A Trip to Indiana Dunes

Last Saturday Igor and I went on our traditional late-summer trip to Indiana Dunes. Igor was the first to discover this amazing place (I mean, it has been known for everybody except us, so we “discovered” it for ourselves. I love each, and single thing about Dunes. Each time we are taking this long trip (I am not driving long-distance, so it is really long, with two trains and lots of walking) I am asking myself, why in the world I am doing this :). Why spend several hours to soak yourself into the same Lake Michigan, just at the different part of it. But when I get here, I instantly remember: oh, that’s why! Because the water is so clear, and the sand is so white and overall – this place talks to you!

Most of the time I am trying to get a bigger crowd to come with us, but this time I get sick just before the planned trip, and I was not sure whether I would be able to go, so I didn’t invite anybody.

We have lots of stories about the weather and how it would interfere with our trips, one takeaway was – do not trust any weather forecast. However, when Saturday morning the forecast turned to “thunderstorms from 12 to 2”. I’ve called Igor and asked whether we are still going, and shouldn’t we postpone our trip to Sunday.

After some discussion, we decided to go, and I am so glad we did!

I packed my new rolling bag for the first time. I got it several months ago to deal with my current inability to carry heavy stuff for an extended period. It was advertised as being able to walk the stairs and to roll on the beach. Both proved to be true and worked wonderfully. However, I found an unexpected problem with dragging something relatively heavy behind me, rather than rolling four-wheel luggage. Still, I need to figure out what precisely is wrong, but I had to give it to Igor on the long stretches. It worked great on the beach itself though, because unlike regular luggage it can stand it in the sand, and I could take out stuff and put in.

From Chicago, we had to take the South shore electric line from the Millennium station.

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The Trip To The East Germany (Part 3)

I have almost no pictures from our trip to East Germany. I know what I have some from Saxische Sweitzer – Saxon Switzerland, but I could not find them. Maybe they will emerge later, and then I will add them to this post. For now, I will continue without pictures.
When we arrived in Berlin, our hosts told us they would try to exchange our return train tickets, and they managed to get us an extra three days! We were overjoyed, and I will tell you in a little bit, what did I do with this additional time.

We liked East Germany. Now, when I read memoirs about the time the country was divided, people comment about the striking contrast between the East and West Germany, about East Berlin and West Berlin. We didn’t know anything about what’s going on behind the wall. We loved Berlin, and we loved Leipzig. We also loved all the other cities and towns our hosts would take us. We visited Weimar, Erfurt, and Eisenach. We had a three-day trip to Dresden, and one of these three days we visited Maison, and it’s famous factory. We roamed Saxische Sweitzer. We had an excursion to Potsdam.

We loved everything. The fact that the trams had schedules, which they were obeying to the minute. That the streets were clean and the university dorms were tidy. We loved the school cafeterias.

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My First Trip Abroad – Preparation And Other Details

I was about to start describing an actual trip, but then I’ve realized how many details surrounding this trip require a separate explanation. That’s one of the reasons I’ve decided to start this blog in the first place. I would never put into my journal back then all these details of our everyday lives because they were so “everybody knows it.” And the future generations will never ask about them because they won’t imagine that everyday things may be so different!

There were two essential things to take care of: passports and money. I know that for most of the world, a “passport” means a document that allows you to travel abroad. Not the case for the Soviet Union, and even for nowadays Russia.

All of us had an “internal passport,” which was issued to anybody when they reach sixteen years of age. This internal passport (which everybody would refer to as just “passport”) was used and is still used in the situations when Americans use their driver’s license or State ID. It was something you would need to carry with you most of the time if you want to avoid trouble with a militia.

And if you are lucky to be allowed to go to Zarganitsa, you will be issued a separate passport – a foreign passport, or as we now are aware of the terminology, “zagran-passport.” There were three different types of zagran-passport, and we were issues the “regular” ones.

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How I Went Abroad For The First Time

The first time I went abroad was in the summer of 1984. I was 21 and just finished my fourth year at the University. At that time, colleges and universities in the Soviet Union had the system of degrees, which was different from the rest of the world. We did not have bachelors and masters; we just had “specialist,” and everybody had to complete five years of school to graduate (some had to complete five and a half or six).
We didn’t have “freshmen” or “juniors,” we were “first-year students,” “second-year students,” etc.

I was attending the Department of Mathematics and Mechanics of the Leningrad State University, and we had “an exchange program” with Humbolt University in East Berlin. It was only called “exchange,” it took place in summer when schools were not in session, and it was just a rare chance to get to Zagranitsa. Both the Russian group and the German group consisted of ten students, in June the Germans where visiting Leningrad, and in August we were visiting Berlin.

The competition to be a part of this group has been going on for the whole school year. Until June we would not know who exactly will go to Germany (only East Germany, of cause!)

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What I Thought About The Foreign Countries

To build on my previous post, I am thinking about our perception of foreigners back in the Soviet Union. It was not about “foreign countries,” it was not about “international tourists,” it was about “Abroad” as a noun, “Zagranitza” in Russian.

The word means “behind the border” or “over the border,” anything which lies outside the borders of your country. I never thought of it back then, but now it seems funny for me that this word exists in the Russian language.

Zagranitza was scary and exciting at the same time. And when I am trying to analyze my past thoughts and feelings, I have to agree that they were very inconsistent and conflicting.

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The Rest Of Amsterdam

To be done with my Holland vacations – the last bits and pieces of my stay there.


There was one more museum which we visited – the Rembrandt House. There are not that many Rembrandt’ paintings there, but to see the place where he lived and created his art was exciting. That was one of many times when I thought about me as a 14-year old studying Rembrandt in the Hermitage museum in then Leningrad. He is one of my most favorite artists, and I was thinking, that back then, forty-two years ago I won’t believe if anybody would tell me I will be walking these rooms.

The kitchen
The room where Rembrandt would meet with his patrons
The workshop
A part of Rembrandt’s art collection

A couple of words about the conference: the venue was the old Amsterdam stock exchange, and I can’t recall ever being present at the scientific conference in the building that old!

I didn’t even plan to go there, but then came this early breakfast problem and the fact that I didn’t want to deprive Boris of his morning meetings. So I’ve accompanied Boris there on Sunday morning. And a couple of people said hi, and I replied – I am actually not here! And Boris said something to the effect whether I could stop explaining everybody, that I am not participating.

Then I went to a couple of keynotes – I was already there anyway! And then I saw C. Mohan, and for those who know him, it’s not a surprise that I’ve got a picture with him!

And then I’ve asked a couple of questions to the speakers. And I talked to several people. Later I thought that giving all my this year’s circumstances and the fact that I am unlikely to go to any other conferences till the end of the year, I could very well register and leave not on the 3rd, but on the 4th of July… whatever 🙂

Here are my last Amsterdam pictures – a beautiful afternoon in a beautiful city.

Next the morning I took a train to the airport, and before that, we had the nicest breakfast ever!

And Then There Were Dunes!

On my last full day in Amsterdam, the SIGMOD conference was already in full action, Boris was busy, and I was still trying to be on vacation and not to attend the conference :). I didn’t succeed entirely, but at this point, I was going to make it happen.

That’s why my Tuesday morning was reserved for meeting in person with the friend whom I only knew online before that. Slava asked me whether I’ve seen the sea in Holland yet, and I’ve replied – no. She said: well, then that’s what we are doing! We are going to the Dunes!

“Dunes” is a magical work for anybody living around lake Michigan (maybe that’s true for other Great Lakes as well, but I can only speak about ours). I might write a post about Indiana Dunes National park at some point, to tell you how awesome the Dunes are, but for now, trust me!

I was thrilled to learn that there are Dunes in North Holland, too. And that the Dunes over there are also considered a National Park. It was a weekday morning and quite a windy one, so there were very few people on the beach, but everything looked gorgeous!

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Resistance Museum Without Pictures

This post will have no pictures. I didn’t take any pictures in this museum, mostly because we were short on time. We wanted to visit this museum very much – we’ve read a lot about the Dutch Resistance. Even when we were visiting other museums in Amsterdam, such as Stedelijk, there were multiple mentions of how people, artists, and curators, in particular, felt compelled to aid the Resistance, and how vital the Resistance was for cultural and national preservation.

The location of the Resistance Museum is not a very central one, so it required some planning, especially because the conference had started already, but we made it. By that time, after being in Amsterdam for a couple of days, we’ve already realized how useful their museum audioguides are. They are way more convenient than the ones we have in the States, at least here in Chicago.

When we visited Brussels several years ago, we ended up being very disappointed in the Magritte Museum – there were not that many of his paintings there (then-recent Art Institute exhibit had more!) and we could not read any of his letters and diaries, which were on display in abundance. We were a little bit concerned that something like this will happen in the Resistance Museum, but the audioguides helped a lot!

That’s another reason I didn’t take any pictures inside this museum – obviously, all explanations are in Dutch, and the exhibit is mostly useless without them. I’ve learned a lot about how life in the Netherlands was unfolding during WWII. It turned out I didn’t know a lot, including brutal hunger towards the end of the war.

That won’t be the first time that I am realizing how little did I know about WWII before I came to the US. My knowledge about the events of WWII was very obscure. The way World War II history was taught at school would give you the impression that even though there was something else going on, the most significant part of it was the Great Patriotic War. When I first rented a set of DVDs about WWII in our local library was the first time I’ve realized that WWII was a WORLD war and that so many countries have participated. It was a shock for me that the USSR was mentioned on less than half of these DVDs.

Since that time the more I travel the world, the more I learn about different countries’ history, this realization becomes deeper. In this sense, the Resistance Museum was a great history lesson, and also an outstanding ethical experience. The museum is organized in such a way, that the visitors are presented with the questions the war-time Dutch citizen had to answer: should I cooperate or disobey? Should I fly or stay? Should I hide or should I protest? I could not even imagine one could build the whole museum based on these ethical choices.

And one more thought. I agree with my friend, who was saying that the visit to this museum and her subsequent research made her realize that the Soviet Union was the only country under German occupation which did not have a resistance movement. The “partisans” were organized and controlled by the communist party, or the communist party would acquire a leadership over a spontaneously organized group. Also, the focus of the “partisans” activity was on blowing bridges and military echelons, not on saving people, as it was with the Resistance in other countries. Sadly, I have to admit, that by the time the war broke out, the idea of resisting any authorities was wiped entirely off people’s minds and was not considered even a remote possibility.

Amsterdam Day 4 – The Church Of Our Lord In The Attic

This attraction was not recommended by the app originally, but my local friend told me, that this is one thing she would strongly recommend to see.

Fortunately, it appeared to be super-close to the conference venue, and even though the conference has started already, I’ve asked Boris to find a session he can skip, and we went to see the church.

What is this church anyway? It was one of the many underground (although we should probably say – upground) Catholic churches which existed in Amsterdam at the time the Catholic churches were outlawed.

The building does not look like a church at all:

You might wonder, was it really possible that such a large institution would remain unnoticed and undiscovered. The audioguide says that it’s not like nobody knew what was going on – you just had to bribe the right person 🙂

I’ve made tons of pictures in this church, however, when I’ve started to go over them, I’ve realized that due to the size of the space most of the pictures do not give the right impression – they show only small fragments of the beauty!

Actually, it is one of the oldest museums in Amsterdam – the church was operating will 1887, and was reopened as a museum in 1888! It consists of three houses adjacent to each other, and the church itself occupies the two upper floors of all three buildings combined (if you understand, what I am trying to say :))

Everything starts from the kitchen
All these plates, and pots, and other things were excavated at this site
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