Friday, August 31, 2007

Moscow, Part II

I had decided not to go to Nizhniy Novgorod, deciding that one day there would be better spent as two extra days in Moscow (which turned out to be a wise choice). Surprisingly I was even able to return the train tickets (minus a 2.20 ruble fee). So the following day Lidia, Natasha and I finally managed to meet up. Lidia was looking for an old Soviet book a library had lent her, having trusted her to guard it with her life, but her dog had eaten (really!). We met later on, and I remarked at the construction that had been taking place in Red Square, building some sort of stage for something related to Moscow's 860th birthday and remarked at Moscow's age; she reminded me that Rome was almost almost 2800 years old. Touché. Also with Natasha arrived Sveta, who I had met last year but whose contact information (or name) I hadn't gotten before I left, so it was good to catch up with her as well. Lidia soon had to leave; she was flying to St. Petersburg the next morning and had plans, so we bid her farewell, and then the remaining 3 of us walked around, went to a coffee house, and then walked around further. I shudder on how much money I've wasted on ice cream and other such indulgences. "I spent all my money on ice cream and junk food. The rest I wasted." The next day I saw Lenin's tomb, which was quite unbelievable. Also buried at the Kremlin wall (among others) were Brezhnev and Stalin. I was amazed to really see Lenin. I didn't know what to expect, maybe just a closed tomb but it was glass and you could actually see him. I wonder how they preserve him (and for how long they will be able to do so - or whether it's really actually him). I had overheard an English-speaking guide the day before mention that this wasn't his idea; he wanted to be buried with his wife in St. Petersburg. A fitting irony that his communist ideology ended up ruining at least his last dreams too. I lingered, but was yelled at, "не остались!" (don't remain!).

Later I went inside the Kremin and saw a bunch of churches and other random things; it was also amazing to really be there. There were some babushkas picking apples in a garden inside. I later saw the church of Christ the Savior, which awe-inspiringly big and actually had two churches, one on the lower level and then the upper. I think St. Isaac's was far more impressive overall though. Outside I got an SMS from St. Petersburg Katya, asking how it was going, and I replied that things were good and that I really liked Moscow, but not to worry, I still loved St. Petersburg. She replied, "don't even think of loving Moscow more than Petersburg!" I then tried to figure out how ot meet both Natasha and Irina on this last day (which I'd thus far managed to avoid), and surprisingly it more-or-less worked; Natasha and I met up at Universitetskaya, and then Irina joined us a bit later.

While I was waiting at Universitetskaya, sitting on a bench, I saw an old guy sitting next to me talking to some teenagers or thereabouts. I couldn't hear them, what with the metro, but somehow, my mind assessed this situation and told me that he was crazy and that they couldn't get away. Sure enough, when they left, he saw presumably saw me writing in English and had me read something about the English king, and said (in English) that no one sat next to him without the permission of him, the English king. Oh boy. Before I could assent to this and flee, he kept going. He spoke to me mainly in English, although it was hard to hear with the trains going back and forth. It was also hard to understand him not because of his English, which he spoke quite well, but rather because half of it was rambling nonsense. He said something about saving Poland form some sort of Soviet invasion in the 80s, and that he'd saved the world and thus was now the English king. Forgive me if I didn't get all the details of that quite right. It was apparent that in spite of his, maybe schizophrenia, that he was otherwise quite learned. In between the nonsense he spoke of, among other things, the upcoming US elections. He figured the next president would be Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama (saying the fact that he was half [n word] made him a strong candidate among blacks...and then something about AIDS and syphilis). He also made a pun about Bill Clinton, saying that Hillary had "убила (ubilla)" him for his tomfoolery in the White House (with which he had no problem, by the way). He asked me whether I had studied technical things or humanities, and I said technical (computers and math). He said humanities was better - people were far more interesting. Indeed. He apparently didn't hear the computer part, because he was saying that he respected only computer science as a technical field as there were enough mathematicians, but computers were the future, and so I clarified that I was a computer science major first. He was a doctor of political science, and he started telling me about his dissertation from 30 years ago; it was something about the traits of capitalist nations, but I couldn't quite hear or understand him, as it seemed he was reciting it (in English). He also said he hoped the Soviet Union could come back (not the same way) and said it was possible.

He spoke English, I'd say fluently, and there were parts where he spoke perfectly sensibly in between the ramblings and gibberish. There was something in French on the first sheet about Chirac, and I wondered if he spoke French as well. I marveled at this man, obviously once sharp and clear, his once-young mind now muddled by dementia. It's amazing and downright scary how one's mind can just disintegrate, e.g. Alzheimer's, with one being helpless to stop it or even being blissfully unaware of it - who knows what goes on inwardly within one's consciousness when the outward signs point to nothing? He eventually left, the episode reminding me of a similar one last year with Anna, where a Russian guy went on about such things about Russians having invented the radio, the television, etc, although that time it was entirely in Russian, in spite of my not understanding him, with Anna translating from time to time. As I walked away I saw Natasha on the train and amazed her by meeting her as she exited it; I tried to convey what she had just missed.

So she and I walked around there at the university, and then met Irina at Vorobyovy Gory (Sparrow hills?) which is a really nice station, with an open view of the river from the Metro. We were unfortunately at the wrong exit (not realizing there was another) and I was unknowingly without cellphone service. We checked upstairs after a while, and found her, and then I got the messages and missed-call notifications that I hadn't known I was missing. We chatted, and the rapport was fairly interesting, as conversation in Russian when meeting people is fairly rapid fire and doesn't elaborate past what is asked (as I'd seen a little bit in lessons, but this was the first time I'd really experienced it). We walked along the embankment for a while and stopped at a cafe. Afterwards, we had difficulty finding a metro, yet again, but Irina hailed a cab to the metro (less than 5 minutes away, of course) and that was that.

The next day was my last in Moscow; I was leaving early afternoon to Smolensk. I went to the internet cafe and made arrangements Vienna (following Rome) and Barcelona. The internet cafe was terribly slow, thanks to a slow proxy server (basically, all web requests were going through one machine). I stayed longer than I wanted, until an hour before the departure, and compounded by other small things - I missed my train. The "baggage check" at the hotel in the morning consisted of leaving it behind the counter in the lobby; when I returned, all the luggage had been moved downstairs to the real luggage room, which was confusing to find (you had to use a specific elevator and press the button to the 6th floor), and then the attendant wasn't there so I had to wait a minute. Of course my luggage was all the way in the back so I had a tough time retrieving it through the jungle of other suitcases. I hurried to the metro; fortunately I exactly made the train - unfortunately, at the transfer, I just missed it, being unable to make my way through the crowd in time. The doors closed right in front of me. At the train station, I only saw a sign for suburb trains (but the long distance onces turned out to be there too), and I rushed around frantically trying to find the track info. I made my way upstairs to the waiting room to see it was exactly 14:06 (my would-be departure time), and saw my train on the board briefly before it disappeared. Блин (equivalent to "fudge").

I swore lightly but didn't worry too much as there would probably (hopefully?) not be much trouble getting another train as Smolensk was on the way to Belarus. I figured out the scheme of the station, and maybe have made the train if I'd known exactly where to go, although I may not have made it to my car on time all the same, as it takes a while if you're far down the track. Oh well. I bought a ticket to the next train for only 380 rubles (about $15) which left in another hour-and-a-half, and settled down. I was surprised to actually be able to return the ticket for the train I just missed, albeit for about 1/4 the cost; still, missing the train had only ended up costing me a net 200 rubles ($8), so off to Smolensk it was.

To Moscow!

So then, I took the train to Moscow. There was a woman and teenage-ish girl from Ярослав (Yaroslav) (maybe, if memory serves), and then another woman from St. Petersburg going to Moscow, as well as a family from the Caucases going home. We chatted, with the woman from St. Petersburg joking that I was a spy. Although from St. Petersburg, she had no particular love for it, and the older woman having lived, I think, in St. Petersburg and studied in Moscow (or the reverse) chided her lack of patriotism; she herself loved St. Petersburg far more than Moscow, saying that St. Petersburg was the cultural center, and Moscow was simply торгова [commercialized]. She was also fairly racist, not liking Armenians, Georgians, or Blacks. Вот.

I got to Moscow, took the metro to my stop, and then got fairly lost, since there was no way to know which way to go from the metro (left or right). I, of course, picked the wrong way, and this was further complicated by the fact that I expected to cross train tracks, and in fact I did (just not the right ones), even though it was the wrong way. Russia's oft lack of street signs didn't help either, nor did the fact that it was dark, and my map doesn't have all the streets on the overview-of-the-city side. I asked some other people who didn't know (though it was indeed close), and eventually two guys got me a cab for 200 rubles ($8) and had me buy them each a beer as well. Whatever. On the plus side, I'd seen an internet cafe, so I kept that in mind for later. So, much later, exhausted from walking around for maybe an hour with my suitcase and backpack, I reached the hotel, which was fairly annoying. The elevators are Russian-style, like the dorms - i.e. they are frustratingly dysfunctional. I can't take the stairs due to renovations, which, walking to my room from the elevator (from one end of a U to the other) I pass all sorts of construction. The room is frustratingly arranged; the outlets are behind a (small) desk, the bathroom is raised for some reason, so stepping out I pratically fell the first few times, plus there's a few-inch lip on which I stubbed my toes a few times. There's no soap dish in the shower, so I have to go back and forth to the sink. The map to and from the metro that they give is of little help, as half the streets are unmarked, and some are not streets, but you wouldn't know this because the thick red line denoting the routes occludes parts of it. The first few times I found my way back and forth completely by accident.

Anyway, the next day I went to the city center, and finally saw the Kremlin, right there! It was unbelievable to really be there. I walked around all day before meeting my friend Natasha at 5. We went to a traktir, called "rakes" (I've forgotten the Russian), and met up with a friend of hers, who also had apparently been at the New York Institute last year, but I didn't remember him. After dinner, he had to go, and so Natasha and I continued to walk around, but in circles, seemingly unable to escape Red Square. She admitted she didn't really know the city that well herself; her friend had chided her for living there for 23 years and still not knowing it.

The next day at breakfast (also mediocre), I heard my name and turned around, even as I realized how silly it was to respond to my name so far away from anyone who would know me. Well, much to my surprise, it was Lidia (from Italy)! She and her mom happened to be staying in the same hotel, and indeed, two doors down from me. How about that. I walked around the city center for a while, and saw the inside of St. Basil's cathedral (the famous one- the one that you probably think is the Kremlin). Anyway, it was old (15th century?) but wasn't terribly exciting. Shortly thereafter I left and some sort of military parade/demonstration began in Red Square! Neat. Later on I met up with Irina Kazanina, who was now also sporting a mullet. We went to the Tretyakov gallery, and then to ёлки палки (yolki palki), another traktir, with a funny name that, I guess, roughly would be the analog to "fudge" for another word that starts with "f". We then walked around a bit, and we agreed to change into bathingsuits and meet up at 12:15 (pm) with two of her friends (another Tanya and Katya, incidentally) to go to a "foam (soap suds) party." Well yeah, ok, why not. That was obviously interesting; it was basically a giant roller rink turned into a club (theme: 'fire', hence the soapsuds pretending to be fire-extinguisher foam), and indeed, there was a giant soap suds cannon as well as various apparati shooting it from the ceiling. My Москва для вас! (Moscow for you!) map didn't fare too well, especially since I forgot about it and left it in my pocket until the next morning.

The next day I hunted down the internet cafe I'd seen, which I found after a while. I walked around for a while, agreeing to meet with Natasha at 6:30 at Lubyanka (former KGB headquarters). There was a little street game at the Arbat with a bike whose wheel turned opposite the handle. For 100 rubles you could try it 3 times, to win 300 rubles for making it 3 meters, or 500 for 5. I watched for a while but no one succeeded (the attendant could, of course, ride it fine). I continued walking; later on I saw a Bentley/Lamborghini/Maserati/Ferrari dealership (earlier on I'd seen the Rolls-Royce one in passing). I'd seen several Ferraris in the city already. Новые рускии (new Russians).

So then to Lubyanka, outside the former KGB headquarters. I sat and wrote for a while outside the metro station, with a guard coming by every so often, then we walked a (long) while first through some boulevards, seeing a little history "exhibit" for Moscow's 860th (!) birthday, then walked down the embankment of the Moscow river, and got lost trying to find the metro, a trend that had been repeating itself throughout the trip. But eventually we found it, and went home.

More on Petersburg (and economics, incidentally)

So, while in Petersburg, after my trip to Pavlovsk, I met up with Polly Gannon at Cafe Zoom (where else?). We chatted for a while, obviously about my travels, and also her imminent plans to visit Helsinki, at whicih I mentioned the group on the train from Arkhangelsk. I also talked about how I watched the news much more while I was away in Murmansk, and said I'd also tried to watch it in Russian a bit, and remarked about some of the differences in coverage, for example about a Shanghai Cooperation Organization (group including Russia, China, and several other former Soviet bloc countries) meeting in Bishkek - the western news mentioned some joint military exercises, whereas, as far as I could tell, the Russian news didn't. I also talked about how nice it had been to be divorced from all the trivialities of the west that pollute the news, which had resurfaced again when watching, say CNN.

One thing that was especially nice to be away from was all the market crap. I was in Murmansk just as the "US mortgage crisis" began tumbling the markets around the world. I was bemused at all the finger pointing, and all-around pompous crap, with analysts going on about this and that. All of this хрен has always annoyed me, with rich executives suffering no fallout for any bad decisions, even when they're quite evident to everyone else who doesn't have a golden parachute - the constant sacrifice of long-term opportunities in favor of short-term gains that the market loves, followed by inevitable pain later on is something that constantly repeats itself. Layoffs of thousands solely to boost the stock price for a while, etc. I raised the example of Daimler-Chrysler - when they merged, there were serious questions raised, but hey, who cares, parties were thrown, the execs made truckloads of cash, and certainly they are not paying for the fallout. They're almost always not only insulated from these bad decisions, but practically rewarded for them. It seems to me like just a constant plundering, where people cash in on these short-term gains, and the unlucky end up holding the bag when it all collapses. Then the cycle begins again with something else.

Honestly, I saw this housing bubble coming a mile away; once I heard about home prices leveling off (and some other things), I figured it was all going to come crashing down, since people were buying houses they couldn't afford, waiting for the value to go up so they could sell it and make a profit. And somehow this constituted an economy. Banks were giving absurd mortgages to people with bad credit, no assets, little income, etc, and what do you know, housing prices didn't go up forever, and then things all went to hell, and now everyone's looking for someone to blame. Let's see, I, a simple student with little to no interest or training in economics, saw this coming a mile away from scattered bits of news in passing, as did many others - I read in the Times about an investor who somehow bet/hedged/however that works much of his company on this happening, and now is raking in the dough even as everyone else tries to figure out how this could have happened and who's to blame. How indeed. Where was all the money being made actually coming from? Thin air? Eventually you were going to have people buying houses and not being able to sell them at a profit - obviously that couldn't go on forever (there's a skit on the Simpson's with Disco Stu showing a graph of disco investing that ends at the 1970s, and he says, "if these trends continue...hey!"). But the problem was that the houses were now being sold to people who couldn't afford to keep them, and kaboom. The collapse came from zeal, and not ensuring that people could actually afford what they were getting in to. But of course in the US, nay-sayers are unpatriotic/terrorists/pessimists/hurting America/etc and just otherwise personae non-grata (help me out with the latin?). It was all like the internet bubble; it was all based on thin-air economics, and sure enough, it eventually dried up. It's like a pyramid scheme on a giant scale, and eventually you run out of new people for the bottom and it all comes crashing down. I wonder about Google as well, with its sky-high stock price, seemingly based solely on hype. Who knows.

Anyway, afterwards I met up with Lena, one of Katya's friends from the philological faculty, and we met at some Indian-esque with someone named Oleg who sells shoes, drives a black Land Rover, and flies to Moscow from time to time. Вот. He ordered us a bunch of things, most of which I tried and ate.

The next day, I met up with Julia Vorobiova (one of the staff, who took care of lots of stuff) at Ням Ням, the bliny place next to the dorms. We chatted about things, mostly languages, and then said our farewells, and later on that evening did I meet up with Katya and Tanya, again at Cafe Zoom, then went to Fidel and said our покаs. Until, hopefully, next year!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Arkhangelsk back to St. Petersburg

One day in Arkhangelsk was sufficient. I walked around a bit in the morning before checking out, and parts felt like the Wild West, as I walked down a large dirt/mud road with bushes growing and wooden planks lining it as sidewalks. It certainly was not a heavily developed city. I then walked along the embankment, seeing a bunch of monuments and maybe the White Sea (Белое Море). It was sort of tough being just on my own.

I took the bus to the train station, and saw that indeed I could have taken the bus from the airport to the hotel and saved myself 290 rubles, but oh well. The train station was interesting; there was no evident way to move between the tracks, which I thought meant that all trains came on the same track next to the platform, but no, I then realized you just crossed the tracks directly and were careful about it.

The train ride itself turned out to be quite interesting as well. The view and sunset were nice, especially as we crossed a large bridge, and then at the next stop the remainder of my compartment filled up (3 more people). The woman next to me asked if I was also going to Finland; confused (and not sure whether I understood correctly) I answered that no, I was from America, much to her surprise. A woman from the next compartment came in and asked if I could switch so they could be together and I said sure. In the next cabin was a woman and two boys, and as it turned out the 7 of them were studying English, with this woman being their teacher. She spoke slowly and deliberately, telling me that they were on their way to Finland as part of a program in order to practice for a week. She told me at length about the program and its virtues; I had thought the boys were studying at a university, but in fact the one was in 8th grade, which again reinforced the quick maturity of Russian youth. In Murmansk, Katya had quoted, "if you want to live two lives, live in Russia." Shortly thereafter, the 4 other women came by so that they could practice. The two boys spoke well, but the women didn't have as easy a time, which was not surprising as children have a far easier time with languages. The teacher's birthday was a few days before, so we celebrated on the train until late at night with some wine ("Bear's Blood" from Bulgaria) and a surprising large amount of food, with seemingly every suitcase and backpack dedicated to bringing food along.

The next day we played some games, like "guess the object" (describe something and everyone else guesses what it is) and "at the party," which consisted of writing down responses to prompts ("name a famous polititician", "name a famous actress", etc) and then took on personae based on those answers, so you were the politician, your wife was the actress (or husband the actor) and so forth. We then had to introduce ourselves to each other, which got repetitive after a short while as each pair did it. Moreover, I had the good fortune of moving into the cabin where the window was the emergency exit and didn't open, and it was damned hot throughout the ride. In any case it was interesting to have the shoe on the other foot, that is, now I needed to speak especially slowly and clearly in order to be understood, and it was still too fast, just like the directors of our program needed to do when speaking Russian when we started. I shared my similar experience and assured them it would get easier eventually as now I could understand normally, however frustrating as it was may have been at the beginning.

I met up with Katya at the stop; she hadn't slept well, due to noisy girls discussing makeup, little dogs and cats in neighboring compartments, a pair of loud women, and various other things. Later on I visited and saw all that she'd described, and then returned and lay down to sleep. When I awoke, there was another batch of guests; 4 more students (a boy and 3 girls) and a fairly old woman. They were another group on the program from another town, with another teacher in an adjoining car. We chatted for a while, and then I joined them in their cabin. The teacher in the first group and the old woman in the second played the classic Russian hosts, stuffing me with food long after I'd had enough. The old woman asked, "Do you want something?" "No thanks," I replied; she proceeds to make a sandwich. "How about a sandwich?" "Well, all right." While I eat she makes another one sandwich, and when I finish that asks if I want another. I say "no thanks," but she says, "just one more," and makes another. She offers me another, which I turn down, and so instead gives me more cheese. She asks if I want tea or coffee, I say "no thanks," so she says she'll give me some coffee; I say tea would be better, and she asks "green or black," so I take some green tea, and she still asks whether I want to have both together, which I turn down. The quantity of food they all brought was astounding. After this, I went back and chatted with Katya for a while, and then we pretty much were arriving in St. Petersburg, so I returned to my car and wished the group well.

I took the bus from the station, which, for a surprisingly convenient change went straight to the station from a stop not far from me (although on the way there when I went to Murmansk I missed the stop as the station was occluded). While I was on the bus home, there were a bunch of cars with people hanging out of the doors and sunroofs, honking and going nuts. I thought it was something to do with football (fine, soccer), but they did it again in the other direction with many more cars, this time stopping in groups and making a mess of traffic, with cars ranging from beat up Lada station wagons to Supras (2 at least). I asked Katya if she knew what it was all about; she said it was хрен (horseradish).

On the way home from the bus stop I saw a woman yelling at and walking away from a car in a short black outfit, and as I passed her she started telling me that he had told her to сайдись ("come sit here") and how it was not right and so on. I assented as we walked and she continued to talk about it, a beer in hand at obviously at least a bit drunk. As we passed a nice Escalade she said something to the effect that she would have at least thought about it if he'd offered, but for a crappy little Lada, no dice. She asked where I was coming from, indicating the suitcase, and I said simply that I had returned from Arkhangelsk, and she said she'd been there. It was somewhat difficult for me to understand her, so I didn't say all that much, and she asked if I understood what she was saying. I said, "more or less," and shortly thereafter she came to the realization, "you're not Russian, are you?" and I said no, I was from America, and she started laughing hysterically. She said to wait while she stopped into a store from some more beer, then our paths parted soon after and she wished me well and to watch out for such jerks, and I continued home.

The next day I walked along the English embankment, where the Leutenant Schmidt bridge was finally done and operating! with some obvious confetti remaining in the streets and the temporary one now closed. The following day I went to Pavlovsk, which was yet another palace, not too extraordinary, but had a nice park. I was sort of disappointed that when I tried to order a ticket for taking pictures, they wanted to charge the foreigner price and all sorts of chaos broke loose until I showed my St. Petersburg student Id, since they didn't know there was a foreigner in the group (thus affecting prices). It's frustrating that it's still (and will always be) so obvious. I understood little of the tour, which was also frustrating. I was surprised to see my hostess coming back home when I returned, who was unhappy about coming back to the city, a sentiment echoed by Katya (life at the dacha is so much calmer than life in the city, obviously). When I came home my hostess asked about the cruise (of which she'd helped plan a great deal), and we looked at my pictures for a while that I took while on the cruise. Tanya and I met up with Katya the next day, and then Katya and I said "poka" (bye), and she quoted someone, that "лето - маленькая жизнь (summer is a small life)," and then the next day it was off to Moscow!

From Murmansk to Arkhangelsk

I was in Murmansk for only a few days; as I'd feared, it was tough to have to say goodbye every few days; only a few days before our group had dispersed, and now I had to say another goodbye, probably for at least another year or so assuming I come back to Russia again next year (which I hope to do). And every few days would be the same thing, and then I'd just be on my own, as I would be for the day in Arkhangelsk. I took a plane to Arkhangelsk; the airport was far outside the city center so I took a taxi. The driver and I chatted along the way, about little things like what cars people drive (I said mainly family sedans and SUVS), but also about the quality of healthcare in the US/Russia, which happened to be what I wrote about for my final essay in our classes, though I kept jumbling the words for insurance (страхование / strakhovanie) and healthcare (здравоохранение / zdravookhranenie). And typing the transliterations, by the way, is extremely difficult, as my fingers keep trying to use the Russian keyboard layout since they're Russian words, though I'm trying to type them with the Latin alphabet, with a completely different keyboard layout. Similarly, I'm hopelessly unable to write in script in English now, as I keep mixing up the Russian letters that look like English but have different sounds, but I'll get to that.

Anyway, he also asked what I thought about the Russian people, and I've heard this question fairly often when meeting Russians; it seems almost as insecurity. I've given the same response I've already written, that there are differences but not especially big ones, that government conflicts have little bearing to ordinary people, and that in general we all just want to live normal lives and so forth, as I've mentioned already. I do sometimes point out the irony that if our countries' relations were less cool right now, the program that brought me here would probably not have existed and I might not be doing all this other traveling.

At the airport, I couldn't really understand the announcements, which for boarding were repeated in English (and still hard to understand). It was all a simple affair; I checked in, which involved them writing my name on a list and handing me a laminated card which was my boarding pass, put my luggage through (including liquids! Though I understand that will change soon), and waited, and then the plane was sitting on the tarmac. It was a small turboprop (an Antonov 24), and we just walked to it and took any available seat. I stupidly sat next to the engine at first in a seat with a broken tray, and by the time it occurred to me to relocate I couldn't get a seat with any kind of a good view. The flight was fine, but the turboprops vibrated the plane thoughtout the flight, and the food skittered along the tray table. The overhead luggage was a short rack. It was an interesting experience. We landed, and walked out, and left the tarmac not even into an airport but into a parking lot, basically. I looked for a taxi, and the one I asked was fortunately already taken as I might have otherwise left without my suitcase - the luggage pickup was another building consisting of just the luggage carousel. One thing I did appreciate was that they actually match up the ticket to ensure it's your baggage and not another's, which was always crossing my mind during other trips. Arkhangelsk is flat, and the airport was fairly far from the center, and during the ride there was a great view of the sunset across the distance, which I regretted I probably wouldn't see again, since I'd be leaving in a day and buildings began occluding it as we approached the center. There were thunderstorms in the distance, and I could clearly see the lightning strikes, which if not a first is certainly something I've rarely seen, as it was in the distance across flat land, whereas prior to that the storms were either too far away to see or right on top of me. As we approached the center it became clear that the thunderstorms were indeed there. When we reached the hotel it began to pour heavily at the instant we arrived, and the driver and I exchanged "of course"s. After a minute or so it settled down a bit and I disembarked and went into the hotel. The hotel had little English and a дежурная/dezhurnaya who keeps the keys, which contrasted with Murmansk. The hot and cold water were mislabeled, which was quite fun to figure out (at first I thought there was no hot water when I showered the next day).