Sunday, May 25, 2008

Frat House Part 2

Having never ventured to Fire Island, I thought it would be fun to check it out for the day. My friends D and R went for the weekend, but my initial plan was to take the 1am ferry back. They actually charge double for it, perhaps to discourage all the drunks from boarding.

We went to the Ocean Bay Park part of the island. I knew there was a "gay" part and a family part, but we ended up on the section where people refuse to let go of the good-ol' college days. Don't get me wrong, it was fun, but I feel like I've moved on from raging frat parties, late-night pizza, and passing out in a pool of vomit.

While there, who do I run into but M. I've left out much of my dating adventures to maintain some privacy and mystery, but this is a doozy worth laughing about. Long story short, he was a rebound. We met through a mutual friend who happens to be the greatest wingman ever. Things got very intense and romantic immediately, but then fizzled out just as fast. With the understading that the economy sucks and finance dudes are living paycheck to paycheck, I have no patience for people who do not make any effort to communicate. Fast forward a few months, and I run into him poolside at the Fire Island Hotel. After wishing him happy birthday, my friends and I get dinner and hang with friends. Later on, I see him out at the bars, where he immediately latches onto me like a leech in a swimming hole. Did I mention I'm over making out in the middle of a sticky-floored bar? I try to move to the more romantic, private beach, and then the hemming and hawing starts. "I need to take off my shoes...I need the room key ... where's my friend? The innkeeper is the coolest woman ever!!!" Yawn. I start talking to his friend, another i-banker douchebag who thinks he's the greatest thing to happen to humanity because he moves large quantities of cash (none his own) around. Yaaaaaaaaaaaawn. All of a sudden, M darts out of the bar and takes off down the street. So let me get this straight, boy likes girl. Girl is marginally interested in boy. Girl asks boy to take walk for more fun, and boy runs away. What's wrong with this picture? By the time I leave the bar baffled and amused at the same time, my watch reads 2:30am. F*ck.

My neck is now sore from crashing on D and R's hotel couch for 4 hours and then catching the 7:45am ferry to Bayshore and driving back for brunch at Paradou with my two fab girlfriends. Brunch was awesome tho and well worth the early call. Now to relax for the rest of the weekend

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


Not much to say about Helsinki. It is a safe, quiet, clean, polite, well-organized city, but after traveling through Russia, we were a bit, um, bored. It didn't help that we passed out for most of Sunday from sheer exhaustion, but most museums were closed yesterday. In fact, when we woke up on Sunday, most everything was closed. My aunt recommended two restaurants, and we made it to one of them.

Who knew there is a whole orchestra devoted to balalaika? My mom would love this.

After 10 days of running running running, I am ready to come home.

Sunday, May 18, 2008


I can't believe the tour is over already. It seems like it's been such a short time here, too short in fact. Out of all the cities, I think Moscow has been my favorite. Granted it is super-crowded (over 10 million people) and congested (there are now 5 million cars, as opposed to 300,000 about 10 years ago), there is so much vibrance and energy that radiates throughout the whole city. For better or for worse, gangster capitalism has revived the city but has also made it the most expensive city in the world.

Yes it's not as pretty as St. Pete's, and the mix of architecture ranges from gorgeous to "functional". I actually appreciate the variety and the history it records, like rings on a tree. Yes, it takes hours to cross the city. I fell in love the cleanliness and the elegance of the metro, with chandeliers and marble. Standing in the middle of Red Square, where so many have walked before me, was a really phenomenal moment. Though I didn't get to see Lenin, GUM was awesome. Where else can you fast-food Central Asian food?

Off to Helsinki. I am not a fan of Sheremetyevo Airport. We could not check in until an hour and a half before the flight, so we had to sit around waiting amongst the non-deodorized.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

What a Long, Strange Trip It's Been

The weather in Russia at this time of year is quite interesting. We apparently have experienced phenomenal weather, with the sun actually making an appearance. In the three days we were in "Peter", it has also rained, drizzled, was overcast, and snowed.

Novgorod, which I believe translates to "new city", is ironically the oldest city in Russia. What a depressing place! Ivan the Terrible massacred the people because he thought they were out to get him. I am impressed with one of the major underlying philosophies of the Russian Orthodox Church: bear your cross without complaint. It explains very much how the people here have survived tragedy after tragedy. My goal is to adopt this more into my life, but I'll pass on standing for church services.

We stayed last night at the "best hotel in Novgorod." Admittedly the decor and furnishing were a bit dated, it was clean and comfy. Breakfast was another story. Half the food was gone by the time we got there. The best part was how they translated cream of kasha as "Hercules-gruel." Once you get past the name, it tasted halfway decent.

Looking back, that was opulent compared to the bus ride to Moscow. My cousin and I got on the bus last and had to sit separately. I found a seat next to a nice Singaporean girl who was easy to talk to and very sharing with her snacks. My cousin got stuck next to a large Canadian woman who smelled like salami and kept drinking water (and getting up to use the bus bathroom). My cousin almost had a panic attack at the "best" known rest stop on the highway. Relieving one's self involved breathing through your mouth, not flushing the toilet paper, and bringing your own soap. I almost used the men's room if not for the man taking a sponge bath. (Note: for all you entrepreneurs out there, don't bother trying to create a nicer, more "Western" rest area. If the mafiya doesn't get to you, the government will if you vote the wrong way.) But wait, it gets better! In between snow and horrendous traffic, we were stopped three times by the police. This charade involves the drivers getting off the bus with all paperwork, the police reviewing all the licensing and paperwork for the bus, checking the driver's license, a breathalyzer, and then a request for contribution to the fund for the next meal. We were instructed not to take pictures. It would save a lot of time if the cops just set up a tollbooth for the bribes instead. Note to all of you badasses who want to do a DIY tour: get ready to hand over large sums of money to the cops in random traffic stops. For Russians, the going rate is about 100 rubles (just over 4 bucks). For foreigners, it starts at 100 euros.

Tver came and went in the blink of an eye. I would have appreciated a little more time here as it's where my best friend received her adopted son. We arrived several hours late for a late lunch. The place we went to was downstairs from a children's/Chinese/VIP lounge called Mary Poppins. Needless to say, I'm a bit concerned. I don't think vegetarianism is fully understood, as it appears that they veg folks received the same soup (i.e., meat stock) without the shredded meat on top. They also received extra dessert of apple drizzled with raspberry sauce since it is assumed they are not getting enough to eat without the meat.

Very much looking forward to our eventual arrival in Moscow after this ordeal of a bus ride.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


So far am having a good time in Russia, my cousin's early morning blowdryer routine notwithstanding. We ended up in a brand-new hotel. The radiant-heat flooring and the rain shower are aweseome. St. Petersburg is a very elegant, stately city, at least what we have seen of it. It has elements of Paris, Vienna and Amsterdam. However, I think I prefer all of those cities to St. Petersburg. There's not much that is unique just to the location, which I would appreciate more.

While here, we figured it was mandatory to see the ballet, and it turned out to be Tchaikovksky's Swan Lake. You can't get more quintessential than that. I had higher expectations of Russians' interest in culture, based on what my mom told me. The nyet-nyet ladies were nowhere in sight when a bunch of Russian children were making noise during the performance, nor when the row of Japanese tourists in front of us started taking flash photographs during the performance. One of them even tried to evade giving my cousin change on her 1000-ruble note for the program. Even my kindgergarten-level Russian couldn't get us through that negotiation, so being a paranoid New Yorker, I flagged the tour guide to straighten it out. Not having much prior exposure to ballet, I wasn't overly enthralled with the performance. The first act in particular went a bit overboard with the swan-hopping.

Overall, I think my favorite sight is the Hermitage. To think that this art collection was once seen exclusively by Catherine the Great and the mice running through the Winter Palace fascinates me. Chalk one good deed up to the Commies for nationalizing the gallery.

So far, I am quite disappointed with the Fodor's guidebook purchased before the trip. A couple of key sites and hotels appear to be missing, and the Armenian restaurant I hunted for after the Hermitage was no longer there. we didn't have much time to investigate further as we were leaving for our next city soon after.

Onto Novgorod...

Sunday, May 11, 2008


Just arrived in St. Petersburg and am friggin exhausted. Never again will I fly internationally in economy class. FinnAir is a good airline and all, decent food and service, but I just can't sleep when I'm upright and someone else's head is practically in my lap.

When we arrive, I wonder if there was a crisis in the region as the immigration line is about fifty wide. Then I remember that people outside the Anglo nations never had queuing in their etiquette protocol. No words are spoken as I hand over my passport, parying there are no unnoticed errors in my visa ("Ma'am, your name is not transliterated properly/your patronymic is missing.") and when I get it back it has a bright orange stamp. After exiting through the customs door, I push my way through a scrum of Central Asians huddling by the portal waiting for loved ones to arrive. Our Tour Director informs us that we are the first of the tour group to arrive, but the first shuttle to the hotel already left. Our options are to wait for the next shuttle in two hours or take a taxi. We opt to wait, and I pass out on the bench, clutching my prized possessions to me. I grasp what it feels like to be homeless or a refugee when I awake with a very stiff neck and sore ribs.

The food situation will prove to be an adventure. Supposedly, the quality of the food (NOT customer service yet) has improved greatly since perestroika. The horror stories I heard about mystery meat and non-homogenized lava lamp sodas seem a thing of the past. However, at dinner I'm a little skeptical. I asked a waiter in Russian and then English if our appetizer salad was made with fish or meat. After three attempts in two languages, he shrugged and walked away. This is going to be fun...

This is my first major vacation since Prague, and I'm psyched! Flying around the country for long weekends to attend weddings and conference or work 20-hour days does not count. I did not review my entire Russian textbook as I had initially planned, but by the sounds of it my vocabulary and accent are better than the Tour Director's. More to come once I nap off the jetlag...

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Yet Another Reason to Get Sloshed

Today we got our raise and bonus letters a/k/a Envelope Day. The added perk to this is the office shuts down at 1pm for lunch and the inevitable afterparties. While I am not allowed to discuss the contents, I will say I'm happy, especially considering the economic climate and all the naysayers who are predicting these cataclysmic implosions on the balance sheets.

My liver will not be happy tomorrow morning tho...

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Buon compleano!

Yesterday was my mom's birthday, but she had to attend the first communion of a neighbor. So I took it upon myself to make Sunday Dinner for her. Since I was tall enough to stir, I have enjoyed cooking, especially like trying new recipes, Nigella being one of my reliable faves. It's been a while since I've cooked and had people over. I used to really enjoy cooking as a couple, but that fell along the wayside as things started to fall apart. I've missed you, stove!

For Mom, I decided to break out the crock-pot the folks gave me for Xmas and make its maiden voyage preparing Rachael Ray's hoisin pork roast with forbidden rice and Asian-style stirfried veggies. Rachael Ray's stuff is either good with a tweak or the recipe is quite off in some way, like it calls for too much salt. This came out quite good. The meat fell apart in a nice pulled style after eight hours of slow cooking, but since the pork was quite large and was not completely submerged in the sauce in my smaller-size pot, it was a bit on the dry side. Not bad for a first try tho! Would definitely make it again. Two and a half stars.