessive exception. It is not unusual to see someone walking down the street in the morning drinking a beer like we would drink Tim Horton's. In fact, I have decided that when I get home I will get Trish and Barb weekly morning beer rather than a Timmy's. To the Russians, so it seems, is that beer is just another beverage to consume; however, vodka is for real drinking, toasting and general public drunkeness.

Today we are in Yekaterinburg wandering about stretching our legs. We found a coffee shop that brews coffee - rather than the endless powdered coffee in hot water. It took some work to get across my need for a latte. (Our tiny bit of translations in our guide book did not include latte.) I find that we can generally sort out our needs if we are patient and willing to use sign language, also known as charades.

We wandered through the art market, a book store. We also spent some time looking at the site where Czar Nicholas II and his family were assasinated. It was very sobering and/or disturbing to think of the circumstance surrounding their end. As the tale goes it was a long ghastly end for the women largely because they were hiding their jewels and family riches in their corsets; as a result the bayonets could not impale them quickly. I also learned why the orthodox church has a different cross than other denominations. The cross has the slanty bit at the bottom and the small cross at the top to signify the two theives near Jesus when he was crucified. When asked to repent their sins one thief did and ascended to heaven (the small cross at the top) and one thief did not and decended to the other place (the slanting cross at the bottom.) If someone can verify the truth to this I would be very interested.

Deana and I found a lovely sushi restaurant for lunch. Apparently Japanese sushi restaurants are very popular with the Russians. I must also add that I have never seen so many twiggy thin, beautifully stylish women. Fashion is so enormously important to the woman and you can imagine how D and I stand out in this crowd - with our back packing attire (not so pretty.)

Tomorrow morning we are back on the train heading to Moscow. It is a short train ride comparably; it is only 26 hours. We sure won't be unpacking much of anything; in fact, in that limited amount of time we can't even get into a train daze. It is funny to watch people wandering around after getting off of the train. We all stumble about trying to stand upright - I bet it is similar to get off of a boat or cruise ship.

Well that is all for now. Take care and thanks for the messages we are getting.

ty and Deana

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