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.


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!


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!


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!