Life on the Mekong and Other Rivers

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog, including strong statements in support of weinerdog-riding monkeys, are our own, and not those of the U.S. Department of State or the U.S. government.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Radio silence...


Cab's coming at 5:40 tomorrow morning.

Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro upcoming.

Talk to you in May.


Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Who wants to meet in Europe?

Ah, our strong dollar policy.

Perfect time to visit countries where everything is quoted in euros.

Given that so many of you financed your mansions with jumbo, no doc, interest only, 2 and 28 mortgages, it's not likely that the USG will do much to actually have a strong dollar policy besides stating that 'we have a strong dollar policy'.

But, a weak dollar helps US exports, right?

But it hurts ME!

Thankfully, the Gov't of Ukraine (probably with me in mind) still has a pretty good peg of their currency to the dollar. Unfortunately, most of Ukraine's imports don't come from the US, so prices are rising. Beer is still cheap, though.

And, happy to say we did hedge against the inevitable slide of the dollar by buying euros a while back, so that takes the edge off just a bit.

Not much, but a bit.

Maybe I'll bring cheap cigarettes and beer from Ukraine to sell in Croatia to try to make the trip a bit more affordable.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Visa Fraud in action

Those Ukrainian brides certainly are creative.

U.S. Tour stop 3

After a full week on the beach in South Florida we headed north to the beach on the panhandle to see Baba, Grandpa, Aunt Meghan, Uncle Kent and Cousin STELLA. It was another lovely week enjoying the beach & sun and a little bit of time for shopping!

Fun with Baba!

Enjoying the sunset after a yummy bbq.

Stella, Uncle Kent and Jack.

Kiss me, Stella, kiss me!

Loving the water....

Future rock stars?

U.S. Trip

Jack and I had a great time on our East Coast tour.

First stop: Larchmont. After a minor altercation on the first day Jack and Sadie became fast friends...or atleast Sadie realized the Jack was a good source for yummy snacks.

Enjoying some time with Uncle Christian.

Next stop: Marco Island, Florida
Very happy Grandparents.

Hanging with mom.

Jack with Auntie Maren, Leah & Emma

Kyiv vs. St. Paul...

Jack with his big cousins

And with Auntie Sarah

Saturday, April 12, 2008

They're home

With all the homecoming excitement, I forgot to note Jack and Katherine's return, from paradise.

They got back Thursday morning.

Jack and Katherine met me on the landing as I stepped off the elevator on Thursday. Jack remembered me, was excited to see me and mess with my tie...for about 40 seconds, then it was time to get down and try on new rainboots and shoes.

Given the time change, Jack is currently running and dancing around the apartment and otherwise telling us in his own way that, even though it is 12:17 am, it is NOT time for bed.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

So London

So yes, London.

I was on vacation, had time, on my own, so I bought an Oyster Card at Heathrow to get a discounted tube ride into town. I am an in-the-know London visitor. I jumped on the Picadilly Line and laughed like the immature person I am when the woman on the loudspeaker announced "This is the Picadilly line to Cockfosters". Hee Hee

I decided then and there that I would visit the wonderful tube stop called Cockfosters...and that Ford had to go with me.

Friday night we met up with Cob, Gita and Rick for some much-needed indian food, then spent some quality time in a pub.

Saturday morning, Ford and I headed out for a long walk.

We started at Borough Market, where we ate our weight in free cheese samples, then settled down for a meal of bread, cheese (we actually did buy, so the samples paid off for one lucky cheesemonger) olives, and what was described to me (by Ford) as Thanksgiving on a bun.

Sampling the cheese.

We even went to a museum, and saw Katherine's favorite building in London, the Gherkin. See, I did more than just visit pubs.

That said, soon after this picture of my big head was taken (with the gherkin in the background), we retired to Gordon's to get out of the cold and into an old wine bar in a very old wine cellar. No electricity, candles on the table, vaulted ceiling about 5 feet high, nice wine list, old, stooped English lady calling the shots.

Fortified, we braved the cold again to meet up with Cob, Gita and Rick to tour the Cabinet War Rooms, the series of reinforced rooms below Whitehall that served as Churchill and his war cabinet's headquarters during the Battle of Britain. Very cool.

We stopped by a pub afterwards (why not) to figure out what to do next, then had an early dinner and continued on to yet more pubs throughout the evening, ending at Ford's local, The Cock & Bottle. It's open until midnight so, you know, a good time was had by all.

Alas, all our good cheer couldn't convince anyone that a trip to Cockfosters was worth a Sunday afternoon. They just kept bellyaching about Zone 5 or something.

It was left to Ford and I to brave multiple Tube zones, but we had an ace up our sleeve. We knew about the Cock & Dragon, 4 out of 5 stars for their delicious thai food surrounded by a pub-licious atmosphere, and all right there .3 miles from the Cockfosters stop.

So after a visit to Holland Park for tea with Amanda, Blair, Bex and Gus, we headed out on our Cockfosters.

Ford was a trooper, even though she too had her reservations about traveling so far outside of her comfort zone (that would be Zone 1).

Her mood didn't improve much as we waited to (gasp!) transfer to the Picadilly line at Holborn.

But we made it without further incident. In fact, Ford and I had a bet as to when exactly we would arrive at Cockfosters. 2:14 pm, I said. 2:23 for Ford. As we walked out, the clock read 14:14:10. I totally rule on timing trips to Cockfosters.

And Ford's mood was much improved, even though she lost the bet.

And just down Chalk Lane, past the cricket and lawn bowling fields and tastefully decorated suburban homes, sat our Shangri-La, the famed Cock & Dragon...of Cockfosters...

...where sustenance awaited. Just one thing, though. While perusing the menu, Ford noticed that they serve food from 12:00 to 2:30 and 6:30 to 10:00. It being 2:25 when we arrived, and having settled in slowly, I decided I better run to the bar to order. In response to my question regarding the possibility of ordering food, the bartender craned his neck, looked at a clock and said we had made it just under the wire.

Hooray, now we could have Thai food with our delicious English ale.

And because it was on the menu, I decided to get a Tiger just to mix it up a bit.

Nummy Thai food.

And the icing on the cake of our trip to Cockfosters (as if it needed one), is that you are pretty much guaranteed a seat for the Tube ride home.

So that was Cockfosters, and that was London.

Almost worth a car accident on the way home.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Well, that was fast

Ford accomplished tasks A. and B. quite effectively.

But now it's late, I'm sore, and I'm going to bed.

I'll spin tales of WWII, torch relays, protests, pub time and (very) phallic-sounding names for roosters tomorrow.

Welcome Home

So I had a lovely weekend in London. I'll tell you all about it once Ford figures out how to a) download pictures from her new camera and b) sends me the pictures.

Stories are so much better with pictures.

But first, Terminal 5, Heathrow. Big mess for those traveling with luggage. I found it lovely, having only a carryon.

We arrived a bit late today in Kyiv, and when we got to the terminal, the line for immigration was terribly long. Up the stairs, looping around, a good hour wait or so. But I have a diplomatic passport, so, by the rules of the Ukrainian government, I jumped to the front of the 2nd furthest line to the left and was through immigration in minutes.

Having just a carryon, I sauntered out to customs, flashed my passport again to avoid any customs check, and walked into the waiting throng of taxi drivers, people to meet loved ones, and various other people hanging about the arrivals area. Feeling quite good about my quick exit, I contemplated jumping on a bus to the metro to get home. But it was raining, and I had taken the metro TO the airport, and the Tube to the city and back to Heathrow in London, so I figured I was about $110 in the black at this point. Taxi it was.

Feeling even better about myself, I settled into the car for the, hopefully, quick trip home. I slid in behind the driver as his car was parked up close against a railing and a garbage bin. As we drove out of the parking lot, I grabbed my book, and, figured I better buckle up.

Four minutes later I was engrossed in my book, car speeding through the rainswept airport access road as the taxi driver slammed on the brakes and we started to fishtail. I looked up to see us bearing down on a complete jackass who had pulled out in front of us. I put my arms up against the seat back in front of me and, for some reason, thought, 'don't lock your elbows'.

I'd never been in a car accident. We must have been going about 65 MPH when Andriy hit the breaks, 45 or 50 when we slammed into the rear of the idiot who had barely even accelerated out of his turn. Slammed forward, the seat belt did its job admirably, but my neck snapped forward and my teeth clicked together so hard I thought for sure I had broken, or ate least chipped, one or more.

I'm okay, but in the immediate aftermath I figured it was just the adrenalin, and that once that stopped coursing through me I would start to feel it. The drivers of both cars were also okay, but my taxi was pretty crumpled in the front, and the back of the other car was completely smashed. Happy to say the engineers did their jobs and the passenger area was pretty intact.

So my quick return home became 40 minutes standing on the side of the highway in the rain, waiting for the police, the insurance people, and a replacement driver for me. Ukrainian law requires drivers in an accident to not move their cars and wait for the police and insurance people (not that my taxi could have been driven anywhere). I talked to the embassy and found that, as a passenger, I could a) wait around, b) leave, or c) leave, but leave my phone number. The replacement driver turned out to be my original driver's father, who was more interested in sticking around to ensure his son wasn't found at fault (he wasn't at fault, as far as I saw).

Finally, a third car pulled up, I gave my initial driver my cell number and name in case the police wanted to take my statement, and I got into the car with the driver and two Aerosvit flight attendants to go into the city.

By this time, it was rush hour and my quick exit had turned into a more than two hour nightmare (including the fun 40 minutes in the rain).

Throughout the jouney back into the city in the 2nd taxi I attempted to continue reading my book, but looked up with a start at every brake, lane change, even windshield wipe of the car.

I made it home without further incident, and my friend Cliff was nice enough to invite me over for beer and pasta for dinner.

Now I'm home, my neck hurts, my left knee hurts, I'm sore from the seat belt, and pissed off I didn't get delayed somewhere along my quick arrival to the taxi stand.

But, all in all, it could have been worse.

Meanwhile, Jack is already learning to be a menace on the road, multitasking by driving while getting his haircut in Larchmont today. At least he's got his eyes on the road.

They get home Thursday morning.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

The President came a'calling

He and the first lady and a few hundred of their closest friends and colleagues (and all their stuff) came to Kyiv Monday night for a day full of activities on Tuesday. My friend Cliff had the unenviable task of being the 'Airport officer' coordinating the dozens of flights and hundreds of people moving through.

I was the embassy site officer for a wreath-laying at the memorial to the millions who died in the Famine of 1932-33. Very contentious issue as it was basically a man-made Famine by the central Soviet authorities.

Anyway, it's in a big open square, thus security issues. Fixed through a big build-out that provided some block to line of sight from around the area.

Here are some photos from the event. During the event I was standing up top with the press. These aren't my photos, but taken from a site without citation for who took the photos, so I also can't give credit.

The two first ladies walked over from a nearby building they were at for a previous event. President Yushchenko met them there as President Bush pulled up from a meeting with the Prime Minister.

These two young women (and two unpictured guys) in traditional dress handed the memorial thingies to the Presidents and First Ladies. The traditional dress doesn't do much in terms of warmth, so they were quite cold as we put them into position about 30 minutes prior to the event. Being ever chivalrous, I gave my coat to them to share.

Standing while a bell carillon played a bit. I believe the guy behind them is President Yushchenko's interpreter. Too bad he got in the shot.

Approaching the memorial.

At this point I was just off camera to the right.

And again, I'm back by the photographers in the background.

And that was my site. Very nice. 3 days to construct the scaffolding and drape it with black and red fabric, etc.

Working with the White House advance and the Secret Service was very interesting. An amazing amount of work goes into the President's travel.

AND, in even BIGGER news, our new computer power cord arrived yesterday and was waiting for me at my desk this morning, so I'm typing this from home.

I'm off Friday for a long weekend in London. Staying with Ford and planning to eat curry day and night.