St. Petersburg!

Sunday, August 31, 2008

6:45 p.m. (St. Petersburg time)
I've survived my first full day in the city! It started off with breakfast in the Canteen. It's basically a big cafeteria. Our breakfast was cereal with yogurt which was really good. We also had bread, orange juice, and some type of cream of wheat looking thing. It kind of looked like pancake mix made out of rice. I didn't eat so much of that. After breakfast we started our bus tour of the city. I'm not going to lie. It is cold here. It feels like mid to late October. It was very overcast but still decently dry. I do the love that weather though and it also means I'll be able to bust out my new peacoat even sooner than expected!!

While our part of the city is pretty ugly, the rest of the city completely makes up for it. There are over 500 palaces, 300 museums, and 300 bridges. They are (mostly) all beautiful. Our first stop was to the battleship Aurora. From the cannon on this ship a blank shot was fired that started the Revolution. There was a little exhibit inside the ship and when we came out it was raining. Russian rain seems different. The drops were bigger but fewer so you got soaked even though it wasn't down pouring. As one person said before we got on the bus, "there's a bit of oppressive communism in each drop."
Cannon that fired the shot that started the Revolution
 Of course once we got on the bus the rain stopped. We drove around for a few hours, stopping at St. Isaac's Cathedral, the Church of Spilt Blood, and The Eternal Flame for those lost in street fighting during the riots of the Revolution. We also stopped at these two things that were once lighthouses. I believe they are just monuments now, but there were three weddings going on all around the place. There was a really nice fountain in the river behind them.

St. Isaac's

Church on Split Blood

Eternal Flame
We drove around some more, changed money, and then came back here. We again had lunch in the Canteen. This time it was soup with bread and kind of dry pasta. We got a nice bagged dinner to take home with us. We had about an hour to sit around so a few of us ran down the street to the market. The market was tiny. The shopping carts were really cute, they were like ½ the size of our carts at home and were wicked easy to control. The isles, however, were almost too small to get them through with out running over a babushka or two. After meeting back up with the group again, we took a walk down in the other direction to get pictures taken for our student registration. We also found civilization down there! It seemed like our area of the city was completely desolate but there were actually a ton of people down there. There is a very large mall area with a Home Depot like shopping place inside. We bought a hair dryer for our suite. I feel like we were there for a few hours but we finally got back. I'm very tired. Time for a trip to McDonald's. I'll post this soon!


Saturday, August 30, 2008

9:00 p.m. (St. Petersburg time)

Remember how I’ve said some of my life goals were to be in jail and to live in a convent? I think I’m accomplishing those both right now.

We woke up around five this morning. My roommate and I chugged some instant coffee (not so bad at 5 in the morning) and then left for the airport. We sat around there for about three hours and then finally boarded the plane. I actually slept for quite a while on this flight. It only took us a little over three hours and we arrived in bright, sunny, warm, St. Petersburg. Haha, just kidding. It was cold, wet, and windy when we got off the plane. My favorite kind of weather.

You know those trucks that carry refugees across war-torn borders? Yea, that’s what we threw our luggage into. It was well equipped with bungee cords to hold down the plastic tarp that cover the bed of the truck. Another hour of driving and we made it to ИМОП. Or IMOP in English. The building is located near some strange old abandoned metal structures. I'm not really sure what they are or if they are even in use.  Someone said it reminded them of Detroit but I've never been so I can't really compare. There is something like seven floors of the building with two wings. One wing is the dormitory while the other wing houses the classrooms. We are living on the third floor of the dorm wing. For some reason the elevator doesn't stop on the third floor so we had to go up to the fourth and then carry our bags down one. The downstairs hall way smelled terrible but luckily our floor does not.

As sketchy as the rest of the building is, our suite makes up for it. The rooms are pretty big. There is no bureau and only four hangers so most of my clothes are shoved into random shelves around the room. There are also no drawers in the desk so I have to keep all my pens and pencils in a bag. We have a nice new fridge and a microwave that already caused a small fire. We have a hot plate, a sink, some plates, forks, knives, etc. and some salt. There are no mirrors anywhere in the suite. Our beds seem very similar to the type of bed you make out of couch cushions. With a thin sheet and some strange thick padded thing that I think is supposed to be a comforter. We also found some nice scratchy wool blankets.

My bed and desk 
My roommate's bed, our 'closets,' and the door to the kitchen

Shower room

Kitchen area

Dining area, door to my room, door to shower room
We had a little orientation meeting in one of the academic rooms. While they were located on the floor above the one that we are on, we had to go down three flights of stairs, cross through the lobby then climb up four flights of stairs. I guess it will be a good form of exercise. I would love to go out into the city but going for the first time at night probably is not the best idea. Two of my suitemates did just walk to the store. Maybe I'll attempt that tomorrow. My roommate is from California, and my suitemates are from Pittsburgh and Alaska. What a wide range of people.

I am not a fan of continuously having to change my clock. And messing with my internal clock. Luckily I don't think I fully adjusted to London time so my body may not notice the change.

I'm starting to believe people when they say I'm crazy… not because I'm here in Ghetto Russia, planning on living here for three months, but because I am actually enjoying this strange form of self-deprecation.

I won't have the internet until Monday so, again, I'll be a little behind on my posts.

Live From McDonald's!

Friday, August 29, 2008

4:30 p.m. (London time)

Remember after our first night in Poland we all woke up at like 5 in the morning, wide awake and completely refreshed? Yeah, that didn’t happen. I woke up just as tired as I was before going to bed. After throwing some clothes on, eating some food and chugging coffee our group left for a bus tour of London. The tour guide was very nice and funny but after three hours I feel like we should have learned much more. She did point out the most expensive shopping areas and the best clubs, but I would rather learn about the history of the city. I guess not everyone is looking for that though. We stopped at St. Paul’s Cathedral and walked around it and inside the crypt. It’s not a very creepy crypt. There is a café and gift shop that kind of takes away from the crypt effect.

After that we stopped at Buckingham Palace just in time to see the changing of the guard. That is something I had missed when I came here a few years ago and I’m glad that I can finally say that I’ve now seen it. We drove by the Tower of London, the London Eye, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, and drove over the Tower Bridge. I was glad that I’ve seen/done all of those things because they all require money that I don’t want to spend. We ended the tour in Covent Garden (which is not a garden). It was very similar to Faneuil Hall with the long row of indoor shopping/eating places. There was much more outside to look at, however. There were some great street performers. We watched a magician who was hilarious and one of those statue men. We stopped to get some pasties… mostly because I remembered them from Harry Potter and always wondered what they were. They were actually very good.

 We walked around for quite a while and then decided to hop on the Tube to find King's Cross Station. We had to do it. I never got to see it last time I was here and I feel like it’s something every Harry Potter needs to do. I don’t know why I was thinking we would look insane trying to find it. Maybe I underestimate the vast popularity of the books. Platforms 1-8 were easily accessibly but 9 and on were blocked by a ticket counter. I can only assume that it is because of the hundreds of annoying fans that try to take their pictures there and block the people who actually have a reason for being there. Anyway, right next to the blocked off platform 9 they have a little sign that says Platform 9 ¾. Again, I don’t know why I was surprised to see this.

 After taking some pictures we walked around (a lot) more. We ended up back on the Tube to go to Knightsbridge, which is just a big shopping area. Some of us had walked through that area yesterday so we walked back in the direction of our hotel. We ended up in some residential district. It was oddly quiet compare to the London we had seen until that point. After another short ride on the tube we made it back (finally). I’m exhausted but I feel like I accomplished a lot. I just wish that I was able to walk around by myself. While I don’t mind other people’s company (and everyone here is really nice) I would just like the ability to wander around at my own pace. I feel like I give enough of a stand-offish vibe that people would leave me alone, but I also don’t want to risk it by putting it to the test.

Well I think it’s nap time. I don’t really know what I’m doing tonight but we’ll worry about that when I wake up!

Just touched down in Londontown

Thursday, August 28, 2008

10:30 a.m. (London time)

I’m here! After a very long day of waiting I made it to the airport, checked my bags, said goodbye to my family, got through security, then waited some more. I had finally just started getting nervous at breakfast that morning. Finally I was reacting the way I should have been for a while now. After getting through all that I felt better. I could not sleep on the plane. Aside from the food and free movies, every time I tried to get comfortable we would hit some really intense turbulence. We landed in London around 5:15 a.m. London time (midnight U.S. time). Because it was so early, when we arrived at the hotel the rooms weren't ready. There was another girl traveling through AIFS on my flight although she is heading off to Granada, Spain after this. Because our rooms weren’t ready we had to sit in the lobby and wait for almost two hours. This wouldn't have bothered me if my body didn't think it was 3 in the morning and really want to sleep. Finally around 8 we got our rooms. Did I sleep? Of course not! I tossed and turned for over two hours but no sleep. Oh well. I’ll sleep good tonight.

While I was waiting in the lobby I was reading Sense and Sensibility and they mentioned visiting the Kensington Gardens. I realized we were staying in the Kensington Holiday Inn and thought maybe the gardens were around. Turns out they are, just a few block away. There are also some free museums just down the street between here and the gardens so I may check them out today. I would go alone but I feel like I should work on making some new friends. My roommate seems nice. We haven’t really talked. She saw that I was in bed when she came in about an hour ago and thought it was a great idea. She actually gets to sleep. I’m going to go check out the map again to see if there is anywhere else in the area I would like to visit today.

10:30 p.m. (London time)

I have come to accept the fact that I will not get free WiFi anywhere in London. In fact, nothing in London is cheap. At least nothing is cheap when you’re an American. A bottle of water is $3.50, an Underground ticket is $10.60, and a plate of nachos is $9.00. I only spent a little over £10… but that adds up quickly in dollars.

I have been up for approximately 34 hours right now. After sitting around for most of the afternoon my roommate Casey and I went for a walk. We took the long way to Hyde Park and the Kensington Gardens then visited the Victoria and Albert Museum. It was all very nice. And very tiring. We came back to the hotel for our welcome drinks, which of course means lots of awkwardness. They basically just threw us all in a room together with some alcohol. Luckily my roommate put some effort into talking to people (I would have no friends in college if it weren’t for my roommates). A group of us decided that we would go out and grab something to eat. I then planed on coming back to my room, showering, and going to bed. Others wanted to find an internet café or go out somewhere. We ended up spending almost two hours waiting for people to get their acts together. I just wanted a quick dinner but I figured I might as well go out with the group to Piccadilly Circus. It’s kind of like the Times Square of London. We went to a small restaurant/pub were I ate for the first time in 16 hours. I was a little cranky by that point. We walked around for a bit after but a group of us decided to come back. And here I am. Of course now I have some crazy burned-up-all-my-adrenaline second wind type thing. I really should try to sleep.
Piccadilly Circus

The Final Countdown

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Well, four days to go! It's amazing that the summer is suddenly over. When I think back to last May when I came home it seems like forever ago but it still has flown by. Last night was my last night at work. (I spent the summer working at an ice cream stand which I actually enjoyed!) I've worked the last 13 out of 14 days so it's been really nice to just sit down and not worry about it for a day.

I have to say my family and friends are amazing. Today Alanna took me to the loop to get some stuff for school. I was basically all set (after spending $100 at Target the other day) but I got a pair of sneakers and some snacks for my plane ride. We hung out at her house for a while while she "got ready to visit her aunt." Around three she drove me home. My mother had mentioned that we were going out to eat after the neighbors had their bocce game, so it didn't phase me that there were so many cars in the driveway. It wasn't until I saw and New Hampshire license plate that I got confused. It slowly dawned on me that I was completely tricked. Good job everyone! I was honestly surprised. I am glad I got to see everyone before I left.

Aside from working I've spent a lot of time reading. I've tried to mix up my books and get a little bit of everything in. So far I've read:
A Thousand Splendid Suns
A Tale of Two Cities
Crime and Punishment
Anna Karenina
Twilight (x2)
New Moon
Breaking Dawn (yea, the last four were kind of a guilty pleasure)
Sense and Sensibility

I bought a few more books to take on my trip but who knows what I'll get to. I forgot that I would have to go through a placement exam for Russian language and I haven't look at it about four months.

I should really finish my packing but I think I'm going to watch Harry Potter 4 instead :-)