Monday, April 29, 2013

Moscow with Middle Schoolers

I've gone on field trips before.  I've been to the Capitol Theater in Yakima to see Junie B. Jones.  I've been to the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle.  I even flew on a JAL flight in Moses Lake in the 6th grade.    But I never thought I'd take a field trip to Moscow.  As in Russia.

But there I was, sitting in the terminal of the Zagreb airport with 7 squirrelly middle schoolers, getting ready to board a plane to Moscow.  The traveling to and from was what worried me the most.  I had one teacher say she took a group of kids on an overseas trip and was very careful about keeping tabs on their passports.  She had given a student their passport while they were waiting in line at the baggage check and in that short span of about 3 minutes, she managed to misplace her passport.  So of course, I was overly paranoid about the same thing happening to me.  We weren't just traveling to any old country either.  This is Russia.  You need to be invited by the Embassy and get a visa just to visit for 4 days.  I was constantly passing out passports right before they needed them and snatching them back up as soon as they were finished.

We flew first to Frankfurt and then on to Moscow.  I hate going through Frankfurt because they make you go through security again, even when you're just transferring planes.  I don't know what they think I could have done in between one airport and the next, but apparently they don't trust that bottle of water that I bought in the Zagreb airport.  We landed in Moscow at about 10:45 at night and headed out to find the driver from the Anglo-American School who was going to drive us to the hotel.  The first night, the kids had to stay in the same hotel with us since we were getting in so late.  We had another hour in the mini bus before we arrived at a very, how shall I say, "Soviet?" looking hotel.  We gave strict instructions to these middle schoolers to go straight to their rooms and not to venture out until the next morning.  We headed to our room and realized that we didn't know if the water in Moscow was drinkable.  Sam went down to the restaurant and asked for 2 bottles of water.  It cost 590 Rubles.  After walking away and doing the math, Sam realized that it was roughly 13 Euros for those 2 bottles of water.  He went back and returned the bottles, got a little attitude from a grumpy waiter, and we drank the water from the tap, hoping for the best.  We finally got to bed at about 1:30 in the morning.

The next morning, the bus picked us up at 7:30 in the morning.  Moscow is 2 hours ahead of Zagreb.  I try not to psyche myself out with time change, but that morning I was struggling with the lack of sleep.  We took the mini bus to the school.  When we got to the school, my first thought was that the school was huge.  It has a theater, big classrooms, nicely decorated hallways, a cafeteria that serves a variety of food (including sushi!) and an espresso bar.  We met with the other coaches and headed to the opening ceremony of the conference.  The whole theme of the conference was "Mission to Moscow."  They tied the whole "spy" thing into everything we did.  From playing "Skyfall" as we walked in to James Bond themed t-shirts to having us create "surveillance" maps of our cities.  
The map that Sam's kids made of Zagreb

Map made by the students in Moscow

First we headed to Bunker 42 which is 18 floors underground and was built during the Cold War.  We got a guided tour of the bunker and learned a lot of information about the Cold War.  Very interesting to hear the information from Russia's standpoint.  It was absolutely fascinating.
The entrance to the bunker

They let the kids simulate the activation of a nuclear weapon...
And play with Soviet guns
And don gas masks
Lots of propaganda posters 
The hallway in the bunker
Next, we headed to Red Square.  The kids from the Anglo American School of Moscow gave us a tour of some of the famous sites.

Gum Mall

The 7

St. Basil's

It looks like it should be in Disneyland. Or Candyland.
The changing of the guard outside the Tomb on the Unknown Soldier.
The guards' kicks seemed much higher here than in the U.S.
The Bolshoi Theater
The Kremlin

That night, the kids got to go to a "social" that the PTO put together.  Again they tied in the theme and called it, "Casino Royale."  They had casino games, mocktails, dancing, and games.  Luckily for us, we didn't have to stay.  :) Instead we took the metro, navigated reading the Cyrillic alphabet and spent some time wandering around Moscow.  I thought Croatian was hard to navigate but Russian made Croatian look like a piece of cake.  There is not much translated (nothing in the Metro station) so you really needed to have an idea of what you were looking for.  Thankfully the school had printed out a couple handouts to tell us which stops to look for.

Starbucks in Cyrillic
Sam and I snuck up to a bar on the top floor of the Ritz Carlton to see the view.  Drinks here were about 800 Rubles (about $25 for a drink).  That was just a bit out of our price range.
 We were told by a teacher at the school that a lot of restaurants in town have "face recognition."  Meaning if they don't know you or you just don't look like you have the right kind of money, they won't even let you into their establishment.  Sam obviously looked fancy enough in his backwards Mariners baseball hat.  :)

Red Square at night

On Saturday morning, we went to Всероссийский выставочный центр, otherwise known as the All-Russian Exhibition Center.  This park and exhibition center was basically built to glorify the ideology of communism and socialism.  There are pavilions for each of the Republics of the Soviet Union.  Now it's a little run down and is used mostly as a theme park and place to sell odds and ends.  While we were there, we were split into various teams and had to complete a photo scavenger hunt.  Sam and I ended up with a team of students from Vienna, Warsaw, Budapest, and Zagreb.

One of the photos from the scavenger hunt

Statue of Lenin

That night, the students went back with their host families and the coaches went out to dinner for authentic Georgian food.  We had a great time talking to the teachers from the schools in Vienna, Warsaw, Budapest, Sophia, and Kiev.  It's always interesting to swap stories about other international schools and what life is like in these various countries.

Sunday morning we were taken to a very odd market.  It's an outdoor market, but it's outside of these Disneyland-ish buildings.   It was super weird.  There was a flea market upstairs and then other vendors downstairs selling everything from babushka hats to nesting dolls.  I've definitely never been anywhere like it.  It was no Disneyland, I'll just say that.

That afternoon, we maneuvered through the very crowded and chaotic airport in Moscow.  I've never had so many people cut in line!  It was terrible!  Once we were settled in the plane, a woman came and told one of our kids that they were sitting in her seat.  The woman could have been polite.  She could have been patient.  She could have listened when I said that I was sorry, that we were traveling in a group and that I must have made a mistake.  But she didn't listen.  She did however, try to take the tickets out of my hand to try to prove that I was wrong.  I'm just not sure what happens to people in airports and airplanes, but they tend to go a little nuts.  Are you going to die if you're in 28B instead of 29B?  Aren't we all going to the same place?  It reminds me of my fourth graders when they fight about where they are in line.  Yes, I had made a mistake and my student needed to move back one row.  But let me just say (to all my 10 blog readers) that if you are ever in the same situation, please have pity on the sleep deprived teacher who is trying to get a group of kids safely from one country to another.  And settle down about your seat assignment.

We landed in Vienna and had about 15 minutes until our next plane was boarding.  Once again, we had to go through security.  Traveling with just Sam and me through security is stressful enough, with our iPad, computer, phones, camera, etc. But trying to get us and 7 middle schoolers to try and hustle through security is another story.  Since we were in a hurry, I let the kids hold onto their passports and boarding passes from the security security check to the plane.  In that time, one student dropped their boarding pass on the moving walkway and another dropped hers on the bus to the plane.  Seriously?!?  Luckily, Sam noticed one and I noticed the other.

Through lots of answered prayers, we arrived back in Zagreb and were greeted by 7 sets of parents.
As we walked to the taxi, we high-fived the fact that we didn't lose any passports or any kids.  :)

Sunday, April 21, 2013


Well, I guess we kind of hibernated on our blog this winter...
Winter has been looooooooooonng.  Lots of grey skies, snow, cold, seemingly endless.  How do I end up living in places with long winters when I prefer that winter lasts for about a month?  I would prefer the first snowfall to be after Thanksgiving dinner, then snow on the ground until Christmas, snow all day on Christmas day, then spring to begin on New Years Day.  Is that too much to ask?!?
Definitely seeing a tropical location for our next move.

Anyways, first let's rewind to "ski" week, or in our case, "search-for-the-sun" week.  We decided to ditch the ski slopes for the sun of Lisbon, Portugal.  Portugal has been on my list of places I wanted to see since my brother went there years ago.  We found a place on Airbnb in the Alfama district.  We flew in and caught a taxi to meet the owner of the apartment.  We started off by having black pork-delicious!  The neighborhood was amazing.  Tiny, winding streets that meander up and down the countless hills.

Lisbon is beautiful.  Not so much in the typical "European" beautiful sense.  It's a little grittier than any other city I've been to in Europe.  Sam was asked if he wanted to buy pot several times a day.  Lots of graffiti (well that part is typical).  But I absolutely loved the architecture and the feeling of Lisbon.  The tiles (obsessed), the Fado music, the food, the views, the trolleys.  It reminded me of San Francisco.  And the best part?  Sun.  :)

Who's that guy??

View from the gondola

Celebrating being together for 10 years at Starbucks, where it all began.


Fast forward a month and a half to April.  My parents joined us for 2 and a half weeks!  We drove them through Slovenia, Italy, and Croatia.  I love me a road trip! :)  We started by going to Ljubljana, Slovenia and then on to Venice.  We had one sunny day and one day of pouring rain.  I love Venice, but it seems that every time Sam and I only have a day or two in a city, we end up traipsing around at least one of the days in the pouring rain.  Sam and my dad got matching ponchos, so I guess it was worth it. 



Then we traveled back through Trieste, Rovinj, and Motovun before stopping near Opatija for the night.  My parents were as captivated by the Croatian coast as I knew they would be.  
The next weekend we took them to the island of Krk and the island of Rab.  We lucked out and had absolutely beautiful weather.  Then we made our way through the countryside to Plitvice Lakes.  

Thirsty pup
Rovinj, Croatia

My parents in Rovinj





Dad and Lulu

This week we're off to Moscow, Russia with a group of 7 middle schoolers.  I'm sure I'll get some good blogging material from that trip!