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Checking In

13 Apr

Hi there. It’s been awhile, huh? Despite my desire to use this blog as a way to stop and appreciate the amazing city that I am living in, I continue to find myself so caught up in just living that I don’t bother to post often. Also, I felt like every thing that I wanted to post about was related to travel and this is not exclusively a travel blog. The fact that I have been able to see amazing places is certainly one of the perks of living over here, but I felt like it had become all there was to share. I will try again to commit myself to noticing and sharing the experience of living in Moscow. With any luck, I will bring myself to post more, even if it is just about my travel adventures.

Hanging out at the top of the Eiffel tower

Hanging out at the top of the Eiffel tower

The past few months have included some great times. I saw my sister and brother-in-law in Paris. I attended an amazing conference in Boston that happened to be run in part by one of my besties. We have spent time with friends eating, drinking, and enjoying the community that we are building for ourselves here in Moscow. And, recently, the snow defrosted and spring is finally settling in. 

The past few months have also been a little stressful, though, and, in truth, this may be one of the major reasons I haven’t posted much.

I am a planner. More specifically, I am an ADVANCED planner. I like to plan vacations the moment we decide to take them. I like to put dinners and parties on my calendar as soon as possible. And, most of all, I like to know for sure where we will be living next year.

Unfortunately, Ben’s employer (our visa sponsor) does not take my desire to plan into account. So, we are still waiting for confirmation that his contract renewal has been approved. We are hopeful and have reason to be confident, but the fact that our visas expire in just over four months makes me a little twitchy.

The good news is that I have an amazing partner in Ben who I have been able to talk to about all of this since August when we began our final year on the current contract. Shortly before we moved to Moscow, I had a bit of a break down and admitted how terrified I was about what we were about to do. I never would have made it through the last few weeks in California without Ben. Knowing that he is here with me is what reminds me that no matter what happens, we will get through it.

In case you were wondering, we are both really, really happy here. We are working in jobs that are in the specific fields in which we pursued graduate degrees, we have made amazing friends that we would be happy to know regardless of where we lived, and we have been having  a lot of fun experiencing something that neither of us ever dreamed of. And we do have a safety net, just in case, so don’t worry about us!

After two and a half years, there is no doubt that Moscow is our home. It will take some work to step back and figure out which parts of our daily life are worth sharing, but I will try. I apologize if this at times seems like it is simply a place for me to share travel stories, but 2014 does seem to be a year of travel, so…

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Budapest

10 Jan

Ben and I snuck in a quick trip to Budapest before we both head back to work after the holidays.  We were supposed to have two and a half days, but a frustratingly long delay in departure on Tuesday left us without the extra half day.  We still managed to get in three museums, two activities, and a trip to the thermal baths.

Budapest_02Our hotel, the Bohem Art Hotel, was fantastic.  From the moment that we booked the room, the staff was attentive and helpful.  They coordinated a ride from the airport to the hotel and were very responsive to my e-mails notifying them of the multiple delays we experienced leaving Moscow.  It is in a great location, close to the Danube on the Pest side.  The decor was great, with art displayed throughout the hotel.  Each room has a unique artwork: that is my photo of the one in our room to the right (Classic Double, Room 110).  The other rooms’ art can be previewed on the website here.  I would definitely recommend it to anyone planning a trip to Budapest.

Budapest_06We started with the Hungarian National Museum.  We try to hit a history museum early on when we visit a new location because it helps make sense of everything we see during our trip.  This provided a decent overview of Hungary’s history from about the 12th-13th century until the 1990’s (the earlier exhibits were either closed when we were there or not very impressive).  There was also a small exhibit of Hungarians scholars “who made the 20th century.”

Next up, we checked out the Museum of Ethnography, which proved to be fairly disappointing.  It is located next to Parliament, though, so it was worth the walk to see that building.  There was a lot of construction, so we did not get any good photos of the building, but a Google images search has many.

We finished up Wednesday’s activities with a trek up the very steep hill of Castle Hill.  We intended to visit the Labyrinth of Buda Castle, but ended up at a different labyrinth exhibit (I have now learned that the other was closed down in 2011).  It was fun to see some of the caves, but the displays were very strange and very cheesy.  This did not stop up from having fun and taking advantage of photo ops, like Ben posing with a gargoyle by Dracula’s “grave” and doing his best King Joffrey impression.

On Thursday, we spent an hour trying the puzzle room game Claustrophilia.  It caught my eye on TripAdvisor as the #1 attraction for Budapest and seemed like something new and fun.  The idea is to find hidden items and solve puzzles in order to figure out the overall game.  We had a lot of fun and I think we worked well together, but I don’t think that we got too far at all.  I love puzzles, though, so it was a great way to spend an hour and I would love to find more games like this.

A friend recommended that we try the thermal baths while in Budapest, so that afternoon we headed up to the Szechenyi Baths.  This particular location seemed to be highly rated online and the whole facility was coed, so Ben and I could spend our time together.  We enjoyed the time we spent and suspect that we could have easily spent a whole day there if we had more time (there are eighteen baths!), especially if we signed up for any of the spa services.

Our last stop of the trip was to the House of Terror, a museum dedicated to the history and impact of the Nazi and Communist regimes in Hungary.  The museum is housed in the building that served as the headquarters for the secret police of both governments.  The building was renovated to house the museum and is mostly exhibits based on artifacts and video, but replicates some details such as the offices, cells, and gallows that were located there.

Ben and I both agreed that we would have liked to have had another day in the city, but, overall, really enjoyed our stay.  While January may not have been the most beautiful time to visit, we were able to do everything that we wanted without any crowds or lines.  Maybe we’ll make it back there sometime in better weather and get some more photos.

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California Adventure

4 Nov

When we realized that the wedding of a very close friend happened to be the first day of my Autumn Break at work, Ben and I made plans to head back to Southern California for a week.  It was the first time that I had been there in over two years, when we returned for another wedding shortly after our move to Moscow.  I cannot explain how amazing it was to be back there.  I feel so lucky to have lived in such an unbelievably beautiful place for seven years.

2013-10-26 17.27.50 (2)

The wedding took place at a retreat in Escondido, California.  We only went to Escondido once when we lived in California, to visit the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, so we really didn’t know what to expect.  We arrived very late on Friday night, after dark, so it wasn’t until we woke up the next morning and drove back down the mountain into town that we realized how incredibly gorgeous it was.  We spent the few hours before the wedding catching up with old friends, meeting new people, and walking the grounds.  The wedding was beautiful and perfect.  I am so happy that we were invited to be part of such a special occasion.

2013-10-26 10.33.40

We drove up to Orange County Saturday night, after the wedding.  Two of our best friends were kind enough to let us crash in their guestroom for the rest of our stay.  We spent the next four days enjoying amazing food and good company.  In particular, we ate lots of Mexican food and drank good beer, two of the things that we miss the most.  We also tried a doissant, which is the non-trademarked name of a croissant-doughnut hybrid pastry.  We checked out Muzeo’s exhibit on the leather jacket, visited our storage unit, did some shopping, and caught up with friends.  Overall, it was an amazing trip.

California is somewhere that I think I will always consider to be one of my homes.  I moved there after graduating from college and getting married, joining Ben a year after he moved.  It is where we built our adult lives together and I have so many fond memories from our time there.  I am looking forward to the next time that we have the chance to visit.

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How I Spent My Summer Vacation: Part Three

26 Aug

This summer feels like it just flew by.  It was a bit shorter than last year, but it was also significantly busier.  It was filled with travel and visitors, family and friends.  I have split this post into three parts in order to share photos.  This is the third of the three posts!

The third, and final, big event of the summer was a visit from Ben’s parents.  We spent a few days in Moscow, a week in St. Petersburg, and then a few more days in Moscow while they were here.  We managed to visit a TON of museums in both cities including the new Tretyakov State Gallery, the Armoury Chamber in the Kremlin, the Hermitage, the Trubetskoy and Alekseyevsky bastions and the Museum of Torture at the Peter and Paul FortressKunstkamera, the Zoological Museum, the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, and the Russian Museum of Ethnography.  We covered A LOT of ground in those two weeks and I’m so happy that they were willing to make the trip over here and were up for so much site-seeing.

We happened to have good timing when we were in St. Petersburg.  Ben had previously heard that there is a day when paratroopers gather in parks, get drunk, swim in fountains, and maybe start fights.  Turns out that day is August 2nd, VDV Day, the celebration of Russia’s Airborne Forces.  We were in St. Petersburg for this and saw the gathering, drinking, and swimming, but, fortunately, not the fighting.  This holiday was actually only a few days after Navy Day which was a huge celebration in St. Petersburg given its location on the water.  We saw more gathering and drinking, and a bit of fighting that day, but not as much swimming in the fountain.

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How I Spent My Summer Vacation: Part Two

22 Aug

This summer feels like it just flew by.  It was a bit shorter than last year, but it was also significantly busier.  It was filled with travel and visitors, family and friends.  I have split this post into three parts in order to share photos.  This is the second of the three posts!

After my trip to Florida, I had only one day back in Moscow before Ben and I headed off for a long weekend in Riga, Latvia.  Although it was about 10 days early, the trip was an anniversary celebration for us (nine years!).  We have managed to travel for the majority of our anniversaries, even if it was just a day trip to a nearby city.  It is nice to have a tradition that allows us to take time and do something just for us.

The weather was lovely and it was a great city to walk around and explore.  We visited the Museum of the History of Riga and Navigation and the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia to learn a little more about the country.  We enjoyed dinner at another medieval restaurant and drank so much delicious (and inexpensive!) beer.  We also tried Riga  Black Balsam which was quite interesting.

We also took advantage of the timing of our trip and went to the movies to see Pacific Rim since it was in English with Latvian and Russian subtitles.  It seems that seeing blockbuster summer films in foreign countries is becoming another anniversary tradition, last year it was The Dark Knight Rises in Copenhagen.  Honestly, I think this may have been the highlight of the trip for both of us, which just goes to show how perfect we are together.

We decided on Riga after visiting Tallinn in February.  We thought it would be nice to see all three Baltic states while we are living here.  We just have to get in a weekend in Lithuania now!

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How I Spent My Summer Vacation: Part One

17 Aug

This summer feels like it just flew by.  It was a bit shorter than last year, but it was also significantly busier.  It was filled with travel and visitors, family and friends.  I have split this post into three parts in order to share photos.  This is the first of the three posts!

Like last year, I started my summer with a trip back to Florida.  It was a great two weeks spent eating, drinking, shopping, and relaxing with family and friends.  When I think about being so far away from my family during the year, I try to remember that being able to dedicate a full two weeks to vacation with them is one of the perks of living over here.

I did change my permanent residency in the States over to Florida during this trip.  I am now a licensed driver by the state of Florida.  Naturally, soon after I had that I signed up for a library card in my old county system.

One thing that my mom and I did this trip was to spend an afternoon at Vino Van Gogh painting owls and sipping wine.  It was so much fun and gave me a chance to paint for the first time in a few years.  Every time I sit down with a canvas I remember how much I love it and how much I have missed it.  I definitely would like to do this again.

It seems that I didn’t get all of the photos from my parents, but I don’t want to put this off any longer, so here are just a few photos from the trip.

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London Calling

21 Apr

I recently had the opportunity to visit London for a long weekend.  This was my first time traveling to England and while the trip did not go exactly as planned, I still got to spend time with friends and see some sites.  The weather was beautiful for the weekend, too, which was a major bonus.

So Helpful!

So Helpful!

So, knowing that cars drive on the left side of the road and experiencing it are two very different things.  I cannot express how helpful these street signs were.  Sure, you should always look both ways before crossing any road, but this doesn’t help in actuality when you are still expecting the cars to be coming from the direction that they have come from for your entire life.

Flags Flying Half Mast for Margaret Thatcher

Flags Flying Half Mast for Margaret Thatcher

I was there the day that Margaret Thatcher died.  This shot was taken shortly after the news broke and shows some flags that had already been lowered to half mast.  By the time I heading back from taking photos here many more flags had been lowered all over the area.

When Ben asked me before the trip what I planned to do, I honestly told him that I had no agenda except to get close enough to Big Ben to take photos.  These photos were taken specifically to be posted online with this (modified) National Lampoon’s European Vacation reference.  The Griswald family’s various adventures are the source of many quotes within my family and I could not let this opportunity pass.

The gallery below has some more photos from the weekend.

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