sooo, this will probably be my second to last update before i leave for my trip before flying home. i can't lie these last three and a half months have left me exhausted. i am wanting to try and get everything done i can before our exams and graduation, but it's definitely becoming tiring. but i know i would regret it if i didn't, so i am just sucking it up and getting out there to finish those last few things on my list.
tuesday of last week we had an awesome, ridiculous excursion to an ice sculpture gallery. we walked in, and the lobby was decorated in the most cheesy, outlandish wall murals, painted benches, and ghetto christmas decorations. this is also ignoring the fact that this "ice gallery" was actually not much more than a metal trailer in the middle of a sketch park across the river from the center of the city. nonetheless, i was excited because i expected it to be pretty cool (pun completely intended). we got there and the man in charge (who was apparently at least a little intoxicated and slightly irritated that we were late) just went on a tirade of russian for at least 5 minutes. lena translated but it was obvious he was mad that we took forever to get there. he eventually got around to bringing out a block of ice that was pre-shaped into what looked like a bird. he told us he was going to give us a demonstration on how to use ice sculpting tools to create a shape. i was sitting in his line of sight, and he looked straight at me and asked me to come up and help, haha. i usually don't like volunteering in front of groups but everyone was friends so i didn't feel uncomfortable. he basically told me to throw myself right into it, i was supposed to be making a dove. i tried my best but somehow i got the feeling he was disappointed, haha. oh well. a few other people tried and failed, and then he told us we were going to be going into the back room to see the main display, the ice gallery. i was actually more excited about the coats we were given to wear, they were huuuge, poofy, baby blue coats with hoods. everyone was engulfed inside these massive things, and we all looked ridiculous, so it was pretty funny. when we finally got into the back room, i was completely taken aback at how well done and just how many ice sculptures were there. the theme was something alone the lines of -fantasy-medieval-kings-queens- you get the idea. my favorite part was a small ice cottage with a kitchen inside. they had taken pieces of fruit (pineapples, bananas, apples, etc) and encased them inside blocks of ice, so it looked as though they had been suspended in mid-air. there were ice dragons, princes, princesses, animals, it was basically a whole ice kingdom. i had never, ever seen anything like that before, and i was thoroughly impressed. i think we all had a good time.
on wednesday, me and a couple of friends had planned to skip our lecture and attempt a bus trip to vladimir, one of the golden ring towns. basically, very, very long story short, it was a nightmare finding the bus departure area and then, after it started to downpour, we basically gave up after about an hour and a half of searching. needless to say, i wasn't the happiest camper, because i had really been looking forward to the trip. it's not terrible, because we are getting a chance to visit one of the golden ring towns this week, actually, but i was still disappointed. after that, i ate, we walked around a little bit, and then i basically used the rest of the day to just relax.
on thursday, we planned a thanksgiving celebration, of course. i was glad it all came together, because things like this tend to not turn out well, at least when our large group is concerned, but a lot of people really wanted to do it and we got it done. some of us went to the store and we all decided on different dishes we would contribute. the spread turned out to be huge, and while it wasn't exactly a conventional thanksgiving meal, it was filling and delicious nonetheless. i made garlic bread from scratch, which, if i do say so myself, was pretty darn good haha. on top of that, we had pasta, green beans, mashed potatoes, deviled eggs, along with a couple other small things. we decorated the kitchen in the dorm with hand turkeys, which were really fun to make. we definitely brought the thanksgiving spirit to moscow.
on friday, i didn't really have anything planned, but i ended up back at old arbat by myself that night because i wanted to go back to this sandwich restaurant i found a few weeks back that has this amazing chicken teriyaki/pineapple hoagie. after i ate, i ended up meeting back up with sam, erin, and kari, and we went back to the hookah bar for the last time. they wanted to stay out all night, but i just wasn't feeling up for it, so i took a taxi back to svetlana's around 3 or so. it was surprisingly a lot cheaper than i thought. something else struck me during that taxi ride too..and i don't deny that my russian has definitely improved tenfold here, but sometimes, it's hard to notice it in practice. however, i was able to talk with the cab driver and give him coherent directions without really thinking about it, and with no communication problems at all. those little moments are probably bigger realizations that all of the work and immersion in general here really do what no class back home can, which is help you to speak confidently in everyday, real life situations. so that made me smile, just a little bit.
on saturday, we had an excursion to the museum of the great patriotic war at park pobedy. of course i'd been to park pobedy before, and it still remains my favorite place in moscow, besides red square. the park just has this amazing air of tranquility and placidity, and the architecture of the monuments there is incredible, so i never have a problem going back for another visit (in fact i will definitely go back probably one more time before leaving). but this excursion was just to see the museum, which i had not seen on my previous visit. the museum was beautiful inside, and the amount of artifacts from WWII that they've acquired was impressive. they have 6 dioramas of various battles of the war, all partially 3d installation art. some also include sound effects. some of these were the fall of berlin (with the reichstag and brandenburg gate in the background), the leningrad blockade, the battle of stalingrad, etc. our tour guide was hilarious. he was this old man who spoke english with such a bizarre accent, for the first 15 minutes of the tour, it took everything i had to not laugh. but he was really passionate about the museum and knew a ton. we were there for probably a good two hours, and there was a huge variety of things to explore. i wish i had more time/energy to explore more, but we all know i never have either of those things anymore, haha. we lost people gradually until it was just me, rudy, and amanda, starving to death. we ended up walking down the street looking for food, and came across possibly the sketchiest restaurant ever. but it was like a godsend, a papa john's in moscow. the building was tucked away in a corner alley with no lights outside, just the sign. i honestly thought it was either closed or nonexistent, but we went inside and, lo and behold, it was a papa john's, and we proceeded to stuff our faces. i think i ate too much but it was worth it haha. afterwards, i headed home and pretty much went to sleep. 2 pizzas will do that to you.
and then on sunday, kari, erin, sam and i had made plans to visit the izmailovo souvenir market, which we had previously attempted to visit, but got there too late and close to closing time. this time, we got there with enough time to shop. this market is huge, the biggest souvenir market in moscow, and probably in russia. it's a huge collection of stands, selling everything from traditional russian souvenirs, soviet junk, to pirated electronics and everything in between, basically. the trick is that you can bargain for what you buy, and while not really my forte, hey i tried. money disappears quicker here than gas from the ukrainian pipeline, mostly because you're pressured to either buy or not. i did get a lot of good stuff though, but i still need to go back and finish off my souvenir shopping for everyone else somewhat, and a few more things i wanted to get for myself. after shopping, we were hungry, so we found what seemed to be an azerbaijani style cafe close to the market, and ate there. afterwards, we split up, and kari and decided to ride the dark blue line all the way to the other side of the city outskirts, to strogino, the last stop, somewhere i had been wanting to visit for fun for a while. there is supposedly a lake there, since the suburb is surrounded almost entirely by the moskva river and small basins, but of course, by the time we got there, it was dark and difficult to find. if i have time, i want to go back, in the light if at all possible. we walked around though, and the area was far enough out from the city that it didn't really feel like moscow, but almost more like a true suburb, if not for the still existent high rise apartments, which haunt russia everywhere you go. we found a mcdonalds for some quick dinner and then headed home for the night.
today, i decided to take a breather from sightseeing (probably my last breather until i get home). tomorrow, i want to do something, but i'm not sure quite what yet. on wednesday, we are taking a bus trip about an hour outside of moscow to see sergiev posad, a small golden ring town famous for it's monastery. i'm excited for the trip and just a chance to see the countryside outside of moscow a little bit. and it'll be a nice relaxing ride, hopefully, as long as the roads aren't too terrible, though i'm not counting on that. this will also technically be out last excursion, since the only other one, next sunday, is to the souvenir market, and i will probably just go on my own time instead of with the group. but yeah, i have just a little more than a week left before ele and i leave for st. petersburg. it's creeping up so quickly, and we still have to book a hostel in tallinn and helsinki, as well as our ferry trip across the gulf of finland. we're almost done with it though, which is a relief, because then i can just look forward to the trip. it's gonna be an adventure though, that's for sure! we have the TORFL next monday and tuesday, which i'm dreading, but shouldn't really be worried about. only one more weekend left with the group, which is sad, but i think a lot of people are ready to head back. my trip will be a nice last little break though. but yeah, i think that's it for now. i will definitely make sure to do one last update, probably next wednesday sometime, since that will be my least busy day next week, and then i will be out of touch until the 19th of december, when i return to moscow. so until next week, i'm out!