Day 16 – Florida Roadtrip – Fredericksburg, VA

Having survived yet another night in a motel, Renzo almost regretted that we didn’t go camping instead, but it really was still a little too cold in the morning. We’d need a proper set up to go camping with the kids when it’s just above freezing in the morning, not to mention that rain had been predicted.

So instead, we left the motel to go to a farm near Richmond VA to watch some sheep shearing – and to freeze there, even in the sun. The sheep was amazingly calm, but after 15 minutes the kids were more interested in going to a nearby playground, so we did.

That was enough of Richmond for us though. We considered the children’s museum there but then decided to go to Fredericksburg VA instead and to visit Mary Washington’s house. This was a very nice little museum with a lot of stories that even managed to catch the boys’ attention for a while.

They particularly liked the playroom in the garden though, which had various games, including stilts and bocce. However, the fun ended rather abruptly when Timofei managed to throw a heavy bocce ball right on Yelisei’s little pinky as Yelisei was reaching for a bocce ball himself.

So we drove screaming Yelisei with a bag of ice on his pinky to the emergency room as it was pretty blue and swollen. Of course the emergency room is the only health care for many people in America, so it was packed. We would have waited at least two or three hours there. Luckily, both Yelisei and Timofei soon fell asleep, so we skipped the emergency room. Renzo stayed in the car with the kids and I went for a walk through the old town of Fredericksburg VA.

Fredericksburg VA is a very cute town and I learned from the museum that this was basically a town of failures. For example, it took them 20 years to build some canal that in the end nobody needed. Even today, it was a nice spring day, but the antique stores were more like junk stores.

When Yelisei woke up, he was all fine again and had just a little pain in his pinky. Our sprits lifted accordingly, we found further salvation in yet another ethnic dive restaurant, this time Latin food from Salvador. Nobody spoke any English and the food was another winner.

Fully back in a good mood now, we next drove to a used car lot to check out a Toyota Tacoma that Renzo been going on about as one of his dream cars if we ever buy another car. When we were looking for this car, some dealer in Staten Island actually refused to let us test drive any cars because we were obviously not going to buy anything. Not in Fredericksburg VA – the sales guys were nicely low key and let us tourists drive his Tacoma, no problem. I was actually quite impressed with it – I liked the substantial tires, the clutch was amazing (this was a stick shift, Renzo still refuses to consider an automatic), and it had a nice front bumper – very useful for parking in Brooklyn. Definitely a car I could be driving to South America in, if it only came with a stove and sink ready for action on demand.

Next stop: Yet another motel, this time of the sketchy sort, close to Washington DC. No further incidents or accidents except that I could not fall asleep at all!

Day 2 – Florida Roadtrip – McGaheysville, VA

Waking up in Shenandoah valley was refreshing. Though it was cold, it was energizing also. We drove for an hour to a Virginia ski resort where we planned to go to a water park. Our kids were asking to go to one since last summer when we went to one in Russia in St Petersburg. They loved going down the water slides and we enjoyed the saunas. At first I was surprised how similar those waterparks were. It was a very similar construction, the structures and the slides were all the same in Russia and Virginia. The price was different – $20 in Russia and $140 in Virginia. There was no saunas and the hottest tub was only 98F so it was not warm enough even for the kids to get warm. On every corner there was a life guard who told everyone not to do anything fun! You could not even go together with your 3 year old on a somewhat tall slide, but were supposed to go first and catch them at the bottom. After only one hour our kids were freezing but there was one tub that had water over 100F – except you had to be over 18 to be allowed in there. So we had to leave, because we were also hungry. You can not eat your own food in there, but their cafe only had french fries and other deep fried goods that we usually don’t eat. Both kids were screaming and shivering and starving. We all had a blast though! We had lunch in the parking lot instead. And then we were off to the North Carolina town of Hot Springs.

We started the drive at 2:30 pm and arrived by 7:30pm. It was mostly uneventful. We switched drivers once and the last 20 minutes Yelisei was screaming “I can not wait any longer” for no reason in particular. I guess it was a long drive for them.

We made a reservation for a cabin and a hot tub at 10 am the next morning. Our cabin was on the river bank on stilts and it was very small. Surprisingly you could sleep 8 people there easily. The stilts and the shape of this cabin were the perfect “bad witch house” (izbushka na kurih nozhkah), so Timofei was jumping on a broomstick and playing the bad witch (baba jaga). Though it was late when we arrived and we were practically in the middle of town, we or I should say I, decided to test our new equipment. We have a new gas lantern and a new double burner stove and a 12 gallon water canister with a spout. I thought since Renzo did not have to put up a tent it would be perfect conditions to do a test run of the new stuff. It was the most frustrating experience! I am used to everything being in the kitchen, easily available and here imagine you dumped all your utensils and plates and pots together with paper towels and rags in one box and all your food in the other. The gasoline stove has very little flame control and the lantern can not be hung and the children are banging their spoons on the table and are demanding marshmallows! All I did was boil water and pour it into instant noodle miso soup and made some tea and hot coco. I felt like I ran a race.

The same experience was for breakfast but with the added benefit of rain and having to set up our kitchen on the bench of our porch so I can cook hunched over. I made oatmeal and coffee for breakfast and by the time I was doing the dishes we were fighting with Renzo, and the children were crying. But that happened on day 3…

A Better Day

Alright! Things are happening. In the morning on my way to work I get an SMS from Karilyn, our personal Mumbai expat guide, who tells me that all I need to do to get gas in my apartment is have the building’s doorman flag one of those gas delivery guys on the bicycle down. (Thanks!)

Of course, this was after I had already gone, for a third time, to the gas distribution office, where they promised gas is on the way. My driver even insisted to have a word with them himself. So when I got that SMS, I tried to get his confirmation – it took a little while, but eventually he enthusiastically exclaimed: “Yes Yes, Sir, bicycle much cheaper, watchman smart man, 10 rupees tip! Bicycle no salary, 2 rupees commission!”

Ok, so that makes a lot of sense. Screw that office and their customer number!

Then, at work, I get a call from the long lost furniture guy. The furniture is ready for delivery in the evening. As it happens, when I got home, not only did I have new big shiny (ok, I exaggerate) gas cylinders, but I also had some yummy food in the fridge. So I thought, I should go with the swing of things and call the TV guy, who had never showed up to install digital cable. Amazingly enough, he said, his guys will be over in ten minutes.

Alright, so it wasn’t 10 minutes but more like an hour and a half, but they showed up – incidentally pretty much as the same time as the furniture guy. So the house was full and the confusion complete, when the TV guys asked where’s the computer? I didn’t quite get what they needed a computer for, but it turns out that the cable guys were under the impression I want internet cable access. Well, apparently some sort of typical misunderstanding, but I couldn’t argue with that and just said: “Sure, who cares about digital TV, just give me your broadband cable internet access – how fast is it?” – “64 kilobytes, Sir” – “You have something a little faster?” – “Yes, 128 kilobytes, Sir” – “How about 256?” – “Yes, we have, too, Sir” – “Alright, if that’s the fastest, I want that.”

So while the two cable guys started playing around with my router settings, etc., the furniture guy, his sister, and their cab driver were spreading out the furniture on the terrace, four chairs and two little tables, with gorgeous wood carvings and golden inlays. At least I think it’s gorgeous, because our terrace was a bit dark already. But then I noticed that one table was smaller with the other table, so I asked what happened here, how come this is smaller? I couldn’t really get a straight answer or explanation, aside from an unsuccessful attempt at convincing me that that was what we had wanted, so I said, ok, you can either come back with a table a bigger size, or you’ll have to give me a discount.

In reality, I found this more amusing than anything else, but I am kind of starting to like this whole bargaining business. Anyways, so the response was that they can make another table with the same size, but it would be a different design. Smart move on their part, because even though there was zero logic to that, I didn’t really want to risk getting a plywood table top in exchange, so I said, ok, I’ll keep it, but I am not paying 10,500 rupees (which was the originally agreed on total). Ok, so the game begins, but these guys are pretty good and I knew I’d lose, especially after I then started with a half arsed counter offer of 10,000 rupees.

Of course, they looked very shocked, and just said: “500 rupees less? No, Sir, impossible!” – “Ok, how much?” – “200” – “300” – “No, Sir, impossible, 200” – “250”, at which point everybody was pretty much laughing. “No, Sir, impossible, 200.” Alright, so I give them 10,500, because I didn’t have exact change and I ask, so do you have 200 rupees change? Well, of course they didn’t, so the whole bargaining procedure was completely useless, and that really made me laugh. Alright then, what the hell! So they took the money, everybody is smiling and then, as they are walking out, he asks, “Oh, and taxi money!” Well, that was a nice try, because I know we had argued about free delivery weeks ago, and they had eventually agreed, and so I just said, no way, that was included, and so they didn’t argue with that and off they went.

Meanwhile, the cable guys had real problems with my router, so eventually they gave up and connected my computer directly. Fine, I’ll figure it out myself. So we started a little test drive – and it turns out that 256 kilobytes broadband connection actually manages a blazing fast speed of 90 kilobytes per second. Well, that’s pretty shitty, but for now it’s better than nothing. Plus, they are coming back for the digital TV setup tomorrow afternoon.