Monday, October 26, 2009

cold days and midnight trains

so right now, it's about 6:30 and i have about 6 hours until my train leaves for st. petersburg. i'll be there until the end of the week and then i'll return back to moscow. but anyway, it's been a while since i last updated, so let's see...

it's been a lot colder lately, snow weather, you would think, unfortunately luzhkov seems bent on preventing it if at all possible, so who knows whether it'll actually fall or not. but it's definitely been close to freezing this whole past week, and the gloves and scarf and starting to feel like they're not enough haha. cloudy days are pretty much expected, i've only seen the sun maybe once or twice in the past 7 days.

last week we were pretty busy, we had an excursion to tolstoy's childhood home in the middle of moscow, and it was remarkably well preserved and definitely a lot nicer than what i would have expected. i didn't really know a lot about him and his family, but our tour guide spoke english extremely well and it turns out his whole family was very talented. so we got our tour and saw a lot of the antique furniture that was preserved. it was a nice change of pace to see something historical for a change since we had been seeing a lot of live performances lately.

that night, tuesday, me and a couple of my friends had heard about a restaurant at a metro stop close to us that offered unlimited house beer for a set (cheap) price on tuesday nights. we decided to check it out and the area turned out to be extremely sketchy. classic russia, the restaurant was right in front of 2 nuclear power plant cooling towers. we did find it though, and we had a pretty good time. the food was good as well.

the next day, we had our first test in our lecture class. needless to say, i don't think i aced it, but i certainly knew enough just from prior exposure to russian history that it didn't really matter that aleksandr's lectures are terrible. but yeah, all i need is a C, so i'm not really worried about it at all.

on thursday, i went out to a cafe to do some homework and get a small dinner with 2 of the other girls, and our waitress was really nice, and we found out she spoke english, russian, french, italian, german, and spanish. she was only 18, but she saw us doing our russian homework and basically ended up doing it for us haha. so that was a lot of fun and i would love to go back and see her again.

friday, kathryn and i went on an excursion with the kids from the school we had visited previously that i had spoken about. they were happy to see us, but the visit was bizarre again as i had expected, haha. we were originally going to take an [old, soviet, scary] bus, but since our group wasn't big enough, we packed into a marshrutka type van and off we went. we were going to the kuzminki estate, which is basically an old estate house with large, expansive grounds and an apparently long history. it was pretty close to the school so it only took a little while to get there. when we got there, we had a tour inside before we went to visit the horse stables. kathryn and i mainly ended up talking to nina and leviza, two girls who we hadn't met before at the school the first time. neither of them spoke english very well, so it was a great chance to practice our russian. they were both really nice and eager to talk to us. neither of them were ethnically russian, nina was from georgia, and leviza was from uzbekistan, but they both spoke russian as well. we ended up exchanging emails and phone numbers so hopefully we can keep in touch. the horse stables were pretty cool, the horses were beautiful and obviously well cared for. i'm not much of an animal person myself so i kept a distance but the girls all loved them. after that, we headed off and i went back home for the night.

on saturday, we FINALLY had our excursion to lenin's tomb and the kremlin wall necropolis, which was easily one of the excursion i was most looking forward to. we waited in line for a while on red square before we finally got to go in. basically, you go through the intense metal detector entrance, and then follow the paths through the garden towards lenin's tomb. the paths are lined with the gravestones of famous russians, most of whom i didn't know. halfway through, you reach the tomb, enter, and walk down a couple flights of stairs. it's pretty dark inside, entirely made of marble, and just creepy in general. there are militsiya lining the stairs all the way down, so that just adds to the creepiness. when you reach the bottom, you turn the corner into the room with lenin's body. his body is set up in an extremely ornate casket with a glass viewing box on top. guards are all around and you have about 30 second to walk around 3 sides of the casket before exiting. let's just say that those 30 seconds aren't enough for anyone to ever decide whether it's really all of his body there or not. it doesn't even sink in what you've actually just seen until later, though. after exiting, you continue past the really elaborate headstones of some of the soviet premiers and other important figures: brezhnev, kalinin, andropov, and of course stalin. after that, you follow the path out which is lined with carnations, yuri gagarin's grave is also located there. and that's it, all in about 10 minutes of walking. but the tomb is free so anyone can go back and see it again whenever. but i'm satisfied with one visit, i think haha.

on sunday, i spent the whole day out. i went to another CSKA soccer match, which was basically a massive loss for them against FK moskva, so that wasn't too exciting. afterwards i headed to the mall with a couple other people because we all needed some clothes for st. petersburg. it took me forever but i finally found a pair of [expensive] jeans that i liked so i got those. then we headed out to мир пиццы for some drinks and snacks. i was exhausted by the end of the day, so i just headed home and went to bed.

so that leaves me i didn't really do much, i packed earlier this afternoon, and i went to the store down the street to get some snacks for the train. i'll leave svetlana's around 10:30 or so and make my way to the metro. we're meeting at midnight. we're due to arrive in petersburg tomorrow early, and then we have a bus tour around the city, and then the rest of the day is free time. i'm kind of disappointed we don't have a very long time there, but i'm going to try and make the most of it and see and do what i want to do as opposed to what the group wants. i just like to explore by myself and i feel like i get more satisfaction out of that and get more done when i'm by myself. but either way i'm definitely pumped for the trip and can't wait to see everything! i think that's it for now, but i will make a huge effort to update this when i return (on halloween) so all of the petersburg stuff is fresh in my mind. hope everyone is still doing well and that everyone's halloween festivities are fun!


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

парк победы is so big, so russia is probably hiding something in it

hey everyone. it's me again. let's see, where should i start.. last weekend i didn't
do a whole lot. on friday night we went out to the ballet to see what i believe was originally
a french ballet. it was pretty interesting but by the time it was over i was definitely ready to
leave. the story just wasn't that great, but the dancing was amazing, obviously. afterwards
i went with kelly and amanda to mu-mu, the cow themed restaurant chain in moscow. we met
two russian guys there who spoke english, and they invited us to come to a dance club
where they played old, retro american songs. we ended up going and meeting some of their friends, all of whom were extremely nice.

saturday and sunday i was pretty tired and i didn't really do all that much. it has been raining
a lot lately and the weather has definitely gotten a lot cooler. i have been saying i needed to buy
a heavier coat for a while now, but the expensive prices and the effort involved in shopping here
has made me procrastinate for a while. i originally had decided to go on monday and seriously look until i found one, but it rained all day and so i had to forego the trip and wait until tuesday.
on tuesday i left right after class by myself (because i never get anything done when i am with
other people haha) to a supposedly giant mall i had never been to before but had heard about
through several other russians. it was right by the kievskaya railway station, one of the largest
if not the largest railway station in moscow. i exited randomly from the metro and lo and behold
i picked the right exit and found myself right at the entrance of the mall.

now, i originally had thought the underground mall was huge that i had previously visited outside
red square, but this mall was gigantic. it was at least 5 floors, i think a parking garage on the 6th,
and had hundreds of stores. in the middle was an atrium and a fountain with exposed elevators,
and in the fountain was a gigantic clock that lit up and told time by the second with really
creative lights that lit up in a circle all the way around the rim of it. it was probably
the coolest mall i've ever been to. sorry, king of prussia. so anyway, i walked around for a while
but it's so difficult to shop in russia because i always feel like i am being watched. although
i suppose it doesn't help that i have shopping anxiety in america anyway haha, so i always
get nervous and just walk out of the stores. i ended up finding a not crazy expensive store
(aka the coats were only $100 as opposed to $300+) and i found a coat i actually really liked.
i wanted to try it on. now, as is the problem in many places in russia, nothing makes sense,
which includes dressing rooms. there was a large line, all with women, even though the store had men's clothing. i got in line and was told "no" by the lady in charge. i had no idea what she said to me after that, but i thought she meant it was only the lady's dressing room, but there wasn't a men's, so i have no idea what the problem was. i ended up trying it on outside and just bought it because it fit well enough, was a good price, and looked nice.

i also found a long scarf that i liked at another store and then i decided to go up to the food
court and eat something, which i did (pizza and mashed potatoes mmm). i walked around a little more but didn't really feel like staying any longer so i left.

my plan for tuesday night was to visit park pobedy, which is a famous park just outside the center of the city which is dedicated to WW2 veterans, and just WW2 in general. i didn't really
know what to expect because i had only read basic things about it. however, it was a huge surprise because the park was amazing. you exit the metro onto a giant cobblestone promenade, and in the distance is the main park pobedy memorial, an enormous obelisk and a semi circle white stone building surrounding one side of it. it was a HUGE memorial and the area it was in was really lively and seemed clean and more modern. i walked around for a while and found a small church before i made my way to the actual obelisk. it's even taller up close, almost like the washington monument except with a bunch of enscriptions and engravings all the way up the sides of it. what i was disappointed by although were the fountains around the monument, which are supposed to be on, and they are also supposed to glow red at night to commemorate the blood of the killed soldiers. they weren't even turned on, let alone red haha. i think they were doing work on them, but i am afraid they are already off for the winter for good, which would really suck since i wanted to see them. either way, it was still fun. i walked further into the park and it was so nice to have a nice relaxing walk in fresh air by myself for a change, and to get out of the dirty city/metro/freaking vykhino. it was a huge expanse of trees and woods, with paths through all of it, and there were also a bunch of monuments and small chapels and building scattered throughout the park. i eventually found a really neat artificial harbor which had replicas of old WW2 boats and artillery. they even had fake mines floating in the water. and the best part was that there was hardly anyone in the park, so i didn't feel crowded at all. it was starting to get dark, so i headed back out of the park towards the main monument. it was all lit up at that point so it looked even more imposing that it did during the evening. park pobedy metro stop also has great views of moscow in general, you can see the new moscow business center, also, straight down a huge main highway off to one side, you can see a ton of highrises, and it's all lit up at night of course. and of course i was all warm and toasty in my new coat haha. but i had a really great time and i think the park was my favorite place i've been to in moscow yet, maybe besides red square. it was nice to just explore myself and do what i wanted to do. i am definitely going to go back sometime soon.

so yeah, i think i'm almost at the halfway point of my trip, and i feel like we've had a lot of
excursions and we see a lot, but moscow is such a huge city, there's still a lot more to see.
some of us were talking about possibly taking a day trip one weekend to see one of the golden
ring towns, which i really want to see while i'm here, since they're so historically important.
some of the other upcoming excursions i know about are lenin's tomb, the tretyakov gallery, which is this weekend, tolstoi's house, and then also i believe a famous monastery somewhere on
the outskirts of the city. st. petersburg is also in less than 2 weeks and i'm really excited
to see the city and the hermitage, winter palace, and everything else. in general, you learn a lot
more about st. petersburg cultural sites/churches etc in russian culture classes back in america
because there tends to be a larger spread of architectural styles (baroque/rococo/classical etc)
there than in moscow, i believe. so i'm super excited and will probably take a ton of pictures just there haha. my camera has been getting a work out is for sure.

tonight, we're going to the circus, and we haven't really been told anything, so i'm not sure
what to expect, since i haven't been to the circus since jeez, i was probably younger than ten.
it will be fun though i'm sure and i hope the food is good, haha.

other than that, everything is going well, my cold is gone (woohoo!) and my foot is nearly 100%
so that's also good. this next week and a half before stpete i am going to try and do a little
more exploring myself since i always enjoy when i do that, and once we get back, it will
feel like the home stretch and i don't want to feel like i've missed out on seeing anything.

so yeah, i think that's it, and maybe i will try and post sooner again this weekend. i know i always say that but internet says otherwise. also, postcards still in the works (aka stamps are hard to get here and i don't know french). hope all is well at home. out!


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

the metro stop is called electric factory; what did you expect the area to look like?

so this past weekend i ended up doing a lot of museum stuff. on friday we went to the mayakovsky museum, which actually turned out to be pretty interesting. it was a lot of installation type art and the ladies that worked in the museum were really nice and helpful, putting up with our bad russian haha. that night we ended up at a nice irish pub type bar called mollie's. they had really good nachos and we stayed there for a while, and then we went to mcdonalds because some people wanted milkshakes before we headed back home.

on saturday we had planned to visit the gulag museum and when we got there it was actually a lot smaller than i thought it would be. there were a bunch of babyshkas that worked there as well and they were extremely excited to take us around and show us everything. they only spoke a little english but they spoke slowly enough in russian so we could understand the tour for the most part. when we had finished looking around they set up a dvd movie for us and we watched an incredibly depressing documentary about various russians who had survived stays in a gulag. i never really knew extensive details about the camps, so it was definitely informative, but we left halfway through because you could only really watch so much.

i was really excited for sunday because we got to go to a soccer match between a moscow team and another russian team who were visiting from the crimea. the fans were crazy for the moscow team, i had never seen so many organized chants at any other sporting event. i bought a scarf which were really cheap, and also since i kind of collect them because i got one for a team in the czech republic when i was there. CSKA, the team from moscow, ended up winning 4-0, so the game wasn't too exciting, but it was still a lot of fun and i was glad i went. when we were leaving, there were literally hundreds of militsiya lined up outside the metro for crowd control, and they followed everyone down into the metro too. the fans were insane on the metro after the game so we got off as soon as we could.

this week so far i haven't done a ton because i have had a cold for the past week, and my foot has
also been hurting for some reason. yesterday, on tuesday, me and a couple of friends went to a part of the city we hadn't been to before to try and find a cemetery that was supposedly pretty well known because it was really old and had a lot of graves of foreigners in german, french, dutch, etc. we got to the area and took a tram to where we thought it was. unfortunately it started to rain and then we realized we had no idea where we were. we asked someone on the street who turned out to be really helpful and he took us to where the cemetery was. and of course, like everything always is in moscow, it was closed. so we were pretty pissed but it was also kind of funny. we decided to take a bus back to the metro, so we found one and got on. i guess we didn't pay enough attention because it started to take us into what looked like a kind of sketchy area of town. it never bodes well when you start seeing massive rusting soviet factory complexes. so we got off at the end of the line and just kept walking, and we eventually found a metro stop. so it was kind of an adventure in the end, haha.

but yeah, other than that i've been kind of taking it easy lately so my foot can get better. i am
going to the american center tomorrow to see if i can start volunteering soon. i am also having
a minor class registration crisis because i have to register online while i am in st. petersburg
(the trip is in less than 3 weeks! wooo) in a hostel, and i don't even know if i will have internet.
but i will find a way somehow, i guess. and then this friday night we are going to the legit ballet,
so that will be fun. saturday is a museum excursion to the museum of decorative and applied arts, which sounds like it will be either really boring or possibly kind of exciting. and then i think
the weekend before st. petersburg is our excursion to the inside of lenin's tomb which i am really,
really excited for.

but yeah, sorry that this has turned into only a weekly thing, i usually have no time/internet so
it seems to always only be posted once a week. also, the postcard situation is still pending
because i never get a chance to go to the post office. eventually, though. but yeah, that's pretty
much all that's interesting for now, so maybe if i get the chance i will try and make an extra effort to update this again before the weekend is over. we'll see how it goes. hope everyone is well!