July 1, 2008

The Long Road to Vladimir
Arrival in Russia, 22 June 2008

After months of planning, days of orientation, and hours on shuttles, airplanes, and buses, our Fulbright group is finally here in Vladmir, Russia. The direct, non-stop flight from Chicago to Moscow was LONG, but uneventful. Ok, I guess there was one special event, namely the barf-bag puppet theatre created by our own Scott Read to entertain the masses - inspired by sleep deprivation and adrenaline. So, we've identified our comic relief in case anyone needs a laugh in the next month.

Immediately upon walking through the green corridor through Customs, I noticed a radical difference from my airport experiences in 1992 and 1994. About 70 per cent of the automobiles are European or American, as opposed to the glut of Ladas from the 90s. The bus followed a highway that went around the southern part of Moscow - our first glimpses of Russia included a mosaic of old and new: thick stands of gorgeous white birch trees along the highway, peppered with dachas (and some of the dachas were bigger and fancier than any home I've ever lived in!); gas stations; car dealerships (Volvo, Ford, Audi, Renault); garden and home centers; lumber/building material yards; a tree farm (to replenish the garden centers, no doubt); and shopping centers, including an enormous IKEA.

We stopped for lunch at a restaurant just inside the Vladimir region, "Skazka". It was like a diorama of the best of Russian fairy tales. The wood carvings of fairy tale characters were amazingly intricate and impressive. If I was more familiar with Russian fairy tales I could name the characters whose wooden likenesses graced the building and grounds, but in my state of exhaustion, it seemed like a magical land. Lunch was amazing and enormous (round one of the continuing saga of "death by food," which one experiences thanks to gracious, hospitable Russians).

Our host families were waiting for us at the American Home in Vladimir and they quickly took us "home". After more food and a multi-cultural game of 20 questions, I finally rolled into bed to rest up for more adventures.

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