Road trip to Washington DC

So, while my daughter was on Spring Break, I experienced something I hadn’t experienced in a long time.

A paid holiday.

A long weekend.

We spent Easter in Washington, DC, with my traveling companion, M. and his Indian housemates.

Washington, DC, is approximately 3.5 hours from my house by car. I say approximately because traffic can fluctuate.

We left at 8ish Friday morning, stopping at our local Target for band-aids, nail polish remover and bagels. We always run into people we know and give lots of hugs so we didn’t get going until 9.

We stopped around 11:30 in York, Pa., to use the gym. We certainly are getting our money’s worth from our Planet Fitness membership.

And then… after a hearty upper body workout and slaying the crunches… there was a Five Guys outside.

We had the man who waited on us cracking up.

Follow me on Instagram for more photos

We arrived in DC at 3.

We hung around the house and had some amazing paneer for dinner. Then we went to Harris Teeter for groceries. This jelly bean addict was offended to see that they only carried Brach’s or Starburst jelly beans. No Just Born?!?!

In the morning, I took our Indian host to the gym in Silver Springs.

In the afternoon, we visited the Frederick Douglass house. That Victorian home is in tact. His books. His desk. His ice box. His dumbbells. His chair. His trunks. His rug beater.

Took my breath away.

Then we went to National Harbor. To the Peep store. Where, even though I am from the Lehigh Valley where Just Born makes my jelly beans and Peeps, I purchased a big batch of candy.

And fed my Indian host his first Peep.

See that here:

https://youtu.be/TgBQ2T4j_Nw

University of Georgia Marine Education Center and Aquarium

The girls asked to go to this small aquarium on the campus of the University of Georgia’s marine education center. It was small, but focused on the local habitat. It was beautifully maintained and featured a touch tank.

The grounds had several natural trails.

It was a lovely way to experience Georgia’s wetlands, but bring your big spray. The mosquitoes feasted on us.

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Silly videos from the aquarium:

time lapse of sea turtles:https://youtu.be/wEOAza9gJTA

Striped Burrfish: https://youtu.be/WNeshXxtoFQ

sea horses: https://youtu.be/xlnhigLT0aE

Spiny Lobster: https://youtu.be/u-YtlJDupRY

Octopus: https://youtu.be/lut1QpLBm8U

Lion fish: https://youtu.be/zQ81lW0uPJM

Turtles swimming: https://youtu.be/q2KKFWRviYg

Petting the horseshoe crabs: https://youtu.be/BwF12AwPlA8

Horseshoe crabs: https://youtu.be/OsaaeohWKBE

~ all materials shot with an iPhone X

The Amazing Lives of Camels

Our second day in Somalia featured some excursions outside of Mogadishu. We visited… for lack of better terms… a camel dairy farm.

Apparently we arrived at just the right moment as two of the camels were mating. We were told that camels mate for four hours, and we had arrived in time to see the camels finish. (I posted a video on my Instagram account: angelackerman.) A baby camel gestates for 13 months and will have an average life span of 25 years.

Camel milk is touted for its medicinal properties against cancer, HIV and other diseases. We tried some fresh out of the camel (from a communal African bowl) and it was sweet and had an almost vanilla-like taste. I kept comparing it to almond milk in my mind.

They gave us some in a plastic sandwich bag, tied at the top in a knot, to take home. The armed guards in our contingent and our other staff also took some, but they bit the corner off their bag and drank it right away. We put ours in the hotel fridge. After dinner, M bit the corner off the bag (not as eloquently as our Somali hosts) and we poured it into our water glasses.

I mixed up the glasses and M corrected me. At this point I reminded him that we had shared a communal bowl with a bunch of random Somalis and he was concerned about switching our glasses…

We both decided that cold it tasted like milk. We were disappointed as neither one of us likes milk. Maybe you have to drink it warm.

 

 

The Coffee Lady in Mogadishu

On our first day in Mogadishu, we were driving back to our hotel, Hotel Sahafi, when the traffic slowed and a gendarme told us that the white car a few car lengths ahead of us contained a bomb. Apparently, a suicide bomber had made it this far (about two miles from our hotel) when authorities noticed the bomb and the bomber-to-be deserted the car and ran.

As a result, the road was closed and we were rerouted until the car bomb could be diffused. We were returned to the hotel and locked in for the night. While our driver and guide were getting information from the gendarme, I noticed this woman making coffee and started taking photos. Since I don’t speak Somali more than “Yes,” “No,” “My name is…” and “Move,” I didn’t realize at the time that we were so close to a live bomb.

Of course I used the time to snap street photography from inside our vehicle. These photos were taken on the outskirts of a makeshift village of refugees who left their homes in flight of the rebel group Al Shabaab.

 

Novosibirsk: Pizzasinizza Adventure, part 2

Our adventure in Novosibirsk certainly didn’t turn out exactly the way we expected, but it was fun and showed us a totally different side of Russia than what we saw in Moscow.

We stayed at the Marriott near Lenin Square and the staff was amazing. They helped orient us to the city, arranged for cheap taxi, and even made sure we had a boxed breakfast when we left today at 4 a.m.

We have had two days of 4 a.m. wake-up times and in both cases we departed the hotel ridiculously quickly. Yesterday it took us 15 minutes. Today 10. And we left with sandwiches, fruit, juice, yogurt and muffins in our boxed meal. That clerk at the front desk was insistent we take breakfast since it came with the room.

But back to pizza. We took a preliminary walk around downtown Novosibirsk, focusing on a strange tiny church in the middle of the street, the opera house and a delightful park. The park had a fairly dense collection of trees, some flute players in South American garb, two dogs lying on a blanket wearing sunglasses (begging for money, which seemed odd to me. How exactly do canines panhandle?), a woman giving pony rides, kids driving mini battery operated cars and a kiosk selling some overpriced but hysterical political themed t-shirts.

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We wandered to a local coffee shop, where the reality set it that no one around us spoke English. We managed to decipher the menu, and the prices were half what they were in Moscow. The cakes looked incredible. Travel always leaves me dehydrated so I ordered a “chai latte” (tea latte in English). In Russian, it looks like “yan (triangular staple shape)atte.” M stepped out on a ledge and ordered the mochachino.

My tea came in a pretty standard coffee shop cup with the types of coffee and add-ons written on the side. It had a lovely spice blend, I could clearly taste the ginger, and I’m not sure if they used a special local honey or if something about the milk made it so different and rich.

We also discovered one of those sidewalk drink huts that had a BIG bottle of water and it cost what I paid for the small ones in Moscow. That made me very happy. I have discovered my Russian vocabulary can only yield beverages. I can order coffee, tea, and water. And I can count to three.

At this point it was about 5 pm so we returned to the hotel to see if we had heard from our contact at Pizzasinizza. The answer was no. So we decided to wait until 5:45. We decided we had four options: get a cab, walk, phone them, or merely order the pizza for delivery. We had flown 7,000 miles for this pizza after all.

We consulted google maps, which implied that it would be an 8 km walk to the pizza place, a 15 minute cab ride or require three buses on public transportation. We used the map in the back of a magazine in our hotel room to translate the names of streets into a familiar alphabet, but this seemed not quite do-able on our own.

At 5:45 we had heard nothing so we headed to the hotel lobby. I at first asked for change for a 5,000 ruble bill. Russians seem to prefer exact change. And I had a feeling I wouldn’t be able to use the equivalent of a $100 bill on the street or at a delivery-only pizza place.

Then, I launched into my more complicated of problems. I explained how I had come across this pizza place on the Internet but with our limited Russian I didn’t know if we could call them or find them. The front desk googled them. They tried to telephone but no one answered. They offered to call a car but seemed to think public transport would be easy.

The one clerk printed us a map, circled the metro stations and our destination address. He then drew a line for our walking path once we exited the station. “Take the red line,” he said. “To [insert Russian word here]. It is three stops, toward [more Russian words], that’s two words. You will see the river. Take the red line toward the two words at the end of the line. Then return to Lenin Square.”

He repeated the Russian words for Lenin Square a few times. He told us how much metro tickets would be and off we went. When we walked up to the ticket window, it was funny because I was only confident that I knew how to count to three. I think I know four— it sounds something like “chest” but I might be confusing that with the number six. We ended up with four tokens. And they were tokens that indeed went in a little coin slot. I don’t think I’ve ever used a token on a subway, always paper tickets or the smart cards.

The Novosibirsk subway has old cars and rides fast with the rhythm of an old wooden roller coaster. It was much easier to navigate than Moscow, but that was because we had some idea where to go, a familiarity with Russian subway basics and it was not rush hour.

We wove through the underground shops of the metro station and realized we had no idea what side to exit on to follow the map the hotel clerk gave us. We checked with some police officers. We had obviously picked the wrong side, so they added more arrows to our map to loop us around the block.

It got interesting because the streets in Novosibirsk aren’t labeled well, often not at all. We followed our map to where we thought we might need to turn, and asked (by gestures and pointing to the map) an older man in a military style uniform where to go. He pointed toward the street and told us a bunch of things in Russian we didn’t understand.

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We followed that street for a while and again got confused that we should be making another turn. This time we stopped in a little grocery store. We started down a cross street that brought us through block upon block of identical apartment buildings that represented the classic idea of how I pictured Russia in my mind. And the amount of garbage we saw along the streets reminded me of some of my experiences in Africa as if the West had merged with the developing world.

We had agreed that if we didn’t find it by the next major intersection, and if that street wasn’t a real commercial street, we would turn around. I had to use the restroom. Remember I said I bought a BIG bottle of water? That was ill-timed.

And then there it was. TWO pizza places side by side. We walked into the first, but despite the sign on the door, the hall seemed dark and as if it were private. We visited the second. That was Asterix Pizza. They directed us down the dark hall, which opened up to this bright little room where a woman was writing on pizza boxes with a crazy yellow seat beside her.

No one spoke English. But with the help of cell phones, we explained the situation and they let us order pizza. And I got to use the toilet.

The girl writing on the pizzas was checking Instagram to try and understand how this all came about, and I even turned on my cellular data so I could show her from my account. That’s when a message from our original contact pushed through. M texted whomever that person is on my behalf.

And we sat on a bench in a non-touristy neighborhood on the other side of the river in Novosibirsk waiting for our pizza. When it was ready, the cook made me count out exact change and handed me three pizza boxes and a wrap.

We embarked back to the metro station and to the hotel. We spread the pizzas out and ate on the floor. The pizzas came with some unusual dipping sauces: a not-like-in-America barbecue sauce, a cheesy-mayo like sauce and a sweet and sour sauce.

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We enjoyed our pizzas and were in bed by ten to rise early again today. Sadly, my contact messaged asking if we could get together for coffee before I flew to Moscow. I wish we had the time.

We felt very triumphant that we got the pizza. From the time we left the hotel to the time we returned was two-and-a-half hours. Ironically, there’s a Papa Johns about a block from the hotel. We enjoyed our pizza. More importantly, it showed us how truly sweet and helpful the Russians are and allowed us to explore the city.

Of course, M had proclaimed I am not allowed to pull a stunt like this again.

That’s okay. I can find something as equally crazy.

Arrival in Siberia: The Pizza Pilgrimage, part 1

We left our hotel room at 4:20 am to catch a 6:45 flight to Novosibirsk in Siberia.

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I have been following the delivery pizza place, PizzasInIzza, for quite some time on Instagram. When I ended up with a Russian visa, it became a joke. I’d ask, “Can we go to this Russia pizza place?” And that’s how I discovered it was in Siberia.

But we came anyway.

I have flown more than 7,000 miles for a pizza. Of course, we flew Aeroflot domestic from Moscow to Novosibirsk. On the plane, a local woman asked why I was coming to Novosibirsk. I answered, “Pizza.” She became quite confused. She asked if I had business here, if I ran pizza restaurants, if I had friends here, if I was a student (at my age?). She got even more confused when I said I was leaving tomorrow. She thought her English was failing.

In the end, she offered to see if her son could give us a ride into the city from the airport. We declined. So she helped us get a taxi instead. She wanted to make sure we weren’t ripped off.

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On the ride in, the taxi driver tried to talk to us, but we don’t speak Russian and he didn’t speak English. We passed a variety of interesting little houses, perhaps best described as colorful cabins. The only American brand I saw was a Harley Davidson dealership. If it weren’t on the other side of town, I would get my dad a t-shirt.

Gas prices appear to be ridiculously cheap, but this is Russia. They do have oil.

We passed what appeared to be a dog obedience class. And an equestrian center where people were out riding.

I also have learned a couple letters of the alphabet. The funny little O with the line down the middle makes an F sound. And it’s in the word coffee. The distorted pi that makes an L sound. The P makes an R sound. And the C makes an S sound. And there’s a lot of N’s facing all sorts of directions that make vowel sounds.