Monday, October 09, 2006

Farewell to Russia!

I spent the final night of my trip in Moscow. I arrived at the hotel around 5 p.m. and just had time to stroll to Red Square and see the outside of the Kremlin before everything shut down for the night. Because I was still on Russian Far East time (12 hours difference!) I was awake all night. I spent most of it gazing out my hotel window at St. Basil's and visiting late-night groceries to buy last-minute gifts. I also took an incredibly long shower and luxuriated in my Hotel Baltschug Kempinski slippers, which were much nicer than the ones waiting for me at home.

Click the photo below to view my last slideshow.

Images of Vladivostok

I took the photos in this slideshow at the end of my first week in Russia, when several students took me on a walking tour of the city. I think they give you a good idea of how beautiful the city is.

Black sand beach in Kamchatka last week

Finally got this slideshow from last week in Kamchatka posted, when Dmitry from Troika took us to see a volcanic sand beach.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Internet trouble in Moscow

Well, I made it to Moscow fine and checked into the Hotel Baltschug Kempinski, one of the most expensive and luxurious hotels in the city. The room is amazing, with a view directly across the Moscow River to St. Basil's and Red Square. I went out for a walk and took lots of photos, then returned to the hotel for dinner and to make a slideshow. Unfortunately, the hotel's WiFi access isn't working and the business center computers won't let me upload an FTP client so that I can post the show.


The photos really tell it best-- Moscow is incredibly beautiful! I won't be able to visit the Kremlin or any museums while I'm here, so I'm already trying to figure out when I can return. Katya gave me a beautiful calendar of St. Petersburg, so I'll try to go there as well.

The trip may be almost over, but there's still lots of material to come on the blog over the next few days!

Keep watching for:
-- the slideshow of Moscow
-- the slideshow of our trip to the black sand beaches of Kamchatka
-- the slideshow of my walking tour of Vlad last week
-- the video story of a Vlad journalism student who works at the regional tv station
-- a final slideshow and post that covers my entire journey

Ok, breakfast, packing and then back to the airport.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Leaving Vlad today

Today is my last day in Vladivostok. I returned here yesterday from Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky for a one-night layover and am now leaving for the airport in a few minutes to catch my flight to Moscow.

I was sorry to miss out on a boat trip to Russky Island that the students here arranged for me. In the end, I was just too exhausted from the whole trip to go straight from the airport to the ferry. Instead I spent my time meeting the people at the American Consulate here, eating my new favorite Georgian foods, and shopping at the GUM department store. My apologies to the students!!!

I have a lot of material to post from Kamchatka and will work on it during the flight. Ten hours should be enough time to get a lot done! In the meantime, please check out Igor Shpilenok's website. He is a landscape photographer and has absolutely stunning images of the Kamchatka Peninsula and more. I saw one of his fine prints on my last night on Kamchatka, when I stayed at an American-run B&B and met Shpilenok's wife, who runs the local WWF office.

Please check back tomorrow for my last posts from the Russian Far East and material from my 18 hours in Moscow.

Music video filmed on Kamchatka Peninsula

This music video from the group Kalinov Most was shot on Kamchatka Peninsula. The material is copyrighted and is provided here only as an example of the beauty of the region.

Friday, October 06, 2006

The week on Kamchatka Peninsula flew by

My second week in Russia was over before I knew it. I had a good time teaching in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky and only regret I wasn’t able to see more of the region’s natural beauty. But to see the volcanoes near the city is a full-day trip, and to go farther requires a helicopter ride and several hundred or even several thousand dollars. Next time! And I did get to visit the local hot springs and black sand beaches, so I feel very fortunate.

In the end, I spent most of my days preparing for and then teaching the professional journalists who attended the training. We had live Internet access in the room, which made it easier to show my example websites and teach them some practical skills, such as blogging, using SoundSlides, uploading and linking to videos using Google Video and more. Live Internet will definitely be one of my recommendations to the State Department for further online journalism training programs.

I spent the last night at a bed and breakfast run by American Martha Madsen. She is very active in the city and region and runs a tour business, publishes an English-language travel magazine about the area and much more. You can find out more at her website, Explore Kamchatka.

Laura Williams, the director of the fairly new local office of the World Wildlife Fund, also came by for dinner and brought two bottles of champagne. We had a hilarious evening, talking about their lives in Russia (both have lived here more than 10 years) and making jokes out of plays on English words.

Laura’s husband is the professional photographer I mentioned in one of my earlier posts. I highly recommend that you visit his website to get a better idea of what the Kamchatka Peninsula and other wild regions of Russia have to offer.

It was raining the next morning as Dmitri and I left Kamchatka, so I wasn’t able to see the city’s volcanoes again from the plane. I felt like I was getting out just in time, before the cold rainy season begins, followed quickly by mounds of snow.

I must be getting used to Florida already, because everywhere I went I was a little cold. Of course, the only coat I own is a light raincoat—perhaps not adequate for an area north of North Korea, with a climate not unlike Alaska’s!

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Paratunka hot springs

Two days ago Dmitri and I took a trip to the Paratunka hot springs located about an hour from Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky. I was worried about catching a cold in the chilly air, so I took a walk with our guide instead of swimming.

This slideshow is embedded directly in the post, so just click the "Play" arrow below.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

I almost forgot-- my 15 minutes of fame!

I promised to post these photos last week and never got around to it. These photos were taken last week in Vladivostok at the performance of the Turetsky Choir. They invited audience members onto the stage for "Mambo No. 5." I'm wearing a black sleeveless blouse.

First impressions of Kamchatka

We flew several hours north and east last Sunday, arriving on Kamchatka Peninsula in the early evening. The air when we got off the plane was a shock-- only about 50 degrees Fahrenheit! Coming in by air we could see all of the live volcanos that surround Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky. Here's one shot:

We met the owner of a regional television station and his director of marketing in the Vladivostok aiport and they took us to the hotel and then out to dinner along with the owner's wife. This is all of us together at the airport:

We ate amazing food in a Georgian restaurant-- fresh cheeses and tongue, vegetables with nut paste, thick pancakes with meat and cheese, roasted meats, and more. And of course, all of it washed down with lots of berry-flavored Ukranian vodka. The next morning was rough, to say the least.

Since then I have taught two days at the Kamchatsky Regional Library and continued to explore the breathtaking nature of the region. Yesterday we went to the local hot springs. I was too afraid of getting sick from the cold air to get in, but I had a lovely walk around the grounds and captured some photos that I'm making into a slideshow for tomorrow.

A Russian tango lesson

I can't believe it! I came all the way to Russia to learn tango. This video is from last Friday night in Vladivostok. One of my students there teaches dance with her boyfriend. I went to their class and taught them bachata in exchange for a few tango moves. Clearly, they're excellent teachers! Sorry I've fallen so far behind on my blog. I'll post more today about my trip to Kamchatka and my experiences here. In the meantime, enjoy!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Live from class!

We are all in the Regional Library in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky learning how to use Blogger. The students are working hard and, I hope, enjoying the exercise.

Partizansk, Russia

Another student in Vladivostok prepared this slideshow about a mining town three hours away. She spent part of her childhood there and has fond memories, despite the fact that the town is now almost desolate.

A tour of Russia and beyond

One of my students in Vladivostok took an exciting trip this summer. She and a friend went to other parts of Russia, Ukraine, and more.

This slideshow is a record of her trip in beautiful images from places I was not able to visit on this trip.

NOTE: The audio is a little fuzzy because of interference when I was recording.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Student life in Vladivostok's dormitories

This is a report from student Inna Fedortseva about life in a FENU dormitory. She gives some room sizes in square meters. They are as follows:

12 square meters = 130 square feet (room for 3 students)
16 square meters = 172 square feet (room for 4 students)
4 square meters = 43 square feet (space each student has in the room, about 10 x 4 foot area)

Lauren's calling from Russia

[EDITOR'S NOTE: AudioBlogger went under just after I posted this to my blog. The link below DOES NOT work.]

Well, I finally got AudioBlogger to work with Skype, so here's my first audio post from Russia. Just click the link below to play it:

this is an audio post - click to play

Thursday, September 28, 2006


Some of you have commented about my photos, so here are some more random impressions. There is no audio to accompany this slideshow.

Radio Chanson is everywhere!

Every taxi driver seems to be listening to the same station. Fortunately, it is streaming its programming on the Web, so now you can listen, too!

Just go to this site, which provides links to Russian media, and find Radio Chanson (103.0). Click the lightening bolt symbol and choose a media player on your computer to get connected. Then imagine the sound and smoke from hundreds of vehicles around you and you'll have an authentic Vladivostok driving experience.

Looking forward: Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky

Saturday is my last day teaching in Vladivostok. On Sunday, Dmitri and I are flying to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, the main city on the Kamchatka Peninsula

You can read about it and see photos in the Wikipedia entry, but the best fact is that it's the second-largest city in the world that cannot be reached by road. That's right, there are NO roads to it from the outside world. (Iquitos, Peru, is the largest city, if you're curious.)

Information on Vladivostok in English

Some of you have been e-mailing me asking for more information on Vladivostok in English. Here are a few good sites:

Vladivostok from Wikipedia

Vladivostok: A Historical Walking Tour

Vladivostok Travel Guide by

Busy intersection in Vlad

I've decided that short movie clips will show you Vlad better than photos, so this is the first in a series.

There are two unsual things about driving in Vladivostok. The first is that all of the cars have steering wheels on the right, since they are imported by ferry from neighboring Japan. The second is that there are no traffic lights in the city! For a population of 600,000, this is extraordinary. Nobody follows any sort of rules and turns just seem to be a big game of chicken.

The other thing you can hear on this clip is the music playing from loudspeakers strung along the side street. This is the street my hotel is on, and I've heard everything from this Betty Boop song to heavy metal from the 1980s.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

A busy day that ended with me on a concert hall stage

I was on the go from early this morning.

First I went to see the morning news broadcast of the regional television station. Several of the fifth-year students I teach work there, and one is the morning anchor. I interviewed them and will post a piece they help me produce tomorrow or Friday. I also had a chance to meet the station's web staff, who will be in the professional training session on Saturday.

Afterwards I had lunch with my translator Katja at my new favorite restaurant, a Ukrainian place that does a buffet lunch in an upscale shopping mall near the university. There's not a single thing there that I can identify by name-- I love it!

In class today we talked about citizen journalism and its current impact on American media and possible future impact in Russia. The students were all understandably skeptical. After all, freedom of speech is a relatively new concept here, so the idea that normal people could publish their own news sites (and that this might actually be valuable!) was pretty far out there for them. I love the fact, though, that they're open for anything. They really want to learn and the lectures have been well-attended.

Ok, now for the rock-star-Lauren part. Dmitri arranged for us to attend a concert that he described as "a men's choir singing religious songs." I have to admit that I was dragging by the time he picked me, but I was also intrigued. I was picturing a somber event in a small venue, like chamber music with medieval chants.

Well, not exactly. The group was the Turetsky Choir from Moscow and they were basically a rollicking Jewish-a capella-operatic-pop-humor-dance-irreverent troupe that did everything from a tongue-in-cheek rendition of "Back in USSR" to Mozart's "Lacrimosa" without batting an eye. Crazy! It's the most fun I've ever had at a concert where I didn't understand a word.

And to top it off, they invited people onto the stage to dance "Mambo No. 5." Since it was the closest I'm going to get to a salsa, I joined in. Photos tomorrow, I promise.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Cafe Nostalgia

I had a wonderful experience tonight at a small cafe here. Please watch the slideshow of the evening and let me know what you think.

I created the show with SoundSlides in about 20 minutes.

Special thanks to Maddie!

I want to thank everyone who has visited the blog and given me feedback and encouragement.

In particular, I am sending out greetings to Maddie, who wants to come and visit me in Florida.

Greeting from Russia, Maddie! I'll see you at Disney World soon.

Class materials and samovars?

NOTE: I've had to remove my presentations from the UFL server to make room for the students' projects. Please email me at if you'd like to receive a link to the presentations when I return.

Now I'm going to a nearby cafe that supposedly serves tea from samovars. I'll take some photos and post them tonight.

Some surprises: About the classes and students I'm teaching

Today was my second day of teaching and I'm starting to understand a little better how Russians and Americans are different... and also similar.

The main difference is that, given the still precarious economy, the students have to think more about how they can support themselves than American students. As a result, they have less time to experiment and take risks with online journalism that may (or may not) pay off in the future. The system does not encourage them to think about what MIGHT be needed in 5 or 10 years, but instead to train for what is needed today. In some ways this is no different from the United States, where journalism students get minimal training in online journalism. The difference here is that the students rarely have the luxury of even thinking about anything that will not bring in money right away.

Another big difference is that advertising and journalism are taught together, with students from both sides of the "editorial wall" sharing classes and ideas. Students have told me that it isn't unusual for journalists to write advertising pieces, and they were quite surprised when I told them that wouldn't be considered ethical in the United States.

Where they are similar to Americans is in their knowledge of the Internet and their use of cell phones, chat, blogs, etc. When I showed them my photos from the Internet cafe here and asked if they thought the boys might be their target audience for online news in the future, they laughed. But I can see that what I'm telling them about online news, and how it will probably develop here, has captured their attention.

As a result, I have been lucky to have their undivided attention for the past few days. A number of students who showed interest in doing online stories for this blog came through with definite appointments.

Tomorrow morning I'll visit the regional television station with several students who work there. We'll watch the morning news broadcast and then the political debates between candidates running for election this weekend. Tomorrow night I'm going to a men's choral concert with Dmitri, so look for another audio slideshow about that on Thursday.

Either Thursday or Friday I'll be visiting some historic nearby islands with several students. Several students are bringing in photos of Vladivostok and other parts of Russia, which they'll pair with narrated texts in Russian for the blog. Finally, I'll be working on adding multimedia to a local site in English about Vladivostok's historical sites and posting a link here.

That's a lot of projects, so please keep visiting and sending your comments. The students are very interested in seeing your feedback!

Jetlag finally caught up with me

Here's a second attempt at getting some audio up on the blog. I'll try again with Skype and Audioblogger later today.

Jetlag finally caught up with me

Click the link below to hear about my first day teaching in Vladivostok.

NOTE: The audio doesn't seem to be working, but it might just be my computer. Please let me know if you can hear anything. I'll try to record again later-- ahhh, technology!

this is an audio post - click to play

This post was created using Skype (to make free calls from anywhere in the world to the U.S. over the internet) and Audioblogger (to post audio to your Blogger blog for free). Let me know what you think in the comments.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Vladivostok vs St. Petersburg

Here's the slideshow I promised from tonight's soccer match between Vladivostok and St. Petersburg. The short interview at the beginning is with Dmitri Motovilov, my U.S. Consulate contact here in Vlad.

NOTE: I decided to do a little experiment and I recreated my original QuickTime slideshow in SoundSlides. I think the result is quite impressive.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

I've arrived!

I got to Vladivostok this morning and was met by Dmitri, my contact at the U.S. Consulate here. He brought me to the hotel and helped me buy toiletries across the street. Hair gel and toothpaste at last! I had to borrow money from him since I haven’t been able to exchange dollars for rubles yet. Thanks to airline meals and hotels that take Visa, I’ve managed for almost two days in Russia without any local currency.

We met my translator for Vladivostok, a fifth-year student of English at the local university, and she and I took a few hours to tour the downtown and go over my presentations for the week. She’s very quick and speaks wonderful English, especially considering she’s never been in an English-speaking country and has learned everything from books and Russian teachers. She was inspired to learn the language by one of her schoolteachers and hopes to go to St. Petersburg after she graduates next summer to “try her skills.”

The city is very interesting, with some beautiful fin de siecle architecture and a lovely bay surrounded by the hills of the city. Our walk took us past Yul Brynner’s birthplace, the terminus of the Trans-Siberian railway, and the main square, where the city was celebrating the Day of the Tiger today.

Giant tigers are indigenous to the region and the city's crest is a tiger climbing a rocky slope. Because the endangered tigers are being driven from their natural habitat by deforestation, hundreds of school children dressed as tigers and plenty of environmental activists were on hand.

After a frustrating internet cafe experience (no USB port available, only a demo version of Word that wouldn't allow me to copy and paste text), I had an equally frustrating supper because I couldn't find a menu in English. But the cafe did get me thinking. With a roomful of kids playing games online, could online journalism be far behind?

Dmitri and I went to the Vladivostok-St. Petersburg soccer match tonight. It was great fun despite Vlad's defeat! I'm going to put the photos and audio together in a slideshow for tomorrow's class and will post it when I have a chance.

Ok, I'm off to bed.

Flying over the tundra

I’m still en route to Vladivostok, flying over the area just west of Sakhalin Island, with endless miles of gently rolling hills and low-lying clouds nestled in desolate valleys below me.

Last night the plane passed over the northern parts of Russia. I opened my window at one point to find a misty arc over the horizon, pale green and almost invisible. The earth below was black—not a single light or sign of civilization for hundreds of miles. The Big Dipper was directly in front of me and seemed so close that it might touch the clouds floating over the earth below.

Yesterday flying out over Moscow I realized that it’s been years since I looked out an airplane window and saw such unfamiliar sights. Tiny hamlets dotted the landscape, each carefully circumscribed by forests and twisting roads. Nothing in the landscape ran in a straight line. Without the overlaid grid that dominates the U.S. landscape, Russian development has been free to follow the natural features of the land. Most of these houses sat close to the street, with a long plot of land stretching out behind them. I read yesterday that more than half of the country’s agricultural production comes from small private farms and home garden plots. I can see how this might be possible looking at the landscape from the air.

In addition to the small homes laid out on irregular streets, large Russian versions of American McMansions were visible from the air. Judging by the number of unfinished homes surrounded by reddish dirt, this is a booming part of the construction sector. Even these homes were on irregular streets, with none of the “lollypop” development we see so often in American suburbs: houses placed close together on quiet cul-de-sacs with only a few feeder roads to connect the subdivisions. Although many factories were visible from the air, I didn’t see a single large parking lot attached to a shopping center or big box retailer.

Although I wasn’t in Moscow very long, and never really made it away from the airport area, I got my first taste of that contradictory Russia I was expecting to see on this trip. On the way from the hotel back to Sheremetyevo 1, we were on a small paved road lined by cargo buildings in various stages of decay. Suddenly, surrounded by a proper wrought iron fence, was a small gilded chapel with a traditional onion-shaped roof. It’s gold was glinting in the sun, easily outshining the drab concrete and dust around it. Further along the road, we went by a copse of white birches, their leaves tinged gold with just a glimmer of the coming fall. The two sites made me wonder if this area had once been the property of a wealthy landowner—and what it might have been like to ride on horseback through the beautiful forest to the chapel that was now part of the ramshackle international airport.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Layover in Moscow

I've just arrived in Moscow and checked into a hotel near the airport for a few hours. The embassy car wasn't at the terminal to meet me, so I sidestepped several earnest-looking young men offering taxis or "help" and found the hotel shuttle.

Unfortunately, the combination of jetlag and delays turned me into the dreaded Ugly American Tourist when I arrived at the hotel and check-in took more than 30 minutes-- with only six people waiting. I'm embarrassed to admit that I demanded help after several people cut in front of me.

I'm sorry I won't get to see anything of Moscow on this leg of the journey. It's 12:30 PM here right now (reality check: 4:30 AM in Gainesville) and I have to go back to the airport at 5 PM for my flight to Vladivostok.

Where is Vladivostok?

Here are a few maps that show where I'm going. Since the Trans-Siberian railway ends in Vladivostok, the second map shows the region in Russian with the train line. Very cool!

The trip begins

I'm at the Gainesville, Florida, airport waiting for my flight to Atlanta. From there I'll connect to Moscow and then onto Vladivostok. I won't arrive until Sunday, but that will still be Saturday here in Florida because of the time difference.

I almost didn't make it at all! I moved a few weeks ago and forgot to tell the State Department about it. They FedExed my tickets to the old address and had to resend them yesterday. I ran over to the office this morning to get them. Whew!

I tried to post an audio entry using my cell phone, but AudioBlogger seems to be down. I'll try again in Atlanta, then again in Russia using Skype.

Wish me luck!

Friday, September 22, 2006

Vladivostok Russia 1971

This is a slideshow of images from 1971 that I found on Google Video. The description there is "We went on one of the first exchange trips from Alaska. Vladivostok was still a closed city requiring a permit to visit. The people were wonderful and very eager to meet Americans."

I hope to find more of the same on this trip.

Note: The music is a little overbearing, but definitely sets the mood.