Monday, July 26, 2010

Introducing a new blog

If you are remotely interested in local (North Shore) history or the life and times of a museum intern (in this case, my sister!) then this blog is for you! My sister is working at the Wenham Museum to catalog its collection. She has discovered some great artifacts and local facts, all of which she's sharing here.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

More progress - ATM, camera and laptop

At this point I am of two minds. Part of me feels like these last weeks until I leave are taking FOREVER to get here. I mean really, I am ready to go now. I want to go now. I'm anxious as heck to get there and start seeing and doing. But the other side of me gets a slightly sick, intestinal distress feeling when I realize that in 7 weeks, I'll be leaving. That's 49 days. That's under 50 days, a significant countdown milestone. GULP. With all the fun of the summer that's left (three birthdays, three concerts, a museum roadtrip, the Labor Day weekend), this will breeze by. And I'm not ready. I still have reading to do. I still have to buy my trial sized stuff and sort out clothing. YIKES!

But I continue to make progress in small increments. I opened a second checking account and have an active ATM with it, so now I have two different ATMs to draw money from. And as I type, I am updating the mini-laptop with all the security and Windows updates it will need to go with me, as I'm hoping to blog while I'm there.

In a cruel twist of fate, I dropped my beloved Nikon Coolpix 3100 3.2 megapixel camera last weekend. This camera has made every trip with me since late 2003 and has really offered up some unbelievable shots. While outwardly it appears to have survived the fall for the most part, the battery door is broken and I don't know what else may be broken inside and I don't trust it. I'm sad, but also slightly excited that I had to buy a new camera. I went whole hog, upgrading to the Nikon Coolpix S8000, 14.2 megapixels and 10x wide angle lens. Pictures are a huge part of my traveling experience and I just could not do without a reliable camera.

For my birthday, my sister gave me a FlipVideo camera, which is just awesome. It is small enough to take everywhere and will be pretty cool to capture on the spot video on my trips.

Land's End delivered the coat I ordered and I think it's perfect. I stuck with a non-descript chocolate brown, car length, light-weight with no lining. I hope if I layer properly it'll work out.

That's it for now. I'm off to either read more about the Romanovs or watch Dr. Zhivago. :-)

Monday, July 19, 2010

I have problems!

I seem to have a couple of problems. Ok, no seriously, I know I have many trivial "problems". A real "problem" is the BP oil spill, world hunger and the troubled economy. These problems of mine are problems.

You see, I just walked to Borders to kill my lunch break. I often do this and I often find about 101 things I want to read. Today was no different. Except today I found three guidebooks on Russia and another novel that I want to read before I go. This, let me remind you, is as I am still industriously working my way through the formidable list of books already on my To Read List.

But what is even more comical is that the novel is Anna Karenina, another work by Leo Tolstoy, which, like War and Peace (which remains half quarter eighth tenth of the way read on my bookshelf) weighs in at over 1000 pages. AS IF I have that kind of time! I have 3 books that must be read in the next cough54cough days. And let me remind you that I allegedly work full time and also teach and prepare for two classes and even sometimes do things for fun. HOW am I going to add more to the reading list?

But here is the even funnier problem. As I stood in the travel section of Borders, pawing through the very limited selection of books on Russia, my eye started to wander. It jumped first to Romania, just above Russia on the shelf, then left to Macdeonia, a little further down to the Netherlands, then a whole 'nother shelf away to Italy. ITALY! My beloved Italy, which I have not seen since 2007!

Oh god, I am already mentally computing my NEXT DESTINATION, when I haven’t even gone to Russia yet!

This happens. Believe me, this is how I operate. To me, it’s a good sign. It’s a sign that I’m feeling prepared for Russia and am ready to go (which is probably a good thing even though I did a big GULP when I realized it’s 54 days away!). Oh, my wanderlust, it’s a beautiful thing.

A quick update otherwise: I have received the final certified itinerary, with hotel vouchers and whatnot. I leave St. Peterburg for Moscow earlier than planned, so I will have my first dinner and evening there rather than on a late-arriving train. Is it crazy to admit I’ve already figured out what I’m doing with that first night in Moscow? I’m still reading, however, slowly, and watched a wonderful film on the last days of Tolstoy the other night, called The Last Station. The Russian podcasts are getting regular play again, and I’m feeling more and more confident in my ability to at least read and maybe even speak a little Russian.

More importantly, I’m really getting excited. I may even wake up on Wednesday and not care that I’ve just ticked off another decade in the birthday book. Or if I do care, I could roll back over and start thinking about the next trip!

Monday, July 12, 2010

See, this is what I am talking about

I've been trying to articulate the vibe or aura or mystique that Russia has had for me that might not be totally clear to anyone else. I'm fascinated by the opportunity to go. I'm literally brimming with anticipation over what I might learn and see and hear and eat. There are still times I have to pinch myself. I cannot believe I am actually going.

But it seems that a lot of other people can't believe I'm actually going either. I don't know whether it's a generational thing or what...but a lot of the older crowd (and others) think I'm nuts, apparently. And because I greatly respect a lot of the older crowd (and others), it is a bit unsettling to hear them say things like "Why don't you go some place safe?" or hear my mother openly worry that I'll be kept there for some real or imagined misunderstanding. This is the same potentially misguided assumption that breeds all the hysteria when something like last week's spy scandal came down. What, you think the Russians (those bad bad baddies) were the only ones spying? Really? 'Cuz we got four of our spies back in that swap. That fact was not so broadly discussed, but yes, it works both ways, y'all.

But this, my friends, is exactly why I want to go. This is the same sentiment that was born into me long ago that mesmerized me. I want to go, see all I can, learn all I can and absolutely devour the experience and then come back and say that it's not what you think. Because to my core, I don't really believe that it is.

More importantly though, I want to be an American ambassador. I want to put my best foot forward and show that we're not all whatever they think Americans are. If they think Americans are anything...my guess is they do, I'm not whatever that is.

And closer...

In my last post, I said that I'd received my visa. Since then I actually picked it up at my parents' house (where I have all things important Fed Ex'd) and tore it open. I was pretty darn excited to see the visa, with its silver hologram, pasted on to one full page at the back of my passport. It looks all official, with it in Russian and English. I was pretty pleased with myself too that I could actually read some of the Russian without a lot of work.

My full name was transliterated into Cyrillic characters and looks like this:
ами сусан баттис

Which of course sent me over the edge with excitement. Really!

Today I received an email from Olga, my travel planner saying that the last payment went through and she'd be sending me the remaining materials shortly. Woo-hoo...it's coming!

Now I just need to plow through all this reading!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Two Steps Closer

Well progress continues. I made the last payment on the trip and also sent in the visa application. Today, exactly two weeks later, I received the visa back. Apparently they do not think I'm either a spy or a nuclear weapons engineer or planning to spread a communicable disease. Wooo-hooo. It's getting closer. Nine weeks I think.

So in my head I'm starting to sort out things I need to do. I'm thinking about getting a checking account with ATM card at a second major bank, just to have a second ATM card. I don't know why I would, I never have before, but I think just to have access to a second account would be smart. I'm also considering getting a CapitalOne credit card, because I have read that it does not charge currency conversion fees, which can be exorbitant.

I want to buy a new coat for the trip, something not violently fuschia. I also need to rent a cell phone that will work there. Again, not something I usually do on a trip, but I want to be reachable by, as well as be able to reach, people at home. I can get a very reasonable rate on one using my AAA card.

My pre-trip reading continues. I'm reading Colin Thubron's travel narrative now. It is interesting enough, but he drove around Russia back in the early 80s, so in this book he is encountering just about every conceivable fear or stereotype one might have of Russia. I need to keep reminding myself that that was 30 years ago! He still had fun though.

Finally, I've found the latest spy scandal intersting but more ironic that it would happen now. Honestly, there's been more news about Russia since I booked this trip than I think we've heard in the last 10 years.