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The other day, my husband and I were engaged in a conversation about his perception of Russia. This post became a natural extension of that discussion. What follows is my husband’s account of our first trip to my homeland together. In order to adequately describe the adventure, the story will be told in two parts. So, here is what Russia is like through the eyes of an American 🙂 .
As we made our descent into Minsk National Airport in Belarus, the pilot announced that we’d be on the ground in a few moments. This was the beginning of a three week trip that would include seeing parts of Belarus, a train ride to Moscow, a flight to Orenburg, and a stay in the Russian village, поселок имени Калинина. For an American visiting this part of the world for the first time, my expectations were overshadowed by my excitement and sense of adventure. Being a history enthusiast, I had always loved Russian history; being married to a Russian only enhanced my curiosity and thirst for knowledge of their history and culture. The lesson I was about to learn would breathe life into the history books I had previously read!
As we disembarked the самолёт (airplane), I noticed what a modern feel the terminal had; however, it seemed deserted, many lights were shut off and small businesses closed. My wife, Jenya, and I were met at the аэропорт (airport)by an acquaintance of hers. We had a two-hour drive to Mogilev, the city in which she and her mother had emigrated to America from. As I sat in the backseat listening to Jenya and Sasha converse, I found myself drifting toward the landscape and various buildings we’d passed. In my mind, I was imagining the Germans in WWII or the French under Napoleon marching toward Moscow; I did not know whether they’d passed this exact spot in which I found myself, but this did not stop my imagination! I was also thinking that the landscape closely resembled that of Michigan, where I was born and raised. The terrain was flat and littered with tall pine trees, the sky was gray.
Upon arriving in Mogilev, we went immediately to the квартира (apartment) my wife lived in only a few years prior, we would stay here about a week. This was the point at which the tinges xenophobia would creep in. The condition of the apartment building shocked me! Though it was dark, the odor introduced itself to my nose a few meters before I entered the building! The lobby of the building was old and dank; I had never really been in such a plaсe — at least not one that was inhabited by tenants. As we made our way up the concrete stairs, we were finally met by the door to the unit we would be staying in; the door looked as though it was not only meant to keep people out, but also to keep something in! Once inside, I was quite relieved. Though very old, it bore little resemblance to the hallway we had traversed to get to it. The walls were not drywall as I had been accustomed to, but rather plaster with wallpaper over them, as well as tapestries. The floor was wooden with a few rugs over it. The apartment consisted of four small rooms, including the bathroom. Jenya had done well preparing me mentally for each of the places we’d stay while on this trip! Aside from the two hotels we’d be staying at in Moscow, this apartment was to be the nicest place we’d be spending time in.
We had taken a quick shower and decided to go out to eat! Though it was early December, the weather was pleasant and we were able to walk. We found the a restaurant and were seated upstairs. The place was nicely decorated and there were a quite a few other patrons. Because there were many dining here, I suspected the food would be good. Being what some would consider a “typical” American, I loved to eat in restaurants rather than at home. Fortunately, the U.S. dollar was worth many Belorussian rubles so our money would go a long way!
Once our food arrived, I was immediately struck by the size of the portions; unlike in America where you’d “stuff your face” and still have leftovers to take home, the portion size here would be perfect. I had цыпленок табака(Сhicken Tabaka) with potatoes and it was fantastic! We also had a few drinks to celebrate the occasion. It was a pleasant surprise to receive the bill and it roughly equaled $15 (keep in mind this was 8 years ago, a lot of things have changed). This same meal in the US, with drinks, would likely have been about three times as much.
It is worth mentioning that my Russian speaking skills were very poor, however, I could understand the language a bit better. I had been learning the language for a few years, mostly by listening to my wife speak to others. By listening to people converse, you would recognize certain words and then try to piece together what was being said; sometimes this worked and at other times I was quite wrong! During certain parts of this trip, my wife asked that I remain silent and let her do the talking – that was fine with me! Apparently, my silence could save us some money, because some people tend to jack up the prices once they know you are a foreigner.
Our first night in Mogilev was nice and we were very tired, having been awake now for about 36 hours. The excitement of being in a foreign country could only keep us energized for so long and we longed for sleep. Many adventures awaited us in the coming days and we could not wait to begin!
Part two coming up next Tuesday! Until then, всего хорошего!