Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A Weekend in Moscow...

     Before letting us head off for our thoroughly enjoyable SPRING BREAK trips (well, mine was at least!), on Friday March 16th, we were shipped down to Moscow to explore Russia's capitol for the weekend. I think I'll let the pictures speak for the experience....

SPb ----> Moscow. Let the overnight train adventures begin!!
Here it is, the Express Express!!
The 4-person sleeper car was tiny, but we dealt with it for the free, stylish foot-wear (kudos to Katie for rocking the red gauze shoes so well)....

8:15 arrival? YIKES!

No worries though, we still all put on our happy faces as we took in the first views of Moscow


So we hopped on a bus, and our tour began on our first overcast day in the big city....

We saw Red Square

And then the montage of photos in front of and around Saint Basil's Cathedral began....

But not everyone was delighted to have their photos taken

.......just kidding!

Oddly enough, we also toured a cemetery....

I snapped another photo of a Russian bride....

And then it was off to the circus....

The bears were by far my favorite and least favorite part....
(just to clarify they were not my least favorite part because I expected them to do tricks on a bicycle and they did not, it was because I felt bad that they made bears walk around on 2 legs and get tossed around on planks of wood)

And then I saw something I figured my mother would rather enjoy!

And then we geared up for Day II....

Before gearing up to fly out to Lithuania I saw:

The Duma...

Beautiful Memorials...

Cathedrals in the Kremlin...

And, of course, a huge cannon....

And with a brief stop at Lenin's Mausoleum, I was ready for my back-packing adventures to begin. 

Moscow was a great time, but it was NOTHING compared to the week that followed. Spring Break 2012: Adventures in Backpacking was AMAZING!!! 
Look for a new post, full of more pictures, sometime this week!! (Hopefully).

dream.love.discover (new cities in Russia),

Friday, March 16, 2012


As a kick-off to our Spring Break week, we are heading off to Moscow via an overnight train in just a few short hours. After a weekend visiting Moscow's famous sights like Lenin's Mausoleum, Red Square, the Kremlin, and Saint Basil's Cathedral, I will be jetting off to Vilnius, Lithuania to spend a few days touring the Old City and hopefully seeing Trakai Castle and the Hill of Crosses (if I can manage to find the right bus!) My week of travel will conclude with a few days in Riga, Latvia where I am taking a walking tour of the city and a COOKING CLASS!!! (can you say dream come true?!) 
I know absolutely nothing about traditional Latvian cuisine, but will be guided through Riga's Central Market (one of the largest markets/bazaars in Europe!) to get the ingredients needed to make Latvian soup, root vegetables and meat, and sweet cakes, as well as the opportunity to taste some other Latvian specialties. I am looking forward to a relaxing yet adventurous week in the Baltic region of Europe and can't wait to hop on the train tonight and let the Spring Break adventures begin!!! 
See y'all in about a week!!


Friday, March 9, 2012

When asked to summarize my experience in Saint Petersburg so far....

     Nothing in Saint Petersburg is quite like I imagined. Although I still crave the occasional Bhindi Fry or Baingan Bharta, my life in Saint Petersburg has been an amazing sequel to the long, hot days I spent travelling around India last semester. It is reasonable, I think, to miss walking to campus under the warm Indian sun in my sandals, amidst the hustle and bustle of the street sweepers, produce carts, speedy cars, and the rickshaws that weave in and out of traffic, but even without all of that or trading in sandals for snow-boots and my kurta-legging "uniforms" for layers of fleece and denim, I welcome everything Saint Petersburg brings. Even in the sub-zero temperatures, which are typical for the dead of Russian winter, the city has not ceased to amaze me with its endless beauty and all of the amazing places and sights (including gorgeous restored palaces) I have and will have the opportunity to see. 
     A typical day here, at least for me, consists of 3 hours of language classes in the morning, the occasional elective a few days a week (I am taking courses on the History of the Russian Orthodox Church, The History of Contemporary Russia: The Communist Phase, and Contemporary Russian Life), and an hour long metro ride to one of the largest museums in the world-The State Hermitage Museum, where I am currently volunteering for the semester (so far, I’ve gotten to write on a lot of museum artifacts, labeling and measuring small pieces of pots and rocks from past digs, not too shabby if you ask me!). Thankfully, the cold isn’t nearly as tough to bear as was anticipated (thanks to my use of Space-Saver bags, which allowed me to pile fleece zip-ups into my suitcase and my mom's concern for my health and safety [AND HAIR] as I brave a whole new kind of cold!!).
     I thought the language barrier would be difficult at first, but I quickly learned it’s the small victories that make struggling through the tables of cases for the Russian language, hours of grammar lessons a week, memorizing exceptions to any of the six ways you can modify a noun or adjective, and attempting to read the signs [with their backwards R's and N's, P's that make an "R" sound, cursive Cyrillic "T's" that actually look like our cursive "M's", the whole B/V (in their respective Russian letters) conundrum]  in the new world around me worth all of the work. 
     My first major victory? –Piecing together the little Russian I knew with the little English most Russians know in order to understand the most helpful Бабушка (meaning "grandmother", it's what I refer to all little old Russian women as) at the grocery store while trying to buy garlic. Yes, believe it or not, even the purchase of garlic can be a challenge in a foreign country. 
It is not every day that a little, old Russian woman gives ANYONE a smile, a wink, and a thumbs up. When they are sent your way, you know you have a reason to be proud of yourself. J


Бабушка: “Wahwahwhawhawha," she says to me in the same effect that all of the teachers speak in any Charlie Brown television special. I know she is speaking to me in Russian, of course, but it might as well be the muffled sound adults make to children when they have no idea what the person is saying to them. There are times, already, even in only my first week here, that I feel so useless for not knowing the language. Luckily, I still remember a few handy phrases from the days of my Russian 101 course at MU(Ohio) back during first semester of Freshman year.

Me: (smiling, Can you say “stereotypical American here?!) 

"я не понимаю," I say, wondering what other phrases or words I know to get me out of this mess. The truth is, no matter what she says to me, I'm thinking "я не понимаю," may be the only thing I will respond with anyway, since no matter what, the chances are it will hold true through our whole interaction-"I don't understand" is probably all I will continue to repeat.

Бабушка: "Whawhawhawha немного, whawhawhawha.”

Me: “немного?” Finally a word I understand, “little”, she is saying something about little. Alright, let's keep this going, I'm thinking, maybe I can understand her afterall!

Бабушка: "Whawhahwahwah", but she clearly realizes this is falling on extremely deaf ears. Searching for other words she can say, we decide bits-and-pieces are a better way to go about this conversation. She again repeats немного, and a few other words which I understand to mean little, big, and something that after thinking about for a second I assume means that I have to go back and get more garlic, there just isn't enough to register on the scale. Thinking I still don't understand she says to me, “Little bit (pointing to the bag) more (this time using gestures), more,” she says, trying to use simple words and whatever English she can muster to get her point across. The truth is, it's comforting to know that we are both at a loss for words we know. It makes me feel less silly for not understanding her and more like she actually is genuinely trying to help me. It eases my nerves and allows me to translate our broken interaction into something I know.

Me: Да я понимаю," as the relief rushes over me, after all of our hard work through such little conversation, "I understand." I walk back over to the garlic, adding a few more cloves to my bag, I look back at the babushka, showing her I understood her directions by holding up the newly added cloves. Clearly pleased with her success and my understanding, she looks back at me, giving me a thumbs up, a smile (a rare occurrence in Russia!), and a wink as she walks away. 


It is only the first of the many confusing moments that will make up my semester in Russia, but, somehow I know everything will be just fine. And that is exactly how my life in Saint Ptersburg has been. There are times when it is a struggle, times when people say things to me that I do not understand-when I just nod and decide to tell them "I cannot understand", or "I do not know"-times when hand gestures and animated speech help me to better understand those around me-and other times when I just want to crawl into bed, bury my head in my pillow, turnn on some music, and not come out of my room until May. But then there are times, too, like while buying garlic in a grocery store, or being able to do things on my own (even if it's as simple as ordering my own fast food), or remembering some words and phrases we learned in class that my roommate is impressed I recall, or being able to use the simple Russian I do know in order to get through whatever it is I am doing, that remind me why I came here in the first place.
I wanted to learn about life in a foreign country, I wanted to live somewhere difficult, I wanted to not always be able to understand what's going on around me or what people are saying, and I wanted to learn how to get through tough experiences with an open mind and a new level of independence. That's why I chose to come to Russia and that's why, even though living here has been difficult at times, I wouldn't trade it for anything-because when I get right down to it, I ABSOLUTELY LOVE IT HERE! I am getting a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be in a country so few take the time or get the chance to see or learn about. No, it's not an ordinary decision, but where would the fun and adventure be if it were?

dream.love.discover (you're making Russian Grannies proud!),


SMC Blogger