snow snow snow...

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Well I've been home for a week now. I arrived home to find out that my family had been without power and heat for three days because of a huge ice storm that took down trees and power lines all throughout New England. Thankfully we got power back just as I was returning home. We had another storm Friday dropping almost a foot of snow and were in the tail end of another right now... with probably another foot before the night is over. Russia has followed me home! Luckily I love snow.

Goodbye Russia

Sunday, December 14, 2008

While I sit here in London on my pillow top, down comforter hotel bed after taking a shower in water that doesn’t make me dirtier and brushing my teeth with water that hasn’t needed boiling and filtering, I can think only about how much I am going to miss Russia. I’m still not entirely sure why I am going to miss it, but there is something about that country that I cannot help but love. In Russia you can never know what to expect. You can do the same thing a hundred times and on that one hundred and first try it doesn’t work anymore, oh well. It’s Russia. You live a dual life in Russia. Everything is difficult but at the same time so easy. No matter what is happening if something goes wrong it can be easily fixed by simply saying, “it’s Russia”. While that may not actually solve the problem, it some how makes it better. I know that once I get back to the states I can’t do that and when something goes wrong there it just becomes more stressful because you spend so much time searching for a way to fix the problem. As terrible as that sounds it explains both why Russia is the way it is, and at the same time how Russians have survived for so long. When a building is crumbling and there is no one taking responsibility to fix it you just say “it’s Russia” and ignore the problem. When the only place you can afford to live in is that crumbling apartment you just say “it’s Russia” and move on with your life instead of adding to the suffering of your living condition.

I think part of the appeal of Russia is also in the history. That country has been through so much in the past hundred years alone that there is never a dull moment in their history books. Every generation of people living in Russia has had and entirely different life experience and when all those groups of people combine you can never know what to expect. There are the “blockadniks” or those who survived the siege of Leningrad, those who grew up under the fearful rule of Stalin, those who survived the de-communization of the country and the complete collapse of everything they had ever known. There are the young adults now who were raised by parents that grew up in a communist country. From what I have seen, they fully embrace capitalism and take it to new heights that their parents could never have dreamed of. Then there are the children. Those people that have never lived under a communist regime and will only get some of the lasting effects of it. I really don’t know what these children will grow up to become, but I would love to come back in another 10 years to see what has become of this country. So much progress and so many changes have been made in the last ten years alone that I can only imagine what it will be like in the future.

I have really enjoyed my time here. I wish I could have gotten to know the Russian people a little better, but sometimes it's best to learn people from afar before you get to know them personally… maybe I will save that for another trip back. I know that Russians can be the meanest, rudest, and most uncaring people when you see them on the streets, however if you are ever invited into one’s home they become the most friendly, caring, and kindest people in the world. This is, again, that strange duality of the Russian people that I think will take more than four months for me to fully understand.

I will miss the metro rides, so crowded that you can either laugh or cry but because it’s Russia you usually just laugh. I will miss the mullets and the stiletto heels and the mini skirts in December. I will miss the surprise you get every day at Nahodka when you weren’t sure if you were buying cheese or butter that day because they would never have both on the same day… but you would probably get one. I will miss the tedious process of boiling/filtering/reboiling that really makes you appreciate every cup of tea you drink. I will miss the sheer joy of having exact change and not getting yelled at at the store. I will miss Nevsky Prospect that can always be crowded and dirty and yet somehow absolutely beautiful at the same time.


While it seems like I have just left the United States, I know I will be returning to a country that is not the same as when I left it. I will be returning with one less grandparent. I will be returning to a country with a new president. I will be returning to a country facing one of the worst economic crises since the Great Depression. Even with the uncertain state of our country, I could not be more grateful for what I have there. Family, friends, a safe future for my loved ones, the knowledge that my grandmother doesn’t have to beg on the streets to get money, the knowledge that if anyone I knew was ever hurt in war they would be taken care of and would not have to wheel themselves around the metro using their one remaining limb to collect change, the knowledge that I can write and say what I want about whoever I want and not have to fear death. Our country is not perfect but it should not be taken for granted by anyone.

Catherine's Palace and Finals

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

This past week has gone by so quickly that I hadn't even noticed that I didn't updated. Last week was the start of finals. I didn't have my first one until Friday but I think that went well. I had to write about Stalin's political objectives through collectivization. Very exciting. Saturday we had our excursion to Pushkin which is a town about an hour and a half away from St. Petersburg. This is where Catherine I had her palace. We wanted to visit Catherine's Palace earlier in the year to see the leaves change but I thought it was beautiful in the snow. While most of last week had been rainy, it changed to snow Friday night so there were a few inches of soft snow for our trip to Pushkin. The Palace was, of course, beautiful. It is amazing to see but when you've walked through the seventh golden room it becomes apparent why the people of Russia would rise up against the Emperor. I imagine that if they skimped on ONE of those rooms they could have fed the Russian people for a year and prevented their own downfall. I would never say no to a gold filled palace, but with the number of palace around Russia like that its hard to imagine how you could one up your neighbor and they all get a little repetitive. I wonder if the Tzars ever got bored of the palaces and their superfluous decorations. We also got to see the Amber Room which sadly was not as exciting as I imagined. It was actually one of the smaller rooms in the Palace. I guess it is just famous because of the story behind it. After touring the Palace we took a walk through the park. For some reason I always find the parks more interesting and beautiful than the Palaces themselves.

I spent most of Sunday studying for my Russian finals. Our final was split into two parts, the grammar that took place on Monday and then the Verbal that was today. I wasn't that worried about the grammar and I found out today that I got a 5. I was, however, very nervous for the verbal. For that we had to memorize and recite a poem, read a text, retell the text, and then talk about one of six topics we covered over the semester. Luckily the reading we got was easy and my teacher gave me what I though was an easier topic. The poem I've had memorized for a while. In class I have a hard time retelling the stories because my teacher will often interrupt me and tell me what to say. When I know what I want to say sometime I just need a minute to get it out. The interrupting usually just confused me and hurts more than helps. Luckily I didn't have that today and I think I did pretty well. I ended up getting 5s on all parts of that.

Today I started packing. I can't believe we're going home in four days.

Thursday is my final exam, Russian History from Kievan Russ to the Revolution. I'm not to worried about that but I will probably end up studying most of tomorrow.

The Balitka Challenge

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Thursday after class a few of us went to the Russian Art Museum. I felt that, with only two weeks, I should really go at least once. I am not a big art aficionado however I could appreciate the amount of beautiful work that has come out of this country. After that we went over to the market behind Church on Spilled Blood which has some very nice souvenirs. When we arrived here in the summer everything was extremely expensive however now that it is cold and dark all the time they are much more willing to give discounts. We had over an hour before dinner so we went to an amazing donut shop where we all had our pre-dinner desert.

Our Thanksgiving dinner was amazing. It was at a restaurant called The Other Side, owned and operated by an ex-pat from New York. None of us really knew what to expect, not having celebrated Thanksgiving outside of the US before. It was very funny to see how those not from the US viewed it. Our two RDs are both from Great Britain and Misha is from Russia. They all said “Happy Thanksgiving” as if it was a religious holiday or something. Even the waitresses were wishing us a happy thanksgiving. It was really cute. The food was amazing. There was turkey, cranberry sauce, gravy, potatoes, stuffing, corn, sweet potatoes, and brussels sprouts. Knowing that the people making our food have never celebrated Thanksgiving, we were afraid that they would miss one of the most important factors in Thanksgiving: if you are not stuffed to the point of explosion, you didn’t do it right. Luckily, that one plate of food had us all stuffed (but of course with room for dessert!). I’ve never liked pumpkin pie but I think that one meal has made me love it. There were, of course, no leftovers to take home but we did stop at the store on the way home to get some ice cream.
BeforeAfter

Friday night we decided to dye my hair. Word of advice; if the instructions on the package are not in a language you understand, don’t do it. Lets just say it took a few tries to get my hair back to a normal (human) color.

Yesterday we went to the Baltika Brewery. That was very interesting. I didn’t realize there were so many awards for beer.

Yesterday evening a few of us decided to go to mass at one of the two Catholic churches in the entire city. There is an English mass at 9:30 on Sunday mornings but it’s really hard to make it to the center at that time. Because of this we decided to go to the Russian mass. Little did we know that this was the first time the church was in full function since before the Soviets had taken it over. It was apparently the official “opening” mass of the church (even though they’ve been having masses for five years). There was about 40 priests and the Bishops there. The mass was over 2 hours long. They blessed all the wall of the church with water, asked for a blessing from every saint in the Catholic religion, and had to give communion to hundreds of Russians. I guess if you don’t know Russians too well that may not have significance. Usually at a church giving communion takes a bit of time but if there are a lot of people they usually break it up and have several people giving communion. Not here. There were two. Not only that, but Russians do not know how to form lines. It was literally a mob of people squishing towards the front of the church. Of course it narrowed out as we got closer to the priest, but it was still the most unorganized church line I had ever been in. Oh and I forgot to mention… we were standing the whole time… near the open door. They must have spent all of their money on repairing the church over the past 10 years and now they can’t afford to turn on the heat. While it was insanely long, cold, tiring, and in a language I could only slightly understand it was still good. I think I may suck it up and just go to the early Sunday mass next week.

After mass Jess and I returned home to find out roommates halfway through what we call “The Baltika Challenge.” Baltika makes 9 different types of beer and they decided to try each one to see which they liked the most. They even took notes. It was a very educational experience.
The Baltika Family

Explosion in the City

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Yesterday a little before 9 in the morning there was an explosion in a taxi just outside of a metro station in St. Petersburg. Three people (a man, woman, and their child) were killed. The man driving the taxi somehow survived. According to the Russian authorities it was not a terrorist attack and (according to them) one of the three passengers “accidentally” set off a hand grenade that they just happened to be carrying.

I hate when my spare hand grenades accidentally explode.

WHAT?!? Who carries hand grenades??

Apparently there are a surprising number of Russians who do. All men are required to serve in the armed forces and I guess it is quite easy to get grenades and when they are released from service they just hold on to them. Many of them end up being sold on the black market. I don’t know why this man would have been carrying one at 9 in the morning while out with his wife and child but that seems to be the reason for the explosion. This happens less than a year after a bomb went off in a McDonald’s down on Nevsky… that of course was just some teenage “hooliganism”. I don’t know. In this country I just don’t see how it can just be an accident.

It may be because I just finished reading A Dirty War that my cynicism of this country is at an all time high. I was doing some reading about Anna Politkovskaya after finishing the book. She was not the first journalist to be “contract” style assassinated after writing something that made the government look bad. She wasn’t the second or third or fourth either. She was the 13th. Three men are currently on trial for “taking part” in her assassination. First of all, none are charged with ordering or carrying out the murder but they are the main focus for some reason. Secondly, the men are all Chechen, which are the people she spent her time (and life) trying to protect and defend. The judge seems to be completely fixed, too. He made a big point to tell the press and other journalists that they could watch the trial however reneged the offer because he said that the juror did not feel safe. After talking to the jurors it became clear that none of them ever complained about have the journalists and press. I think he just made a show of that so people felt they were going about this trial fairly. Now the defense lawyers are calling for that judge to be dismissed. There is also evidence now that points to a Russian Politician at the top of all this. It’s all so sketchy. I will definitely be following this story at home.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving!
Happy День Благодарениа!
Enjoy your индейка!

Oh the weather outside is frightful...

Sunday, November 23, 2008

I woke up early today to the wind blowing and howling so loudly that I thought it was going to knock in my window (which wouldn’t be too hard to do). Along with the wind has come snow, sleet, and rain. I think it may have turned back to snow in the past hour however I do not plan on stepping outside at any point in time tonight.

Thursday our teacher came into class and seemed very frustrated. Apparently she had spent the morning translating for the dean of the school and some deans from some Chinese schools. Her dean doesn’t speak any Chinese or English but the other deans at least knew English. She was just annoyed with the amount of time they spent talking about the sites of the city when they had a lot of work to do. Someone in my class suggested we just didn’t have class but she decided that we should just go on a field trip instead. Our field trip was to the McDonald’s down the street. Anything other than class on a Thursday sounds good to me.

Friday I got my midterm back from my Kievan Russ class. I managed a 5 even though I left out some important details. I guess I made up for it by throwing in a bunch of only mildly related subjects into it.

Friday night a few of us went to see Twilight (сумерки) down on Nevsky. Now, to say that I have read these books geared towards 15 years olds is a little embarrassing, however I really enjoyed them so I wouldn’t hide that fact if someone asked me. The movie, on the other hand, I am just going to pretend I never heard of. There are some people who enjoyed it but I still haven’t figured out what it was that they actually liked. The directing, acting, makeup, cinematography, and special effects were all terrible. I don’t know what else there is to a movie after you take out all of that? While the screenplay was cheesy I guess it did a good job of sticking to the book so it had that going for it. That, however, did not make up for all the other aspects of the movie that were truly terrible. I would like to think that it had something to do with the fact that I was watching it in Russian and it didn’t have any subtitles but from what I remember of some of the lines in the previews I’m kind of glad I didn’t see it in English. I did really like the baseball scene though. That was about it.

Saturday we had an excursion to the Pushkin Apartment Museum. It was pretty similar to the Dostoevsky Apartment Museum only a different apartment and a different writer. “Here is where he wrote, this was his children’s room, this was his pen, this was his hat, this was where he died.” Pushkin’s apartment was much bigger but that was the only big difference.

Today I woke up early to go to mass with a friend however she never came to get me and (considering the weather) I just figured she decided not to go. After that I went to bed, woke up late, watched a movie, and read for a bit. Right now I’m reading A Dirty War by Anna Politkovskaya, the Russian journalist who was murdered about two years ago after publishing some bad stuff about Putin and other bigwigs in the Russian government. It is some pretty interesting stuff and she had no fear of giving out the names of those who were to blame for atrocities in Chechnya. After this book was published she had to flee Russia because of some serious death threats that she received from the Russian military. They clearly weren’t all just threats.

We have less than three weeks here. Crazy.

снег! (snow in Russian... not 'Cher' the singer)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

We have snow in St. Petersburg! Yesterday there was a small amount of snow in the morning but none of it stuck. Today it snowed continuously from the time I woke up until right now (and I think it is still snowing). I'm so happy it is finally here. St. Petersburg in winter without snow is just miserable. More than 200 days out of the year the city will have have either snow or rain. When the sun is only in the sky for three hours a day it is terrible when that three hours is filled with rain clouds. At least with snow everything seems bright from the reflection of the snow. Jess, Kori, and I met Jess' friend Ryan and her friend Meg at the Greek restaurant (I should really learn the name of this place) for lunch. Even though it was slippery out and the snow was blowing in my face I loved it. Everything was white and even the more soviet buildings along Grahzdansky looked pretty. Forecast for the next 7 days… snow.

Back in the USSR... I mean Russia

Monday, November 17, 2008

After living in St. Petersburg for 3 months where almost everything is open 24 hours a day, we were very surprised to get up and out early only to find out that nothing opens until noon. We ended up walking a bit to a café called Ekberg. This café has apparently existed since the time of the Tzars and they use the recipes that they used in that time. It was great food and a good time waster. All I did was go back to H&M. We met around 2 and then headed back to the train station. While the ride there was only 6 hours, the ride home was 9. Luckily we all made it one piece.
I needed to get food today because I’m almost down to nothing however Nahodka was closed again!?! There was apparently almost a riot outside when people found out it was closed. Nahodka is one of many places that is open 24 hours a day and no one knows what to do with themselves when it is closed.

Oh! It also snowed today! Nothing stuck but there is a chance of snow every day for the next 10 days at least!

Tallinn

Saturday, November 15, 2008

 On Saturday we had to wake up at 4:30 to get on a bus and drive (10 minutes) to the other side of the city. From there we caught the ferry to Tallinn, Estonia. The ferry was basically a small cruise ship. It was, unfortunately, a little difficult to fall asleep on. It rained this entire day. We had to walk 20 minutes from the port to the Old Town. The Old Town was the only part of the city that was protected from Russian when they controlled them during the times of the USSR. (Finland had been granted freedom by Lenin in 1917 and has almost no communist influence like the countries of the former USSR). After our tour of Old Town we sat down in a small café with some great hot chocolate. Around 2 we met up with my roommate’s friend who lives in Tallinn. I felt bad because I know she wanted to show us around the city but we were all tired and hungry so we ended up stopping to eat. After eating she did show us around and we later parted ways. A few of us went to another café while she and my roommate walked around more. It was a beautiful city but when you are drenched, cold, and tired it is hard to keep walking when you know there are warm cafes all around you. After that we had to walk back to the Port. The ferry ride home was amazing. We sat in a restaurant/pub place and watched a lot of crazy people dance to man playing the guitar who sang a lot of English songs. There was a drunk man dancing with a broom, a man dressed up like Elvis, and a woman that began making out with a 17 year old boy on the dance floor while her husband went out on the deck to smoke. (The man later came back in a sat down to watch and all three mysteriously disappeared as the boat was docking!)

The Shire

Friday, November 14, 2008

We had breakfast at the hostel and had the rest of the day to explore the city. I honestly think that we could walk from one end of Helsinki to the other in under ½ and hour. The city was tiny but had a great tram system. There are only 500,000 people living in the city versus the 6 million in St. Petersburg so everything seem much less claustrophobic. There were also much less traffic and more bike riders in the city. Down by the docks was a small market. During the summer it is probably huge however it’s getting colder now and there were only a few stands set up.

After looking around there for a while we decided to hop on a ferry and take a trip out to the Sea Fortress Island off the coast. I have to say that this was, by far, my favorite part of this trip. The fortress was set up on two islands and it was a completely self guided tour. There were a few signs to let you know which direction was the ferry dock, however that was the only guidance we had. We could wander around all the old caves that were used as the fortress. Everything was pitch black and just like it would have been at the time the fort was used. A flashlight would have been helpful but we ended up using the flashes on our cameras to light up the tunnels so we didn’t trip on the rocks and winding passages. It was amazing. I felt like I was in the Goonies, traveling through all these crazy tunnels. I’m glad we went in the fall because I feel like in the summer it probably gets very crowded and it would have really ruined the fun of it if there were people all over the place. There were very few other people there at the same time as us. After the tunnels we came to a place that we like to call the Shire. It really looked like we stumbled into a Lord of the Rings book. From the top of the “hobbit houses” you could get a beautiful view of the Baltic Sea. There was no one there to yell at us for doing anything and we were having as much fun as a bunch of 7 year olds without adult supervision. We ended up jumping out one of the windows of the fort to reach a lighthouse on the rocks (Forbidden in Finnish is something like Forbiidden but we just pretended to not understand). 

It’s amazing how trusting the Finnish people are. They are a socialist country and pay 22% tax on almost everything so they very rarely checked tickets on the tram ride and, after spending 10 minutes trying to figure out how to get a ticket for the ferry, they didn’t even collect that. It is very different from Russia where they distrust everyone even when you can prove you are doing everything by the rules.

After returning from the island we ate at a small café and later when to dinner at Chico’s which is an American style restaurant. We only went there because we read somewhere that they had a peanut butter chicken dish and pepperoni quesadillas that we all agreed we needed to try. Unfortunately they did not. I did have a barbecue cheeseburger however. It was awesome. After that we did some shopping at H&M where we ran into basically everyone else from our trip. This weekend was not so much a trip to experience a new culture… it was more a weekend to regain our sanity and see civilization again to get us through this last month in Russia.

Welcome to Finland

Thursday, November 13, 2008

 I woke up around 5 a.m. Thursday morning. We had a 7:17 train ride to catch. The ride was very uneventful but I was very tired and could not get comfortable enough to get any sleep. We spent a long time waiting in Vyborg where we got our passports and visas checked by the Russians and then had to wait again a little later while the Finns checked our passports. We got to Helsinki, Finland around 12:35 after turning our clocks back and hour. We met our tour guide and hopped on a very nice and clean bus (the polar opposite of our bus from Moscow) to take a tour of the city. We stopped at a Lutheran Church that was built into a huge rock, a monument to a famous Finnish composer, the Senate Square, and the only Orthodox Church in the city. After our bus tour we were able to check into our Hostel. This was the first time I’ve ever stayed in a hostel but it was pretty nice. The bed sadly made me miss my IMOP bed however it wasn’t bad. My shower was amazing even though you had to hit a button every 10 seconds to turn the water back on. It was the first time in 3 months that I felt like the water had actually cleaned me and my hair didn’t feel like straw after! After checking in my suitemates and I headed out for a walk in the city to find some food. Since we’ve eaten food from every other country in the world we decided to try to Thai food (hard to find in Russia). It was great. The best part was when two men walked in, turned to us, and said “hello” with a smile. Not only did they smile and say hi to us just to be nice, but they spoke in English! Amazing. We had had a long day so we didn’t feel like doing anything that involved too much walking so we continued on into the city until we found a movie theater. We had been planning for a while to see James Bond in Finland simply because it would be in English. Not only was the ticket lady polite and helpful but she offered to let us pay separately! (unheard of in Russia) After the movie we headed back to get some sleep.

Off for the weekend...

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Only two things for today:

A man was standing outside my dorm today with a broadsword strapped across his back.

and…

Our water is extremely hot. While washing the dishes it feels more like someone has just boiled a pot of water and is pouring it over your hands than actual warm water coming out of a faucet. I think the nerve endings in my hand have been destroyed. Today I actually did spill some boiling water over my hand and I was more annoyed that I had spilled water all over the place than the fact that I burned myself.

I’m going to bed early to rest up for a very busy weekend!

Various Russian Things

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Nutcracker was good. It certainly wasn’t the ballet but it was entertaining. I took some pictures but none of them came out clear enough to bother putting them up here. Tomorrow is our last day of class before heading off to Finland and Estonia for four days. Since I haven’t done anything interesting since Sunday I figured I would talk a little more about Russia.

Today I took a trip to the post office (surprisingly easier than in the States). As I was leaving my dorm I passed by and old brown and orange van. Standing outside the van were three men with bullet proof vests on, in the process of arming themselves with guns. There were three more people sitting in the idling van. After securing their weapons they proceeded to head into my dorm. The best part of the story is that this didn’t phase me at all. I just kept walking. I’ve actually seen these guys coming into the dorm once before and at the time I thought that I should probably be worried or something but seeing things like that in Russia are not as exciting as they would be at home.

I guess I should talk now about the almighty force of the Russian Police. The Russian police here basically have power to do anything they want. Those people entering my dorm weren’t the police and I think that was why I was less nervous than I would have been if it were. It’s strange living everyday in fear of the police but I have gotten used to it. You can be stopped for any reason and you must show your ID immediately. Many people in our group have been stopped and luckily no one has had a problem but I have heard that many times you need to bribe the officers to let you go. One day we looking for some building and my roommate realized she forgot her Spravka (id) while we were walking through one of the city’s military academies. It was probably the scariest days I’ve had here. We don’t really know what could have happened if we were stopped and she didn’t have it. When you see them you immediately divert your eyes otherwise there is a good chance you will get stopped. It is also confusing because anyone serving in the military (which is required by all men at one point in their life) is required to wear uniform. There are so many in St. Petersburg that I feel like I am constantly slinking around avoided people everywhere. I’m sure most of the people serving in the military are good men and don’t take advantage of their power, however it is common knowledge that there are many who do.

And now some more boring stuff....

They have been “renovating” the first floor of our dorm and it amazing what they are doing. Instead of redoing the walls that are falling apart they are putting up very cheap, bright orange, fake walls. They reminded me of the type of walls you would put up in a basement when you know there is a good chance they will be damaged by water or general basementness as soon as you put them up. At one spot in the hallway they cut a chunk of the older brick wall out and what did I see under neither the top two layers? A third layer of wall. This is apparently not the first time this building has needed “work”. I don’t really have a problem with the new walls they are putting up. Sure, they look a little tacky and make the hallway smaller, however that is not my main problem with the walls. I noticed one day while turning the corner to go up the stairs, that the corner had been chiseled away. I’m guessing this was done so that the top layer of wall would be able to meet at the corner with out any interference from the wall under neither, however I know this can’t be good for the stability of the building. I’ve never taken any architecture classes but I really didn’t get a good feeling when I saw that all the corners in the hallway had large gaping chunks taken out of them. They are working on putting up a new ceiling up now. I just hope they don’t decide to dig through the existing one to get that job done.

Oh, their tiling is great, too. They obviously hired a terrible tiler when this building was built and since then, whenever one tile gets lose they either have someone come in and fix it with a tile of a completely different color and/or design or just leave it and let it jingle every time some steps on it. Our laundry room has about 5 out of 300 tiles still secured to the ground. ( For my LCers think of the Berlin Museum with the floor of clanking faces…. It’s exactly like that.)

Yusupov Palace

Saturday, November 8, 2008

The other day my friends and I went to look for the Harley Davidson store. We weren't sure if they were going to have any clothes or souvenirs but we figured we might as well check it out while we had some free time. Little did we know that it was a 20 minute walk along a highway to get there. Of course once we did get there, and after a minute of my awkward Russian-speak, we learned that they were just a dealership. Oh well. It was cold but it wasn't a bad walk and we got to see some new parts of the city.

Friday I took my midterm for Early Russian History. I also got back my test for my Communist Phase class which I got a 5 (A) on! I don't think I did as good on the second test as I did on the first.

Today we had an excursion to Yusupov Palace. This was also a 20 minute walk from the metro however it was a nice walk along one of the smaller rivers, where the streets are line on both sides by old palaces. Yusupov Palace is the place where Prince Felix Yusupov tried (multiple times) to assassinate Rasputin. The tour started with path that the assassins took on their way to kill him. They poisoned him, shot him multiple times, and after he managed to escape, they wrapped him up in a curtain and threw him into the Neva River. When they found his body a few days later they found that he had escaped from the curtain but eventually drowned. I thought that was going to be the main part of the tour but we actually got to tour the entire palace. The Yusupov family was the richest in Russia. The Imperial family actually had to borrow money from them on occasion. The palace was huge, with something crazy like 6 drawing rooms, several dining rooms, a ballroom, a home theater, bedrooms with secret doors, and a library with a hidden nook in the wall full of Pushkin letters. I thought it was prettier than the Winter Palace which was where the Tzars lived.

After that we ate at a small basement Chinese restaurant which looked sketchy from the outside but was really nice inside and the food was great and pretty cheap. We also went to St. Isaac's Cathedral. We went there at the very beginning of the trip but we never went in and we tried going last week but the line was too long. We just got a pass to go on the Colonnade and not into the actually church itself. There was a lot of stairs but the view was worth it. You could see most of the city unfortunately most of the city in under construction in one way or another. My favorite picture is the sunset with all the cranes in the distance. It kind of reminds me of Jurassic Park with all the dinosaurs on the horizon.


Tomorrow were going to see the Nutcracker! We tried to buy tickets to the show at the Mariinsky Theatre but the were 1800 roubles ($80). We asked if it was showing it at any other theaters. The woman said a ton of stuff in Russian that we didn't understand but we ended up buying tickets for 300 roubles instead. We came back here and looked it up online and it turns out its the Nutcracker on ice! I think it's going to be awesome. Or I at least hope it is going to be awesome. We'll find out tomorrow!

Russian Construction and more food

Friday, November 7, 2008

It’s Friday! We only had three days of classes this week but for some reason I’m very happy it's Friday. Next week we also only have three days of classes because we’re leaving for Finland and Estonia Thursday morning.

Tuesday we had our opera at Mihailsky Theatre. It was Eugene Onegin, a book written by Pushkin and turned into and opera by Tchaikovsky. The people that were taking the lit class had to read this book but I knew very little about the story. My roommate filled me in but it is hard enough understanding Russians when they are talking… when they are singing opera in Russian it is almost impossible. It was a fun time though. My suitemates and I got a private box that needed a key to get into.

We also ate at an amazing Greek restaurant earlier that day. I think we have tried food from almost every country on the planet. We’ve had Japanese, Italian, Chinese, Greek, American, Azerbaijani, Russian, Mexican, and Irish food since we’ve gotten here. This Greek place was one of my favorites (right behind Shamrock’s food). The best part about this restaurant was trying to get in. In the United States when there is construction going on there are strict laws in place to protect both the workers and pedestrians. While building the new Science building at Stonehill I know that they completely blocked off a road even though it was like 200 feet from the actual construction and everything was totally fenced off. In Russia those laws don’t exist. The road to get to this restaurant was completely under construction and the sidewalk in front of the building was non-existent.



 It was just a big hole in the ground with some board placed over it as a walkway to the entrance. There were a ton of men working right outside this place to and we had to step around them and all of their drills and sledgehammers to get to our restaurant. When we left and continued on down the street there were sections where you had to climb through sheet metal balanced on strips of wood to get to the next part of the sidewalk. I would like to think that these things were put there on purpose and built sturdily however it is more likely that when the men finished working for the day they just threw their extra materials on the sidewalk, not worrying about what happens to the people that need to walk through that space.

In other news, we had no hot water today. Now it’s not like it happened before, when you turn on the hot water and cold water comes out. No. There was just no water at all. You turn the nob and nothing happens at all. The cold worked fine of course but how often do we actually use that here? Never. It is working now however it is coming out brown again. It’s Russia.

I have a very overdue midterm to take in about an hour. After that were going to the Pizza Bar to get a late lunch/ early dinner. We haven’t gone in like 2 weeks or something crazy like that.

New President

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Well we have a new president. I can’t really say it makes me happy or upset. I didn’t vote, mainly because I don’t like either candidate and I didn’t think either of them would really help America. I couldn’t bring myself to voting for the lesser of two evils.

During one of my history lessons my professor began listing the reasons why the 1917 Revolution was a success. One of the biggest reasons was that, at the time, the Russian people felt that they needed a drastic change from the monarchy that they had been living under for hundreds of years. The communist party was the “change” that was needed. My professor stated after that, “I don’t know where you people got the idea that change was always for the better. The Russian people have learned since then that change is very rarely a positive thing.” I agree that America needs change, I just don’t know if the American people truly know what changes are needed and how to get those changes done. I personally feel that Obama got lucky and had a very smart marketing team when they chose that slogan.

For the short term I think Obama is what the country needed. No so much because I think he will help our country drastically, but more because, by his winning, he has put some faith back into the American people. People came out in record numbers to vote and they’ve seen that they actually can get things done when they make a strong effort and fight for what they want. I feel like if Obama had lost there were be a lot of disgruntled young Americans that would be extremely turned off by the entire governmental process and share that with the generations to come. While I’m not sure the majority of the American youth really know what they are rallying about, I’m glad that they are least being passionate about something. At least if things do not work out in the future they will know that they can change it again… hopefully.

As for the long term I honestly can’t say where I think this country is going. I hope it’s going to get better.

It is very interesting to see how people in the states are reacting to Obama’s election. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve been in Russia for the past two and a half months or if I’m just too pessimistic to believe everything I hear but I feel as though some people think we just elected a God to the presidency. I’m worried that people are expecting too much from one man. He is human. And he is a politician. Let’s keep that in mind before we start building any monuments. I’m just worried that there are a lot of people that simply got swept up in the emotion and excitement that came with his campaign and haven’t really taken the time to look at what he stands for and what he would like to do with the country. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think McCain would have been any better for our country at this point in time, but I just hope people know what they have elected.


I know I’m a pessimist but I will try to hope for the best in the next four years. Yes we have a new president. No, America will not be magically healed of all it’s wounds. And hopefully the change we will get with this new administration will be change for the better… not the Russian kind of change.

Halloween

Monday, November 3, 2008

Halloween was a lot of fun. Shamrocks was all decked out for Halloween. It was packed because, while there are few Russians who celebrate it, there are plenty of expats and visitors that do. We also got to meet Tom the owner who is originally from Virgina. I remember seeing him sitting at the bar when we went there for my birthday. Now he looks exactly like Santa Claus, and assuming he was Russian, I said that to my friends. He was sitting close enough to hear but I am really hoping that he didn't… and if he did I hope he didn't remember us.

Sunday we had a tour of Dostoevsky's apartment which was very interesting and short. After that we went to a food market and then the crazy outdoor market where I bought a scarf. Sunday night we had our Halloween party. I wasn't feeling good so I didn't stay long but I did meet a lot of people from China, Turkey, and other random countries. It's really funny how obsessed the Chinese were with Americans. They all wanted to get pictures which each of us as if we were celebrities or something. It was pretty cool. I spent most of today sitting in bed and drinking multiple cups of green tea. I still need to find a hat and I am waiting on my boots to get here in the mail. Tomorrow is Russian Unity Day and there is supposed to be some type of celebration going on at Palace Square so we are going to check that out at some point. We also have the opera tomorrow night!

New Friends

Thursday, October 30, 2008

I made a friend today in the laundry room! His name is Lawrence. He is from Zambia and he has been studying here for four years. When he first got here he took eight months of intensive Russia… like eight hours a day for eight months. He is fluent now. It was very interesting to talk with him and see the way he views everything. I was very happy to hear that he has the same opinion of Russia as we have. It is something that takes a lot of getting used to and even when you think you are used to it, it changes and messes with you some more. And no matter how much you get used to it it is always hard. And this is coming from someone from Africa and one of the world's poorest countries. He also agreed that Russians never smile and will almost never talk to you unless you initiate conversation. If you do initiate conversation they will quickly become your best friend. He said that Americans were also the same way but I had to point out that we are usually just too afraid of making a fool of ourselves to approach anyone first. He did say he could tell I was American because the second he started talking to me I smiled. He was shocked to hear the price of schools in America. I explained to him the concept of financial aid but he still could not believe how much we pay for school. We also talked about how our living situation is kind of counter productive for learning Russian. Most of our floor is Americans and anyone who is not is Finnish, Swedish, or Turkish. We are not mixed in with the Russians at all. In his dorm they are really mixed and he roommate is from the Congo and speaks french so they use Russian to communicate. If we did that here I think it would be very helpful.

Tomorrow is Halloween! We're going to Shamrocks for dinner. Next Monday and Tuesday are national holidays in Russia so we have those two days off but have class on Saturday.

Missing Home A Bit

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

As Halloween gets closer I've been having strong waves of missing the States. Halloween is not celebrated in Russia so it is very different from home. I'm sure Thanksgiving will be worse but Halloween is my first holiday that I won't be celebrating at home. I came to Russia knowing life was going to be hard. I didn't come to party like a lot of other people plan on doing while studying abroad. I'm still not exactly sure why but I chose Russia to challenge myself. I've enjoyed my time here but I keep having thoughts of things back home that I normally wouldn't dream of missing. Yesterday I caught myself daydreaming about American supermarkets and American Supermarket lines. Today I was shocked to be daydreaming about the DMV. When the DMV seems like a fun and friendly place you know you've been in Russia for too long. I am defiantly still enjoying my time here… but I think it just makes going home all the better. Not only do I have Christmas to look forward to but I have ovens, tap water, showers that drain, water that doesn't destroy my hair and skin, televisions, radios, free internet, sun, mattresses, tostitos, oreos, orderly lines, the ability to drive a car, easy spread butter, dunkin donuts, english bookstores, english speaking restaurants, skim milk, free laundry, notebooks without gridlines, using my cell phone, friends, family.

If I never had to live without all these things I would never know how much I should appreciate them.

Christmas Lights!

Monday, October 27, 2008

I have my midterm in my Communist Phase class tomorrow. My teacher was sick earlier in the semester so our schedule has been extremely messed up and changes on a weekly basis and our midterm has been pushed back til this week. Since I have a midterm I am, of course, doing anything but studying.

I've been listening to Christmas music for a few weeks now. It may seem a little extreme however in Russia every ounce of cheer is needed. My suitemates went out and bought christmas lights today! We didn't realize that they came in the net form. They spent about and hour taking it apart and forcing it to do what they wanted it to. Betsy and I just threw it up on our wall.

Philharmonia

Sunday, October 26, 2008

I’ve learned a lot during my time in Russia but one of the things I am most proud of is my skill using a hot plate. We have no oven or real stove. We do have a microwave but Russia doesn’t have many things that are microwavable. Therefore we must cook everything on a hot plate. Because I quickly got tired of pasta and grilled cheese I started to try some new things out. Today I woke up and made omelets for my suite. I’ve never been big on cooking however I have really come to enjoy it. The omelets were great according to my suitemates (although they are too nice to ever say otherwise) and I think I’m going to have to try making something new now.




Earlier tonight was saw the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Yuri Temirkanov. It was all Tchaikovsky music and it was amazing. I am certainly not a classical music connoisseur however my roommate is and she filled me in on all the important things I should know about the concert. Apparently it was sold out and many people were trying to get tickets but couldn't. After that it was a long walk back in the wind and rain in heels. The past week has been extremely dark, windy, and rainy. I think this is the way Russia is supposed to be and we just got lucky the past two and ½ months.

Kuntzkamera Museum

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Today we had an excursion to the Kuntzkamera Museum. The museum was created by Tzar Peter I. The first few floors cover nicely as a slightly boring ethnography museum. Each room is devoted to a different group of peoples from around the world. In the center of the building there are three floors of astronomy towers, one of which has a huge globe that people used to sit inside. While this is all interesting this is not why anyone really comes to the museum. Peter the Great had a strange fascination with mutants and monsters and devoted one room to strange two headed cows and mutant baby fetuses. It was pretty disgusting and there were way too many creepy babies in jars. Apparently there was also a room devoted to torture devices but we missed that one. We wanted to go to the market after but unfortunately it was a very cold windy and rainy day and none of us were up to the task.


We did go back to the Pizza Bar today. They STILL did not have any soda so I had to get juice. They must have felt bad for us (and realized how amazing we were) because the waitress came back with two mugs of beer, a padarok, a gift. At least they make up for not having soda this time. I really love it there. What I did not love was going to Nahodka to get some groceries after I drank those two beers.

The Art Of The Russian Restaurant

Friday, October 24, 2008

So I haven’t done anything exciting in the past week so I’m going to devote this post to the art of eating out in Russia. It is honestly something that takes many years of practice to master. The fact that everything on the menu is in an entirely different language is actually the easiest barrier to get across. To start, there are no wait times at Russian restaurants. If there are no open seats the host or hostess will just say “Nyet” and shoo you away. There are no waiting areas, there are no vibrating discs that tell you when a table has opened. I suppose you could just stand outside and wait for someone to leave but they certainly don’t make it easy for you. Earlier in the week we went to our favorite restaurant, Pizza Bar, that we go to probably once a week. There was apparently a big football game going on and the woman asked if we had reservations, which we didn’t, and she turned us away. You would think by the amount of times we have gone there we would get some kind of special treatment. Not in Russia.

When it comes to ordering food and/or drinks in Russia you should always have at least one back up for each (possibly two just to be safe). I still do not know the reason for this but there is almost always something on the menu that the Russian’s don’t have. We thought it was very strange here in our first week when we tried to order ice cream at a café with a full page menu for ice cream and the waitress responded with “Nyet.” We asked why. “Ice cream bad.” Thank you waitress. I think we can judge it for ourselves. “Nyet.” We just thought that maybe their ice cream maker was broken or some legitimate reason for not having it. I don’t know. It would be one thing for this to happen once in a while however we have learned that no matter where we are or what we are ordering, there will be at least one thing that is not available.

This usually happens to my suitemate Kori. I have never been in a restaurant where they have the first thing she orders. We’ve heard everything from, “nyet, ice cream bad” to a simple “it is not possible.” Back to the Pizza Bar we went the day after the football game. They did not have 8 out of 10 types of beer, no coke, sprite, or water. Luckily they still had pizza. I’m assuming that these places just don’t stock up as much or as often as restaurants in the states do but it is amazing how often this happens. Tonight we went to McDonald’s and I listened to the man behind me order. Before he actually ordered anything he asked “Bigmac yest, da?” You have bigmac yes? Why wouldn’t they?! This is McDonald’s. The waitress response? “Nyet, he yest bigmac” aka No. Whhhaattt?? Apparently you should always ASK if they have something before expecting to get it.

Not only do places very often not have food, the service is usually terrible. We’re pretty good with ordering and speaking slowly so the waiter can understand us but somehow something always gets left out. Today Betsy, my roommate, just did not get her meal that she ordered at a sushi bar we went to. She is the best Russian speaker out of the group of us so it’s not like she messed up saying something. Two people that were with never got the waters they ordered. They food that does get order comes out at all different times. Half the people are done with their food before the other half even get theirs. While it is rude to eat before everyone gets food, we’ve all come to learn that if you don’t eat it right away it will be cold before it is polite to eat.

One last note, always roll your “r’s”. I’ve learned that if you don’t Russians have no idea what you are saying. On more than one occasion I’ve order a sprite. When said with an American accent the waiters would look at me like I had two heads. As soon as I repeated myself with the “correct” pronunciation, “sprrrite” they looked like they had some type of an epiphany. It is amazing how important that one little sound actually is.

Oh and one last thing. Apparently the phrase “It’s Russia” is not something we created. Today in class a girl accidentally broke a chair and my teacher just shrugged his shoulders and said, “It’s Russia.” Betsy and Kori went out shopping today and when they were signing something they realized the pen was broken. When the cashier realized this she threw it away and said “eta Russia”. The Russians share this sentiment and have dealt with it for their whole lives. If I had to make excuses to get by in life I would probably start organizing the next Revolution pretty soon.

There and Back Again

Friday, October 17, 2008

I’m back from Moscow and finally sitting down to write about it. I would like to say I’ve been to busy to do so, but I think I’ve just spent a lot of time sleeping.

Friday we sat around for what seems like forever, waiting for 10:30 to come around so we could leave for the train station. When my parents had trouble putting me to sleep as a baby they would just drive me around in the car and I would pass out right away. That still happens today in any moving vehicle. The combination of a moving vehicle and a bed with comfortable blankets is probably the greatest invention ever. The night train was actually really fun (for the hour we were awake) and amazingly comfortable for the 7 hours we slept. We arrived in Moscow at 8 am and stopped at a café for breakfast. After that we took a tour around the city, stopping way to many times. Our first stop was Red Square, where St. Basil’s, Lenin Mausoleum, the Kremlin, and the GUM are located. After that we went to the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. After the revolution and the death of Lenin the Soviets decided to demolish the Cathedral of Christ the Savior and turn it into the “Palace of Soviets”. Their original design called for an insanely huge statue of Lenin with a library in is head and a movie theater in his arm. Luckily they got into WWII and were never able to finish the project. The foundation acted as a swimming pool until 1994 when they finally decided to rebuild the church that once sat there. We visit a monastery that I can’t remember the name of and we also visited a cemetery that hold the remains of Yeltsin, Gogol, Khrushchev, and Chekhov. We ended the tour at a high point in the city where were could look out and see the ice skating rink and the ski jump used in the 1980 Olympics.

After the tour we spent forever in traffic and finally got to check into our hotel. We had to wait a few hours for the hotel to register us but once we got our passports back we hopped on the metro (way harder than Petersburg’s metro) and went to the Arbat. The Arbat is supposed to be the fancy shopping district of Moscow. When we played Moscow monopoly the Arbat was Park Place. If Moscow is the most expensive city in the world, and the Arbat is the Park Place of Moscow, does that make the Arbat the most expensive shopping area in the world? I don’t really know. We went to the Hard Rock Café where I spent way too much money but thoroughly enjoyed my meal. Then we found Starbucks! There are only 4 in Russia and they are all in Moscow I believe, two of which were on the Arbat. After that we headed back to our hotel.

Sunday we had to get up early to get to Lenin’s Mausoleum. There was more security to get in there than any airport or embassy I’ve ever been to. No bags whatsoever were allowed. No camera’s were allowed. You were not allowed to put your hands in your pockets, talk, or stop moving. You had to wait in a line 200 yards away from the mausoleum itself, pass through security and then weave in and out of roped off areas. Once you enter it gets very dark. There are guards standing in every corner of the room and on every few steps in and out of the room. They were hidden in the shadows and it was actually very creepy. Lenin himself looked pretty plastic-y. I was just waiting for something to jump out at me like in a haunted house. After Lenin we got to enter the Kremlin. We visited the Armory which actually holds all the old carriages, clothes, jewels, and other artifacts from all the rulers of Russia. There was so much there to look at but we spent a little too much time there and learned about almost everything we saw. We got to walk into a few cathedrals in the Kremlin walls and see where the president hangs out (of course behind armed gates). We had a quick lunch in Sbarro’s and then walked around a bit more. From there we took the train to the Circus. It was actually an amazing show. I was like a little kid watching everything with my mouth wide open and eye bulging. It made me want to check out the circus in Petersburg. That ran almost three hours so after that we just went back to the room, listened to some Russian music videos and went to bed.

Monday we had the entire day to ourselves. We had to check out at 12 but we weren’t meeting again until 10:30. It was a long day. We walked through a market near our hotel and worked on our haggling skills. We visited Red Square several more times, walked along the Arbat, and got Starbucks. It is insane how expensive it is there. A tall (small) coffee is $8. I was too afraid to even look at the larger sizes. We had lunch in the GYM (GUM) which is a huge shopping mall filled with Cartier, Gucci, Coach, Louis Vuitton, etc. I definitely felt out of place but it was fun walking around pretending to belong there. We got into St. Basil’s Cathedral right before it closed. It was very different from the other churches we saw. There is actually something like 7 smaller churches inside and it is full of windy hallways and very awkward staircases. It was very beautiful. From that point on we were just trying to kill time so we went to a few cafes and then ate at a restaurant near our hotel.

On the train ride back we had some older man in our car so it was a little awkward but I, again, have no trouble sleeping in a moving vehicle. I did realize today that I left a pair of sweatpants on the first train when I changed on it. When we got back here Tuesday morning we just went back to bed and slept for most of the day. Wednesday we visited a monument and went out to eat again. Yesterday I was on a quest to find reasonably priced boots. I looked everywhere. I didn’t find boot but we did find this really cute street that was cut off from traffic and was decorated for Christmas. I can’t wait to go back there in the snow.

Today I spent some time in McDonald’s and then afterwards Betsy and I went with Casey to visit her homestay family. It was a great experience. The mother was very nice and spoke very slowly and clearly. The daughter had just turned 21 so we were the same age and she was talking about her friend that spoke a little English who was going to come over and hang out with us. We were talking in Casey’s room when there was a knock on the door and the grandmother told us to wash up and come eat. There was an insane amount of food. They started with soups, bread, cheese, and apples, then gave us potatoes, chicken, and cabbage, after that came ice cream, tea, champagne, and chocolate candies. I really wasn’t expecting any food there but it was amazing nonetheless. We invited the girl (Lena) to come to the dorm for Halloween although we really didn’t have anything planned at the time and she asked if she could invited her friend too. They were all so nice and, while it was a little difficult communicating, I had a great time there and would love to go back again.

Wow this is an insane post. I’m sorry. I’m going to an actual internet café tomorrow to do a lot of picture uploading.

Leaving for Moscow soon!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

I spent most of this week preparing for my Russian midterm. I didn’t think it was going to be too difficult but I figured it was time I actually put in the effort to learn all the case endings and pronouns. In the past I would learn what I needed to in order survive a test, but I was always so busy that I would never put in the time to actually memorize the stuff. I think I’ve got it down now. And I still have the second half of the semester to practice it.

It’s already time to start figuring out classes for next semester. Am I really already going to be down to three semesters of college left?

My suitemates are more or less directionally challenged so that means I got to escort my roommate to the theater. You would think that they would put a metro station somewhere close to the biggest theater in the city but no, it is a ten minute walk from the nearest station. It would be a very nice walk along one of the canals however there is construction going on on both sides of the canal. Again, this wouldn’t be a problem if you were with another person or two, but after making sure she made it to the entrance of the theater I had to do the ten minute walk back by myself. The sun is setting much earlier now but luckily I made it back to the metro before it was dark without any incident. After the ride back I met some people to go out to eat to celebrate the end of midterms. We were going to try a sushi bar but it was too full. We saw a sign for another one but somehow ended up in a completely different restaurant that didn’t have sushi at all. I tried Borsh for the first time. Very Russian. They went out after that but I decided to come back here but I did get to skype with Suzie and Andrea! Yaay!

Tomorrow at midnight we leave for Moscow. I don’t plan on bringing my computer so it will be a few days before I can post again.

До свиданя!

Pavlovsk

Monday, October 6, 2008

It's been a few day. My grandfather died on the first. I really wish I could have been at home with my family but that is pretty much impossible at this point. It is very strange though because, while I got the news and talked to my family, I still feel very disconnected from it. I spoke to my mom again last night and she was talking about how they have not really been at home for the past week and I felt bad because while they are all visiting my grandmother and going to the wake and funeral… I was just going about my day almost like nothing happened. I of course think about it a lot, but there is so little I can do from here. While it was obviously very hard on the family I would have to say that it was probably the best way for anyone to go. He was fine during my going away party but got sick about a week after. He spent a short time in the hospital but he then made them send him home. He was in pain for a bit but it was just long enough to say goodbye to everyone and let them know that he loved them with suffering for too long. If I could live long enough to see 8 children, 24 grandchildren, and 5 great grandchildren (with one more on the way) I would be more than happy with my life.

I haven't really done much since then. Saturday we visit Pavlovsk which is a small town about an hour and ½ outside of Petersburg. This is where Tzar Paul (Pavel) I had his palace. I swear you could feed the continent of Africa for a year with the amount of gold that is just plastered all over these palace. While the palace was beautiful I have to say that I loved the grounds. There was a small private garden, but also a huge sprawling park. There were rivers, bridges, statues and temples. Russia in the fall is also a beautiful thing. Even coming from New England I find it amazing to see all the leaves a golden yellow color. I took over 100 pictures of the scenery here. Apparently this is where the Russians go to just get away from the city on the weekend and it was very cute seeing the families with children running through the leaves.

Four Days Until Moscow!

goodbye...

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Rest in peace Grampy. I wish I could be there to say goodbye.

Rabbit Rabbit, Cemeteries, and Getting Lost

Does anyone remember back in the day on Nickelodeon when they would tell you to do random things the next day? They would always tell you to say "rabbit, rabbit", first thing in the morning on the first of the month and then you would have good luck for the entire month. I always hated that because I would remember around noon that day that I forgot to say it. For some reason I remembered that yesterday… and of course forgot to say it today.

Anyway, yesterday we decided to go for a nice walk. That walked ended up turning into a trek through the outer regions of Petersburg. We headed for a park that Jess had ran around a few times. It was actually very nice and beautiful with the leaves in different stages of changing colors and falling to the ground. It was nice to be in the woods and away from the noise of good ole Grazdansky Prospect. She mentioned that there was supposed to be a graveyard at one end of the woods but that she could never find it. We ended up walking long enough that we did come across it. The first part we saw was completely over grown. They were all Orthodox graves but we found it very strange that every single one of them had died in 1959. My goal was to find out what that was about, however I couldn't find anything online.

We continued walking only to find these large rocks with 1941 written on them. We thought it was strange but the more I saw them the more I began to think they might have been mass graves. The numbers on the stones continued to increase; 1942, 1943, 1944. As we turned a corner we realized that we were actually in a huge memorial cemetery. Walking further on we found a massive monument with an inscription that we believe (if we knew enough Russian) would sound beautiful. We deciphered what we could but most of it we figured out by looking online after we got back. It is apparently the Piskaryovskoye Memorial Cemetery which is dedicated to the lives lost during the siege of Leningrad that lasted from September 4, 1941 to January 22, 1944. Continuous air bombing and being completely cut off from the rest of the world by German troops, hundreds of thousands of people were either killed or starved to death. During this time the area that we were in was designated as a cemetery so bodies were brought there. Apparently 420,000 civilians and 50,000 soldiers are buried in 186 mass graves on the site. It was amazing that we just happened to stumble upon this site, not even understanding what it actually was at the time.

While our walk through the park was great and finding the cemetery was amazing we some how got turned around in the woods and came out on some street that we did not recognize. Because we all though we were going to walk to a well known place none of us brought a map. Luckily we had a cell phone and we were able to call to get directions home. Unfortunately we were out walking for about 2.5 hours and it was getting dark and cold by the time we got back. It was quite the experience but we survived!




While we were wandering around getting directions I thought I would take a picture of this typical Russian sign.
In Russia, when the light turns green don't walk, Sprint!

Russian Hockey

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Well, we were (hopefully) successfully fumigated yesterday. We couldn't come back to our rooms after class however so a few of us ended up walking down the street to this new pizza place that just opened. It's great to not have to get on the metro to go somewhere. It was actually a really nice place. The food was cheap and delicious and the whole thing was jazz themed, with old pictures from Chicago and New York and a lot of old performers. The music they were playing wasn't very jazzy, however. We stayed there for a while to get our homework done because there was really nothing else for us to do.

At 5 we all met up to go to a hockey game! It was really fun. It was SKA St. Petersburg versus Spartak Moscow. The tickets were only $8 which was amazing. It was strange that inside the stadium they only sold soda, juice, sandwiches, and corn on the cob. And none of that was actually allowed into the arena. The entrance of the two teams was very intense. It reminded me of when the Durmstrang students enter Hogwarts at the beginning of the Goblet of Fire (to make a reference that everyone will understand!). It was also interesting to see that at the far end of the rink was where all of the Moscow fans sat. Surrounding these fans on all sides were masked (and possibly armed) military men. They were dressed like a SWAT team from the States. At one point in the match two rows of these men got up and sprinted out, pulling down the visors on their masks. Luckily they came back quickly and whatever it was seemed like a false alarm.
They ending up winning 4-1 and it was definitely an experience to remember!

One month down...

Sunday, September 28, 2008

We've survived one month! Well technically not in Russia, but I have officially been gone from the states for a month. I am definitely enjoying myself here but I am starting to miss everyone at home. For some reason I really want it to be Christmas. I've had Christmas music stuck in my head for the past week now. I don’t know if I want it so bad because that means I get to see everyone or if I just want the whole snow/Christmas thing. The leaves are changing here and everything is beautiful but I think that makes me miss home a little more, too. I don't think there is any apple or pumpkin picking around here.

Yesterday we went on an Excursion to the State Museum of Russian Political History. It was pretty interesting and the entire museum was located in the mansion of the First Russian ballerina who was apparently the mistress of Nicholas II. After that a few of us went to Картошка which is a fast food restaurant but all you can order is potatoes. They add toppings and do all sorts of stuff with them. It was actually very good.

After lunch we went to a huge outdoor market. There were hundred of stands, selling everything from scarves, hats, gloves, fur coat, boot, sneakers, etc. It was completely insane. I bought a scarf and some gloves. I wanted to buy some boots but it was way to complicated to even try.

We finally went out last night! We took the metro down to Nevsky and went to a place called Mr. Patito. It was really dark but very low key with couches instead of seats. Betsey and I shared a pizza, I got an amazing beer, and even more amazing ice cream. Everything was great and very reasonably prices. Next door to Mr. Patito's was a bar called Liverpool. It’s a Beatles themed bar and they had an amazing live band playing all Beatles songs but everything was overpriced and the service was terrible. We each got one drink and our bill was same as the first place where we all got drinks, pizza, and ice cream. It was still fun though and I'm glad I finally went out. I certainly couldn't afford to do it every night like some people here do.

Today I spent a while in McD's finally finishing uploading all my pictures so far and labeling them! At some point tonight I have to pack up all my stuff because they are fumigating the rooms tomorrow to get rid of the bug problem. We (knock on wood) still haven't gotten any yet but we'll do what ever we can to prevent it from happening.

"They Are The Israel of Bugs..."

Thursday, September 25, 2008

I finally made it down to Westpost today to get my birthday cards! You would think that our mail could somehow get delivered to the dorm but here in Russia that is clearly asking for too much. It's a 20 minute metro ride and then a five minute walk. I did manage to talk entirely in Russian, giving the box number "treesta tretsit dva". I even used please and thank you. I went there with a handful of post cards that I was planning on sending out, figuring it might be a little more expensive than Russian mail, but much more reliable. I couldn't believe that, through Westpost, it costs 200 roubles! That $8 per post card. Russian mail is only 20 roubles so I just wanted to let you all know that I will be sending out postcards, however when (or if) you get it is completely up in the air.

Since I don't have much to talk about today I thought I would add some pictures of my room. While in a sitting position on my bed I can see out the window. There is some metal structure outside… I'm not sure what it is but from this angle it kind of resembles the Eiffel Tower, or at least that is what we call it.

I would also like to share a picture of how we do laundry here. It cost about 8 dollars to fully do laundry and the dryers never seem to work right. Because of this we just wash important stuff in the sink and dry it on our space heater.
Oh, here is something new and exciting for Russia; apparently bed bugs and cockroaches have been found in another suite on our floor. We have basically quarantined ourselves to prevent any from getting in here, but we did allow one visitor in a few minutes ago. Shortly after she left my suitemate began screaming, saying that she just flicked a bug off her shoulder. After doing intensive research we've decided that it is a bed bug, however we believe it jumped off our visitor and we are really hoping it was just that one. We've also learned that no matter how you try to thwart bed bugs, they are almost impossible to stop. As Jess puts it, "They are the Israel of bugs." Just like the Israeli army can take on armies 7 times their size, the bugs are able to suck blood about seven times their own weight. They also climb up walls and drop down on you from above if you try to stop them from crawling up the bed. Ugh. Luckily I don't have a huge aversion to bugs. While I certainly don't enjoy them, I don't have a deathly fear of them like my suitemate. Let hope it was only that one (now dead) that got in here...

Дворик... mob den?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Well I jinxed myself in my last post, talking about how I luckily didn't get very sick. I still haven't gotten too sick but about ten minutes after posting that I got a sudden and severe headache. It hurt so bad that I had to go to bed right away because the light was hurting my eyes. Apparently I'm not the only one who has gone through this. It was very strange. Luckily it hit me just before bed so I think I slept it off. A few people had to actually take the day off classes. Because of that I spent most of yesterday resting. I've decided to watch all of the Harry Potter movies that someone thankfully brought. I watched the first one last night and I'm on number two now.  I wasn't expecting to do so much reading here so I only brought four books but I only have one left right now.  Luckily I've borrowed a couple from my suitemates and when I go through all of their books my RD has a nice little library to choose from.

Today we ate at this Azerbijani restaurant across the street. We strongly believe that it has some ties with the mob. All the tables are marked as reserved and when we walked in the waitress just stared at us. We asked for a table for five and she again just stared. Finally she let us sit down but it was after a lot of judging. There were a few people that came in individually, wearing dark clothing and eating by themselves but keeping an eye on us. The entire menu was in Russian so I just ended up getting some potatoes and rice. They were good though.

Tomorrow I'm going down to Nevsky to pick up some things at Westpost (birthday cards I'm assuming). I'm also going to visit the Hermitage where I could possibly be volunteering. I'm not really sure but we'll find out tomorrow.

Находка Closed?!

Monday, September 22, 2008

It’s been a few days. Friday I spent most of the day sleeping and that seemed to prevent me from actually getting sick. While I was pretty sure I was headed down hill, the day of sleep left me feeling completely fine. Saturday we visit Петропавловская Крепость (Peter and Paul Fortress). The fortress was built on a small island in the middle of the Neva. It was apparently a very strategic spot to protect the city. We took a short tour of the fortress and then visited a museum on the history of St. Petersburg and visited the oldest mint in Russia. We also walked down to the river and walked along the outside of the wall. We ate in a small café there. After that we walked to the St. Petersburg Mosque. I don’t know much about it but I do know that at the time it was built it was the largest mosque in Europe. I don't know if that has changed since then.
Peter & Paul Fortress
Where the last royal family is buried (including Anastasia)

the 'beach'

the Mosque
Sunday we got to sleep in! It was nice. I finished a book in the morning and then Betsey and I took a trip down to McDonald's to upload some pictures. We split up after that, her to wait in line to get some food to go, and I to go down to the store to get a few things. It was very nice to be walking around by myself. I don't mind company but it was nice to not have to worry about losing anyone in the city.

Church on Spilt Blood
Today was a beautiful day! The sun was shining. We saw a thermometer that said 20 degrees Celsius… I think that was a little high but it definitely was warm out. After class we tried going to Nahodka but it was closed!? Nahodka is a 24 hour market and the thought of it being closed is just insane. Kori and I walked down to Paterson's after that. It seems like we make a trip to the store everyday. I need to start planning better. After that we decided to go down town to visit the Church on Spilled Blood. It is called that because this is where Alexander II was fatally wounded in 1881. It only cost 100 rubles with our student cards for entrance and photos. The inside was amazing. Everything was done in mosaic with huge depictions of the last supper and various other Bible related scenes. After that we went to a little outdoor market were everything was ridiculously over priced. Because it was 6pm and the Nevsky Prospect station would be insane, we decided to stop at The Other Side. The Other Side is an American run café/bar thing. There used to be another one, City Bar, but apparently that closed two weeks before we got here… figures. I just got a hot chocolate and some bruchetta. It wasn't bad but I had a bite or two with so much garlic that I honestly almost started crying… it physically hurt me to eat it. I can still taste it now after chewing gum, eating various other foods, and brushing my teeth. I don’t know if I will be able to go to sleep if it doesn't go away.

Overall, today was a great day. It was nice to have some good weather and to get to walk around the city a bit more than usual. I think we're going to try to visit some of the other big places in the city every once in a while just to make sure we see everything. Apparently my teacher is in the hospital so I'm not entirely sure when my history classes are going to be continued…