Today, my only free day in Ekat, wound up being dedicated primarily to the joys of the Russian post office.

You see, I was overly optimistic about my own strength when I packed my suitcase. Despite the many (deserved) pats on the back for fitting all of my stuff AND all of my books in there, after dragging the damn thing through the snow for 3 or 4 kilometers to my hosts’ apartment, I decided that perhaps Plan B was in order.

My Couchsurfing hosts live in a new section of “town” (it’s a good 45 minute bus ride from the center) that doesn’t yet have a post office. In fact, the closest post office is 30 minutes away (again, by bus–they’re surrounded by lovely birch forests, which are great until you want to get somewhere a la 21st century). When I finally arrived, with my books triple-bagged to prevent breakage (a futile endeavor), there was only one person in front of me. “Great,” I thought, “In and out. I’ll be done in no time.” HA. It took 45 minutes for the (only) worker to finish up with her current client, get me the necessary paperwork, decide which box I needed, then glance at my newly filled out forms and ask, “Why didn’t you say that you were sending it to America?” Because I thought I should keep the mystery alive at this stage in our relationship. 

“I didn’t think it mattered,” I replied.

“We don’t take packages to America here.”

That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. Although I probably say that at least once a week, this time I mean it. “Why not?”

“International packages are handled by the glavpochtamt.” The central branch of the postal service. She told me how to get there, and I realized that it was way in the center of the city. If I went there and then went back home to get my suitcase, it would take me all day. If I went home first, maybe it would only take me most of all day.

The upshot of that was that I spent two hours on my wild goose chase, and the only thing I had to show for it was that now my books were in a much more difficult to carry box. So I went back home, buying myself a samsa from a nice Uzbek man as a consolation prize.

When I went back home, Eva insisted that I have borscht before calling the cab (I was only too happy to consent). Kostya, her boyfriend, took a break from his computer game to find me the cheapest cab, during which process I acquired new skills about Russian cab hunting, plus a couple of soon-to-be-useless apps. Finally I climbed into a beat-up “cab” (the amount of building supplies in the trunk and personal effects in the backseat suggested that this man had several professions that came before cab-driving.

But even a pseudo-gypsy cab knows how to find the central post office, so next thing I knew I was standing in the basement of a depressing building, in a line of three people. 45 minutes, two cuts, and a war veteran later (vets automatically get to cut in line at pretty much any official institution), the woman behind the counter looked at my forms and said, “This is addressed to America.” Well give her a pipe and call her Sherlock Holmes. “I can’t take this here–you’ll have to go to the next window.” The next window had 5 people in line already, and the workers at all windows were organizing packages into the same piles, sharing supplies, and so on. No wait, this is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. 

But what can you do? I got in line, scolded a woman who tried to cut me (don’t give me that “I just wanted to look at the postcards” scat!), shouldered a few other pumpkin eaters out of the way, faced with fortitude the postlady’s ire when she discovered that I hadn’t yet filled out my custom forms (Have you seen me before? No. Does any other window process international post? No. How could I possibly have filled them out before retrieving them from your window?), and finally was pleasantly surprised to learn that I was not only losing 9 kg of weight, but also only $30 for the privilege. Not too shabby, Pochta Rossii.

By the time I finished that, I had spent almost 5 hours in or in transit to post offices. I had done 0 tourist things. That turned out to be fine, though–the only thing I really wanted to visit, the museum to Russia’s worst president*, was closed anyway. So I mostly dragged my somehow-still-pretty-heavy bags in and out of stores and around the various pony- and camel-ride booths surrounding the ice village on the central square.

In a few hours, I will board a train for the 25-hour trip to Vologda, where I will spend the night in a hostel and probably fall on my butt on my morning jaunt among the churches (Vologda has remarkably slippery ice) before continuing on to Cherepovets on a bus that hopefully will do better in the winter conditions than I do. Also, it will be 35 below. You’ll hear from me again from Cher. Until then, here are some pictures of Ekaterinburg.

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This sign says that it’s forbidden to walk on the ice. You can see what Ekaterinburgers think of that.

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I love Lenin presiding over his ice city.

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Church on Spilled Blood (not the one in Peter, obviously). built on the site of where the Romanovs were shot. An ice sculpture contest is held annually on the surrounding grounds, a few entries from which can be seen below.

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One of two forests outside my hosts’ apartment.

 

*No, Will, Stalin is not Russia’s worst president. First of all, can he really be considered a president? Head Honcho, sure. Hostest with the mostest (guns), certainly. Generalissimo, OK.  But president? Nah. Second of all, under Stalin, Russians had food, (generally) got compensated for the work they did, and lived in a country that (again, generally) commanded respect. Under Yeltsin, the mafia ruled the roost, people got paid in absurd things like lightbulbs (if at all), and you could go weeks at a time with nothing to eat but macaroni or whatever you could gather in the forest. Of course, you could also say that Gorbi was the worst for creating the conditions for all that chaos. If you’re ever sitting around drinking with a Russian, I highly recommend asking them about this. It’s a great way to pass an evening.

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