Today started with an ice-cold shampoo. Hot water is a rare commodity here at the Herzen Hotel, especially in the mornings, and there was no way I was taking a shower in that water. It isn't just that we run out of hot water, you turn the handle, and nothing comes out. The water you do get, from the cold side, isn't merely unheated, I swear it's actively cooled, it can't be much above freezing. We've discovered that hot water seems to be plentiful later in the day, so you just have to remember to take you showers at night before you go to bed. I had forgotten that the night before, thanks to the Vodka, so I settled for a shampoo of my hair and selective use of a washcloth. My scalp literally went numb from the cold water while trying to rinse the shampoo off, which is an entirely new sensation for me. I don't suggest you try it.
After regaining sensation in my head, I went downstairs for the usual breakfast, with pancakes and jam this time as the main course. Chuck and I then met downstairs with Alexey, who thought we were going to briefly meet with the IT staff of Herzen, before doing some sight-seeing. Much to our surprise, our schedule was suddenly changed, and we were going to be attending a conference about "Democracy, Technology, and Sustainable Development" with the UNI faculty.
More to our surprise was that we were going to be presenting at said conference at an unspecified time in the very near future. I wasn't really dressed to attend a conference, much less present at one, but we didn't have time to change, so off we went. We do have presentations, which we already gave in Moscow, and we planned on showing them here to the IT staff, not faculty, so at least we have something to work with. I was somewhat surprised to discover I had no network access in the room that we'd be presenting in, though I was going to have it for the planned IT talk. I was even more surprised that the interpreter I thought we'd been using wasn't present. To add to our frustration yet further, we weren't actually on the program for the conference, so we didn't know when we'd be speaking, though I got some amusement from one of the other faculty members having suddenly been presented with a new topic for his speech, which was vastly different from both his area of expertise and his prepared material.
So, as I tried to wrap my head around giving a speech, which now had to be twice as long, without access to the internet, to a new audience, at an unspecified time in the near future, while wearing jeans, I began to get somewhat flustered. Fortunately, it worked out that Chuck and I aren't actually presenting until tomorrow, so I have some time to monkey with my presentation a bit, and wear the proper clothing. It turns out that we're still presenting to the IT people, immediately after the conference, and that I will have network access for the second presentation.
The first presentation of the conference was about out-sourcing of call center jobs to India, and was pretty interesting. Then we had a break for lunch. We were told that there'd be a special lunch for us back in our hotel cafeteria/restaurant, but when we arrived, there were no tables set up for us, so we wound up crossing the street to eat at a fake British pub called The Office. It was taking a while to order, so two of the UNI faculty who had to present departed, though a few of us remained, finding lunch much more interesting, and by that point, I'd had enough surprises that I'd been "flexible" about for one day, I wasn't giving up lunch on top of it. I decided just to have some french fries, and a coke, and then went back to my room and ate my leftover pizza from the night before.
I spent some time getting organized in my room, then met Chuck to go visit Quo Vadis, the internet cafe on Nevsky Prospect. We got online for an hour, which was about 80 roubles ($2.85) and I got a little work done. I also managed to find the St. Petersburg access number for the pre-paid dial-up provider I used in Moscow. Quo Vadis is really a nice, well-run internet cafe, and the machines are wiped after each user.
I then returned to my room, and attempted to get online. The phone jack in my room here is unique, to say the least. It has the old-style 5-pronged Russian connection, as well as two of the newer RJ-11 jacks just like you'd have in any house in the US. I couldn't get a dial tone out of either of the RJ-11 jacks, and my 5-prong to RJ-11 converter wouldn't physically fit the construction of my jack. I finally resorted to getting out my Leatherman, and disassembling the jack, where I discovered that whoever wired it didn't bother to connect the wires for the RJ-11 connectors that were part of the the phone jack. Since all the wires looked the same, I just opted for installing my converter now that the exterior had been removed, and I was able to get online with my laptop at last!
After a couple of quick postings here, I met the rest of the UNI delegation downstairs for our "special" dinner. What a great meal it turned out to be. A big van arrived to take us all to a restaurant called "Backstage" which is part of the Mariinsky ballet house here. I managed to avoid all the appetizers, which were various forms of invertebrate sea life, stuck with the good bread rolls, and waited for my entree. I ordered a beef fillet in pepper sauce, which was excellent. I told Alexey it was the best beef I'd had in Russia, and as he'd ordered the same thing, he said that it was the best beef he'd had in Russia in his 26 years of living here too. I had plenty of white wine, and we had great conversation at my end of the table, between Chuck, me, Dr. Vajpeyi and Dr. Connors from UNI, as well as Alexey, and a Russian woman named Galina, who I just met for the first time. We talked about politics, books, movies, history, and generally had a great time over the course of three hours. For dessert, I ordered a hot fudge sundae, which came with lots of little bits of fruit in the bowl under the ice cream. It was pretty tasty, though I wished I'd gotten the cheesecake after I saw how good Alexey's looked.
We made plans with Galina for some specially arranged tours later in the week. We're getting an exclusive tour of the Russian mint here on Thursday, so we'll see where all the coins are made for the entire Russian Federation. On Friday, we're getting a rare tour of the Yusupov Palace, where Rasputin was killed. Well, where they started to kill him at least, as he was allegedly poisoned, shot, beaten, stabbed, then thrown into a canal where he eventually drowned. Knowing the history of the Russian monarchy, I'm surprised it wasn't declared a suicide. In any case, I'm looking forward to those tours.
Now it's time for me to see if I have hot water and can take a shower...