Saturday, August 29, 2009

Los Angeles!!

Back in LA!! So crazy, but it's been great! Biggest news is that I live in a mansion with about 9-11 other people. Brittany and I are the only Americans. Everyone else is from China, and I love it! We have two other girl roommates, and the rest are guys. They are all so nice! The guys helped me move my stuff in, along with Brittany.

I've had so much fun chatting with and getting to know the new roommates!


*Going grocery shopping with Xui, Ju, and Gary at Superior and trying to take the shopping carts out of the parking lot. The wheels locked up on us, and we had to carry/coerce the shopping carts back to the lot (we failed to notice the sign that said the wheels would lock up if we went past the yellow strip). So I ran to the lot across the street and brought my car over. We also grabbed some free frozen yogurt.

*Left within an hour of the last story to go to campus with three other of my roommates. I needed to buy books, and they were going to a class on how to make friends with Americans. Knowing I hadn't really eaten dinner yet, I got invited along ("It's okay. The dinner is free. It's not just for internationals!"). I thought about it for a minute, but decided I should probably grab my books and study. Would have been great, though! We made another trip back for free frozen yogurt, leaving me to try and explain the difference between it and ice cream.

*Introducing two of the guys to Cinnamon and Spice oatmeal and trying to explain why I was having that for dinner. I offered them a bite, and they liked it, which went better than Brittany's experience yesterday having them taste mac and cheese, which they definitely do not like :) The guys have offered to cook Chinese food for me next week, and I told them I would break character and cook for them as well. I showed them what tortillas look like and tried to explain burritos and enchiladas.

*I came home Thursday night and was so excited to have so many roommates to talk to! And it was great Friday morning when I got up and had breakfast with Felix cuz we were the only ones awake. I love chatting with Ju and Xui (who told me I could call her Candice, but I prefer to use her Chinese name).

*Ju finding out I was Mormon was classic. She asked if I was Christian, and when I said yes, asked if it was hard living in Utah because there were so many Mormons. I told her, "No. They (mormons) are Christians, too." And then I added, "I'm Mormon." We talked about all kinds of things, including religion for a bit, which was really great. She is protestant--her grandfather was a preacher. (Follow up great moment: Ju telling Gary I am Mormon. She said it in Chinese, then he turned to me and said, "You're Mormon?!" I laughed and said, "Yes. Feel free to ask me any questions. I totally don't mind. I know it seems different and people have a lot of questions.") Ju and I have decided to go to the fashion district together when I'm not leaving town for the weekend.

*Hearing that the guys scared Xui and Ju with ghost stories about our house.

*Coming home from Naomi's last night to Chester and Felix (the guys who live on my floor) telling me about a break-in two blocks away where the people were held up by gun point as they were robbed. Then, consequently going around and checking the locks on our doors to make sure they were shut.

*Hung out with Naomi last night. Had a great talk about being back in LA. Then walked past a Chabad building that was next to a church of Scientology. Led us into quite the discussion. Had so much fun asking all of my questions about Judaism. I think I am going to start the Torah (five books of Moses, or first five books of the Old Testament) in October when their study schedule starts and read the corresponding explanatory passages in their books. Way excited about this! And she let me borrow a book called: Myths and Facts: A guide to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

*Talked for hours with Brittany this morning, then went down to the distribution center and the Los Angeles temple.

In short, I am absolutely loving my new living arrangement and being back! New cultural experiences for all of us everyday, and I wouldn't trade it! The place is beautiful, I love my classes, and my roommates are awesome! So, so, so fun!

Last few in Utah

Let's see, there was the temple dedication Sunday, which I loved. Then the bbq with the fam and cousins, followed by a few episodes of Arrested Development with Amy and Wendy (we're trying to convince Wendy she should love it, too), and then a great chat with Eli at the Enclave. Left me missing our good old days in Moscow, and still regretting that I didn't stay home from the poxod (camp out) to hang out with his fam when they were in town.

Monday brought visits with the Harrisons and catching up with Tyler. Then on to some packing. Tuesday made for a great last full day in Utah. Went up to temple square with Ryan and Tyler, where we walked around, sat in the grass, ran into one of my Russian-speaking friends, did some family history work, and watched the Joseph Smith movie. I was really glad we went to see it. It had been awhile and reminded me how much I love it. I felt like I took away a lot about sacrifice and remaining faithful to what we believe in.

Great talk with Tyler on the way down about the movie, Moscow, lessons we've learned, coming to know ourselves better, etc. Then dinner with the fam and talking my dad into one last trip out to Utah Lake. Tyler was the first to be thrown from the tube, but made sure Amy and I had a dunk in the lake as well! I was laughing/screaming pretty much the whole time we were on the tube. So much fun!!! The lake was beautiful as the sunset behind our beautiful mountains. After losing Tyler in the dark and finding him by his voice, we decided it was time to head in for the night. We tried to surf the tube in, and I fell off.

Back at home, dad got a blessing, and he and mom went to bed. Amy, Tyler, and I opted to watch the Saint (great Val Kilmer movie). It takes place in Moscow, and the address where Val Kilmer and Elizabeth Shue hide out was the building right by Tyler's! Seeing Red Square in the movie made me really miss Moscow! I have missed aspects of Moscow, people, etc, but not the city itself until that night. It made me really nostalgic for this summer. I suddenly realized that I wouldn't be getting off the green line stop around center any more to go for a walk to Red Square, drop by Novokuznetskaya for Akuly (my favorite street band), or even be seeing the Adam and Eve fountain any time soon. I was surprised at how much I missed it, and by how many memories came flooding back just from seeing Red Square (all the times we went to the GUM, hung out on the square, went back cuz the soldiers were all celebrating, and we could hear them from far away).

To add to the home (I guess I should say Moscow, but it was my home for the summer) sickness, I received a really long email from Acia in Russian telling me about everything that was going on. She talked about all the stuff we had done, and what we would be doing if I was still there, and I really missed it and her. This really was an amazing summer!

I packed up my things Wednesday morning and headed out to try and get to my 7:00 pm class at USC in Los Angeles. Only stopped in Mesquite to fill up and grab a phone charger, then back on the road. Vegas traffic slowed me down by about an hour, which led to my being 30 minutes late to my first day of class. But that is already a part of LA, and not Utah.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Southern Utah

After the sealing, we all went to Golden Corral to eat. I haven't been there in years! It was fun to have everyone together, and I got to see Jed and his wife, Caitlyn. I hadn't seen Jed for over one year--he had been doing army training all summer, and then I had moved to LA by the time he got back.

We then went up to Cedar City to see Burke, April, and the boys. It was really cute, Burke yelled down the stairs, "Boys, grandma and grandpa are here!" To which they replied, "Which ones? Kim's mom and dad?" I love them :)

We went out and petted the horses, watched Rhett ride one of them bare back that he has been breaking in for one month, jumped on the tramp, and just had a lot of fun. I am thinking I will go stay with them Tuesday night on my way to LA. And Burke is in charge of the trail ride this year in Parowan, so I might head back up for it Saturday. I will actually be spending quite a bit of time in Parowan this next month, which is just fine with me! The trail ride and demolition derby are this weekend, and for Labor day weekend we're all getting together to celebrate grandpa's birthday. The fair, Parowan parade (which granpda is grand marshall of this year), and the dance are that weekend as well. Then the next is Alex's wedding reception. Had I realized how much I would be down, I probably would have just commuted to LA the 24 hours/week I need to be there for class this first month! I probably should find a job, though...

After hanging out with the boys, we took grandpa back to his house, picked up Wendy, and went to the mud bog at the fair grounds. They fill part of the arena with mud and people try to drive through it in their trucks. I love Southern Utah.

St George Temple Trip

The St George temple was as beautiful as ever yesterday, and even more so because so much of my extended family was able to come together. As I walked into the chapel where everyone was meeting, I saw Kelly, Rosa, Joyce, and Dave. I made my way towards the back where there were more open seats. Tears came to my eyes as I sat with my mom, grandpa, Mark, and dad when Becky came in. To be able to be with my family in the temple was such a blessing!

Becky and Dave went through the temple for the first time, and then were sealed for time and all eternity to each other, and then to their two beautiful children, Cayden and Sadie. I don't think there was a dry eye in the whole room as their family joined together. Becky and Dave looked so happy!

After the sealing, we received special permission to go upstairs where pictures of temple presidents are kept near the sealing office. My great-great-grandpa, Thomas Punter Cottam, was the fourth temple president of the St. George temple from 1925-1926. He passed away in March 1926, while serving as Temple President. He and his father, Thomas Cottam, did all of the decorative moldings in the temple. My great grandpa, Arthur Cottam, Thomas Punter Cottam's son, was a grounds keeper at the temple all while my mom was growing up.

We also saw the sealing room right off of the Celestial room, where my mom and dad were married, as were my grandparents, Alma and Carma Evans. The St. George temple means so much to my family, and it was amazing to be there for Becky and Dave.

As we walked out of the temple, rain was pouring down--a nice reprieve from the typically hot August days in St. George.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Law talks, boating, BBQ

Yesterday was another busy day! So much to do here in Utah! Got up and helped unload the boat, then I vaccuumed it out. Went with the girls for pedicures. Got a call from Pres. Pieper (I had called and caught up with his wife earlier that day), letting me know that he had talked to Cole Durham at BYU law, who would be happy to talk with me about law school, freedom of religion, etc. Such an amazing opportunity! I called Professor Durham, and he made time that afternoon. We had a good talk about law, where to go, what kind of law I could practice. He gave me a lot to think about. He is such a good man, and I really appreciated his willingness to make time on such short notice.

Then it was off to meet up with the cousins for more boating on the lake, people finding out I'm older than they thought, and watching every one surf from Jared and Cheryl's boat. The lake was gorgeous and the water was perfect!!

After, I took off for Jen's BBQ, which I had to attend in my swimming suit, cuz we were running later than expected. Cecilie was nice enough to let me borrow her shirt :) The BBQ was so fun! Liz, Mama, Shane, and Jen were there, so we just laughed and laughed! Most of the laughing was from Mama and I remembering all the crazy things we did my sophomore year at BYU. Stayed out pretty late just talking, then it was time to head back home, with promises that the 4 of us would get together in the next couple of days before I leave. And word is that Jared is in town! Going to be so much fun!

Well, running off to St. George for Becky's sealing. So excited for her! Then back up to Orem, tonight. I love my life!

Lake Powell

I could never vacation anywhere but Lake Powell and be happy! We loved it! Bob and Jill and their kids came with Michelle, her boys, my parents, Amy and I. Michelle, Amy, Tanner, and I drove in one car. We had our traditional blasting of Air Supply with the ever-loved Making Love Out of Nothing at All on the way.

We arrived at the lake Monday afternoon and set about anchoring the houseboat. Bob, my dad, and I were left to do this, and for only having the three of us, I think we did a pretty great job! Picture I wish I had from the trip: me in my swimming suit with about an 8-inch drill drilling holes in the rock to anchor into.

Tuesday was the perfect day--I got up with the sun and got some scripture reading in before heading back to the marina with Michelle for a 4 mile run. I liked running with her so much I'm considering running a half marathon with her next year. After the run, the girls decided to do a workout together. We started to head out to the shore, but realized it would be too hard for situps. We did our warmups, which everyone thought was the actual workout, then started into a squat/situp routine. So much fun, even if I was way sore for the next two days! Not sure if it was the running or the squats that did it.

After working out, we loaded every one in the boat and went for a drive. We headed into the marina first where I got the best approach ever. There were about 15 guys sitting around, and one of them smiled at me and I smiled back. When he left, we both waved goodbye. They pulled away in their boat. I was sitting there with everyone, talking and laughing, and heard a guy behind us say. "Hi, everyone. I'm D----. How are you all doing today?" Then he turned to me and said, "Can I get your phone number?" Everyone was a little shocked, which made me laugh looking back. So we talked for a minute, and he said he and his buddies had just came home from their missions in Australia. I have this problem where people think I'm about 20 years old. What can you do? So after he left, the consensus was, "He's ballsy. In a good way!" Oh, Lake Powell.

Found a beautiful place to jump out and swim for a while that was in the shade. Then Amy, Maddie, Ashtynne, Taylor, and I all washed our hair in the freezing lake (it was getting dark by now).

Most everyone went home Wednesday, but Amy, my parents and I decided to stay an extra day. Getting the houseboat back in was quite the adventure, as we were high-centered. We actually stranded mom on the shore cuz she didn't get on quick enough (she and I were pushing, dad was backing out, and Amy had the boat hooked on trying to pull us away). Amy went back in for her while dad and I left off to pump and get fueled up. Ran into a priests group at the dock and a guy who just graduated and is looking into playing football for Snow (how am I not 19 again? lol).

Went for one last long boat ride. Lake Powell is so beautiful! Blue, blue sky, red rock. The stars were incredible at night! I love Utah! And as we were driving home, I was looking at the mountains, trees, and green fields and realized how much I had missed having the mountains as a backdrop.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The best day

Yesterday was such a great day! I went to the Mt Timpanogos temple with my parents, which was really wonderful. Ran into an old friend, Ryan, from work at the temple, and even saw my kindergarten teacher! This was made all the better because I drove--for the first time since being home. So nice to have a car again! Then went back home and got to catch up with Michelle and see her boys--they are so cute! I can't believe how old they are getting. I am so excited to spend the next couple of days at Lake Powell with them!

Then I went down to Levan with my parents and Amy to meet up with Burke, Grandpa Alma, and Burke's boys. Raced the boys up and down the dirt road by the farm til we were too tired to do it anymore. We had so much fun!! Can't wait to go to southern Utah and see them again!

Also saw Bryan, Nicole, and their girls on the way back into Orem. Caught up with a friend from Moscow while I drove up to Lehi to meet up with Kelsy and Don. Don is leaving for medical school in Texas, so we decided to spend his last weekend in Utah together. We originally had thought of going to a rodeo, but just ended up grabbing ice cream and talking all night. So many good memories reminisced, new plans made, and hilarious things said. I haven't laughed this hard in a long time!! I am way sad that Don is leaving (and I guess I am leaving, too), but the three of us have decided on a monthly conference call and have agreed to do many more amazing things in the near future, cuz, hey, Utah is a good midpoint between Los Angeles and Houston!

Saturday, August 15, 2009


The nice thing about jet lag/insomnia is it gives you a chance to catch up on things. I have read a few sections in the Doctrine and Covenants, tidied up a bit in my room, listened to Taylor Swift, studied for the LSAT, and now--updated my blog.

I've also decided to start a new blog with some of my thoughts on the gospel--from scripture study, headlines about the Church, and some of my thoughts on what it means to me to be a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. My friend Paul gave me the idea about one year ago to keep a separate blog on "Mormon" stuff, and I figured it was about time I tried it out. Maybe this will even serve a public diplomacy purpose by getting out another (unofficial) voice about the Church.

Now I think I'll go get some sleep--maybe I can trick my body into thinking I'm taking a late afternoon nap in Moscow, even if it is 6 am here.

Back in the swing

Flew in Thursday night to SLC International. Got to catch up with Eli and Krishelle for a minute by the A gates. So fun to see them! Though I would like to think they came just to see me, I'm sure they were really at the airport to catch their flight to see Will in Baja ;) It worked out perfect to meet up with them--they had just gotten through security as I was getting off my plane, so we took the chance to reminisce about Moscow and the good times!

Then it was off to see my dad and sister, whom I hadn't seen since the beginning of May, and mom, whom I hadn't seen since earlier that day (though it was 18 hours earlier, thanks to lovely time changes, only about 12 hours were marked off on the clock).

It's been great to be back and see people and be able to make phone calls! During my two hour lay-over I definitely got in some much-needed calls :)

Went in Friday morning to get my hair done. Decided to put red into it, which was fun, but also led to a second job of putting more blonde back into it. I'll figure this out some day lol Amy is so patient and great! Being back and hanging out with her has been the best! I have really missed talking with her, and we have spent just about every minute together since my plane came in!

Train to Milan

Aug 11-12, 2009

Best train ride ever!! We were in a sleeper car, and had the best train attendant. Helped us get our bags on, showed us where the room was. THEN, we realized we had a little sink in our coupe!! And the bed was made for us, with a bottle of cold bottled water sitting there for us. And they gave us a hygiene kit, consisting of a toilet seat cover, soap, and paper towels. And there was a nice towel sitting there, too. Mom's bed even had a mirror hanging over it. I jokingly said, "And we're going to get a continental breakfast." Well, in the morning, they really did bring us breakfast in bed. Not continental, but still. We got pear juice and a sweet roll. Wow, talk about service. I could probably live on this train!

Mom was grateful to have a more positive train experience leaving Rome than she had coming to Rome. Needless to say, mom doesn't like gypsies anymore.


Written while still in Italy, but couldn't find internet to post it:

Aug 11, 2009

We loved our last day in Rome. We took a guided tour of the colloseum and the Roman forum. We really liked our guide for the second part. He seemed to know his stuff, and even told us where the phrase the wrong end of the stick came from. Something with communal bathrooms. You don't want to know.

There were some boys in our group who had done a Christian Bible Camp in Kiev, which was really interesting. They were baptists from Minnesota. They thought it was cool that I had stayed in Russia long enough to learn Russian. They were only in Ukraine for a couple of weeks, so knew phrases like chut chut and kruto. Never did get their names, but it was fun to meet people who had also been doing religious things in Eastern Europe.

Our next stop after the Roman forum was the piazza Novona where we saw the puppet master. This (probably) crazy guy had set up a little table and a boombox, and was putting on hand puppet shows. At first it was just weird, then it got pretty impressive. He did a version of Michael Jackson complete with smoke and the moonwalk. Hilarious! The next favorite was the can-can, which admittedly got a little graphic. He flashed some knuckle at a couple of 20ish year old boys, at which everyone laughed. He also did a great job with a partner dance where the couple danced a tango in time with the music, and his hands followed one another perfectly. After watching his entire routine, we set off for the next sight.

We saw the Pantheon, a pagan church that was converted to a Christian church. So beautiful! If I hadn't been living in Russia for the last 3 months and being a tourist for the last 3 weeks, I probably would have stayed for a long, long time. Gorgeous interior and huge columns. There is a McDonalds EXACTLY across from it, which made us laugh. So weird to see this beautiful church's courtyard open onto a McDonalds. Seemed wrong somehow.

Then it was off to the Trevi fountain. My mom had especially wanted to go there, and we kept chucking euro cents into the fountain. Stayed for a while and enjoyed the atmosphere.
Then we treked back to the train station, grabbed our bags, and set off to make our next connection.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Still going

Well, last official day devoted to being tourists. We have our last sights of Rome, then it's off on a sleeper train tonight at 11 to Milan. Then we take a bus to Bergamo, Italy to catch a flight to Brussels. Be there by afternoon tomorrow. Then off early Thursday morning to America! Mom and I are on different flights. I leave 30 minutes earlier, but arrive in SLC about an hour after her. I have two layovers--London and Dallas. Mom hits Georgia and then home! Getting closer =)

We have had so much fun, but can't wait to be home and see everyone! After watching a movie the other night and going out to dinner, I said, "You know, mom, you should take this as a compliment--I think I could have just as good of a time at home watching a movie with you as I could going on some big vacation." Not that Europe hasn't been fun--it's been great, and we're both so glad we made the trip--it's just that I realized yet again how nice it is to be with family doing the every day things. We decided the perfect evening would be having dad fix omelettes and then to have everyone sit down to watch a movie together from the comfort of our own home.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Mark Anthony?!

Day 2 in Rome much better than the first! We stayed in and watched Australia after a heinous trek to our hotel last night. Had some great Italian food at a way fancy place in the hotel--we were unfortunately underdressed... They didn't seem to mind too much, though!

Our view is beautiful--overlooks the Vatican from afar. Even saw some fireworks last night!

Vatican today, including the museum and Sistine Chapel. Everything was so beautiful and interesting! Had a great guide named Mark Anthony. Not even kidding. Totally made it all that much better that he's from Ohio. And knew his stuff. I also appreciated the occasional crack about his name--like when we saw a statue whose hair was modeled after Cleopatra's. Off to more Rome fun! Colloseum, Roman Forum, and Trevi Fountain to name a few items on the agenda for tomorrow!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

We're done

August 9, 2009

I had just told my mom after the Bergamo adventure (yet to be written) that I thought that maybe I had reached a point in my life where I didn't need to be having adventures all of the time. Maybe it was time to just be a grown up, and do good things without having to have good stories all the time.

Well, today reaffirmed that. Not much time to write, but we just got off the train from Florence to Rome to find that our money, credit cards, and passports were missing. Yep. Gone. We both thought of the gypsies who had blocked our way just as we were trying to get off and wouldn't let us pass. My mom ran back to the train compartment while I watched our bags. The guys in our compartment said they hadn't seen it and tried to help her look. She came back out pretty frustrated. Then she went back to check again.

I was praying about as hard as I have in a while and thinking through the next steps--we were going to have to figure out where the embassy was and get there on the five euros we happened to have. We would have to get a new passport so we could get on the plane, cancel all of our credit cards, and have my dad wire us some money.

I was prepared for both my mom and I to be so frustrated we would soon be crying, when I glimpsed her through the crowd with our pouch of money and passports! Just as she was coming off the train, she saw a woman walking with our American dollars, passports, and cards holding the bag. She was looking at her hands in confusion. My mom went up and took it from her and said, "Thank you! Thank you!"

All that was missing was the 80 euros we had grabbed from a bankomat the night before. Apparently whoever took the money didn't want to deal with passports or exchanging dollars. We were so grateful to get everything back, but still a little shook up from it all.

Did we mention we lost mom's ring at the hotel? We're hoping to hear back from them soon. We had Amy call her and explain we had left it and would be sending an email with our address in Utah.

I can say for certain that I really am done with these types of adventures for a while. We know we'll enjoy Rome, but home is sounding really good right about now...

Love, the a-bit-sick-of-wandering Mormon


August 8, 2009

To come...

Bergamo, Italy

August 7, 2009

Stories to come...

Airport Nightmare

August 6, 2009

Our first trip to an airport/train station where we weren't running to get there on time came in Berlin. That is where the good luck ended, however. The airport was crazy!! In fact, we're not even counting it as a part of Germany. We would hate to mar our impressions of this beautiful country by associating it with our airport experience. We were a bit early--about 15-20 minutes before they would let us go through security and check-in. We shuffled around things in our bags, trying to guess about how heavy 15 kg should feel. Finally, our flight came up to go through security. We got through fairly easily, then stood in line to check in. My blue piece of luggage came in at 15.3 kg, but the woman at the counter didn't say anything. We weighed the other bag and things were going fine until she told us we needed to go pay the check-in fee, go back through security, and then come straight to her where we would get our boarding tickets.

Not thinking this was a huge deal, we took off to pay the fee (we had added checked bags online--a change in itinerary that cost us about 20 Euros), and upon getting to the counter were told the price. I thought the man had said 18, so I handed him a 20. "Eighty euros," he clarified. "Eighty? Did it not charge anything to my card?" "Your card has been charged for your flight and luggage. This is the check-in fee. Eighty euros, please." So even though we'd tried to go cheap by flying on Ryanair, they got us in the end (the original flight was about 4 euros before tax, which came to about 60 euros for the two of us). Word of advice--if there is the remotest possibility you will want to check a bag, say so when you first order your flight or you might be looking at an 80 euro additional fee.

Then we went back through the first security check, got our boarding passes, and went to the second security point, This is where the real fun began. Every flight that was going out (there were about 6 at this point) were funneled into one/two security check lines. I say one/two because there were no formal lines. Just a mass of humanity trying to push their way up to the one roped gate where two security personnel stood trying to hold us back. One girl in front of us was determined to make her bag fit in the little box that tells you if your carry-on is the right size. She ended up jamming it in, getting it stuck, and having to pry it out. We all stood there while she tried to get through. All the while, people are pushing in from behind and all sides to get to the front of the line.

We made it through this eventually, and went back to another line to go through the gate that opened to a waiting room. We sat for another 20-30 minutes waiting for the plane to arrive so we could board. For some unknown reason, we thought that the seats were assigned, so avoided jumping into the mad rush that was people trying to get on the plane. We didn't get to sit by each other, but figured--not a big deal, at least we didn't get trampled to death. My mom had the sad luck of sitting by a boy from Brazil who was coughing a lot and had a concerned-looking flight attendant checking his passport. She was sure she was going to come out with swine flu. She seems okay so far...

So we got into Bergamo, grabbed our bags, and took off for the parking lot. Then we had to cross a busy highway--a nice Italian guy finally told us that if we went a bit further up, we would find an underground tunnel--and then were able to check into our room. It was quite modern and different than the Marriott. It is our own little joke to now walk into our room and say, with our noses up in the air and our hands outstretched in a dainty fashion, "Well, it's no 5-star Marriott, but I suppose it will do." The things we do to entertain ourselves after dragging our bags somewhere because we are trying to avoid paying for a taxi!


Aug 5, 6

Well, we've decided German-speaking countries are a win!! Between Dusseldorf, Vienna, and Berlin, we're impressed! We loved our two days in Berlin (and not just because we got upgraded to a 5-star hotel--Marriott Berlin, though this had no negative bearing on our judgement, either ;) ) Though I miss speaking Russian, Berlin has been fabulous!

I slept on the most comfortable pillow I have ever experienced in my life! I almost didn't want to get out of bed--but Berlin called, so go I did. The first day was fairly laid back. We started out with an American breakfast at Play Off because I was craving eggs. The pancakes were an added bonus! We had a great server named Steffan who was oh-so-helpful! Another potential future brother-in-law as he is perfect for Amy. I am determined to have a German brother-in-law yet! He was very nice and spoke English really well.

After the breakfast, we headed off to find a laundromat. Our dirty clothes were piling up--we hadn't washed them since Moscow, and we only packed so many clothes. We got directions from the front desk at the Marriott and took off for the metro. I love subway systems! They are so convenient, and generally self-explanitory, though Moscow admittedly has the best system I've ever experienced.

Right across from the laundromat we found a shwarma place! But they are called Dumu or something here. Being way to full from breakfast, we made a mental note to come back if we found the time (which we did the next day during our hop on/hop off bus tour). A nice woman helped me get the German instructions to the washer figured out, and we started our loads. A German man helped show us which settings were best, and recommended a spinning machine (called an extractor, apparently--according to mom. She also says we have these in the States) that turned out to be great--we only needed about half the time on drying thanks to him. By the way, this was the first dryer I'd seen in 3 months--it's a festivus miracle (that's for you Amy, and any other Seinfeld lovers out there). We took the metro back to our hotel so we wouldn't have to haul our clothes around all day. Remembering how comfy the beds were led to a little nap.

When we woke up, we decided to walk around to some of the sights near us. We went to a holocaust memorial and then down to the Brandenburger Tor (gate). The Berlin wall ran right in front of this gate, and the gate now stands as a symbol of freedom. We also walked through the Tiergarten Park by our hotel. So beautiful! We found out that 1/3 of Berlin is covered by green space (as they said) and water.

After ordering up a scoop of Carmel Biscuit Creme Ice Cream and a Macadamia Nut Ice Cream from Haagen Das, we were able to use their free internet. We'd also had a yummy strawberry tart and chocolate with nuts (we hadn't eaten since breakfast because we were so full, but made room for late afternoon desserts!). We finally got all of our Russia pictures up, as well as Vienna and hope to catch up on Prague and Berlin soon.

Day two in Berlin--Aug 6, was spent on a hop-on/off tour of the city. This was the best way to see the city (except for maybe a biking tour which would have been really interesting and fun). Even though it was a hop on/off, we ended up with the same tour guide every time. He was really funny and remembered us, saying, "Our ladies have returned!"

I should also add how good we were today--no sugar, and we did crunches! And we've decided to ration out our sugar days for the rest of the Europe trip--getting ready for swimsuit-ing it up at Lake Powell in 1 1/2 weeks!

But back to Berlin--our favorite sight was Checkpoint Charlie where the American sector met up with the Soviet sector. They had large panels put together telling the story of the lead up to the Berlin wall. We spent about an hour in this one spot alone. We are fascinated with all of the history in this one city and the thought that it happened in our life times! (Some of it more my mom's life time than my own, but still). I was really surprised to see that the wall really wasn't all that high--especially when considering it separated two completely different worlds, ideologies, and political freedoms. It is hard to imagine these two worlds coming right up against each other. It really hit me how families were literally divided by this wall. Pictures on display showed two mothers holding their children up to the wall as they reached out to one other. I bought a postcard of a picture that took third place in a competition called, 'Overcoming the wall through pictures,' or something like that. It is a picture of a hand breaking through a wall, reaching out to help those on the other side. We also found what would have been our favorite souvenirs if we could have afforded them--on display in one shop were various compasses, globes, etc. that had come from museums across Europe. I want to say they were meant to represent the world coming together. Near this same area, and throughout the city, they have laid out bricks denoting where the wall once stood.

As I said, we love Berlin and were really sad to leave. We were impressed with how many people speak English, and by how helpful everyone was. Mom insists that I add here--Berlin is a very modern city because so much of it was bombed out during World War II.

Prague to Berlin

August 4, 2009

One last note on Prague--we really did like it, I think we just hit a point of exhaustion where we needed some rest! It was great to be able to use Russian again, though. As we were leaving for the train station--which was another adventure trying to get the correct tram to it--we stopped to get a bottle of water. I started speaking in Russian for some reason, and the woman turned to her co-worker and said, "She's speaking Russian!" She was excited to hear it, and I was excited to speak it! She was so nice! She was very impressed that I spoke Russian at all, and I managed to say everything correctly, which is always nice. She said I spoke better than Czech people--more clearly and correctly. So at least my Russian works out for me in Prague!

After all the running to the station, our train was 80 minutes late. We met some nice people while waiting--a German girl and a guy from Mexico. Then when we got on the train, we were in with some really nice Hungarian guys who loved everything American. At first we didn't even know they spoke English, but about a couple hours in, we started talking with them, and they spoke really well. I can't believe how many people know English! Then a bit later I met a nice man named Can (pronounced Ken) who was born in West Germany near Dusseldorf, but whose parents are Danish. We talked for quite a while, which was nice because the train ride took about four hours. We talked about how it is a great experience to be able to travel. His English was nearly perfect, and I really liked how he used the word adorable. He kept saying, "Your life is adorable, just adorable! To have been able to travel, to have lived in Russia. Adorable!"

Then we said goodbe to our new friends, except for one German girl who was nice to enough to show us how to use the subway (S) to get to the subway (U) so we could get to our hotel in Berlin. When we arrived, the man at the desk told us the hotel was booked, but that they had made other arrangements. The thought of hauling my baggage to another hotel wasn't pretty, but before I could even think about it, he told us they had already arranged for accomodations at the 5-star Marriott hotel in a great location--near many of the sights we wanted to see! And he ordered up a taxi for us. It was there within minutes, and we were on our way!

A 5-star Marriott for the inconvenience--by jove, I love inconveniences! I will definitely be making a purchase of sheets, pillows, and blankets to match the ones we slept on at the hotel. I had no idea such comfortable, adorable pillows even existed!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Prague pics

Mom on Prague

Kim has procrastinated writing about our Prague adventures and instead wants me to write my impressions! First, I have come to realize that our feelings toward a place depends to a large degree on the amount sleep we have had. I also would not recommend, having lived in Russia for three months, going to a place like Vienna and then immediately returning to a former USSR country! The shock to the system is too great! That said, Prague was picturesue with cobblestone streets and beautiful, old ornate buildings everywhere! The river with St. Charles Bridge and beautiful palace is amazing, especially at night!

What we thought was going to be a sketchy hotel in the ghetto area of town (our first impression after arriving there after midnight) was actually ok and in a great location. We even had a bidet in the bathroom-something not even the 5 star Marriott in Berlin had! And it also had a continental breakfast and free internet!

Kim is great at adapting to each metro in the places we visit and soon we are able to "get around" quite well. We took a hop on and off bus tour and saw the major attractions described through an English headset. The headset also warned us about pick pocketers and somehow we didn't feel as safe as we have in other places. They also gave us some interesting tidbits such as the first tulips were grown in Prague and later sent to Holland where they have become famous!
A nice lady in a souvenir store warned us about mistakenly giving out Euros instead of Czech crowns saying that some might not be so honest in telling us of the errorl. Unfortunately, we had the misfortune of experiencing this as we saw a 50 crown sweet roll that we bought with a 50 Euro! Funny how if you have your money bag down the front of your pants to keep the pick pockets from snatching it and reach into the wrong one of the two zippered sections where you think the Czech money is, you can pay about 100 times what the roll is worth! Another lesson learned the hard way!

We asked the lady at the front desk of the hotel how to get to the train station since it was a different one than the one we came in on. She told us how to catch a tram rather than take the subway but apparently we didn't understand.. After wandering up, down and across a busy street with all our luggage and asking a policeman who said he spoke English but not the kind we understand, we got on the right tram and made it to the station by the skin of our teeth, again! Kim stopped to buy water and spoke to a woman in Russian. She seemed so excited to find someone to talk to in Russian. Kim's Russian has come in handy more than once in Prague. After our stressful trip to make the train on time, we discovered it was 80 minutes late. The ride through the Czech mountains to Germany was breathtaking and worth the trip! We met two boys from Hungary going to Dresdan to pick up a car. They love American goods and buy on ebay frequently. They said even after paying customs and shipping, it is less expensive and they love the quality of American goods-especially cars! All the people we met on the train were friendly and helpful.

One last impression-it was amazing as we were on the train going from Austria to Prague, how at the border the countryside and towns changed immediately and we knew we were back in a former soviet block country!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Prague at midnight

Just on the run, but had to recap last night. We decided to walk to our hotel--we had instructions written out on how to get there, saying it should take about 45 minutes. The nice people in our train advised us against this, but we decided to try it out anyway. The young man helped us grab our baggage and even carried it down a flight of stairs for us. Irina showed us where we could get a taxi or take the metro. We exchanged information (she wants to practice Russian and English with me) and said our goodbyes.

After she left, I set out to find the street our directions said to start from. This was a little tricky considering we didn't have a map of Prague, and that I don't speak Czech. Fortunately, my Russian has come in handy once again! I asked a man in the station where Wilsonova street was, and he directed me upstairs, where I talked to another woman who pointed the direction we should go in. So I ran back downstairs, got my mom, and we headed off into the night. Why she wanted to walk an hour after midnight when she was upset that I would make the 5 minute walk from the metro to my apartment in the dark was beyond me.

So we crossed a really busy street and took off to the left. Then the street went up a fairly steep hill, and I was cursing our decision to bring an extra bag. By now a light rain was falling, but it was kind of refreshing after the hill. We followed the directions that said to take a sharp turn and a slight left, only to find that we were on the wrong street! I kept thinking one of the cross streets would be our next direction. Street after street--nothing. So we went back to the left to see if we could find Wilsonova again. A couple streets later we gave up and waved down a taxi. He didn't really speak Russian, but understood enough that we could communicate. For 9 euros, we figured it would be worth getting home before sunrise (he wanted 10, but we only had 9 to our names).

It seemed like he was unsure of where to go and called a friend. I kept hearing him say Konvikstka (our street name) over and over, and figured he was either asking directions or telling his friend where he was. I decided he was asking when I saw our street come and go. I started to say something, but we'd already driven past it, and he was still chatting away with his friend. Finally, he hung up and we looped back around. I said in Russian that I thought I had seen it back there, and we circled through the back streets again. This time when we passed it, I figured it was worth pointing out that we were by our street. He threw the car in reverse and we finally made it to our area. He pulled in a building away, so we were a little sketched out as to where our hotel would be. Then we saw that it was just the next building up and went to get checked in.

Though the area looked pretty ghetto last night, upon a second review in the day light, it's not half bad. And the continental breakfast was pretty good, too. Now off to figure out what we're going to do for the day.

Getting to the train--Vienna

After deciding we were pros at the Austrian metro, we didn't think we had to worry about leaving too much time to get to the train station by 6:58 pm. We even stopped for another ice cream, served up by a very kind man who helped us pick out several different flavors to make up one scoop. We then went on down to the metro and back to the hotel. We got our bags from the front desk, and I double checked with the receptionist to make sure I was taking the right metro to the train. She said yes, just make sure that on your transfer you look for train S 8, 80, or 60 so that you end up at the train station and not the airport. Confident that I could switch over to the blue line on my own, we headed off.

We got off of U2 at the correct stop and started to look for the best way to get to the blue line. Then I noticed that the blue line wasn't numbered like the other metros--because it wasn't a metro line! So the race started to find where the metropolitan railroad was. My mom got caught at the light, but told me to go ahead and check it out, and that she would catch up. So I set off, finally finding the symbol I was supposed to follow, only to have it disappear.

I ran back outside trying to find my mom and eventually saw her. I sent her in to buy a streudle while I looked for the train (we had to try one--we were in Austria!). Then I ended up following her in to ask the cashier how to find the correct train. She pointed to the monitor outside, and I rushed to see if a train was going there. Nothing. Not 8. Not 80. Not 60. But then I took another look at the map, and noticed that S9 looked like it might go there. Just then my mom said, "Hey, this one says Sudbahnhof. I think it goes there!" This one left at 6:40, so we kept looking, knowing we would probably not make it if we tried that. Then S9 platform 3 popped up leaving at 6:25--in 4 minutes! We rushed up to the platform and got on the train that would take us to the train station.

I sighed in relief and checked the schedule above the doors to see how many stops until hours. When my mom heard my sigh, she said, "We're not there yet girl!" In three stops, a man by us stood up, so my mom showed him our tickets and he said he was on our train and would show us the way. We followed him a short ways to the station, and then he directed us to go up and to the right. When we checked the monitor, we realized we should have gone a different way. A very nice man saw me looking confused, and asked in German if he could help me. I slowly said, "Yes," in English, and he started speaking in English and told us which platform to go to. We thanked him and headed back a different way.

We saw our train at the tracks with a few minutes to spare. We sat in the first wagon we came to that said seats 65 and 66. How big and roomy, and even a plug for a laptop! we thought. We sat here for probably 30 minutes, tasting our streudle and Austrian chocolate, until a man came along to check tickets. He informed us we were in first class, but that our tickets were 2nd class tickets. He pointed out the way to go and sent us on our way.

I came to the first door. It said it was automatic, but I couldn't get it to open for the life of me. Finally it did, and we went through. The next door was the one that went to where the wagon connected with the next one. I got the first one opened and was standing over the hitch of the train. I couldn't get the next door open and the first one started to close on my large bag. Just before I turned and noticed this, I had the thought, what if the floor opens up when the door closes and I fall through? Needless to say, I freaked out when the doors closed on my bag and my arm and I couldn't get it open! I was trying to get my arm out and avoid being trapped while a hundred thoughts of death and falling flashed through my mind. Finally the doors popped back open and I got the set in front of me to open as well. "Sorry, I may have overreacted there. I thought I was going to die."

We then set off through about 4 wagons, one of which I will call the hell wagon because it was at least 110 degrees in there!! Hoping that our wagon wouldn't be this hot, we moved forward. When we finally got to our wagon and coupe, it was air conditioned! Some students from Arizona had taken our spot, but got up and moved when they saw us come in.

We ended up in the 6-seat-er coupe with a woman from the Czech Republic named Irina. She speaks some Russian, so we chatted for a bit in both Russian and English. So fun!

We have decided to try and avoid other similar adventures when getting to the next country, but are pretty sure we will have an exciting story just about every time we have to up and move.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

We love Vienna!!

Mom outside the Volkstheater


A lamp by Rathousplatz--surprise, surprise

Parliament Building

The beautiful grounds near Rathausplatz

The National Library of Austria

Inside of Petersplatz Cathedral

Inside of St Stephen's

Schronbrunn Palace, Vienna

Got into the hotel safe last night--paid about 32 euros for a taxi, which seemed like a deal because public transport would have been 10 euros each to get out of the airport, then another 5 or so each for the metro. The hotel was great--I even drank out of the tap! Mom keeps commenting on how spoiled we are and how much we love it! She especially noticed the soft, luxurious sheets, and the modern technology the hotel has to offer (we had to insert our hotel key for the lights to work!).

This morning we checked our bags at the hotel and took off for the Schronbrunn palace. We love the public transport system here! 5 euros each for a day pass, and it's good for any public transportation. It is very easy to use, and we are grateful for our experience using the Moscow metro system. I have to admit, I do miss the metro stations in Moscow--they are also so interesting and beautiful with their different themes.

We love Vienna~everything is so clean and beautiful! When we got off at the Shronbrunn stop, we made our way with the rest of the tourists up to the palace. We decided to not pay to go inside, and wander the grounds instead. Boy are we glad we did! So beautiful! The gardens are amazing! The first one we happened upon was a rose garden with pretty arches and rose bushes everywhere. Then we came upon a path where the trees had been pruned into archways that extended forever it seemed.

We then took a left right behind the palace. The most breathtaking view opened up to beautiful gardens that led to Neptune's fountain, behind which was a hill with a beautiful structure at the top! We couldn't believe it! Definitely the most beautiful view we've seen so far!

We wandered down to a Greek ruin and saw some more fountains and statues. We even wandered into the palace the back way and read some of the history about the place. We then bought the biggest pretzel I've ever seen in my life, and tried to get into an Apple Struddle making demonstration, which we missed by 15 minutes.
Satisfied with the palace, we jumped back on the metro U2 towards downtown. We walked past the beautiful opera house and were on our way to St Stephens Cathedral when we saw McDonald's and thought they would have free wi-fi. They do, so here we are, with our $1 salad and small diet coke. Definitely better than the 6 euro/hour price they were going to charge us at the hotel.

Now that we've finished blogging, we're heading out to the cathedral. More updates later!
This was written en route from Dusseldorf to Vienna:

Our time in Russia has officially ended! We were sad to see it go, but are excited for the adventures that await us!

The first actually came today in the airport as we changed flights in Dusseldorf. Thinking we had plenty of time to catch our next plane, we made our way to gate B73. First we had to go through passport control, where we saw a guy we think Amy should date--attractive and German, what's not to love? After exchanging about four words with him, we're sure he's the one.

We then went to find where airport security was, and a nice German man gave us perfectly understandable directions--that is, they would have been perfectly understandable if either of us understood German. My mom felt this would be a good time to pretend she speaks German, nodded her head, thanked him, and whisked us away to the right. "He said follow the line, right?" she asked me. "I have no idea. I didn't catch a word he was saying, and I'm not sure why you thought you should pretend that you did. What if he said, 'Oh, by the way, they didn't check your bags all the way through, you should probably go pick those up?' Oh, well, let's follow the line and see where it takes us. I can already tell this is going to be different than Russia--I'm not used to not understanding people!!"

We followed the line and magically ended up at the security check point for our gate, where we got pulled aside so they could check my laptop. Of course, I didn't understand that this was what they were doing as the man spoke to me in German. Instead of just telling him we didn't understand, we decided it would be most effective to just sit and look at him until he understood that we had NO idea what he had just said to us. He's a quick one, lucky for us, and switched into English. He directed us to follow his colleague to another table. After running a strip with a metal circle on it over the keyboard and back of it and checking my bag thoroughly, they let us proceed to the gate. We have already noticed a difference between the airports in Russia and those in, well, any place that ISN'T Russia. Can you say quality service?

(I have to insert here that as we were trying to go through passport control in St Petersburg, the poor family in front of us was catching all kinds of attitude from the woman checking them in. He asked her to be a little more kind to his wife and children, and she yelled after him to not tell her how to do her job, then came storming out of the little box she works in and told him to come back and keep his kids from touching anything. She then harassed him about not having a family passport, to which he replied he had tried to get one, and they told him he couldn't. Needless to say, we switched to a different line--thought better of taking our chances with her bad day. This turned out to be a good idea, as she closed the gate and refused to check anyone else in.)

So anyway, we get through the security check and start wandering towards our gate. We spot a bathroom and decide to stop while we're close. I hear something that sounds like "DeGroff" over the loudspeaker, followed by other German words. I think to myself, huh, they have a word that sounds like DeGroff--wonder what that means. Then as I'm washing my hands, I hear 'DeGroff" again, followed by German. Then the English version of this, which was, "Passenger DeGroff, last boarding call." My mom and I sprinted out of the bathroom and started following the signs to B73, cutting through the duty free shop to try and save time (mom knocked something off, but figured she didn't have time to pick it up). Another nice German man said, "Vienna? DeGroff?" And I said, "Yes, DeGroff. I am so sorry! I thought I heard my name." My mom added, "We thought we still had an hour." He just smiled and said, "No, we have quick turn arounds here. Not a problem." He then showed us to the counter and told us we just needed to go straight, take a left, go down and to the left and board the plane. We thanked him as we ran off. We were the last ones on the plane and everyone was already seated. Mom and I took our seats, turned to each other, and started laughing. "Can you believe we almost missed our plane?" "Yah," I said, "good thing we didn't stop for ice cream!!"

As the flight attendant came around to give snacks, and after handing us our orange juice she asked in German which snack we would like. We kind of just looked at her and said, "We speak English." She then offered us a sandwich or wafers. We took one of each between the two of us. We split the delicious cracker with cream cheese and chives, as well as the hazelnut vafly.
So we love Germany and are a little sad to leave. Luckily, we get to come back to Berlin in a matter of days. They left quite the positive impression on me, and I would be happy to return any time!

Catch up

As you can tell, the last couple of posts were skeletons of what happened. We've been struggling to find time to catch up, and I sat down and wrote the first few days of Moscow out finally this morning while mom was in the shower. Hopefully we can fill in some details later!

Modern ballet of Anna Karenini

Friday, July 31
Kazan Cathedral--everyone really liked

Modern Ballet of Anna Karenina--we all thought this was going to be an opera, turned out to not only be a ballet, but a modern ballet. Very passionate! We all ended up really liking it, even though it wasn't what we expected (I'm secretly hoping Tyler will blog about this so I can copy and paste his story here :) ).

Cathedral of the Spilled blood
Rinok--bought lots of jewelry, met Yuri (?) one of the first baptized in Petersburg

Saturday, Aug 1

Talked to Luba--Russian lady, about God, families, intl rel, etc
Taxi to airport--prob with people in front of us at passport ctrl, but we made it through

St. Petersburg Day 1

5 am start to the day
Wander around--got more done by 10 am, than I did my entire last trip up here
--all sleep on boat over and back
Walked around Nevsky Prospect--saw admirality, hermitage, St Isaac's Cathedral
Check in hostel--kim ty back for bags, ty back again later--personality test
Business Lunch

Here's Tyler's take on Peterhof:

"St. Petersburg is in Europe. And if you were here with me, you would definitely be able to tell immediately. Peter the Great Tsar of the Russian Empire had it built to be his new capitol and "Window to Europe." It is situated on the Shores of the River Neva and the Gulf of Finland. Yesterday we took a hydrofoil down the Neva and into the Gulf, and eventually ended up at Peterhof. This was one of Peter the Great's imperial residences. (I will post pictures of it later.) It is an amazing work of architecture and landscaping. The multi-tiered fountains, immense and lush gardens, and the beautiful palace that crowns the whole ensemble definitely combine to make I place that I would be proud to call home. We'll see if the Russian government is taking offers. We continued our tour of the real estate of St. Petersburg, so I will keep you posted on what I finally decide to purchase."

Sounds pretty perfect, doesn't it?

Also, the personality test--Tyler got story of the day for this one--he got stopped on the street and led down a side alley and up to a room to get a stress test. They had him hold on to these two metal poles that measured his stress patterns when various subjects were mentioned. High stress for Tyler: love and money. Go figure.

For the whole story, go to Tyler's blog on the subject--definitely worth a read.

Russian food we love!

Caramel Apple blinchik--Moscow by us Teremok
Schwarma--Ty found on Belarusskaya
Anything Tyler makes
Business Lunch
Ice cream at Coffee house plus truffle, cheesecake, and apple struddle w/ praline and pineapple ice cream
Cheese cheburek
Cheese piroshki
Potato piroshki
Russian chocolates
Krugli lavash--round bread

Last day in Moscow

Wednesday, July 29

Last day in Moscow
Packed in am
Went to office-said goodbe
Yummiest Russian candies
Tyler's--dropped off stuff
Walked arbat--bought lots of pictures, and let mom in on the pina colada tradition at Hard Rock Cafe
Train experience--Tyler in the sitting part, we platscart--get beds, but no dividers from other passengers--mom really likes it I almost lost a leg trying to make the bed--we're in a best bruise contest, no sleep hardly
Nice man helped us with our bag

Russian Tradtl Dance

Tuesday, July 28

On Tuesday, our last full day in Moscow, we decided we should get back into some more touristy things and headed off for Red Square. We went through St. Basil's cathedral and while in line met a couple who were touring the world for one year. Sounded like they had been everywhere! The man gave me his blog address, which is now lost in a stack of papers, but someday I will check it out.

We then went to a street by the river where a bunch of artists had set up their work and were selling it. Unfortunately, everything we really loved was about $400 and up. Deciding we could find something a little more to our budget, we left. We grabbed another shwarma on the way back to Tyler's apartment where my mom took a nap. We had dinner (pasta and vegetables from Sunday's birthday dinner) and a some banana cream pie (also from Sunday--a real treat considering they don't have pies like we're used to).

Then Tyler, my mom, Svetlana, and I headed off to the "National Show of Russia" which is a folkdance performance of traditional Russian songs/dances. We thought about Jenny the whole time--she has toured with BYU to Europe on the folkdance team. It was really fun and both my mom and I are glad we were able to go! I really think Svetlana enjoyed it, too. It was fun seeing my mom and her communicating with each other through the little bit of English Svetlana knows and some improvised sign language! We then took pictures by a pink cadillac that was parked outside the Cosmos Hotel where the performance was. Then it was back to Tyler's to try and shuffle a few things in our bags, then back to our place.

When we got off the metro at my stop, we grabbed a cheburek (roll type thing) with cheese which was delicious! Two guys heard us speaking English and followed us to the little stand where we bought our food. I heard them say, "Let's get a little closer and listen." Not sure that I was up for an adventure (it was already 1 am), I tried to ignore them. They gave us suggestions on which food to buy, and soon I gave in to talking to them--they were both really nice, and one of them spoke English. Afterwards, my mom commented on how nice they were and not creepy at all. I told her, "See--now you know what I mean when I say I stopped to talk to some random guy, but I wasn't worried because he seemed really nice." So hopefully some of my past stories aren't so scary to her now!

We got home and gave Sergei a card we had bought for him (it was his birthday), along with a pair of work gloves and a box of See's candies my mom had brought from the States. We ended up talking with Irina and Sergei until 2 am, even though my mom and I were exhausted. It was fun acting as the interpreter for the three of them, and it was really neat for my mom to listen to Irina's conversion story. I'm glad my mom had the chance to get to know them a little better, as the rest of the week had been pretty hectic and we were gone all the time.

I would walk 500 miles...

Monday, July 27

Went to get registered in the morning. Mom got quote of the day when I pointed out that she had dropped something on the ground. She said, "Oh! Good thing you noticed or we would be up that well-known creek!!" (pronounced crick). I laughed and laughed! Something about the way Lake Powell and other trips go totally justify this comment!

We bought the little girls barrettes and grabbed some almonds and dried fruit at a little shop on the side of the road. We then met up with Tyler and Ryan. Tyler took us out to the BEST schwarma place I have ever been to! SO YUMMY!!! We were sure we would be going back for more and had found our favorite Russian food. This was the most delicious shwarma I have ever had--they put the meat and veggies into a pita and toasted it--so so so so good! Mom loves it!!!
We then walked about 500 miles around the city so mom could see something other than the metro. We went to the American embassy where we got in trouble for trying to take a picture, then down to the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. I bought the icon that Eli and I had found in St Petersburg and were so sad we didn't have time to buy (fortunately, he had seen them at the cathedral in Moscow when his family came in to town. They had bought them all out, and it had taken the cathedral a while to replenish them!). The icon is of Christ. I also ended up buying an icon of the Virgin Mary and Christ.

We then went to Grabli so my mom could see what I've been talking about for months. I ordered up my usual--grechka (buckwheat), a heaping bowl of self-serve borscht, and a blinchik with banana and raspberry sauce. I also got Turkey in a french cream sauce. My mom got beef with mushroom sauce which turned out to be really good.

Then it was off to Kolomenskii park, where mom took a nap down by the river, and Tyler and I talked in Russian about what we would miss about Moscow. We took lots of pictures, and then made our way back to the metro. On the metro ride home, mom and I were sitting across from Tyler, and he and I were making faces at each other. He winked (he can only do this with one eye), so I winked back at him with both eyes, then twisted my tongue around (I have only met one other person who can do this in Moscow--I didn't realize it was that rare to be able to do that!), and then touched my tongue up to the tip of my nose. About at this point, I noticed the guy sitting next to Tyler look at me, then look at Tyler. He saw mom try to touch her tongue to her nose, then he tried it, then I did it again, and he gave me a thumbs up. Then he turned to Tyler and asked why he was speaking in English, and if he knew me. It was hilarious!! The guy apparently thought that I was just some random girl who had started making faces at Tyler. He explained that he knew both of us. Mom and I totally cracked up at what this must have looked like to this guy--some girl comes in, sits down, starts winking at a guy she doesn't know and twisting her tongue around--sounds pretty sketchy to me! Just another day on the metro.

Church and Birthdays

Sunday, July 26

Sunday really got started as mom and I left for church with my very large suitcase (we had decided to send some things on with Tyler and Ryan so we wouldn't have to trek across Europe with them. Originally we thought this would be about $35 to check an extra bag, but later found out it was closer to $200--yikes! Needless to say, we decided taking some of it across Europe didn't sound so bad. Tyler is still taking a big chunk of it home with him). It was quite exciting to drag the bag along with me wearing four-inch heels. We got quite a few looks as I dragged it down the steps and onto the metro!

Once we got to church, my mom was able to meet my favorite young women--Sonya, Masha, Zardis, and Tomaris! I will miss them so much! Sonya came and held my hand as I got together with the study abroad students to practice the song we would be singing in sacrament meeting. Mom and I had a funny story we were starting to tell Tyler, but were then reminded that we were in the Church, so decided to save it for later and sit reverently as the meeting started. I interpreted for mom during sacrament meeting, and Ashley, Tyler, Ryan, and I did a musical number. After, we went with Tyler and Ryan home to get Ryan's birthday dinner started. Tyler offered to carry my bag home and spared me another crazy trek through the metro, for which I was very grateful.

Tyler and Ryan made the most delicious dinner--Tyler made a homemade soup with homemade croutons, and the both of them worked on pasta and an amazing sauce! We were all treated with mojitos and banan cream pies!! Nastya, her brother, Svetlana, Ryan, Tyler, mom, and I were all there to celebrate Ryan's birthday. It was really fun to sit and chat and just be together.

Yasnaya Polyana

Saturday, July 25

Mom's second day in Russia, and boy was it a crazy one!! We ran like crazy to make our train to Yasnaya Polyana. First we had to find where we could buy our tickets--we had about 8 minutes before the train left. We finally found the cashier (after being directed to the wrong one), and then set off to find our platform. We literally sprinted through the station--definitely went to the wrong platform first, but a nice cleaning woman finally pointed us in the correct direction. We jumped on the train right before it took off.

Once on the train, mom and I talked a lot. Or rather, I talked a lot because I was really tired and kept rambling on and on. A little girl in front of us was fascinated with us, and kept stealing peeks at us from behind the chair. Just as we were pulling up to one of the last stops, I asked her mother in Russian what stop it was. The little girl's mouth dropped wide open and she stared and stared at us. Her mom was like, "Sorry, I think she's in shock that you speak Russian! She's been so interested in how you speak the whole time, she never imagined that you would suddenly start speaking Russian!" So I started talking with the cute little girl, who was quite happy to talk after she got over the shock of it all. She and her sister were so adorable! They are from Ukraine and were in Russia visiting their grandmother. Loved talking with them and they posed for pictures for my mom and me.

Then it was off to Yasnaya Polyana, Tolstoy's estate. This is one of our favorite places in Russia!! Tolstoy was an amazing man, and his wife phenomenal! We had so much fun on our tour of his house and estate! We met up with a woman named Janet, who had hired an English-speaking guide, so that was really neat. We saw about 150 brides (okay, more like 30, but still, a ton!), and took lots of pictures around the estate.

To go in the house, we had to put on these huge shoe covers made of leather that were one-size-fits-all (I'm pretty sure it would have fit a size 15 man's shoe), so we were clopping around in them, trying not to fall. My mom was sitting on a bench to put them on at the second part of the house and was trying to take pictures of her feet in them. I took the camera to get a better shot, then turned to go in the house. Suddenly I heard a big crash! Mom and leaned to far back, and being the only one on the bench, sent it tipping over. Once I knew she was okay, I was laughing and trying to help her up. Another woman came to help and said, "Get her up!" I think she thought my laughter was obstructing my ability to help. We got her up and realized the bench had fallen on her arm! She was okay and laughed, and then said, "Oh, dang it! You should have taken a picture of me on the ground!" I laughed and said, "I love that you just said that! Somehow, I don't think that woman would have been okay with me leaving you on the ground to take a picture, though!"

We toured the grounds, with Janet asking about every 3.2 minutes what time it was because she hadn't brought a "time piece." Watches and other forms of telling time will henceforth be known as time pieces as far as my mom and I are concerned!

We then tried to find Tolstoy's grave, which they said was unmarked. When we came upon a mound, I suggested that this was perhaps it. "Oh, no, it would have some kind of marking, wouldn't it?" So I told them to wait while I ran ahead to see if I could find it. I ran for about 10 minutes through the forest, which was actually quite fun, then stopped to take some pictures. Then I saw an old Russian couple coming up the path, and they directed me back up the path where I had just come from to find the grave. By the time I got back to mom and Janet, a crowd of people were gathered around the mound I had seen. Sure enough, this was his grave. Janet didn't get this however, and suggested a different path for us to wander down to find it. We pointed out that the grave was in fact right there and headed back down towards Tolstoy's home.

We were starving by the time the day was over, but our train didn't leave until about 6:00 pm. All of the little shops were closed, plus we didn't know if we had enough money for the train back if we bought something from the cafe that was open. We had eaten a yogurt and drank one water bottle all day, so I was dying. And we knew we had about a three-hour ride ahead of us. We pulled through, though--not much else we could do, and I wondered what everyone would think about me bringing mom back starved and bruised (which is why I had to wait a sufficient amount of time to post blogs...haha). I was complaining about being so hungry, but mom told me to toughen up and that she wasn't complaining. She then added, "I like the self-denial!"

Our train finally pulled in, and we met up with Janet again. We decided we needed to show Janet how to use the metro system in Moscow--she had been paying ridiculous prices to travel one metro stop, and so we rode with her to her stop. I was so concerned with helping her know where to go that I forgot this was OUR stop for our transfer. At the last second, after telling her goodbye, I remembered where we were. "Oh, shoot! This is ours, let's go!" I darted off the train with mom following behind. I thought at the last second that it would be bad if mom got caught in the doors, so I reached out to try and prevent them from slamming closed on her. Despite my efforts, they caught her on the way out, and she was pinned with her arms at her side, pulling her shoulder blades towards each other. I was trying to pull the doors open and explain that she needed to keep moving (they don't just pop open like in an elevator), but she seemed pretty distraught and looked confused as to the best way out of this situation. We finally pulled her out, and though she was a little disoriented from the shock, came back to herself enough to make our way to the next metro. She still has the bruises in memory of the event. Between falling off the bench and getting stuck in the doors, we started to doubt if mom would survive Russia.

When we got to our metro stop, we decided to grab some food and opted for blini (like Swedish pancakes). We got a berry one and the most delicious blinchik I have ever had in my life--carmel double apple with almonds. Totally worth starving ourselves all day!