I live in a fairytale land…


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I mean, just look at it. 

I hope you all aren’t worn out scrolling past photos on my blog, but I really want to show you what it is that I see every day. All the time, I find myself thinking “Wow, Kayla, you’re in Russia right now. Is this anything like you imagined?” Usually, the answer is no. Whether or not it’s because the picture in my imagination just wasn’t grand enough or that I hadn’t expected such beauty to exist here depends on the day and my mood. With these photos, I hope that I am breaking down the stereotypical images that you might have built up about Russia in your own imagination.

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Such as this.

It’s been a while since I’ve talked about classes – and I know my family is curious – so I’ll give you a little update on them all! My language classes are going incredibly well. I find my разгавор (conversation) class to be the most helpful because it is two hours of just talking in Russian and it is all about stuff that I use in my daily life. I’ve learned that my textbook from back in the U.S. is actually incredibly outdated, and am considering sending an email to my professors back home to let them know! My host has often corrected me, saying that “Nobody says that anymore!” or “That is a Soviet word!” So yeah, no more referring to that book. My electives are also going well. I just had a test in my США Россия (Comparison of US and Russian Political Culture) class, which I think went well! I think the most challenging class I have is my Russian literature class, mainly because it is entirely in Russian (19th century Russian, no less. Very difficult language.). However, Russian poetry and prose is…indescribable. Just beautiful. I’m not a crazy big fan of Pushkin, but I’ve completely fallen in love with Lermontov’s poetry and Gogol’s stories. The thing about their works is that the Russian version is so descriptive that it can paint a picture in your mind, while the English translation seems oversimplified and falls flat. Let me give you a brief example.

Russian:                                                                                               English:

Выхожу один я на дорогу;                        Lone’s the mist-cloaked road before me lying;

Сквозь туман кремнистый путь блестит;    On and on it winds and draws me far.

Ночь тиха. Пустыня внемлет богу,         Night is still, all earthly sounds are dying;

И звезда с звездою говорит.                             Nature lists to God; star speaks to star. 

В небесах торжественно и чудно!        Clothed in dark is earth and wrapt in slumber,

Спит земля в сияньи голубом…                         and the skies are full of majesty.

Что же мне так больно и так трудно?      Why, then, does reflection, drear and sombre,

Жду ль чего? жалею ли о чём?                          Plague my heart and slay felicity?

Уж не жду от жизни ничего я,                            I await no boons of fate, regretting

И не жаль мне прошлого ничуть;                      not the past, for that is buried deep.

Я ищу свободы и покоя!                                  Ah, to find true freedom, true forgetting

Я б хотел забыться и заснуть!                         in the calm of everlasting sleep.

Но не тем холодным сном могилы…                Yet I dread the cold and clammy fingers

Я б желал навеки так заснуть,                         And the leaden, icy sleep of death.

Чтоб в груди дремали жизни силы,        Would that life within me, dormant, lingered

Чтоб дыша вздымалась тихо грудь;               And I felt its warm and balmy breath;

Чтоб всю ночь, весь день мой слух лелея,   Would that love’s own voice, my ear caressing

Про любовь мне сладкий голос пел,                Night and day sang dulcet song to me,

Надо мной чтоб вечно зеленея                   And an ancient oak, my slumber blessing,

Тёмный дуб склонялся и шумел.                       Swayed above my head eternally.

It is a very nice translation, however, the Russian version has these beautifully descriptive words that the English version isn’t able to translate. Lermontov writes from a cosmic perspective, and his entire third stanza leading into the fourth is read completely different in Russian. Instead, it reads about how he is looking for freedom and peacefulness. He dreams of death but not of real death, as he is afraid of the cold graves. Instead, he dreams of another life filled with love and a beautiful woman’s voice. It shows that he still believes in love’s existence, just that it exists in another realm. That nature is eternal and he wishes to live as a part of it.

Am I the only one who finds that beautiful? I can’t wait to buy a book of his collections and just get lost in it.

Alright, my nerdy inner bookworm is coming out… New topic!

This past Saturday I had the opportunity to go on an excursion around the city to visit important sites during World War II. I think my favorite was the Piskaryovskoye Memorial Cemetery. It was so vast and there were so many people who had lost their lives there. Between 8 September 1941 and 27 January 1944, the German Nazis and Finnish army surrounded Leningrad in order to starve all of its citizens to death. Over 1,500,000 civilians and soldiers died during the 872 day period. At least 560,000 of them were buried at this cemetery – 490,000 civilians and 70,000 soldiers. Leningrad symbolized the heart of the Communist Revolution as well as Russia’s cultural center (though Russia was then part of the Soviet Union, of course). Hitler planned to destroy all of Leningrad and its people, considering Russians and other Slavic peoples to be “Untermenschen”– subhuman. The Soviet army was completely outnumbered by German forces, so even before the siege was actually enacted, the government began to make preparations. Millions of the nation’s treasures were secretly evacuated from the Hermitage, Russian Museum, and other state museums, knowing that the Nazis planned to steal or destroy everything.

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Citizens were rationed a certain amount of bread per day during the Siege of Leningrad (roughly 10 ounces); pictured below is an actual ration from this time. There was so little food that this bread was made out of anything that was able to be consumed– including carpenter’s glue.
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“Here lay Leningraders
Here are citizens – men, women, and children
Next to them, Red Army soldiers.
They defended you, Leningrad
The cradle of the Revolution,
With their lives.
We cannot list their noble names here,
There are so many of them under the eternal protection of granite.
But know this, those who regard these stones:
No one is forgotten, nothing is forgotten.”

After being here over a month now the “honeymoon period” is drawing to a close and I now find that the culture shock is seeping in subconsciously. Russia is still very different from America (the weather alone, at times, can be quite oppressing) and, despite loving many things about this place, there are times where I find myself being unexplainably annoyed or angry. Nothing happened to me to cause this irritation, and yet that pissed-off attitude burned like a little ball in my chest. It’s only happened twice now, not an every day occurrence, but I figure that this is something I will have to get used to the rest of my stay. I actually got mad the other day with a woman at a ZARA store. Mind you, she was a complete bitch, like, in the worst way. But, yeah, I actually got mad. For those of you who have actually seen me legitimately angry (Mom, Dad, Lori, Grandpa Henry, Jay… Yeah, that’s about it) you know I’m a force to be reckoned with. It took all of my self-control not to let loose on her in the store because a) didn’t want to terrify my new friends b) the clerk was Russian and I knew this was a common attitude. We were foreigners and she took advantage of us. So I swallowed it all down and bit my tongue. In the end, my friend needed to get her host sister involved in order to solve the problem.

So, to counter this, I’m once again writing about the things that have made me smile this week.

1) As I was taking the bus back home, we pulled up at a stop light next to a family in their car. In the backseat was a little boy – couldn’t have been more than 2 or 3 years old – and he had his hands and cheek pressed against the window as he looked up at the bus. The two of us made eye contact and he gave me the biggest, toothless, chubby-cheeked grin I have seen the entire time I’ve been in Russia and it just warmed my heart. I really took for granted how nice it is to see people smiling openly in the street back home, and this little tyke not only caused a smile to crack on my face but to full out chuckle on the bus. I didn’t even care that the rest of the ride the people next to me thought I was crazy.

2) Russian children in general usually make me smile. There is something about hearing their basic Russian sentences that just causes me to smile. Perhaps it is because I can understand 90% of what they’re saying, or perhaps it’s just because they remind me of my little brother back home. Miss you, Jack!

3) When I hear English spoken by someone other than the people in CIEE.

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This is me.

It’s becoming a rarity, now that tourist season is over, and I swear I will stop walking in the middle of the crowded metro the minute I hear some English. It’s even more exciting when it is American English and not British.

4) The 80s and 90s Classics being played in bars. Smashmouth. The Offspring. Backstreet Boys. Mambo #5 (because, really, who knew the actual artist’s name?). Metallica. Venga Boys. Nirvana. Def Leppard. Yeah, these are our bar jams. And I am so okay with that.

5) This one I am stealing from my friend Ryan’s blog because she worded it perfectly: “When I see a Russian woman stumble in her heels. Russian woman are a different species. They can wear heels that make your feet hurt just by looking at them, but they maintain a straight face and perfect posture. So, as evil as it sounds, when a Russian woman stumbles a little bit in her heels, I feel a little better about myself. I get the same feeling when I see a Russian woman in sneakers or a sweatshirt.” Hear, hear!

6) Russians and their dogs. Not only do most not require leashes because they are so well trained, you see Russians dressing them up and carrying them in purses all the time! And guess who usually carries them? The big stoic Russian men!! Along with flowers for their wives and usually their wife’s purse. Why? Because this is one of those times when Russian gender roles is blatantly obvious. Women should not have to carry such things because they are heavy and us women are apparently too weak to do so. In case you all haven’t had a good laugh in a while, a Russian man offered to carry my backpack because I, Kayla Torrison, looked “too frail” to do so myself.

Think on that for a moment.

7) The man at the bread truck at Primorskaya Metro Stop. He always smiles at me when I order my breakfast bread roll and listens patiently as I try to formulate a new sentence every day to tell him that I hope he has a good day. Thank you, Bread Truck Man. I’ll see you in eight hours.

8) Russian puns.

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9) The fact that mullets, denim skirts, pageboy hats, male turtlenecks, and scrunchies are still a thing here. A very popular thing.

10) Russian Parking.

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Because lawlz.

Anyway, last but not least because I promised it from the last post: The Nevsky All-Nighter

Nevsky Prospekt is the main street of St. Petersburg. It is loaded with stores, restaurants, hookah bars, regular bars, themed bars, clubs, museums, galleries, and multiple metro stops. It is one of the best places to spend the night out at as a young adult. Unfortunately, St. Petersburg is a city made up of a bunch of islands connected by bridges and underground metro lines, and these modes of transportation close at midnight and do not reopen again until 4am (for the bridges) or 6am (for the metro). So guess what that means? If you don’t make that last metro you are stranded. Most of the times that isn’t too big of a problem. Bars here are open until 5am, so you only have to wait one hour, right? WELL THAT ONE HOUR SUCKS. It’s 25-30 degrees out, you’re in a little black dress, and you have to wait on a park bench in the dark with your friends until the metro opens. Usually, Drunk Donalds is involved just to kill time. It’s pretty much like the typical Minnesota weather, except you can’t go home for another hour or two and UGGS are not a suitable shoe option. I’m a professional at staying up until the sun comes up (my roomate, Cooper, can testify that I had the worst sleep schedule ever before I left for Russia), but that last hour until the metro opens is the worst. Luckily, there are now people in the hostel (some of the kids in the program do not live with host families and live in the hostel on Nevsky instead) who are willing to share their beds for us poor islanders. Bless them. Really though, the Nevsky All-Nighter is well worth it, at least once. I stayed in last weekend, so I’ll be pulling mine tomorrow.

Hopefully you all managed to make it through another long post. I’ll be going out to see “Swan Lake”, the ballet, tomorrow night. Saturday I have plans to go to the suburbs to see Tsarskoe Celo (Catherine’s Palace) in the town of Pushkin, head to my advisor’s concert, and then see the EPIC movie “Stalingrad” that is playing in theaters here. Watch it and love it:

Я желаю вам успеха, товарищи!

– Kay

P.S. Abbie, to answer your question: Yes there are a lot of good looking men here. 🙂

P.P.S. For those of you who might have missed it, be sure to check out my tumblr link for fun little sarcastic comments I make throughout the week. The link is along the header.

“Because it’s Russia”

So can you believe  I’ve been in Russia for about a month now? Time is whipping by so fast. I have to admit that, despite absolutely loving living here, there are some pretty bizarre things I have witnessed here. Whenever I ask a Russian “Why is this happening?” or “That’s allowed here?” or the usual “WTF?!” I always get the same response:

This is Russia.

Let me give you an example. This here is a cartoon my host said she watched when she was about 9 or 10 years old.

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‘Happy Tree Friends’

It’s an American cartoon, but Lord knows I’ve never seen it on any television in the States. At least not that young. But this is Russia.

Another instance was when I was walking down Nevsky Prospekt around midnight and a horse just went galloping by down the sidewalk next to me. I just stared for a moment before asking my sobesdnik partner “WTF was that about?!” She just laughed and said, “It’s Russia!

I’ve also asked, “Why does Russia have some strange obsession with having crazy artwork on their cars?”

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And, “Why is there this portrait of Snoop Dogg/Lion in an art gallery?”

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“Does anyone ever follow the rules of the road?”

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I can’t even make this up.

I can speak about this from experience. If I can give one word of advice to foreign travelers it is to NEVER RENT A CAR TO DRIVE AROUND RUSSIA. There are lines on the road, but I have yet to see anyone follow them. If there is a space for you to put your car, then a Russian will put it there. That lane to the left of you? If it’s open, use it. Doesn’t matter if there is another car coming directly at you because he can just use that line of gravel on the side of the road.

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This was taken on our ride back from Vyborg.

And don’t even get me started on Russian traffic jams. They’re so terrible you could probably get out of your car, walk to the nearest coffee shop, sit down, have a cup, and come back to your car only to find that traffic still hasn’t moved.

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Moral of the story? Don’t drive in Russia. Take the city transportation.

The response to all of these seems to be, “It’s Russia…” So, for now, I think I’m just going to roll with it. I’m actually contemplating of keeping a list of all the moments that make me feel as if I’ve entered the Twilight Zone.

That aside, I’ve had a lot of wonderful excursions these past couple days. I was fortunate enough to be invited with some friends to travel to a suburb outside of St. Petersburg called Vyborg (Выборг) where I was able to see buildings from the 13th century and to go hiking for a few hours out in the countryside. St. Petersburg in autumn truly looks like a fairytale land.

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I also spent an afternoon with a friend wandering around St. Petersburg. We decided to go up to the top of St. Isaac’s Cathedral in the colonnade, which has the most spectacular view of the city.

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I also was FINALLY able to take a trip to the Hermitage, and let me just say that there is not a single room in that place that isn’t dripping with lavish jewels, precious metals, and expensive paintings. The feeling is indescribable. It was founded in 1764 by Catherine the Great and has the largest collection of paintings in the entire world. The entire museum is comprised of SIX buildings along the embankment but only four are partially open to the public. The collections (which are only a small portion of the museum) contain over 3 million items. I have heard that if you were to spend only a minute looking at each item in the exhibit, it would take you over two weeks to see it all. I have to agree with this. I spent four hours there and felt as if I had barely scraped the surface. The building itself is almost more beautiful than the exhibits inside!!

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Finally, let’s get to Kayla’s newest section of her blog titled: Things I Took for Granted Back in America
1. Dryers. I even miss my crappy dryer in my apartment that would only partially dry my clothes. Here there are none. And it rains all the time so you can’t hang them outside. This is a dilemma.

2. Campus Priced Drinks. Most of you know I drink Long Islands like they are water. Well, here they cost $10. My wallet cannot afford that so i’ve now grown accustomed to beer, mead, and ale. За здоровье, ya’ll!

3. Not having to struggle with the shower for five minutes every morning. I swear, there is  one specific spot both nozzles have to be turned to for the shower not to be either scalding hot or bitterly cold. I have yet to find that spot.

4. Halloween Decor/ Autumn in the Midwest – Autumn in SPb is beautiful, but so far there are no signs of pumpkins, Halloween decor, pumpkin flavored things, corn mazes, or apple cider stands. I’ve received mixed reviews about whether or not Russians celebrate Halloween. Too bad I’m going to be in the Ukraine over the holiday, so I will have no way of knowing for sure. 😦

5. Bagels. Seriously, where are they here? Who the heck doesn’t eat BAGELS?

6. Bars being in close proximity to my home. I’ll save an explanation for this one in my next post.

I had more that I wanted to write, but I have to leave for the ballet in a half hour and I’m not even close to being ready. That just means you’ll have to wait for the next post!! 🙂 Thanks again for all the comments you leave. Makes me feel like I’m talking to you all about this back home.

Hugs and Kisses,
Kay

Иногда один день, проведенный в других местах…

…дает больше, чем десят лет жизни дома.

Sometimes one day spent in another place is worth more than ten years at home. 

Well, here it is! Another blog post about my shenanigans in Mother Russia. It’s been rather busy since I last posted. This past Monday was very exciting because I went to my first Собеседники (Sobesednicki) mixer!

I’m sure I’m drawing blank stares at that.

Basically, the Sobesednicki mixer was a chance for us American students to meet and chat with multiple Russian university students. There was about thirty of us total, and we met at a bar near one of the most popular areas in the city. The mixer was set up very much like speed dating. We had five minutes with each Russian student where we could get to know each other and see if we connected with anyone. At the end of the night, we picked our top three choices of whom we’d like to be partnered up with. I was so lucky to get partnered up with a girl I really enjoyed talking to! Her name is Anastasia (Nastya) and we will be setting up a time to get together this week where we can talk in both Russian and English so that both of us can practice our language skills. I’m very excited! More news on that to come!

The other day some friends from the program and I decided to be adventurous and try bear meat at a restaurant. Yes, you read that right. Bear meat. Let me just say, it was probably the most tender and delicious meat I have ever had. Almost everyone knows I’m not big on eating a lot of meat, but that bear could probably turn a vegetarian into a carnivore. It was that good.

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Random Observations About Russia
1. Russian’s love yorkies and daschhunds. I swear, everybody and their mother has one here…
2. It is so humid here and my hair is just not having it. Most of you know I’m pretty savvy when it comes to hair styling, but I don’t even bother here because if the humidity doesn’t ruin it in the first two minutes then the metro surely will.
3. If you’re ever in St. Petersburg and you see an exclamation mark (!) sticker on the back of a car STAY AWAY FROM IT. It’s not like it’s going to blow up or anything, but these are stickers that the driver WILLINGLY puts on the car to warn other drivers that they are terrible drivers. One sticker = I kinda suck. I probably don’t check my blindspot and I may not break fast enough to avoid rear-ending you. Two stickers = A dog or a child could probably drive better than me.
4. The longer I have lived in Russia, the stronger I take my tea.
5. Russian alcohol is much stronger than booze in the U.S. In fact, they have a numerical system for their Baltika beer. One is pretty much non-alcoholic while nine is almost undrinkable, it is so strong. I still can’t do beer here, but I have found one fermented drink that I enjoy…

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I think the most important think I have realized since arriving here is that people are people, no matter where you go. I know that some Americans have this image in their mind of what all Russian people are like, what with the media and horror stories from Soviet times. There is a lot of negative press about Russian people in the US. But the same holds true for a Russian’s stereotypical idea of us Americans – fat, lazy, stupid, etc. While we can admit there are some people in the States who are all of these things, we know for a fact that this is not our entire population. I came to Russia having heard terrible stories of corruption, violence, poverty, pessimism, and rudeness, and I am sure that there are some people out there who do possess these negative attributes.

But I have yet to meet one.

Perhaps the best way to explain my thoughts is this: One of my favorite parts of the day is when I pop my earbuds in and peoplewatch as I travel to and from school. St. Petersburg, while it is a big city (5 million people), it isn’t this scary “Gotham City” image the way that some people had described it. It has skyscrapers, shopping malls, McDonalds, playgrounds, and dogparks. Sure, they might have the greatest collection of historical buildings I have ever seen, but asphalt is asphalt and water is water just like any other place in the world. The people, too, are just like any other people who you might see in the United States. They all wear the same clothes (well, they’re much more fashionable here, but still…). They all have their morning coffee and read the newspaper on the metro. They all complain about the prices of groceries going up. And guess what? All of them have been so kind to me. They’re polite, chivalrous, and willing to help you if you at least make an effort to try to converse in Russian. Many Russians forget any English they have learned after tourist season, so even if your grammar is poor they can piece together what you are trying to say. Sometimes, you don’t need to be fluent in order to communicate. Hand gestures and facial expressions go a long way when you’re trying to explain yourself.

I wish I could explain what I’m trying to say better, but sometimes it is hard to put feelings into words. How do you describe the feeling of watching sunsets in St. Petersburg? How can you explain the smile that unconsciously spreads across your face when you offer your seat to an elderly babushka and see her look of gratitude? Like I’ve said before, it’s the simple things that make me smile. Whether it was correctly asking a babushka for directions or kicking a soccer ball around for a minute or two with some children, I am slowly beginning to feel right at home.

Tonight we will be venturing out to hit up some bars. I was sick all last week so this will be my first time going out with the group at night. I promise, I will be safe. Hopefully, I will be able to update again this Sunday about my weekend!

С любовью,

 “Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.” – Maya Angelou

Week 2 – Top 10

Well, my second week of being in SPb is drawing to a close, but there hasn’t been too much to talk about recently since I have been “under quarantine”.  I think I will use this post to share little tidbits that have crossed my mind since living here, as well as slipping in a few fun events I attended this past week. I hope you all don’t mind me sharing these little thoughts. It’s partly to share with you and partly to keep as a reminder to myself! Anyway, hope you enjoy!

1. Watched my first Russian football (soccer) match.
Zenit (the Petersburg team) vs Atlético Madrid. Honestly, I wasn’t too invested in it, but it was fun to watch with a Russian. Vika’s friend Dima had come over to watch the game with her, but she had fallen into such a deep sleep that we couldn’t wake her. So, in the end, Dima and I just ended up watching the whole game together and talking until about 3 a.m. He shared many stories about his childhood, Russian culture, and continued to correct me on my poor Russian vocabulary. He also was very curious about why I chose to study Russian, what Americans thought of Russia, and why Americans are so politically correct (the n-word is used regularly hear… shocking, I know). I shared my opinions as best as I could, but there were certain topics I chose to remain mum on (gay rights, etc. Despite being in the most liberal city in Russia, it is still not openly supported.) There is a time and a place to share your views, but I didn’t think that this was one that I wished to discuss. Especially since you can be arrested for supporting gay propaganda. However, aside from a few of these shocking topics, I had a wonderful wonderful time talking with another Russian. It was nice that Vika was not there to translate everything because it really forced me to listen closely to what he was saying. Another thing that made me smile that night was…

2. Russian Chivalry
I’ve mentioned this topic before, but I encountered another side of it that made me giggle and I had to share it. While it is very nice to have my chair pulled out, doors opened, and seats offered to me on the metro, I had to laugh at the conversation I had with Dima when he saw me washing dishes in the sink. He was so shocked to see me doing such a thing that he bolted out of his seat to take my spot. When I gave him a strange look, he responded, “You are woman. Woman should not be doing such things as cleaning my teacup.” And I could not stop laughing. First off, there is a horrible joke in America that women belong in the kitchen (“make me a sammich”, etc). Second, simply rinsing out a teacup does not seem like that difficult a task, so I shoo-ed him away and told him I was quite capable of washing some dishes. I think he stared the entire time I did so in complete horror. He then went on to explain that men should carry women’s bags because we should not have to lift such heavy things. Again, I had to laugh because the look on his face was just priceless when I told him I haul an 80lb bag home from Minneapolis every Christmas on the Megabus, and that nobody offers to carry it for me to the bus stop.

People have warned me countless times that Russia is a very patriarchal society, but I have yet to experience something that suggests that is the right term to use. (At least, not yet.) Really, they just seem to be very chivalrous gentlemen. While I might not accept it every time (really, I can wash a teacup), I think that is something that needs to be appreciated. I’ll keep you posted, though, if I have anything to add.

3. Went to my first Russian concert.
The band was “Morning Tea with Constables” and the lead singer/bass guitar player is one of my amazing advisors, Anton Stepanov.

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You can listen to their soundcloud free here. Anyway, it was at a club called “The Place” (that’s not a joke) and about 40 of us from the program showed up. You could clearly tell where the Americans were sitting in the club because we all were cheering very loudly for the band.

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I would be in the mint shirt, top level, to the right.

4. Ice
There is none. In fact, you’re lucky if you even get cooled water. Normally it is lukewarm. So cherish that next glass you have with ice cubes in it because you have no idea how much I miss ice cubes.

5. Unisex Changing Rooms
Yeah, had a nice little surprise when I went shopping at the mall this past Saturday. They not only have unisex changing rooms in stores, but some bars also have unisex bathrooms.

6. Peterhof
Today I went to Peterhof, the most magnificent palace I have ever seen in my entire life. It was built by Peter the Great in 1714, after Peter had travelled to France, and was built to outshine the Versailles Palace and have an even grander display of fountains. At the time it was being built, Russia was involved in the Northern War with Sweden. In 1709 there was a decisive battle near Poltava in Ukraine which was a brilliant victory for Peter and the turning point of the whole war. Peter wanted to commemorate this victory for ages and ages and he dedicated the whole complex of Peterhof to the victory over Karl XII. Russia claimed a great victory over Sweden on St. Samson’s Day, and the lion is on Sweden’s coat of arms. Thus Peter celebrated this by having his centerpiece fountain head be Samson wrenching a lion into submission. There is also a fountain head of Perseus holding the Gorgon’s head up in victory, except that the Gorgon’s head is modeled to look like Charles the XII, the King of Sweden.

Fun fact: there are no water pumps in the Peterhof. They are managed by different diameter pipes and water flowing in from ponds and springs that are geographically higher than the gardens. It’s all gravity and it’s one of a kind in the world.

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Peter the Great was also a huge prankster on his guests. He had tables and areas of the grounds “booby-trapped” where if you walked too close or reached your hand in across the table you would get doused with streams of water! This would panic them causing them to run for the door, which was also booby trapped to spray them with water. Imagine a court of royals in 1700’s garb suddenly covered in water.

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Yes, that’s me.

This last picture of Neptune is rather interesting because it is the first statue created in Russian history. From a drawing by Peter the Great, no less.

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7. Safety
So a lot of you have probably seen my posts about the craziness that occasionally goes on in St. Petersburg. Last week a man was stabbed to death at my metro stop, and this week there was a shootout at a bar downtown that my friends were at. Everyone was fine. Only one person, the bouncer, was injured. I wanted to inform you all that the shootout was racially/nationally motivated by Chechen Nationalists.  After the shootout, this area of the city has now become the major center for skinheads and other nationalist groups who are using the incident for nationalist propaganda in order to keep the street “immigrant free”. We have not only been warned by our advisors, but expressly forbidden to go to this area of the city. We are well aware of the violence these groups have been capable of in the past, so I wanted to ease your worries knowing that I am safe and remain cautious.
8. Exact Change
Russia is very much a “cash country”. Debit cards are slowly becoming more and more acceptable, but you should always carry a minimum of 600 rubles on your person just in case. The problem is that many small businesses don’t have a lot of cash in their drawers, and expect you to give either exact or as close to exact change as you possibly can. If you have larger bills, such as a 1000 or 5000 ruble note, it is best to get those exchanged either at the metro (which experiences enough traffic flow to have a large stash of cash) or a larger grocery store such as Lenta or Okay. I’ve had multiple instances where I actually had to buy things that I don’t need in order to get closer to the exact amount of change I had. The good news? There is an ATM almost every block, and СберБанк doesn’t charge a withdrawal fee.
9. Doctors Still Make House Calls
This doesn’t actually apply to me, but I thought it was an interesting fact I learned while I was home sick. If you have a fever in Russia, a doctor will come FOR FREE to your house to treat you and check up on you. Amazing.
10. More About Dogs
There seems to be an apparent preference for either Yorkies or Dachshunds as pets here. I’ve seen the occasional big dog, but really… everyone owns a Dachshund…
Finally, I want to end this by saying that after two weeks I am finally feeling as if I am settled in. I have scheduled classes, specific routes I take home, specific supermarkets that I buy my toiletries from, I know the transportation well enough, and I even have my own seat at the table. (Although, I feel like Sheldon Cooper from “The Big Bang Theory” when I say that.)
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The point is, I finally feel as if I have something that I can consider my own. A routine. Just knowing that when I wake up in the morning I will put on a pot of tea and take a shower eases any lingering stress that I might have left over from the night before. Being a foreigner in this country has certainly given me some new perspective, but this small sense of structure helps me get through the more difficult parts of my day. Just knowing that there are some things in this country that are now familiar to me makes me feel as if there has been progress in my abilities since arriving. And that is what is most important to me.
Now, I am going to finish watching the last half of this Packer game and then off to bed. I’ll update again soon, hopefully with a bit more exciting news!
Золотых и бриллиантовых снов!
“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.” – Jawaharal Nehru

Updates*Updates*Updates

Gah, I regret not updating this sooner! So much to write about. I’m sorry this is going to be a long post again, but a lot of stuff has happened in the past few days. I’m home sick in bed right now, so I actually have the time to do this!

So last week Thursday and Friday were my first days of classes at Smolny college! In case you’ve all forgotten, this is the last time I will be having a “first day of school”.

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flashback photo for ya

I’m taking three language based courses – Phonetics, Grammar, and Conversation – as well as two electives. The electives didn’t start until this past Monday, however, so we had shortened periods last week. My electives are 19th Century Russian Literature (…in Russian) and Comparing Political Culture between the US and Russia. I really love my language classes the most. They are all participation based (we have pretty much no homework every night) which forces us to test our Russian skills. I’ve realized that within only ten days of being here my ability to comprehend natives speaking Russian has skyrocketed. Honestly, I’m disappointed that we don’t teach Russian back home like this. I feel like there will be noticeable improvement with my Russian by the end of the semester.

I’ve also pretty much have the metro down pat. Besides the dead body at my stop the other day (not to worry, it was an argument that got out of hand. not a common sight, or so i’ve heard.) I actually really enjoy riding it. It’s clean, efficient, and easy to navigate. I’m still working on getting to know the bus system and trolleybus system better. So far I only know the ones that take me to and from home/school.

Last week I also went to my first Russian bar. It’s called Kaveleria, and we pretty much just stumbled on it while we were walking around after class. It was underground and was empty at the time (it was about 2 in the afternoon), so the owner was actually able to come over and talk with us “Americans”. He invited us back to watch the football (soccer) match this week!

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On my way home I bought Vika some roses as a gesture to say thank you for all that she has done. Let me first say that flower shops are like Starbucks here in Seattle. They are EVERYWHERE. It is common for people to bring them as gifts weekly for friends, family, or as guests at a party because, c’mon, who doesn’t love flowers? I could tell she really appreciated them because they are sitting in our kitchen right now!

Vika really has been so wonderful. Two of her best guy friends came over and she not only introduced me to them, but asked if I would stay there and hang out with them. We had a wonderful time chatting in English, since they spoke such rapid Russian that I couldn’t understand a word of what they said. The boys, Zhenya and Dima, really got excited when I talked about motorcycles and Travis Pastrana. Apparently, he’s a big deal over here. 🙂 Zhenya laughed at me when I told him about American football, but Dima actually seemed genuinely interested in it! I really appreciate that I am slowly making actual Russian friends and not just sticking to the Americans like glue. I have to step outside my comfort zone and make a fool of myself as I positively butcher their language at times, but they appreciate when I make the effort to do so.

Speaking of my apartment, I know a lot of you were wondering what my place looks like. I know my little brother enjoyed seeing the places that I walk to every day, so here is the canal street that I take home from the metro every evening.

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It is a very long walk, so when it gets colder I will be taking the bus instead. My building looks like the ones pictured above, but it is much closer to the Gulf of Finland. It amazes me how many buildings they can squeeze together in an area and still find space to plant a flower garden or a children’s park.

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That’s my building above. I’m on the 8th floor. I wish I would have taken a picture of the elevator. It looks like the kind that would be filmed in a horror movie. The “call for help” number is written in permanent marker on the wall, if that gives you an idea. But the apartment is so cute! I love it! Vika keeps a very tidy place, and I’m very lucky to have such a large bedroom. There is an actual piano in my room, it’s that big. We spend most of our time in the kitchen though, which serves part time like a living room would too. All talking and hanging out is done there! The bathroom was an interesting sight the first time because it has two parts. There is one room (the size of a broom closet) that has the toilet, and then there is a second separate door where the sink, bath/shower, and tiny washing machine is! I actually like this set up because when one person is in the shower you don’t have to wait to use the toilet. That’s why there are actually two separate words for going to the bathroom: Туалет and ванная.

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my chair is on the left

This past Saturday and Sunday we left for the city of Novgorod and the ancient town of Staraya Russa. It was about a three hour drive south to Novgorod, and I put my Megabus skills to good use by sleeping the entire time. When we arrived we had the option of hearing the tours entirely in Russian or in English with a little Russian thrown in. I started off in the only Russian group, but switched midday due to the fact I had absolutely no idea what she was saying. While my everyday Russian has improved, this was a little too advanced of vocabulary for me. Anyway, we saw many old churches and memorials near the Volga River, and then we went and ate at this beautiful restaurant on a big ship. THEY SERVED AMERICAN FRENCH FRIES AND IT WAS WONDERFUL. I didn’t realize I could crave a salty, deep-fried potato so bad.

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After that we went off to the ancient town of Staraya Russa, which dates back to the 11th century. It was also the location where Dostoevsky wrote his famous “Brothers Karamazov”.

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After that, we drove back to Novgorod once more to finish up sight seeing at some more historical churches and monestaries before heading back to good ol’ Petersburg. Unfortunately we got stuck in the worst traffic jam of my life. Picture Chicago or L. A. x10000 because there is only one road that leads in to the city. And everyone is on it. Once again, I was able to witness the insanity that is Russian driving. Or perhaps the insanity lies more in the fact that they don’t seem to be afraid of anything that comes at them. I’m not quite sure yet.

I was lucky enough to get home in time to catch the tail end of the Packer game. Dima and Vika even watched a few minutes of it, finding it interesting (“like rugby”) but having no idea how it was played. I was also able to skype one of my best guy friends, Trevor, during the game. It felt just like old times, minus the fact that I was on the other side of the planet.

Monday, after class, I went to Galeria. I wish you could understand what this word embodies. Imagine the Mayfair mall. Now imagine that meshing with Mall of America. Now stack every online store you’ve ever loved but is not available to shop at in store in the states on top of that. NOW you have Galeria. It is the most magical land for any shopaholic. I was so overwhelmed, I actually left without buying anything. I felt like I needed a full day to dedicate to such a shopping experience. (Also, I started to feel really sick, but I ignored that at the time.)

This was a stupid decision since this morning I woke up with a full on achey body/runny and stuffy nose/coughing-palooza. Not fun. Vika told me I shouldn’t go to school today, but to be excused for sick days we have to have a doctor’s note. So off I went to the MEDEM international clinic in downtown St. Petersburg. Normally I would have shrugged her warnings off. In the states, usually, we just chug some pills with water and off to school/work we go. Well, I’m glad I went. Turns out I have a bacterial infection that required antibiotics. The doctor told me that I came in soon enough that I should be better in a few days, but if I had waited much longer it could have developed into something much nastier. (Honestly, I felt terrible enough then and I couldn’t imagine anything worse.) I must say, it was a rather interesting experience going to a Russian hospital. While my doctor and the receptionist spoke decent enough English, the lady who took my blood, the pharmacist, and the nurses did not speak any at all. Once again, I had to struggle to piece together a coherent(ish) sentence or two in order to make sure we both knew what the other was talking about. Despite my obvious mistakes, they were very kind and patient with me. By the time I got home I was feeling terrible. My body ached, my head felt heavy and stuffed, my coughing had worsened and I felt as if there was phlegm filling my lungs. The doctor had said that since there is so much moisture in the air in Petersburg that when it gets cold it can cause infections in our lungs from breathing all that moisture in. Plus, since I’m a foreigner and haven’t been here too long, she said I was a bit more at risk since I was not familiar with the weather. It was the first time in a while that I reeeeeeally wanted to call my parents (I mean, I love talking to them whenever we can, but this was like a “Gosh, I really wish I could get ahold of them right now but it’s 3 a.m. there” moment) because I just wasn’t quite sure what I was doing. But I figured it out in the end.  And that, right there, is what I am most proud of accomplishing today. 🙂 Vika is now making me do all these Russian home remedies which I had only read about in my textbook before (steamed potato pot, eating raw honey, warmed milk with honey, and so much tea).  I get to spend the next couple days resting up in bed and reading Гарри Поттер (Harry Potter in Russian). I’m hoping that, since I know the entire series by heart, this will help me improve my Russian vocabulary! By the end of the semester, I plan on buying the entire series in Russian since they are so cheap and almost impossible to find back home.

Actually, strike that. I had to pee in an underground public bathroom run by the the most ancient babushka I have ever seen in complete darkness. Oh, and I had to pay 20 rubles to do so. That did not include toilet paper. Russian Level Achieved? EXPERT.

More Thoughts About Russia

  1. Personal Space: It is nonexistent. I once rode the metro with my face smashed against the window because we were packed so tightly. Sardines have more space in their can. It’s not just on transportation either. Even in every day life it is noticeable. Russians talk only a few inches from your face. Or, for example, if the bus you’re riding back home is completely empty, a Russian might choose to sit in the seat DIRECTLY NEXT TO YOU. That’s like (for guys) peeing in the urinal right next to another dude. It’s strange for Americans. It doesn’t take long to grow accustomed to their proximity, though.
  2. Deodorant and Bras: I’ve noticed that both of these things seem to be optional for some of the population. Most noticeable, obviously, is the lack of deodorant because when you’re squished against that many people in the metro it’s hard not to notice. However, I’ve also seen a portion of the female population (not a large amount, but noticeable enough) who don’t wear bras. I’m not quite sure what this is about. I haven’t asked my host about this yet but I will.
  3. The Metro Face: It is the facial expression almost every Russian wears while in public. It’s a cross between indifference and boredom, and it is what keeps unwanted attention from certain individuals at bay. I had mastered the metro face before I arrived in Russia because apparently that was the expression I had when I would walk to school in Minnesota.
  4. Fashion: You think you’re a fashionable person right? Or you’ve seen those people in the states who just look really great going to class in their button downs and cute skinny jeans. Well, you look like a slob compared to the Russian ladies. They look 10/10 every day. Dresses (despite the cold weather), six-inch stilettos (which they somehow manage to walk across cobblestone on), makeup, perfect hair, the latest accessories… They look like they have walked off the runway (most of them are the teeny-tiny size of models too, making me feel like a galavanting hippopotamus on the street). Sweatpants in public? Don’t even dream of it. And tennis shoes? Laughable. I’m going to leave this place looking like a celebrity.
  5. The High Heel Enigma: The high heels here just boggle my mind so much that it deserved its own post. Shoes here in general are very beautiful, but the high heels are just… wow. Stunning. But they’re so tall. Thankfully, there are some tall shoes that come with thicker heels. But really, I wore heels one day this week and they were only two, maybe three, inches tall? I was dying by the end of the day. (Thankfully, I wore my metro face to keep anyone from noticing.) I’ve had a permanent blister on my left foot since I’ve arrived in Petersburg. I’ve seen bruises and blisters on women’s feet on the metro, and I truly do not understand why they put themselves through such pain all day. When I asked Vika about it she admitted, “Yes, they are in a great deal of pain. But they want to look feminine. So they pretend they don’t hurt.” Russian logic.
  6. Russian Love Locks:  I think this might be one of the cutest things I’ve heard. Russian love locks are padlocks that couples lock to a bridge, fence, gate, or similar public fixture to symbolize their love. Typically the sweethearts’ names or initials are inscribed on the padlock, and its key is thrown away to symbolise unbreakable love. I saw some on the bridge over the Volga River in Novgorod.

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I think that’s all for now! I need to rest up since I’m feeling icky, but I hope to update again soon! I just want to say, I read all your comments and they absolutely make my day. Thank you for taking the time to leave them. It warms my heart. While I’m kept very busy and am loving my time abroad, I do think of you all often.  ❤

Until next time!

P.S. I had my first blini. It was everything I dreamed it would be.
P.P.S. Grandpa, your jam only made it a week. Vika liked it that much.

До скоро, товарищи!

Cгущёнка, Метро, и Вика

Wow, so it’s been a couple days since my last post and I figured I would write another now while I had some time! It’s long, so prepare yourself.

Monday
So Monday was a rather intense day for me.  I woke up for breakfast that morning (mushrooms, potatoes, blini, apples, and eggs) and had to pack up my stuff because it was our last day in the hotel! We then had orientation meetings from 10 a.m. to about 5 p.m., which covered a variety of topics like homestays, technology in Russia, cultural differences, etc. I then had the most nerve-wracking wait of my life until my host mom came to pick me up at 6 o’clock. When she did arrive, I swear my stomach was in knots because I had no idea what to expect on the ride home! Turns out, I was in for a major surprise when I saw that my host “mom” was actually a 20 year old college student named Виктория Вадимовна Соколова (Viktoria Vadimovna Sokolova)! Let me just say here that she is the most wonderful person ever, and I could tell that upon being with her for only two minutes or so in the elevator. It is Vika’s first time hosting a person, and I don’t believe there could be a better host out there. But I’ll get to that later! 🙂

So Vika came and picked me up, introducing herself to me and chatting in very rapid Russian that I did not understand at all before taking me out to the parking lot. It was then she must have realized the clueless look on my face because she simply asked, “Would you like me to speak in English?” I nearly jumped for joy. You see, Russians speak very quickly. I mean, it sounds like one really long word rather than a whole sentence. So when all the Russian you know leaves your brain, your stomach is rolling from nervousness, and you’re surrounded by rapid Russian it can be a bit overwhelming. Having her explain what she was saying in English helped me to be able to hear the separation of words in her sentences. Vika is very fluent in English (she actually just got back from Cambridge about three weeks ago, so she has a bit of a British accent too!), but she makes sure she speaks Russian to me a lot before explaining things in English if she knows I am struggling.

Vika’s friend, Alyosha, drove her to pick me up and was the one who drove us back to Vasilievsky Island, which is where I now live! The apartments are these huge cement structures that are about 15-18 stories tall. My apartment overlooks the seaport of the Gulf of Finland. (I’ll take some pictures of my apartment soon for you all to see.)

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Anyway, Alyosha drove us through the insane Russian traffic. And when I say insane, I mean insane in two ways. First off, rush hour is terrible. Not Chicago/L.A./New York terrible, but certainly worse than Minneapolis or Milwaukee. Second, speeding takes on a whole new level. Alyosha was one of those people who likes speed. When I wasn’t hanging on to the handle for dear life, I was watching the speedometer climb to 180 km/hr (about 110 mph). After we arrived, Vika shook her head saying “Yeah, he forgets he is not driving his motorcycle.” 🙂 Made me smile.

That night we talked and ate сырники.  There really isn’t anything like it in America, but basically they are little fried pancakes made of a thicker type of cottage cheese (tvorik). And like any good Russian dish, I ate it with sour cream on top. After dinner, we went to the metro station which is about a fifteen minute walk from my apartment. It was closed at the time, but Vika wanted to explain how it worked so the next morning wouldn’t be too terrifying.

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When we returned, I gave her gifts I had brought from America for her to have. My grandpa Dave’s jam was easily her favorite. In fact, she shared it with some of her friends because she thought it was so delicious. Peanut butter was also a great success, and she had a big smile on her face when I explained my love for the Green Bay Packers. (I brought her a Packer pennant from Lambeau.) We stayed up most of the night talking until finally we realized it was 2:30 am and we needed sleep!

My room is quite large (bigger than mine at home). It has a bed, two cabinets, a closet, desk and chair, television, and the ever important wifi. Like I said, I’ll try to get pictures soon (once I’ve finished unpacking).

Tuesday
The next day I woke up about 7 a.m. because we had to meet my program group at Адмиралтейская Метро (Admiralteiskaya Metro), which is the newest metro stop on the purple line.

Map of St. Petersburg Subway

Vika made an omelette for me for breakfast (with tea, of course. Russians drink so much tea. I’m in heaven.) that had tomatoes (yes, family, I’m eating tomatoes now), the Russian version of bacon (delicious), and onions! Delicious. We left about 8:30 or so to head to the Primorskaya metro station. Let me just say, I was very nervous about the metro. The sheer amount of people in this city is astounding. I can’t remember the exact statistic, but apparently out of the 5 million people here about a third of them take the metro. Insanely busy. And just like in New York, if you don’t know how things work and go with the flow people can get irritated. I didn’t want that happening, so I was especially thankful we had gone the night before. Buying my ticket was rather simple. I just had to say, “Один” for one metro coin and then took the escalators down to the actual metro rail. The St. Petersburg metro is actually the deepest metro in the world. I also noticed how incredibly clean and organized it all was for the number of people that were using it. Not to mention, it’s incredibly fast compared to Minneapolis’s Hiawatha line. I was really happy Vika took me all the way to the other station since we had to change trains a few times. By the end of the day, though, I was a pro.

We arrived at Nevskii Prospekt, the busiest street in St. Petersburg, and then walked all the way to Dvorstvaya Ploshad (the square in front of the Hermitage) where Vika dropped me off with my group. The buildings were gorgeous.

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It was a beautiful day in St. Petersburg, which was good since we spent the next four and half hour trouncing around the city on a scavenger hunt! (We almost won too. Lost by half a point. The winner got free tickets to the Opera at Marinskii Theater.) After looking over the map, we realized we walked over eight miles in those few hours! You can imagine how sore my legs were after walking on cobblestone for so long. One part of the scavenger hung we had to do was try квас (kvas), which is a fermented drink made from bread. It wasn’t awful… but I won’t be having it again any time soon.

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Afterwards, I took the metro home… by myself. A close family friend of mine (like another mother to me) said that I should always find something each day that I did right. Even if I had the worst day ever, I should find something that went well. Honestly, the whole day was a blast, but I was especially proud of myself for getting home without any help. There was a slight mishap when I took the wrong street home and had to walk an extra fifteen minutes to find my way back, but otherwise it was a success! (The apartment complexes all look the same and are SO close together. It’s easy to get confused.) I also went to the supermarket and bought conditioner, a notebook, and still water. As much as I love tea, I really missed regular water. Russia loves carbonation, so I bought the biggest jug of still water I could find to bring home. It’s already 3/4 gone. 🙂 When Vika saw it, she laughed and said, “You Americans sure do love your still water.” Ain’t that the truth.

When I arrived home, I was delighted to see that Vika had invited her best friend, Kristina, over for me to meet. This was a huge deal for me since friendship is taken very seriously over here in Russia. The two of them had been cooking in the kitchen and had beef stroganoff for me when I arrived home! (Grandpa Dave, Kristina also loved the jam!) The three of us sat and chatted for a few hours before I decided I needed to unpack my suitcases a bit. Just before bed, Vika invited me back out to the kitchen where she had made dessert. It. Was. Amazing. I am not sure of the name, but it was a cored apple filled with caramel and сгущёнка (condensed milk? it basically tastes like frosting and is a-m-a-zing). Of course, it was accompanied by tea. (From this point on, just expect all meals have tea. It’s a staple.)

Today
It’s strange to think today is only my second full day of living with Vika. We get along so well it seems like longer.

This morning we had to get to Smolny College for registration for classes and to take my placement exam. Smolny is a bit of a ways away for me. I have to take a bus to the metro or walk, then take the metro to Mayakovskaya Metro downtown, then take the trolleybus the rest of the way to the campus. Yeah. It definitely was a lot to remember. Thankfully, Vika said she was going to take me to school today as well. We had a wonderful omelette with fried toast this morning, then left about 8:20 for the metro. We took the bus, which is actually quite similar to the bus system in Minneapolis except you don’t have to pull the string for your stop. When we arrived at the metro, I bought an electronic smart card. It’s basically like the GoPass for Minnesota. I bought it for 55rub, then put the rest of my money on the card. Each metro ride takes out 28rub, and any bus or trolleybus takes out 25rub when I swipe it. This will save me some money in the long run. After we arrived at the metro stop, we walked to the trolleybus stop where I ran into one of my student services advisors for the program. He is only a year or two older than I am, I believe, and was heading to school since St. Petersburg State students started classes last week. Both he and Vika rode the trolleybus with me to Smolny and then walked me to the building entrance. After that, it was time to take the exam.

It sucked. A lot.

The oral was probably the worst for me. My comprehension is actually not terrible, but putting a coherent sentence together rapidly is not my strong suit yet. I’m slowly (like, snail’s pace) getting over my fear of speaking Russian to natives – I’m kind of forced to during the day – but the fact that I was being tested on it added a new level of stress. The written wasn’t terrible, but we were told to stop answering whenever we got to a chunk of the test we did not know. The point was so that you would not be placed in an advanced class if you were just guessing and managed to guess right. It was brutal, though, and I actually was really disappointed in my ability not to recall things I knew were buried somewhere in my brain.

After the exam we had our school pictures taken, a small, meeting, and then free time for the rest of the day. I went with a group to explore the area until I reached the Chernoshevskaya Metro station, which is where a small group of us rode the green line back to the island. Once we arrived, another student and I stopped for something to drink at a кофе хауз, which are like the Starbucks of St. Petersburg. There is one on every corner downtown, I kid you not. By the time I got home I was so tired that I went to take a nap until Vika returned for a yummy dinner of kasha (it’s like buckwheat oatmeal), salad, and Russia’s version of the hot dog.

After dinner, Vika and I sat and shared different youtube videos of Russian and American comedians. I would stop and explain certain references in English (Trevor, if you’re reading this, I showed her “The Machine”.hahahaha) and she would explain what it was that the Russian comedians were saying. She also gave me a lesson about Russian slang and swearing, which I realized I hear a lot but didn’t know what the words meant! Very interesting stuff. And funny too! Finally, around ten, we left for bed and now hear I am staying up wayyyyyy too late… again. Oh well! The days will only get busier, and i want to make sure I don’t leave too much out!

Tomorrow we officially start classes, and then Saturday we leave for the city of Novgorod. I need to charge my camera battery so it doesn’t die on me AGAIN.

So, despite my rather intimidating exam, there were many things that made me smile today. On my way home, I saw group of Russian men (probably on a sports team) running through the park. A little boy had been sitting on a bench, and when he saw the group of men, he got off the bench and ran to catch up with them in order to run beside them. The group saw this, smiled, and slowed down a fraction so that the little boy could keep pace. It was adorable. Also, once I arrived in my neighborhood I saw a babushka pushing her grandson in a stroller. As they passed a fenced in lot that had some wildflowers shooting up in patches, she pulled the stroller over so that the two of them could admire the flowers for a minute. For some reason, this really warmed my heart. It reminded me that, despite all my stresses this week, I need to just take a moment to enjoy the view. So I did, and here is road I take to walk home every day.

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Lastly, I want to end this on some things that I have observed in Russia that intrigued me.

1. The Men
There is a lot I could say so far about the men of Russia, but I’ll save most of it for another post. What intrigued me so far (and we had been informed about this by our advisors) is that Russia is very much a patriarchal society. It’s kind of a “men should be men and women should be women” kind of thinking. Of course, there are many things I could discuss about this way of thinking alone, but I want to talk about what I find to actually be quite nice about it. Our advisors told us that men are expected to be chivalrous to women, even if they do not know them at all. Now, it’s one thing to hear your advisors say it, but it’s another thing to experience it in person. For instance, when Vika came to pick me up, I had made a motion to go pick up my suitcase and place it in the car. Instantly, Alyosha was there waving me away so that he could pick up my 54lb suitcase and put it in the back of his car. Or today on the trolleybus, the doors opened inward just like they do on buses in Minneapolis. It was very crowded and I had been standing too close to the edge in the vicinity of where the doors would hit me. As soon as they opened, my student advisor automatically moved me away from the doors so that I wouldn’t get hit. Even such things as doors being held for me or seats being offered on the metro stunned me because these actions are not automatic in America for most people.

2. Exchanging Money
Russian people don’t like to hand people their change. Instead, they place it all on the counter for you to slide it off. Even if you try to hand bills to them, they will point at the counter for you to set it down before they can pick it up.

3. Wild Dogs
Out in the residential area where I live there are plenty of stray dogs roaming in packs around the city. The interesting thing about these dogs is that they are incredibly smart. They wait with people at the crosswalks of intersections and walk with them when they cross the street.

Alright, that’s all for now. I need some sleep.

Спокойной ночи!

P. S. Wanted to say that I’m thinking of all of my fellow Americans today on September 11th. Never forget.

Добро пожаловать в Санкт-Петербург!

Well, I have arrived! I figured I’d try to get a blog post in before school started.

My flight to St. Petersburg was rather enjoyable. I flew Austrian Airlines from Chicago to Vienna, where had a one hour layover before I left for St. Petersburg. The food was excellent – even if I couldn’t tell what some of it was – and the hostesses were very capable despite not speaking much English. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to sleep more than an hour the whole trip, so I was exhausted by the time I went to bed Saturday night. The only downfall I had came when my baggage remained in Vienna for another night rather than follow me along to Russia. As I boarded the plane in Vienna, one of the workers on the tarmac came on board and said, “The plane is too heavy. We can’t take off.” and made five people get off the plane. I just kept my head down to avoid being called on. Nooooo way I wanted to schedule a new flight. Unfortunately, they also decided to leave a bunch of our luggage in Vienna too, mine included. So I had to spend an hour and a half at the baggage claim in Pulkovo airport trying to declare my lost luggage and buy a “Team Russia” t-shirt so I would have some clean clothing to wear. We had a ton of confusing forms to fill out, and the employees weren’t too willing to clarify until after we had been there for a half hour. Thankfully, I wasn’t the only one on my flight from my CIEE program group who had lost luggage so we all managed to figure it out together! Good news is I got my bag today.

It was a lovely day on Saturday. The sun was shining, it was quite warm, and I have decided that Russia has some of the most beautiful sunsets. I was able to meet a few people the first day, mostly just saying hello and asking about each other’s background. We also share a room at the hotel with another person, so I’ve been able to get to know my roommate too! We were able to chat for a bit at dinner, which was filled with delicious Russian food. I particularly enjoyed the crab and cabbage salad. After dinner we went to exchange our money to rubles. Looking at the Russian bills makes me feel like I’m a billionaire, since they work mainly in large numbers (50, 100, 500, 1000, 5,000). It’s still a little disorientating when I see the numbers and have to convert them in my head. It’s not just converting money either. Temperature, weight, distance, and even the time (they do 24 hour military time) all takes a little time.

After that, my roommate and I cracked open our books to study a bit before heading to bed. Jetlag still hit us hard, so we woke up at random times during the night despite our exhaustion. Hopefully tonight will be better!

Today (Sunday) was our first full day in St. Petersburg. We woke up and had breakfast first before heading to our orientation meetings. I’m still amazed at how potatoes show up in every meal in some form and they are always delicious. Today’s orientation meeting was focused on safety in the city and our physical/mental health. Everything was pretty familiar since I was already used to living in a big city. However, one warning that terrified me was about rapes that can occur in public bathrooms at bars in the city since most are unisex bathrooms. We’re told to always bring a friend with us, even if it seems a little awkward. Also, I was happy to hear that when we take a taxi girls are to be dropped off before guys, and if we are walking they should be chivalrous and walk us home. Sounds strange, but that actually made me feel better. I know Trevor and Brandon (if they are reading this) know that I always feel bad whenever they would walk me home at night in Minneapolis since it’s rather out of the way for them, but after being followed home more than once I really did appreciate them ignoring my protests and walking me back. Hopefully there will be someone who live close to me that can walk back with me if we’re alone at night, especially since I live pretty far from campus. I don’t know much about the location of my host family other than it is a little over an hour to commute and I have a great view of the Gulf of Finland. I was told it was a rather nice, quiet area! My хозяйка’s name is Viktoriya Vadimovna Sokolova, and she also has her mother living with her – Tatyana – so I will have a host babushka as well! I will be meeting her tomorrow after dinner! I’m actually growing more and more nervous for this since I don’t think my Russian is quite up to par for carrying a lengthy conversation.

After our meeting we had dinner, and then we left for a bus tour of the city. It was a beautiful day for the tour – it was sunny when we left, although the clouds rolled in around halfway through – and of course the battery to my Nikon camera died. However, I was able to take some decent pictures on my iPhone. We stopped at a number of historical sites, but I have to say that St. Isaac’s Cathedral (Исаакиевский сабор) was my favorite of the tour. It was so beautiful, and it looked like there was an option to climb up and walk around the dome. I would have done so if we had had the time. 🙂

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My campus, Smolny, was a close second. I went and found the building that I will be at, although how I’m actually going to get there still is unknown. I will have to take the metro, though, so that will be an interesting experience every day. The whole transportation sounds a little chaotic and confusing, but I’m hoping it won’t take too long to figure it out!

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(You can click the pictures to enlarge them.)

I hope this didn’t sound too dull! My head is a little foggy (I’m extremely tired), and I should go back and reread this for spelling/grammar errors before submitting it. Oh well. I’m sleepy and need a nap before the game.

All in all, I am enjoying exploring Petersburg. I have a lot of worries when it comes to the upcoming days, but there’s really nothing I can do about it until they come and I just jump right into them For now, I’m just going to soak it all in.

Well, I’m going to watch this Russian TV program until the game is on. Haven’t the foggiest what it’s about. 🙂 Cross your fingers I’m going to be able to stream the Packer game tonight! I’ll write again soon.

Пока!

The Countdown Begins

I’ve been given lots of advice from many people about my upcoming study abroad program, but the one I heard the most was to start my own blog. It actually sounded like a pretty good idea, so here is my first attempt at writing a post. (Sorry if I start to ramble. Hopefully, I will get the hang of this by the end of the semester!)

I’m sure the majority of you who will read this will probably be either family or close friends, so most of you will know what a Tolkien geek I am. In case you didn’t recognize it, “There and Back Again” was the title of Bilbo’s memoir, which documented his great adventure in The Hobbit. The poem listed below the title is a verse from Tolkien’s “The Walking Song”. Both seemed fitting as I start off on my own epic adventure to Mother Russia.

With only ten days left in the U.S., I’ve been busy finishing up a bunch of last minute details. This past sunday my mom and stepdad put together an amazing goodbye party for me! Big thank you to all of you who made the trek out to the boondocks to see me off, and a shout out to Steve for teaching me all those basic military self-defense moves! (Let’s cross our fingers I never actually have to use them.) I had so much fun with you all, and I hope you enjoy keeping up with all the shenanagins I get up to in Russia here on this blog.

I also had my predeparture orientation meeting today. It was nice to be able to hear and speak with the advisors who will be working with me on campus in St. Petersburg. I’ve been fluctuating between excited and anxious about the upcoming trip, but today’s presentation really helped calm me down and think rationally about my expectations. I know that with only two years of Russian under my belt I will be nowhere  close to fluent upon my arrival, but I also know that my inability to communicate as well as I do here in America was really frustrate me. As my dad said to me this morning, the purpose of this trip will not be to outdo every student in my program (that would be impossible, since some of them have been studying 10+ years), but to improve myself. If I am able to come back from this with a better grasp on the Russian language than when I left, I will consider it to be a success! Believe me, I still have my fair share of concerns. Will I fit in? Will I be able to keep up with the language or will I be completely overwhelmed? I also know myself, and I know I’ll have to constantly remind myself not to get discouraged when I struggle those first couple weeks. My mistakes can only help me to improve. The world is so big, and here I’m off to see a part of it that many will never see in their lifetime, so I decided I’m not going to spend that time worrying over the little details of what could happen. It’s an experience of a lifetime, and I’m going to enjoy it to its fullest. Most of you know that I’m pretty fearless, and I plan on diving in headfirst (no, family, that does not mean I’m going to be naive or reckless). I want to experience all of St. Petersburg the Russian way, not as a tourist.

Unfortunately, I won’t find out some of the more exciting details of my trip until I arrive. We will have another orientation period the first three days of the trip, and that is going to be when I find out about my class schedule, local excursions, my host family, and about the other students who will be studying and traveling with me. Everything is going to be coming at me pretty fast once I’m there. That first weekend we already leave St. Petersburg for a trip to Novgorod, a city just south of St. Petersburg! The anticipation is killing me. Even though I’ve travelled outside of the country plenty of times before, the fact that this is not a vacation is starting to sink in. I’m going to be in Russia for four months.

Four months.

I’ve already started packing. (I can see half my family and friends rolling their eyes at that. They all know what a little planner I like to be.) I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I have a superpower, and it is the ability to pack like a boss. Worst superpower ever compared to all the others, but it’s definitely useful now! It’s a small relief not to be worried about overpacking, especially since there are a thousand other things to focus on instead. Life is going to get even more chaotic these next few days with me going up north and finishing up last minute appointments before I say “до свидания!” to Wisconsin. I know these last two weeks are going to fly by in the blink of an eye. I’m going to be leaving a lot behind – family, friends, puppy, and my daily routine – but I know that, in return, I’m going to gain so much. I’m going to make new friends, have a new family for a period of time, try new food, learn new routes and routines, and see places I’ve only read about in books. I’m going to be starting over!

“To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.” ~ Bill Bryson

Most of you know I love finding and reading quotes about anything that interests me. Well, fair warning, this blog is going to be full of them. I plan on posting again before I leave, so keep your eyes peeled.

Пока!