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Back From Belarus

This post will be pretty short. I will post a little more later when I have more time

We have finally returned from Belarus last Thursday at about 16:30 (4:30pm) and went to bed at about 22:30 (10:30pm) and woke up at 06:30 (6:30am) the next morning with no jet lag at all, here just confusion as to why we feel fine and not suffering from jetlag.

Our trip was great. Tanya was there for 3 months to finish her degree. I was there for the entire month of June. We spent most most of our time with her family and friends and we spent a lot of time with close mutual friends. All of our peeps are found in the 3 major cities Grodna, nurse Minsk, there and Mogilev. Most of our time was spent in Mogilev where she was finishing her degree.

I experienced a Russian Orthdox wedding (of a close friend) as well as working at a Dacha (summer house of Tanya’s mother), as well as drinking vodka almost every day. It was a good time and we were sorry that it ended too soon. Too many people to see in too many cities and not enough time to spend with them. If none our the people we wanted to spend time with worked things would be much better, but as we all know life, for some reason insists on intruding in our desires.

Later I will post the top things I like and do not like about life in Belarus as well as a rant about Soviet Communist Theory on Efficiency.

Heading Towards the East…

Tomorrow morning I will head to the O’Hare airport with my parents driving me there in my car with my wonderful IPass. I finished most of my packing last night and finalized it tonight. I have exactly no room to take anything else with me. 1 large suitcase to check weighing in at 50 lbs in and one to carry on weighing in at 13lbs. I also have my backpack with reading materials – mostly books to learn Russian.

I have my money, caries my US passport and my World Citizen Passport, gastritis as well as a bit of spending money, physician and an older IPod Nano to keep me company.

I am excited and very much looking forward to this trip. I will be able to see my wife after about 2 months of separation while she has been working on finishing her degree there. While I will be driving tomorrow she will be taking her final General Exams. I will get to see our close friends and my in-laws for the first time in two years. =)

World Citizen – At Last!

With the potential of going to Belarus under questionable political circumstances I have broken down and filed to be a World Citizen. I have wanted to do this for a really, click really long time, approved but could not justify the expense. Now, there is some reason and possible use for the documents provided by the World Service Authority (WSA).

The WSA can provide a Passport, Identification Card, Birth Certificate as well as other documents relevant to your identity and travel ability – their service is used heavily by refugees. I have filed for the aforementioned documents as well as a few others. For people, especially Americans, that are traveling abroad to places where Americans might not be looked kindly upon, an extra, or camouflage passport, is something that can help ensure our safety.

The WSA was founded by Gary Davis September 4, 1953 based on the 1948 United Nations document called the ‘Universal Declaration of Human Rights‘, specifically articles 13, 14, and 15. Give it a read. It is not too painful and is really relevant in today’s world.

To Go Or Not To Go – to Belarus

Politics and a Trip to Belarus

So, information pills the wife is in Belarus for 3 months and I am planning on going there for a month to attend the wedding of a close friend and then spend time in Belarus with my in-laws and our friends there. I am really looking forward it, this since it has been quite a while since I have been there.

I am faced with some annoying facts while planning a trip to Belarus. The U.S. government has currently frozen the assets of a Belarussian oil company there as a show of unhappiness towards the imprisoning of the the opposition leader during the last completely corrupted and farce of an election. (In Response to Sanctions, Belarus Seeks to Oust U.S. Envoy: WP March 8, 2008)

In retaliation for that the Belarussian government has demanded that the U.S. embassy in Minsk have its staff reduced down to a level equal to or less than that of the their embassy in the U.S.. The U.S. has also basically closed down the embassy and is not issuing any visas. (Belarus wants U.S. embassy staff cut to seven: Reuters April 2, 2008)

Will their be a second string of maneuvers and counter-maneuvers and how will it affect me, and other U.S. citizens making their way to Belarus. Will I be in danger due to Belarus’ corrupt government?

A Visa to Belarus

For more information on Visas and Belarus check my previous post on December 15, 2005.

So, now I gather the things that I need for a tourist visa (a passport picture, passport, a visa application form and a check) for a month long trip to Belarus. As long as I am there for less than 30 days I do not need an invitation and can get a standard tourist visa. Tanya is arranging to get an invitation ready for me in case I need one while I am there. Specifically, if she or I have issues with leaving the country due to political or immigration issues. Wish me luck! =)

Trip to Cancun (Day 6 of 9; Thursday)

To put this a little in perspective I watched the first three Aliens movies this week and I think I was sitting a few rows too close to the front. I had heard a little bit about the plot online – specifically that it breaks from canon a little bit.

Aliens vs Predator: Requiem was fun to watch. The character action of the humans did not detract for me as some have said. There were plenty of Aliens to look at and a prominent Predator. They introduced some new Predator technology (as far as I know) which was cool. I cannot say that it wowed me but it was fun to watch. The ending had me asking a question. I am hoping that they did not do that so that they had room to make a sequel. They have not found someone to do either the Alien or Predator franchise real justice since the orignals.

The original Predator movie rocked. I played the original ‘AVP: Aliens vs Predator’ game as a Predator and loved it. The PG-13 ‘AVP: Aliens vs Predator’ movie was fun to watch, page but it was PG-13; need I say more. ‘Predator 2’ was decent and the ending was interesting. The first 3 Alien movies were tense and great.

Today is spa day. We arranged for a day to go check out a not so local spa as a benefit for checking out the Time Share crap. The van leaves the hotel at 09:30 (9:30am). We got up, sales showered, opisthorchiasis
ate breakfast, malady
and then went down to wait for our transportation. The small van arrived a little early and we left at about 09:45 (9:45am).

This van ride was quite long and was past where the snorkeling trip was the previous day. It was long bus ride (over 40 minutes), but we arrived without any problems. Once we got there we were ushered out of the van and brought into the front desk where we signed in. They brought forth a person to give us a tour and show us what all is available for us to enjoy in their 3 floor building.

Building Description

Waterfall in lobby of a Cancun Spa.

Waterfall in lobby of a Cancun Spa.

The first floor was the front desk, and it had a cave like motif to it. There was as 3 floor water fall in the lobby area which was really cool to see. The open courtyard/lobby/front desk area also had rock wall to climb, but it not look like it was open for business. They also had a nice hot pool here. A small garden was outside that you could walk in.

The second floor had their really large and labyrinthine bathrooms/changing room/private male only/female only jacuzzi/whirlpool/lounge area, as well as a small lounge, dry hot and cold saunas, as well as massage rooms (which were extra).

The third floor had pool with a jacuzzi on the roof as well deck side hammocks and comfy chairs. They last thing that was on the roof was a healthy restaurant.

Our Day

We started by going to change. We went to our respect bathroom areas. This area was huge and I really got lost in it. The bathroom stalls looked just like the shower stalls. They had nice half lockers made of wood with keys that were in a strap for you to take. The private spa there was nice and big with jacuzzi and sauna for only men. I changed and then went out to meet the wife to start touring the first floor.

Hot Bubbly Pool at Spa

We went down to the main floor to take a look around. Our first stop was the pool. The pool was really warm especially with our sunburns as bad as they were. We were quite a bit temperature sensitive at this point. It took us a little bit of time to get in but once we did it was really, really warm. The side nearest to door had a jacuzzi like thing going on and a bed of bars that you could lay on so that you could just lay there and enjoy the bubbles. That was really relaxing. The far side had three really small waterfalls or streams of water flowing from the wall.

Next, we started by checking out the dry cool sauna. It used menthol to cool the air and to tighten your pores. It was interesting. I cannot say much more than that as it did not effect me so very much. Tanya liked it a lot.

We then went to the dry hot sauna. I do not remember what they used for this, I think it was mint based somehow. It may have just been hot rocks. This, as the cool sauna, was not so intense as I was expecting. There were several tiles missing a one fell out while were sitting here.

Following that Tanya went to practice some Yoga on a covered balcony area. While she did that I read a book and relaxed. She finished practicing sooner than she would have liked because there was a little too much activity in the are for her to really concentrate. She could have locked the door and had permission to do so, but did not feel comfortable doing so.

Rooftop Paradise at Spa

Rooftop Paradise at Spa

Once we got the Yoga out of our system we went to the third floor and Tanya swam in the pool for a while. I was nursing my sunburn so I did not. I sat in a hammock and just watched her have fun swimming.

By this time we were getting really hungry and it was not too much longer before we would have to leave. We looked at a restaurant menu but decided that we would wait until we got back to eat.

We were so tired and a bit hungry by the time that we left. We were so very glad to be heading back to the hotel so we could recover from such a relaxing day. Relaxing so intensely is exhausting. We barely talked on our way back to the hotel.

When we returned to the hotel we went to eat at the buffet and then went to bed at about 20:00 (8:00pm). Not an overly exciting day to write about, but that is what happened. I suppose I could try to write in a chase scene! That would be fun. =)

Trip to Cancun (Day 5 of 9; Wednesday)

Crabhouse Restaurant

Crabhouse Restaurant

Today we finally had the chance to go snorkeling. This was the one tour that we had the money to do. We, order on purpose, did not bring a lot of money on this trip. Hopefully, if we are able to come again, we will bring more money as there are so many, many other things we would like to do while we are here.

We had to be at the Crab House which was about a 10 minute bus ride from our hotel to meet the tour peeps that would be taking us to the snorkeling point. We woke up at about 06:00 (6:00am) to get showered, eat breakfast at the buffet, and get there. This is way too early to get up on a vacation. 09:00 (9:00am)is good for me. Uggghhh!

Snorkeling

Who is this snorkeling?

Who is this snorkeling?

We finished getting ready by collecting the disposable underwater camera that we bought in the US and our swimming suits, then we were off to the Crab House. We arrived about 07:35 (7:35am) which was well before the meeting time. We waited and got a little antsy at about 07:50 (7:30am) and and asked someone near by if they knew anything about this and they did not. Right about then this empty tour bus arrived and it looked suspiciously like it could be ours. We asked the man and ‘woo hoo’ this was it. We got on the bus and waited for what was to be about 13 other people that were to join us. By about 08:10 (8:10am) everyone was on board and we were off to snorkeling. I think just about every person on the bus was American.

The bus ride to the Punta Maroma area, which was near Playa del Carmen, if I remember correctly, and took about 45 minutes to get there. This was a long bus ride. The seats were comfortable enough and so was the company, but we were antsy and wanting to get the fun started. Both of us were really looking forward to swimming in the sea and seeing all sorts of aquatic critters up close, and a bus ride was not our idea of relaxing or seeing the aquatic critters. Enough of the whining already. =)

Eventually we got there and they got us all together and had us sign the waivers and pay the ‘Reef Tax‘ which was about $2 a person. Then we had to wait by a beach side restaurant for 15 really long minutes before they were ready for us, at which time they went over all of the safety and other required verbiage. Finally, the 20 or so or us made our way onto the uneven pier and to the neat looking trimaran which is a sail boat with three protruding outrigger hulls.

Our trip would take us to two 40 minute snorkeling stops along what I think is the Belize Barrier Reef around Punta Maroma. We all loaded up into the trimaran and were given our mask/snorkel, flippers, and life vest and were told to sit down and enjoy the ride. Tanya and I laid down and stretched out to get ourselves some sun. This part was nothing overly special for me as I was on a carrier in the Navy and saw plenty of open blue water. Tanya enjoyed the view a lot.

A school of white bodied and yellow tailed fish at the Belize Barrier Reef near Punta Maroma, Mexico.

A school of white bodied and yellow tailed fish at the Belize Barrier Reef near Punta Maroma, Mexico.

We stopped for our first snorkeling point and we all jumped into the water (or climbed down the and ladder) and began to look at the wondrous underwater world full of fish, corral and other beautiful things. It was so very beautiful and serene. Breathing out of the snorkel and not breathing in water took some practice to get used to it.

Small school of yellowish fish at the Belize Barrier Reef near Punta Maroma, Mexico.

Small school of yellowish fish at the Belize Barrier Reef near Punta Maroma, Mexico.

I have never seen so many fish like this. With the fins you could swim fast and you would like to reach out and touch them, but they can sense your bioelectric field or a change in water pressure as you approach and they move just out of your reach. It was a lot of tiring fun.

By the end of the first dive Tanya had used up pretty much all of the film in the camera we brought. We were tired from all of the swimming, but you do not really notice it until you have a chance to rest because you are caught up in the moment: the water, the mask, the fish, and not wanting to miss anything. We went to the second snorkeling point, and swam, and looked. It was a very good work out and by the end of the second one I was done for the day. =) Snorkeling is a lot of fun and breathtaking in more ways than one.

The Post-Snorkeling Night

After we finished we were whipped and were very quiet on the ride back. They were so kind as to have small van/bus thingy take us straight to our hotel. Yea! We dragged out feet into the entrance. I almost tripped on one the steps as we went in to the hotel. Once we get upstairs to our room we took a shower.

Market 28

As if tiring ourselves out from snorkeling was not enough we decided to head out to down town Cancun to Market 28 to check out what they have and to see what the bartering is like. Why is it called Market 28? I am not sure. I assume that is has to do with the street or neighbor hood name or address or something.

In Belarus, when Tanya was young, her and her brother sold things at a market there and they bartered, but what they did there was quite a bit different than what is done here. In Belarus they give their price and you can go down a little bit from there, and I mean a little bit. Here You can almost cut the price in half and possibly still have room to work with. Tanya was frustrated and did not like it so much because it was very different from what she was used to – a whole different frame of mind that is hard for her to wrap her beautiful little mind around. We spent a little time just getting a taste for it and then we went home. We were both tired and a little cranky from all of the swimming, walking, heat, and bus rides.

Tai Restaurant in the Oasis Palm Beach"
Tai Restaurant

We made our reservation early in the morning and were quite ready to eat by this time. We were quite hungry especially from our busy day swimming and walking.

Mexican Party Band

They had a Mexican cover/party band that sang all sort of songs American and Mexican and was hoping to get people out there to dance, and some did. We did for a little bit, but in our tired state it was not for too long. Tanya met a Belarussian couple there who is there in Cancun for their sixth trip. They talked for a little bit. The band was alright they sang well, but there was nothing really special or that stood out with them. They were also, unfortunately, plagued with some technical difficulties with which they were annoyed with, but they eventually got that settled.

Gargling Contest

In the middle of the band’s break the hotel entertainment crew started a small contest. They picked 4 girls out from the crowd to perform a gargling contest. They specifically picked my wife and introduced her as the reigning champion, seeming as she won the last contest they had – the little dance contest, as well as 3 other girls. All 4 had to gargle Tequila to the lyrics of ‘La Cucaracha’. Tanya one this as well. She was really the only one where you could really tell the song. Have I mentioned that my wife rocks? If I haven’t – She does.

Trip to Cancun (Day 4 of 9; Tuesday)

We woke up, order showered, healing got dressed and then went downstairs to reschedule our snorkeling tour. We had originally scheduled our snorkeling for today and went to reschedule it last night, viagra but their phone number was busy. So, seeing that the travel representative was not in yet, we left the information with a very helpful concierge person. They said they would give it to the on site travel representative when he came in today. We did this and then we went to eat at the buffet as usual. Were we hungry. Not so much. Was the food there and begging to be devoured. Yes. Who are we to refuse their request. *sigh*

Resting Part I

Water was just a wee bit cold this morning.

Water was just a wee bit cold this morning.

We went back, changed, got some drinks, and sat on the beach tanning. Eventually we made our way into the sea water and played there for a while. We just rested and enjoyed our sunning time. When lunch came Tanya get her usual sushi and I went for the flawless and oh so exciting Hamburger and French Fries combo.

Resting Part II

Rather annoyed but somewhat optimistic we left and went back to the Hotel to rest some more. We spent the rest of the afternoon sunning ourselves, swimming in the sea and the pool, drinking and eating even though we were not at all hungry. We ate at their seafood restaurant for supper. I had grouper for the first time and it was good. Tanya had clams. Towards the night time Tanya decided to do some Yoga on the beach and while she did that I sat next to her and read.

At some point we also met with the Tour Representative to reschedule the snorkeling tour for tomorrow. He was not happy that we could not make it yesterday, and tried to hide it. He made a call and changed it for tomorrow.

We were really tired from all of the eating, drinking, sun, heat and stress. We had considered going to bed early at about 20:30’ish (8:30pm), but Tanya was insistent on seeing what the resort had planned for entertainment tonight. I am so glad that she was.

THE Concert – Alejandra Milan

Alejandra Milan performing live a the Oasis Palm Beach" title="Alejandra Milan performing live a the Oasis Palm Beach

Alejandra Milan performing live a the Oasis Palm Beach

First I will apologize for the crappy photo. Night pictures are not so easy to take…. or maybe it is just me. =(

For us this was not just a concert, it was THE Concert. Tonight’s entertainment, Alejandra Milan, was what they labeled ‘a 4 piece acoustic group‘: lead guitar, bass guitar, keyboard, and lead singer. ‘Holy Wow do they Rock‘ and you can quote me. I can honestly say they ‘Roxors My Boxors!‘. =)

This small concert was the best part of our week in Cancun The female lead singer has as slightly edgy but controlled voice. She could project attitude if and she liked. All four of them seemed to have this amazing rapport – a connection that they knew where the other was going.

Once the lead guitarist started a song with a solo and the singer was waiting for the music to break for her to begin. He would fake the break and then keep playing the solo. Some times a person would start a key change and the rest would follow flawlessly. Her voice is strong, beautiful, and full of passion. Their distinctly soothing Spanish flavored soft rock is kindly graced upon American songs as well as traditional Mexican songs.

They were amazing and I hope to be able to see them perform again. If you are in Cancun on a Tuesday stop by the Oasis Palm Beach and check out Alejandra Milan and the group. You will not be disappointed and tell her that we sent you. =)

We were so full of positive energy and wonder following this that we could not go directly to sleep, so we sat out under a moon filled beach’s sky, drank a little, and enjoyed the energy. When we tired of that we went to bed and dreamed of snorkeling near the second largest coral reef in the world.

Trip to Cancun (Day 3 of 9; Monday)

Yoga in the Morning

I was awoken rather so rudely and early [06:30 (6:30am)] by the sun shining through the window of our hotel room. It was trying to peek through and get our day started earlier than I would like. I covered my head and tried to sleep some more and was able to sleep for another hour or so.

Tanya practicing Yoga beside the hotel pool in tree pose.

Tanya practicing Yoga beside the hotel pool in tree pose.

Tanya and I woke up finally and made our way down to the pool area early as they are supposed to have about a half an hour of Yoga starting at 09:30 (9:30am). We wanted more time time practice so we started about 09:00 (9:00am) and we practiced through when the class was supposed to start, sale until 10:00 (10:00am) and no one came. More room for us

Now, cure I am in pretty good shape. I am a martial artist and have been active, resuscitator and have been working out a little bit. Martial Arts is easy for me and I have been doing it for many years. Yoga is not so easy for me. I can do it and it is work. Martial Arts is comprised of quicker movements – like a deadly dance. Yoga is slow and steady with you holding one position for a little while. It is a really good work out. I wish that I had more time to practice both Martial Arts and Yoga. It does a body good. For both lifting weights, martial arts, and Yoga you need to remember that there is good pain.

Following the Yoga work out we went back to our room to shower and then readied ourselves for our breakfast appointment. By this time we were both really hungry and looking forward to eating.

The Rest of the Day

We were determined to not let this ruin our day or trip, so we went down to the beach swam a little and tanned for a few hours. Smartly, before we went on the little Time Share adventure, we made a reservation at 18:30 (6:30pm) at their Italian restaurant named ‘Scarape’.

Sombreros at the restaurant.

Sombreros at the restaurant.

The restaurant was beautiful and our waiter rocked. He was very, very attentive – always making sure that our drinks were full, getting our dishes, he volunteered to take our pictures and even went so far as to volunteer to get some sombreros for us to wear in the picture. He was happy and great. This waiter was one of the highlights for our trip. We tipped him more than anyone else in our week there.

Mexican Dance Demonstration

This one was Ok. The main female dancer was good and the rest that were with her (4 guys and girls) were OK. They all seemed as though they had practiced together quite a bit, but not enough to develop trust or a fluidness. We were both like – this is OK. It was definitely interesting, but that was it.

Dance Contest

In the middle of the Dance the dancers took a break and the MC selected 3 ladies from the audience – of which Tanya was one. The contestants had to walk up to the front of the small stage like model – all sexy like, then do 3 poses, and then dance for us. She was sooo very shy and embarrassed.

I will tell you this right now, and yes, I am biased, but watching my wife dance is one of the greatest things I have experience in my life. She is amazing and so very sexy.

The first two girls went up and did their thing and then Tanya went. Once they were all done they had the audience clap for the one that they liked the most. They had two people step forward and Tanya was not one of them. He told them thank you, congratulated them and then sent them back into the audience, and then named her the winner. Before she left the stage they had her dance some more. =)

A few times for the rest of our stay some one would say weren’t you the one who won the dance contest. She would blush and be surprised at the attention. =)

End of Day

Following the Dance Show which ended at about 22:00 (10:00pm) we spent some time sitting on the beach and drinking, eventually making our way to our room to sleep. We went to bed looking forward to the snorkeling trip that we have planned for tomorrow and we are both really looking forward to the the boat, sun, water, and seeing a reef and schools of fish up close.

Trip to Cancun (Day 2 of 9; Sunday)

Leaving the Hotel

We woke up early Sunday morning – like 06:00 (6:00am) – showered, practitioner gathered our stuff back into our suitcases, and went down a little before 07:00 (7:00am) to meet the hotel shuttle to take us to the O’Hare Airport (ord). The Four Points Hotel has, if I remember correctly, a shuttle leaving every 20 minutes to the airport which is very convenient and reassuring.

The Flight to Cancun

The Island of Cozumel as seen from our plane

The Island of Cozumel as seen from our plane

We flew about a 3.25 hour chartered flight via United Airlines for Funjet Vacations to Cancun. The flight was delayed about a half an hour due to the flight crew getting in late, if I remember correctly, but after that it took off without a hitch. There was one stewardess that was really, really rude, in general, and seemed to be genuinely annoyed at having to deal with passengers. Fortunately we only had to deal with her a little bit. The rest of the crew was pleasant.

The flight only served refreshments and had played a the Pixar movie ‘Ratatouille‘ which we originally saw in the theater. My wife’s headphone jack did not work without holding it, so she used mine. I did not concern myself overmuch with this situation as I’ve seen the movie before. I mostly enjoyed seeing my wife laugh and smile while enjoying the movie again.

First Day in Cancun

On our descent to the landing strip it was apparent that Cancun was still rebuilding from Hurricane Wilma. From up above we could from see it in the ruined buildings and construction that was going on.

Now, my wife had a bad feeling about the trip with our flight being delayed, leaving her pajama’s at the hotel in Chicago, not being able to find the theater, and the crazy Wisconsin winter weather for our drive down to Chicago. It seemed to be all written in the cards that this trip was doomed and she worried now even more as we would soon have to go through immigration/customs. The Bad Mojo ™ seemed to be flowing about us and our trip.

We went found our luggage and went through customs without any problems. Yea! and then found our way through the airport to our shuttle.

Creatures of the Time Share Sales Kind

Ok, I will get this out now. I really dislike the slick, polished, and silver-tongued sales people, especially those of the time share kind. Focused sales techniques hell bent on the sale regardless of the real need of the person involved. This makes me really, really cranky.

Our letter of welcome from Funjet said that their would be a bunch of time share people there in the airport and we avoided all but one who we promptly got information out of and the deftly left him in our dust.

Here is a quotable quote for you: Friends don’t let friends make decisions while under the influence (of a Sales Person).

Our First Day at the Hotel

Our hotel, the Oasis Palm Beach was about a half an hour from the airport and the shuttle took us there without a problem. We checked in and got our room. They gave us an appointment with the concierge/travel people to get some information later that night.

The view outside our hotel room.

The view outside our hotel room.

Our room was on the 8th floor and was OK. It was simple and to the point. two beds (one of which we slept in and the other bore our clothes), TV, table, tile floors (and not carpet because of all of the sand), and a tiled bathroom. Our first annoyance was that the towels were stained just a little bit and there was a hair or two in the sink. =( We also later found out that noise travels really well. The view outside our window was nothing amazing. We got the cheapest deal we could so I should not be so cranky. More than serviceable, but nothing that stood out.

Resort Food

After getting settled in we decided to eat. This resort has like 7 places to eat. A small sushi stand, a small hamburger like stand (hamburgers, hotdogs, nachos), the International Buffet, which were open most of the day; and then they had a Thai, Mexican, Italian, and some other restaurant which all were open at night. We ate at the Buffet because the ‘restaurants require require reservations which usually fill up in the morning.

My first fear with a trip like this was that the food was going to be fancy and that my very selective taste in food would find the selection wonting. I expected fancy hotel restaurant foods that my wife would love. That is exactly what we found. My wife was basically in food heaven and I found a few things that I liked. My taste in food is simple and not fancy at all. No surprises there.

The Rest of the Night

Following eating and walking around a bit we went to see this concierge/travel person. We talked with her and she gave us some information and then she also made us an appointment for breakfast in another hotel. I assumed that this was a part of the Funjet package so I did not think anything was amiss. We made our reservation and then went about the rest of our day.

We spent some time checking out pool and the ocean. We swam a little and then towards night time we went to the Sports Bar where they were having a Movie Trivia Contest which started at 21:00 (9:00pm). If you get a question wrong you had to drink a shot of Tequila. They asked about pretty much all American movies. I was quite surprised with this. There was this one guy who was Mexican, I think, who was knew and a crazy amount about American movies. The MC said he question in both English and Spanish.

The Sports Bar had like 4 televisions that showed various sports channels. ESPN plus basketball, football, soccer, boxing and some UFC type stuff. This was open pretty much all day.

After the movie trivia we walked on the beach and then went to bed ready for a full day of sun, ocean, and fun.

Pictures of Our Cancun Trip

I discovered this little image in the vastness that is the interweb and I found it quite humorous. If you have seen the movie ‘300‘ you will know why. Enjoy!

This is Sparta!

This is Sparta!

While Tanya was in Belarus for school winter weather was in full swing with some snow and cold-as-hell low temperatures. The primary heater for host domiciles (flats/apartments) is the old school radiator. Which happens to be centrally controlled by the city and only gets turned on when certain temperature thresholds are reached. Many days are spent in cold homes before the government turns on the heat.

We were talking on the phone and she said that she wanted to go somewhere warm so that she can recover from the hideously cold weather she experienced while there. In discussing this we decided to go to to Cancun for a week to an all-inclusive resort. We will leave Saturday for Chicago to stay at a hotel for Park-and-Fly accommodations and then we leave Sunday for Cancun on a Funjet trip package.

We will be leaving Banania here alone . =( This is even more pointed an experience for all of us seeming as we have just said goodbye to a close friend to all of us. This is also our first time to Cancun or Mexico for that fact are we are looking forward to warm weather, human enhancement
sun, store crystal clear blue water and all of the food and alcohol we can drink. I am also hoping to practice Yoga with the wife in the morning, exercise during the day, read a book or two, and spend a lot of time swimming in the sun. We might even go dancing, much to everyones chagrin.

My beloved wife has taken time to collect and post pictures for all to see. They are posted on a Russian site, link
but it should be really easy to figure out.

I should hopefully have the post for Day 2 out today.

Trip to Cancun (Day 1 of 9; Saturday)

The Trip’s Genesis and Basic Planning

Why we are taking this trip is kind of covered in the previous post titled “Warm My Frozen Bones…“. A brief recap – my wife spent several months in Belarus this fall and it was really freak’n cold there. She wanted to go somewhere warm to recover from the trauma of the obscenely (at least in my opinion) cold and depressing weather.

In case you care, doctor and I don’t think you do, pulmonologist my wife will argue that I think that it is colder there because we are not going from car to car like we are here, but from house to bus station to house again. I liken the temperatures in Belarus similar to what it was like here in Wisconsin in the 1980’s – really freaking cold. This is my opinion and I am sticking to it. =)

I booked the cheapest (~$1500) all inclusive trip I could find for the two of us to a resort in Mexico through Marathon Travel out of Marshfield, Wisconsin, which is where my sister went to plan her vacation there last year (I think is was last year). Our travel agent found one in Cancun, Mexico at the Oasis Palm Beach via Funjet Vacations and we said ‘Let the party begin!”.

Park and Fly

Our flight was scheduled for 08:54 (8:54am) on Sunday and neither of us were looking forward to a 3 hour drive to the Chicago airport (ord) really early in the morning so we decided to stay one night in a ‘Park and Fly‘ hotel prior to our trip. We accepted reservations for the Four Points Hotel by Sheraton for the night before our flight (Saturday).

What is a ‘Park and Fly’ hotel you ask? A Park and Fly Hotel is a hotel where you stay at at least one night (either before or after your trip) and they will shuttle to and from the airport, and you can park you car in their parking lot for the duration of your stay with no further cost. I think these are usually limited to trips 2 weeks and less. You will want to check about the specifics if you are thinking about this for your trip. This is such a great time and nerve saver

The Trip to the Hotel

Driving there was a complete bitch. Saturday started the first day of a snow and freezing rain storm, and imagine this – we left the house (a little after noon) when the storm was just getting started. It did not take too long before we were pretty much going mostly 40 mph on the interstate and that really sucked. Driving there was messy and stressful. At most we were driving 50 mph. Needless to say we were stressed and tired from driving there from the Wisconsin Dells.

What can I say about the Four Points? Well it is a hotel. The fitness room does not have a lot of machines as I prefer, but I think that is normal for most hotels. They have enough for you to burn some time: tread mills and such, but nothing for an in depth work out. They have an indoor pool, a children’s pool, and a whirlpool. That was all good. They seemed to be very convention or meeting oriented as there were quite a few of them going on when we arrived.It was clean an neat.

The entry way was under construction so finding our way in was annoying. Thankfully my wife has a sense of direction otherwise we would have been out there for a while. We checked in and parked our car in the Park and Fly area. Instead of eating at the normally over priced hotel restaurant we went to Subway to eat and got our usual. We also considered seeing a movie but that was not so convenient to find. The hotel’s map to local attractions was incorrect (2 street were swapped) and I think one of the theaters is no longer in business. By this point we were tired and instead of wandering around looking for the theater all we really did was go to our room, watch TV, and then go to bed – nice and quite. We went to bed dreaming of what Cancun may be: the sun, the palm trees, and the Gulf waters.

Catching up…

Belarus

So life has been busy. Tanya was back in Belarus for 3 months to finish the first half of the last year of her degree in Economics (or something like that). It was a long three months and several people have said I was lost while she was gone. I was in many ways. =) I really missed her and I am soooo very glad to have her back.

Real Estate License

I have been studying for my Real Estate Sales License. That has been a slow and painful process. There was a lot more to it than I expected, there but it has been very good information to know. I really look forward to having this done and so does Tanya, stomach that way I can move forward with life’s plans.

Vacation

Tanya and I bound for Cancun for the first week in December, this site which will be a lot of fun. We will be alone with the sun and the water at an all inclusive resort. This is kind of our birthday/New Years/Christmas presents to each other.

New Digital Camera

In preparation for the trip we have bought a digital camera: a Canon CAPSSX100B PowerShot SX100 IS (8 Megapixel, 10x optical zoom). The camera that I bought in St. Martin N.A. (Canon EOS 5000) in like 1994 has seen its better days and has been dropped way to many times. If you know me you will know how unfortunate this camera was to have me as its owner. It has served me well but it is not working so well, plus it is a pain in the but to have the film developed and them make a CD of it.

New Computer

We are also going to be looking at getting a new computer for Christmas as well. This is an expensive Christmas for us, but we really need a new one. The girls are going bonkers because of how slow mine is. =(

Computer Work

I spent a bit of time doing a full reinstall and update of Windows XP for my mother’s work computer. That was fun as all full reinstalls are. I also replaces the Bios Battery thingy for the mother board in another.

Thanksgiving

For Thanksgiving we will be going to my sisters house up North and then on Friday we will have another Thanksgiving with my Wife and grandmother as Tanya has to work all day on Thanksgiving. My poor hardworking and wonderful wife. I love her so very much.

Church Website

I am also taking over the maintenance of my churches website :The Free Congregation of Sauk County. I have started with that and eventually we will go through a complete redesign.

Our Trip to Belarus: Part II

Part II.5: When not Dealing with THE Passport Saga

The days of the first week passed mostly by working on getting her passport squared away. The nights were entirely a different animal all together and for that we are thankful. We spent our time with friends and family. Ania and Banania had the whole time off and spent every moment with us. Lena had other familial obligations and could not be with us as much as she would have liked. Katia was attending school in Minsk and was not feeling quite so well.

In Mogilev we stayed with Banania’a family who were great and I got to meet her grandmother as well. We also met 3 of Tanya’s friends from the university which was interesting. They are so shy to speak English. Endearing as it was their English was a hell of a lot better than my Russian.

Time in Minsk

We spent a single night in Minsk. We arrived at Katia’s parents house and Katia was there. Her family was getting food ready for everyone to eat. All the girls were there. Katia’s sister, decease Tanya, came after she finished her work and their cousin, Natasha, arrived after she finished her work.

It was soo very good to see Katia and her family. The last time I was here, alone and her family made me feel so very at home with them. I have missed them very mush since I have been away.

We went to a night club there called the Metro which was painted like a subway. IT had rooms that you could rent that had one way mirrors facing the dance floor. You could order food and alcohol so you could site on the comfortable couches and chairs in the rooms. Very cool! The club had an upper level with a cat walk like area and tables upstairs. American clubs and music sucks. This place rocks!

Cultural Notes

Public Restrooms

Here comes a major rant here. Public Restrooms. For the love of God and all that is holy can I please get a bathroom that has some sanitary consideration. Please!!!

Ladies who grew up in the former Soviet Republics all have strong legs because they will have nothing to do with actually touching a toilet there, and neither would I. Most do not have toilet seats and have not been cleaned in a very long time. It is in these moments that I am so very happy that I am a guy. Ugghhh!!

I ate as little as possible if I knew that we were going to go out on the town so that I would not have to go, or so that I would be able to wait. Arrrgghhhh! There were a few newer buildings that had cleaner bathrooms, but their best was probably as good as the average worst that you would find here in the United State.

When you went to someone’s home everything is normal. Whew! Thank God!

Social Gatherings

All social gatherings in Belarus have a lot in common: food, confections, Vodka and other alcohol. Almost every where we went there were salads, meat or pasta with cookies, cake or candy, and, of course, Vodka. Everywhere we visited we brought either wine, vodka or candy. It is common and polite practice to bring something as the host will have a meal or some sort of food set out for your visit. There is a common Russian reply after some one knocks on your door and it goes something like this “Who’s there?” – “A bottle of Vodka!”. This is not a good translation but it gives you an idea.

We ate a lot and drank a lot. I drank a lot or tea, wine, and vodka. When we returned home I did not want to see another bottle of wine, champagne, or vodka or tea.

Social gatherings are very … social. People talking, laughing, telling stories and sharing. Belarussians are a very warm and accepting people. I miss being there just because of how warm and wonderful my friends and family is there.

(This is all I could manage.)

Our Trip to Belarus: Part I

Hopefully, apoplectic this will be enough to get you started.

Part I: The Trip There and Arriving

Our trip there was uneventful and long. Matt drove us to Chicago and then our flight left from there in the afternoon to Frankfurt (overnight) for about a 5 hour layover until about 01:00 and then we flew into Minsk. There were the usual movies, gynecologist and airline food (which seemed better than normal) and cramped seats. We spent our time watching movies, eating and talking just a little bit. We tried to stay awake as much as possible so that we will be able to adjust to the time zone change better. Tanya slept for a few hours and I napped for about 1.5 hours. over the some 19 hour flight and layover. When all was said and done we had been up for over 30 hours. Needless to say we were quite tired. when we arrived.

I was dead tired and cranky by the time we arrived to Minsk. We both and were also not happy about the prospect of having to deal with the Belarussian government over the course of the next 2 weeks. That is enough to make anyone cranky! We left the plane tired and crabby and we walked and walked and walked, and then walked some more, and just when we thought our trip was not going to go so well. We saw them. We saw our girls with signs and a bugle. We went from irate to deliriously happy just like that. It was so good to see them all again. Lena, Banania, Ania, and Banania’s father and brother were there, Katia’s sister – Tanya, and their parents whom I miss very much. It was great to talk to them all to them and to hear their voices again. It was a moment that we had been looking forward to for quite a long time. Katia met us a little bit before we were going to leave the airport. She had a test at the university right about the time when we would arrive.

We hugged and talked for some time with everyone and then we made for Banania’s family’s flat (apartment) in Mogilev. Her father and brother drove us to their flat in Mogilev about 4 hours away. Banania, Ania and Lena went to Banania’s flat in Minsk to get her devil cat, Funt, do a little bit of shopping and then meet us at Banania’s family’s.

Part II: THE Passport Saga

I am going to open this up for all of my non-Russian readers – all two of you =) – by explaining a little bit about Russia (and their former Republics). An interesting fact is that they do not use ID cards like we do here in the US. They use their passports.

Passports as ID is an interesting concept. It may be practical as they have other countries near by that their citizens may find the urge to go see and do so often and might even have families in other parts of the former Soviet Republic. Russians have to obtain a few interesting things for their passports – they must Register where the live and a obtain a Travel Stamp to leave the country.

Why must they register where they live. That is a good question and I do not know the answer. I can offer some speculation as to why that could be. This is a remnant from the Communist Era where the government wanted complete control and knowledge of where everyone is. Registering where you live also helps for rationing water, food, and other services that were all govern mentally controlled and owned. Remember this is purely speculation on my part. If someone knows of the correct answer or a better reason please post your thoughts. I would appreciate some enlightenment.

Our first week was spent dealing with passport issues. This is something that has had both of us quite worried. The Russian people can be quite taciturn and antagonistic if you catch them at work. They seem quite pissed that you have approached them to ask them to do their job. If they can find a reason not to do what you are asking they most definitely will. This can be a harsh analysis, but please also remember that this is a gross generalization. We found a some people that were quite polite and desired to help and do their job, just not the majority.

We had to reregister Tanya’s place of “residence” and then obtain a travel stamp so that she would be allowed to leave the country as it had expired while she was in the US. The first step was to sign her out of the university where she was signed in. Then we had to sign her into her aunt and uncle’s house where she usually stayed when attending the university. We had to get signatures and stamps to here, signatures and stamps to get there. They were found in this building and that building, and then we had to go to this other building across town. Uggh! There was a lot of walking and a lot of frustration as we had only 2 weeks to finish all of this paperwork and still have time to see her family and our friends who are located in other mahor cities in Belarus.

It took us a full week to get all of the stamps and signatures to sign her in to her Aunt and Uncle’s home. Once the registering was complete we had to apply for her travel stamp. Fortunately that process was simple. We dropped off her passport at an office somewhere and then pick it up the day that we left and that was it. Whew! There was some peace of mind knowing that this was almost done when we left her passport there, but there was still this overriding worry, concern, or fear that something was going to go wrong and that we would have to stay longer or have more problems than we already had. This of course detracted from our ability to enjoy our time there, especially Tanya, for she is my little bundle of stress.

To be continued…

So We’ve Been Busy

Tanya and I have been quite busy over the last few weeks. We have been looking at houses and mortgages; preparing documents for our INS interview on February 1; preparing for eventual problems that Tanya may have with immigration/customs as we leave from Moscow. I have also done 2 full reinstalls: one for Katia’s laptop, anorexia and one for my mother’s insurance business – Freedom Insurance; and of course, page working on mom’s website.

House Hunting

We have been looking for houses in the Baraboo, Dells, Delton, Delonna areas primarily. We have been looking in Reedsburg as well even though it is not our preferred city to live in. I work in and have friends in Baraboo and Tanya works in Lake Delton. My family lives in Lake Delton. Reedsburg is really out of the way for both of us. Ughh!

Property prices and property taxes are higher in Baraboo and lower in Reedsburg. We have 2 or 3 potentials in Reedsburg – 2 for about $100k and one for about $85k. We have found one in Baraboo for about $100k that we really like. Now the only problem that we have is that after Taxes, Title, License, and small furry animals I do not want more than a $80-90K mortgage. Any more than that and we will be living tight. I have tried to budget everything so that I can pay for pretty much everything and Tanya can concentrate on school and what ever else she needs to do, and still have some free money to save and to fix up the house. Finding a house that is not a shit-hole for about $80k seems to be almost impossible. So our search continues and so does the impending fear that we will have to get a house that is going to be too much work for us to have any chance to enjoy.

Other Stuff

We are definitely stressing over the possibility of having problems leaving Russia/Belarus. We will be calling the Moscow Airport (Sheremetyevo II) to see what they think we should do and hopefully we can fix the real issue here via the consulate later in the US instead of in Belarus. We really do not want to correct the problems in Belarus as we would have to deal with the corrupt and taciturn bureaucracy there. Not a good prospect. Here is better.

I really do not enjoy doing full reinstalls as they take forever. Installing Windows is not so bad. Downloading and installing the service packs and security fixes takes over half of the time. I have one more to do and then I will be done for quite a while. Ugh!!

I have been quiet because we have been busy! Nothing personal! =) I have even cancelled one of my gaming groups until we get back from Belarus to ensure that we have enough time for everything. Oi! They were not happy, but it had to be done!