• Victory (in Europe) Day

    Today is the Victory Day or as it’s known here – Victory in Europe day. I wrote about it last year and I don’t have much to add – not much has changed except the number of veterans who are still with us is getting smaller every year. Instead I will link to a post from a very talented photographer and one of the most popular Russian bloggers about an effort to finally recover the bodies of the Soviet soldiers lost on a battlefield, uncover their names if possible and more than 60 years later give them the honors they deserve. There are hundreds of thousands soldiers in the fields like this one, one of them is my Grandfather.

    Monument To The Soldiers Made By The Search Team

    Monument To The 146 Soldiers Made By The Search Team

    The article is translated by Google Translate so the quality may not be perfect but I wanted you to see the photos. These people are true enthusiasts and doing this pretty much on their own time and hardly any financial help. Towards the bottom are some photos of the German Cemetery financed and maintained by the German government.

    This song titled “The Victory Day” became an anthem of this day:

    This Victory Day
    Saturated with the smell of gunpowder,
    This is a holiday
    With gray hairs on temples,
    This is joy
    With tears in our eyes,
    Victory Day!
    Victory Day!
    Victory Day!

  • There is no place like home

    Every time I visit my friends and relatives on the East Coast the question I am being asked the most is “when will you finally move here”. I have to admit that it’s a pretty tempting idea that ocasionally visits me since I moved to Kansas City almost 16 years ago.

    After all they have things like:

    Broadway

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    Nathan’s Hot Dogs and PotatoE Balls:

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    Skyline, Empire State Building and The Statue of Liberty

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    Astroland at Coney Island

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    Ocean with $2,000,000 condos facing it.

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    Mermaids

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    Russian Stores and Restaurants

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    People who mastered parallel parking

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    So why do I come home every time to the city that doesn’t have any of it? Maybe that’s the reason – it doesn’t have any of it.

  • All Aboard

    For the most of my 16 years in this country I wanted to ride a train. There was always some excuse to prevent it from happening – it was too expensive, too long, I will have to rent a car, etc. With the gas prices where they are and with the air travel approaching the treatment and comforts of a cattle-car most of my excuses didn’t apply anymore. I took a plunge and purchased Amtrak tickets to Chicago. My overall impression – I should have done this years earlier. It was one of the most enjoyable, relaxing and fun trips I ever had.

    The train leaves from the East Wing of the Union Station where there is a waiting room and a ticketing counter. There is no check-in, metal detectors, shoeless walk of shame, probing, pat-downs, luggage-opening and other activities otherwise associated with a correctional facility. A passenger walks in, luggage- in-hand and boards the train. That’s it.

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    The train has coach and sleeping cars, dining car, club/lounge car with a snack bar on the lower level. The seats in the coach car are huge, they recline and have a leg rest. The foot rest folds out from the seat in front but I had to slide down on the seat in order to reach it. There is a folding table in the front seat as well. On the way back the couch car had a power outlet for every seat. There is plenty of room on the overhead shelf and heavier luggage can be stored on the lower level of the car.

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    The main feature is a huge window with a view. Granted, Missouri, Iowa and Illinois are not the most picturesque states to travel through but it’s still fun looking out and trying to guess what are these people doing for living in remote locations surrounded by cornfields.

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    When tired of the views, reading and movies one can walk up to the club car where windows are even bigger and extend all the way to the top of the car. The seats ar oriented toward the windows, some are set up next to the table so people can talk or play games. Drinks and snacks are sold on the lower level.

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    The Southwest Chief train service connects LA with Chicago. From Kansas City it takes the shortest route to Illinois which is 430 miles long and is about 80 miles shorter than driving. On the way to Chicago the train was late by about 40 min. It was doing good for the rest of the trip until there was an announcement that we are waiting on some hazardous spill to be cleaned up. Then we waited for all the other trains to move on. We were late to Chicago by little less than 2 hours. I didn’t mind. Passengers who missed their connections were offered accommodations. On the way back the train was late by 12 minutes which I consider excellent.

    The Union Station in Chicago is huge and alive, handling local and interstate traffic. Our station with only a few daily departures pales in comparison. Despite its size, the boarding in Chicago is just as painless. The Union Station is located in downtown Chicago, less than a mile from the Michigan Ave. The cab ride to the Grant Park area is $6-8.

    One advantage of not driving was my ability to relax, read and take some pictures and videos. I was surprised by many people along the way photographing the train, it seems to be a huge hobby nowadays. We even passed a special train-watching platform with the sign “RailFan.Net“.

    Here are a few videos that I made.

    Leaving Ft. Madison, IA and crossing the Mississippi River.

    This is somewhere in Illinois, I liked the wind farm all the way in the back.

    Approaching Chicago.

    Amtrak beat all my expectations and at this time I would recommend it to anyone who likes to relax when traveling and enjoy the view.

    Major Update: I totally forgot to talk about pricing. Amtrak tickets to Chicago are about $50 one-way depending on how far in advance you are buying them. They also offer some discounts and specials. Additional coupon codes may be available elsewhere, I used 20% off code while paying for my tickets. Child fares are 50% off. The other important detail is that if you make reservations online you can just cancel them until you pick up your paper tickets at the station. Paper tickets are also refundable with a cancellation fee of 10%.

    If you park your car at the Union Station covered parking the charge is $10/night.

    It seems that Amtrak positioned themselves as anti-airline, with discounts, child fares, no hassle, no luggage charges and many other conveniences and comforts. The only disadvantage is travel time, but if there is no hurry, this is the way to go.

  • Russian Movies For The Foreigners

    Reader Philmo asked me to recommend a few Russian movies to watch. This is not an easy task, since most of the Russian movies rely on the context that may not be so obvious to a foreigner. Without a person sitting next to you saying  things like “This is funny because…” or “This makes sense based on…” you are bound to miss out on much of the content and humor, it there is any. Only a few Russian movies have English soundtrack, namely Day Watch and Night Watch, which seem to have been made with Western audiences in mind; in the majority of cases you will be reading lots of subtitles. Lastly, you are limited by the meager selection offered by Netflix or Blockbuster Online.

    These outlets offer a lot of  old movies such as “Battleship Potemkin” that may be groundbreaking and world-recognized masterpieces but  they are nothing I would rent. Then there are movies from the 60s and 70s, most of the films directed by Andrei Tarkovsky are available for rent, including the original Solaris. To be honest I am not a big fan, but they are critically acclaimed classics, so you may want to give it a shot, at the least you’ll be able to drop a few titles if you are trying to impress an intelligent woman. The newer movies are hit and miss.

    With that in mind here are few that come to mind:

    The Island – a very emotional movie about repentance, forgiveness and faith. Slow-paced but a very touching story.

    Taxi-Blues – from the same director and the same leading actor this movie came out in 1990 and I watched it several times. It reflects on the conflict between the talent and the material life. It was a good movie for that time and it’s still a great movie today.

    A Cruel Romance – a Russian literature classic filmed by a one of the most popular directors with one of the most popular actors in the leading role. This movie was insanely popular, with great soundtrack, costumes, acting etc.

    Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears –  well deserved Oscar for the best foreign-language movie in 1980. You’ll get a glimpse at the Soviet life in the 60’s and 70’s and it’s not very flattering, not sure how it slipped the censors who were hard at work during this time, cutting out anything they didn’t like. It’s almost 3 hours long.

    Sibiriada – this movie follows its characters starting at the turn of the century, through the Revolution and into the 60s, and it takes just about as long to watch – 260 minutes.

    War and Peace – multiple award winner about the Russian-French war of 1812. 403 minutes.

    East-West – a movie about post-war Stalinist USSR and fighting for freedom.

    Links to additional selections on Blockbuster and Netflix.

    Here are some clips from the most famous Soviet comedies:

    Ivan Vasil’evich Is Changing His Profession

    Diamond Arm

  • Old Photos: Kansas City Between The Hind Legs

    On October 25,1954 Life magazine wrote about the installation of the Hereford Sculpture in Kansas City.

    A trailer truck rode through Kansas City, Mo. last week bearing a bull destined to achieve great heights. The bull, a Hereford from New Jersey, stands 12 feet high, weighs 5,550 pounds and has plastic flesh atop steel bones. It was designed to stand atop a 90-foot pylon in front of American Hereford Association headquarters near the stockyards. First the association mock-solemnly debated whether the model would present its white fore or its ample rear to nearby Kansas City, Kan, Then the great model was ceremoniously hoisted to its strictly neutral north-south position where, illuminated from within by intestinal neon tubing, it will doubtless provoke countless cornfed jokes about beef being still high.

    ©Time Inc. Joe Scherschel

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