Monday, November 17, 2008
Novosibirsk November 17
Novosibirsk November 17, 2008
The footpaths winding through the forests of this town take you anywhere you want to go. They are a tranquil alternative to walking on the sidewalks, and in the streets, where cars pretend you’re not there. One thing I was cautioned about on my first day here was to never set foot in a street when there is a car in sight. Especially in winter, because of the ice on the road. The car may not be able (willing) to stop, no matter when the driver applies the brakes. The hood on my parka also obscures my peripheral vision, so I’m constantly overly craning my neck left and right before crossing the street. That is what makes the footpaths so popular.
But the footpaths hold the key to a mystery that has been plaguing me since I started traveling to Eastern Europe in winter. If you observe very carefully (and that is advisable if you are interested in avoiding stepping in something you don’t want on the floor of your home), you will see holes, the circumference of a pencil, an inch deep. Perplexed by this, I watched as my fellow walkers navigated the slippery surfaces. Now, I am fairly normal, I think, and it isn’t such a bad thing to watch a lovely young lady, in stiletto heels, in knee high boots, walking down the street. But when I combined my natural observation of the people around me, with the holes in the footpaths, it struck me: the stiletto heels, on the knee high boots, with the slick slippery soles, are responsible for the tiny holes in the snow and ice. What was the mystery? How women can walk like that. To paraphrase Elaine from “Seinfeld”: “I don’t know how you women walk around with those things.” First of all, it is such an unnatural position for the ball of the foot to be on the ground, and the heel to be at a forty-five degree angle, and three inches high. Secondly, you have to have the balance of a ballet dancer, and the guts of a gymnast, to strut around so confidently. Now, put that together with walking in those heels on ice and snow, and you have the recipe for disaster. But I’ve never seen one of these women fall. Here’s the key to the mystery: the heels act as stabilizers. They puncture the ice and snow and help these women keep their balance.
Or that’s just my theory, anyway.
As stated yesterday, money was the issue today. How was I going to turn these filthy US dollars into rubles? There is a bank on the bottom floor, in a corner, of one the buildings we pass by on our way to our favorite café. There is a sign outside which says that there is also a twenty-four hour ATM, but it is behind a locked door. I walked into the bank, which is down the hall from that door. As I entered the bank, the scene was familiar: customer service representatives at desks helping clients. In Lithuania, whenever I wanted to exchange money, I would do it at one of those desks. But they were full. So I looked around for the tellers. All I saw was a bunch of closed doors lined up one next to the other. One of the doors opened, and I could see a teller on the other side. But all of the doors had signs on them that said different things in Russian. Teller specialists. I just went through the open door and said “currency exchange?” The teller said something in Russian and pointed toward another door. Taking the cue, I went through that door, and asked the same question. She nodded her head. Now I was going to have to give her my dirty bills and probably only get a fraction of what I wanted. She looked at them, and only gave one back to me! It had a teeny tiny ink mark on it. I nodded ashamedly, and pocketed that one. She took the rest, did the calculations, and gave me many, many rubles.
It was such a beautiful day today. It was warm (high 20’s) and no clouds in the sky. What a great day for a walk all around Akademgodorok. But first I had to go to the University to check on the internet situation. Ian had theorized that I probably exceeded the data transfer limit for the money that I gave them. I went to the IT office, and that indeed was the problem. The same man who helped me the first time helped me again, and he couldn’t have been nicer. I paid double the amount as last time, and was on my way.
The route this time would be different. I wanted to end up on the other side of town, near Travelers Coffee. It is across the street from Almira’s institute. The road wound around a bit, and then the footpath cut across an open field, right to the coffee shop. Travelers Coffee is a chain. The name on the front of the shop is in bold English lettering. The music coming from the speakers outside was definitely Western. The menu is not. But I know how to say “cappuccino” in Russian (it’s “cappuccino”), and I know how to gesture so as to indicate that I want a large. The first server spoke no English, so they sent over another server who did, and we found an egg sandwich “with no meat.” Good cappuccino. Everywhere but at Starbucks.
The weather was still cooperating, so it seemed like a good time to walk down to the Ob Sea. It is man-made, and very large. It’s a nice walk, with a pedestrian bridge over the roadway. On the other side, it was hard to tell how to get down to the sea. I had almost given up when a couple with two young children walked past and started down a footpath in that direction. So I followed them, and it does lead there. On the way, there is another pedestrian bridge over railway tracks. The Trans-Siberian! The gentleman was taking pictures of the family, so I said “please” in Russian, and asked in English if he would my picture. He said: “It would be my pleasure.” In English. I asked him if this was the legendary railway that we want to take in the future from Moscow to Vladivostok. “No, it goes to the mountain . . .” and I didn’t hear anything else. Well, at least those millions and millions of people who don’t read this blog will think it’s an impressive shot of me with the Trans-Siberian Railway in the background.
Everyone went down to the beach, which is huge. Hopefully, embedded in this post, is a short video taken with the digital camera of the beach and the water.
It was time to head back into town. I hadn’t really checked out the Trade Center yet, so it seemed like a good time to do that since it was on the way back to the flat. I didn’t see much of interest, until I noticed a sign for DVD’s. Where there are DVD’s, there are CD’s. I know how to find them, all over the world. I picked up an mp3 CD of all of Splin’s albums. They are a famous Russian band whose music Adam introduced me to. I’ll be putting it in the computer in just a little while.
I needed groceries to last until I leave, so a quick stop at the market was in order. Some real “black bread”, raspberry preserves, a frozen pizza (time to eat in tonight) and crackers made the cart. And now I must take back the comments I made about the cashiers at the grocery store. The others I had met on previous visits had been a little unfriendly. This time, however, the lady was smiling, and helped me pick out the right amount to make even change. At least I think that’s what happened.