So, first of all, we did not go out on Friday night — rather, we wound up hanging out at the office playing games. It started with a farewell party for one of the Producers who was leaving to join a different company, and then spilled out into a small group of us playing the Ukraine version of Charades, called “Crocodile.” There were a few moments of confusion with some of the words that were introduced (no easy translation between Russian and English) but overall was fun time; how could it not be when one of them was “mud wrestling?”
Saturday, we went with some coworkers to an area in the Crimea about an hour away. Naturally, I don’t know the actual “name” of it, but I know that the day started at the Khan Palace, which was the Sultan’s residence back when the Turkish Empire stretched up into Eastern Europe. Or something. I probably should do more research into this, but heck, that would require more brainpower than I am currently willing to invest in this venture. Have to save it all for work, you see.
The palace was rather interesting, especially the spots where you were allowed to walk around the various rooms and courtyards. Some locations were more typical, in that there was a railing between you and about 80% of the room, but nevertheless it was fun to be able to wonder around this rather sprawling palace. My spotty knowledge of the history of the area through a combination of my father’s Teaching Company audio lectures and playing through games EU II and EU III allowed me to appreciate the surroundings a bit more.
Then, it was off to lunch in an outdoor cafe which followed a more traditional Middle Eastern approach of having table about 2 feet off the ground, and everyone sits around it without shoes, on assorted cushions and pillows. I sampled some traditional Crimean food (again, I don’t know the names — I’m a lousy travel blogger, I admit), all of which was very good.
Then it was time to head off to the primary attraction. Now, the palace and town we were in was at the bottom of a valley, with some high cliffs on both sides. A river once wove through there, leaving the rather sheer cliff-faces. So, we started a hike up one of the valleys, to see, in this order:
- A Monastery that had been carved into the cliff side. It’s been constantly renovated, but I believe that it’s been around since around the 14th century or so. There was actually a service going on when we entered, so it was tough to get a good view of the inside, but it was still quiet cool, as it was somewhat small (compared to contemporary churches), had a low ceiling, and had a bit of an Indiana Jones feel to it.
- One of the oldest cemeteries in Eastern Europe, located at the top of the valley. This place was “established” around the 1st century, although I think most of the tombstones we saw were actually from about 200 years ago. Still, it is apparently the oldest Turkish cemetery in Europe, and walking through it with all of the toppled, moss-covered tombstones gave it an unmistakable air of having been forgotten and neglected.
- “Cave City.” I’m not really clear on the history of this place, largely due to a lack of both English placards around the place as well as any motivation by me to spend 5 seconds doing a Google search. I get the feeling that this place, which is a series of “caves” (they are rooms, really) carved into the tops of the cliffs have been around since the times of Christ, and then later on, when the Monastery was built, had additional work done. What really made this a lot of fun was that after you pay your $5-$10 admission fee, you are free to run around the place, climbing into the rooms, through the holes, and over the walls. This is a pretty stark contrast to most historical sites I’ve been to (in the West, mind you), where things always seem to be roped off and tourists are required to stand 500 yards away. Naturally, this open policy has a price, as vandalism is present, but it’s not really that bad, and the joy of just getting to be able to wander around the ancient dwelling was so fun and interesting that I think it was well worth it.
The sun was setting by the time we got back to the car, and we enjoyed an impromptu meal from the generosity of our drivers, who had packed away various foods for us. It helps when said drivers our your coworkers. I nodded off on the way home, but then was up late at night playing video games.
And it’s a good thing too, as you will soon see.
Today (Sunday) I slept in, then dashed off with Allen to join some of the guys from work in a game of volleyball. I had to stop by and (finally) buy some gym shorts, but we eventually got to the gym, met the other players (some from work, some not from work) and began a fantastic set of 6 games. The teams split the games 3-3, and I had a blast. I had some great front line plays, and some not so great moments, but the good news is that everyone there was about equal level. To be fair, I think some of the guys were definitely better, but not so much that it really made a difference.
One note about this: Some of the guys spoke a little English, but during the game, the only guy who I heard speak in English was Stas, one of the guys from work, and even then, it was pretty sparingly. Yet, what I found most interesting was basically the power of sports to really transcend language. We all knew the rules of volleyball (a couple of minor disagreements about a play popped up, naturally, but nothing that wasn’t settled in a minute), so, at least for me, I really never worried about the communication barrier that much. In general, it wouldn’t have made much of a difference if we all spoke English or not — when you are playing well, it’s because you just know instinctively where to be on the court, when to give support, and when to press the net.
In any case, it was a lot of fun, and reminded me of why I need to do more sports this upcoming summer.
Oh, and although at one point I did feel my right ankle waver dangerously, it never gave out. Woo!
The bad news, however, came swiftly after that.
First off, I lost my hat. Again. Damn, I seem to do this every winter now, like some sort of required ritual before Spring is allowed to begin. Best I can figured, it must have fallen out of my coat pocket on the way to the gym. We checked the stores we had shopped for shorts, but they never saw it. To be fair, this is why I buy cheap hats. But it’s gotten colder out, and I’m peeved that I may have lost my hat right before i really need it. I’ll see if I can get it replaced tomorrow during lunch (our office is in a mall, after all).
Then, at home, I was Skyping with Vanessa when I accidentally knocked my lovely WD “My Passport” off the desk and it clattered to the ground. It was plugged in and running at the time, which is never a good thing. To be precise: it’s busted. My laptop doesn’t see it when I try to plug it in, and after some Google searches based on the noises I heard, the spindle needle is stuck. So now, I do not have access to it for the rest of the week, and will have to replace it upon my return home. I’m also peeved because I’ve only had it for about 3-4 months. Bah.
However, I should note that it’s not as bad as it could have been. For one thing, the only thing I lost are the games files for Dragon Age II, which I had been playing this past week. Everything else was backed up from home, and I still have some of the flash drives I can use. I was also able to move the pictures I took over the weekend from my camera to the laptop, so those have been saved off, as well.
But, then, I tired to reinstall Steam so i could at least download another game to my laptop for the rest of the week, and run into this issue with the new Steam Guard, which, in effect, won’t let me log into my account because, well, my account hasn’t been logged into yet. I wrote tech support an email, but then saw that it would take 3-4 days to get a response (if not longer), and so managed to poke around a bit more before I finally managed to get it working. I’m currently downloading a game in the background, and ye gads, it’s taking longer than I would prefer, but at least it’s working.
To top things off, I noticed that the lovely coat Vanessa got me for Christmas has developed a nasty rip in the shoulder lining, and my iPod is acting funky from (I think) a drop earlier in the week; the Play/Pause button isn’t always registering a press.
But, things have since settled down. Now, I am doing another run of laundry, and then I shall retire for the evening.
Tomorrow, the goal is for Cindy and myself to get into work early so we can get a jump on things. Like I said, I hope to be able to replace my hat, at least, and then that evening Simon, Laura T., and Alona shall make their debut in the office, so i suspect that there may be some going-out again that night.
I currently have 4 more days of work, and I think that my nights will be pretty busy as well (hence the laundry tonight). Here’s hoping that I can get through and back to New York without any more icky events.