One part of a day can define the memory of that day…

07/11/14   

It is interesting that the definition of a crowded bus in Russia changes between a big city like St. Petersburg and a smaller city like Vladimir.

I will explain this, but let me tell my story first.

As an introduction, at the beginning of the program during orientation we were told that Russians don’t have the same sense of personal space as people from the United States, and this has proven to be very true. Even when each person is pushed up against the person next to them, more people will try to enter the bus because they don’t want to wait for the next one.

Now I will get to the story.

It was Friday, our second to last day traveling before we returned to our host city. We had planned a trip to a neighboring city called Suzdal’ for the day (which is only about an hour bus ride), but both of us felt ill that morning and changed our plans as we were waiting at the bus stop.

We went back into the center of Vladimir instead and had a calm day first visiting the inside of a church we had gone to the night before, only to discover that it was a poorly put together museum.

We took more pictures of the church with the spire that hid itself in the fog the day before as the air was more clear, and noticed a gathering of people near the church. The people carried red flags with yellow writing and symbols (think the colors of the flag of the Soviet Union). The flags read the initials КПРФ, which I believe stands for the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, one of the very active political parties in Russia. Christina didn’t notice them, so I was glad I did, that way we avoided any unwanted attention from them.

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(A clearer picture of this church)

We moved on to a nearby cafe to rest a little because although we hadn’t done much, we still both weren’t feeling ourselves. I ordered a coffee and a macaroon, while Christina ordered something I had never heard of. It looked like dry oatmeal oats that she simply poured milk over, but I am not sure that this is actually what it was.

As we sat at the cafe I continue to feel worse and more exhausted, so eventually we left and went back to the hostel. We both took a two or three hour nap and I woke up feeling much better, but rather hungry.

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(My coffee was pretty)

We decided to go out of the hostel and look for a place to eat instead of eating the food we had. The map had showed us that there was an Italian place nearby, however the map to this restaurant didn’t take into account the gates and fences that barred our ability to get there. We walked around for about 20 minutes trying to figure out how to get there and after we finally did find the restaurant, it turned out to be closed. We decided to look for another place since the map had shown other restaurants near enough to us, but as we were walking, the street started to look empty. Christina insisted that we keep going because other people were walking on this street so it must lead somewhere. I had a guess of where it lead because of the direction we were headed in, but I wasn’t sure. We ended up on a very dark sidewalk set back from the road next to a bunch of trees in an area that looked like it had a river or a creek, but it was too dark to tell. The only comfort was that it was beautiful, but there were also quite a few pedestrians walking on the same sidewalk.

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(They always seem to arrange napkins in this flowery formation in cafes and restaurants in Russia)

We ended up where I had expected we would, in the city center which we normally took the trolleybus to get to. As we walked along the street looking for a place to eat, we passed the Golden Gate again and saw that it lit up at night. Shortly after that we found a restaurant that looked popular because it had many people inside, so we decided to try it. For me, one way to judge a restaurant on whether the food is good and if it is reasonably priced is by the amount of people in it.

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(The Golden Gate lit up)

The restaurant was split into a few separate areas instead of being one large open room like many restaurants in the United States tend to be. After we had sat down and ordered our food and a glass of wine to accompany it, a young man showed up and was seated near us. He was obviously already intoxicated, and all he ordered was vodka and what looked like a chaser of some sort. A little while later he stumbled over to us uninvited pulled up a chair at our table and promptly sat down. Apparently he became interested because he heard us speaking English. He asked the waitress for a bottle of champagne for us, which I tried to signal her that we did not want it, but he was a big drunk man and we couldn’t really do anything.

He asked us our names, so I told him my name was Masha and that Christina’s was Krysta because it was the first name I thought of. I did most of the talking since Christina didn’t understand much, but we both wanted to get out of there. Christina’s food had already come, but she wasn’t eating it. Her choosing not to eat it wasn’t going to help us get out of there, but she seemed too distressed. After my food came, I told her to eat because I wanted to get the check and leave as soon as we could.

The champagne came and the guy (I never asked his name) made us stand up to toast. After we sat, he proceeded to ask us about American politics since the midterm elections had just happened and Republicans had gained the majority in both houses. I have no interest in getting into a discussion about American politics with a Russian much less a drunken Russian man, so I told him that we were more interested in international politics and didn’t know much about what’s going on in the United States since we were not there, so we can’t say anything about it. He kept trying to ask, but it was lucky in this instance that he was intoxicated because I didn’t have to say much to get off of the subject. After some time he wanted to have a cigarette break with us, but neither of us smoke or have ever smoked. We had to tell him this over and over again because he kept trying to get us to come with him even to keep him company, but apart from not liking cigarette smoke, we had no interest in going out of the crowded restaurant with him. As he was getting up to leave, he asked one of the people at another table in the room if they wanted to smoke with him, but they declined as well. His presence was making everyone’s experience unpleasant.

Finally he left and as soon as he did we asked for the check. Christina was still eating, but we wanted to ask for it at a time when the guy wasn’t in the room. I also moved his chair back to the proper table, but it didn’t do much to prevent him from joining us again.

When he returned, he picked up my glass of champagne and drank it in one gulp. The champagne wasn’t bad, but I didn’t want it so I didn’t really care. He pulled his chair back up and brought his vodka with him this time. He was already very drunk, having knocked over one of the champagne glasses, but I guess he wanted to take more shots. I kept having to move the glasses and the bottle further and further back from him as he became drunker and started having less precise motor control of his movements.

He was very caught up on my name because I had told him it was Masha. He didn’t understand why I had a Russian name and wasn’t Russian. He kept asking me to explain it, but I just asked him why I shouldn’t have a Russian name.

When he got tired of asking about my name, he picked up Christina’s hand and kissed it, at which point she told him she had a boyfriend. He took this as information that both of us had boyfriends, which I don’t, but he proceeded to ask their names. Christina’s boyfriend’s name is very American and he could not understand it, so he moved on to me. I scrambled around for a guy’s name and told him that my boyfriend’s name is Tyler, which was the name of my first boyfriend. I made sure to say the name in a very American way, instead of Russianizing it. Luckily with how drunk he was he didn’t notice my delay as I tried to think of a name.

After Christina scrambled to finish her dinner, I told him we were going to use the bathroom. We did go to the bathroom, but there we talked about what our next plan of action should be. Christina had been messaging her boyfriend, who said that we should either take a taxi back to the hostel so he couldn’t follow us, or we could tell the waitress or manager he made us uncomfortable. I thought this would be great advice for the United States, but we were in another country where things don’t work quite the same. The chances of a taxi being nearby were not very high and I thought that it would be unnecessary to take a taxi. As to the advice about telling the manager or waitress, I don’t know the word for manager in Russian, although I do know how to tell them that he scared us. I had also been measuring their physical states in my head. The guy who had been talking to us obviously had some muscle on him; he was not a small man and just because he was drunk did not mean that that muscle wouldn’t be used. The only male staff member I had seen in the restaurant was very scrawny and the rest were small females. I decided our best option would be to get our coats from the coat check and slip out.

We did just that and it worked. We speed walked to the bus stop, but there was no sign of him following us. Even though we didn’t see him we wanted to get out of the area. Even if he had followed us I don’t know if he would have been able to keep up because he was so drunk that he was knocking things over and stumbling around, however I know that a really determined drunk person can accomplish a lot so it was good that we didn’t have to take any chances. As we got on the bus, I realized that it was more crowded then I had seen a bus in one of these smaller cities, but compared to crowded busses in St. Petersburg, there was definitely enough room on it for 10 or 15 more people. We got on the bus, but it seemed that other people who had been waiting for the same bus decided it was too crowded, so they continued to wait.

When we got back to the hostel I told Christina that I thought he had been married and was probably a relatively new husband who isn’t enjoying marriage. He was wearing a gold band on his ring finger on his right hand. I think I have mentioned before that Russian’s wear wedding rings on their right hand because there is an artery or vein or something that runs from your heart to that finger.

We were both very disappointed about this experience because it could have been a very good meal and an enjoyable dinner, but instead it had all been ruined by a drunk man.

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It Wasn’t So Straightforward

06/11/14

When I arrived in Vladimir the night before, the first thing I noticed were the hills. St. Petersburg is a very flat city and since we had only traveled to other flat cities from there, I hadn’t realized that I missed uneven terrain.

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(Another example of poor understanding of painting buildings)

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(But they also have beautiful buildings – the blue one on the corner)

Christina and I had a late morning. Unfortunately the lady below me snored very loudly so I could not sleep well. I listened to rock music to drown out all of the noise she made and although that worked, I also know music interrupts peoples’ circadian rhythms when they are trying to sleep, so perhaps it wasn’t the best answer to my problems. That morning again we realized we didn’t have food for breakfast, so we decided to go in search of a café for brunch.

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(A random brick church we found on our wanderings)

We picked the café because it said it had a vegan option on the menu, which I was really looking forward to. When we actually looked at the menu we couldn’t find the vegan food, which was very disappointing, but I suppose I could have asked. At the café we both ordered blini and fruit, the blini was very good, but the waitress forgot about the fruit. When we reminded her, she apologized, but proceeded to only bring fruit for one person. We decided to share that fruit instead of asking again for more fruit, so although the situation worked out, but it was still very frustrating. To make the situation more unsatisfying, the waitress of course heard that we had accents and tried to speak to us in English instead. I guess this was her way of trying to be kind and make it easier for us, but I am here to learn Russian so I want to talk to the waitress and order my food in Russian, I don’t want her to talk to me in English. This caused me to later go on a rant to Christina (in Russian) of what I would say to someone if the try to speak to me in English at a restaurant again because I am tired of people always trying to speak to me in English when I am trying to practice my Russian. I said I would tell the waitress or waiter that I am trying to learn Russian and if they don’t speak to me in Russian and let me practice than I will go find a different restaurant at which to eat.

When we left the café, we spent the day wandering where we pleased in order to see the city, but making sure we saw a few key churches and other pieces that were important to Vladimir. The day started out misty, but as it went on, it turned into fog so that our wanderings were smothered in a pool of milky obscurity.

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(The Golden Gate)

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(The church off to the left of the gate)

The first place we went was to something called the “Golden Gate,” which we actually happened on by accident shortly after leaving the café. Only the top was gold, so I am still mystified as to why it was called the Golden Gate, but places don’t always have logical names. The gate was located in the middle of the street, and there didn’t seem to be a way to actually walk up to it since I didn’t see any crosswalks leading up to it, but I also felt that if I were able to walk up to it, I don’t know what I would do there because it was really just something to look at. Next to the Golden Gate was an unattractive dirt mound that we assumed served as an observation deck, so we took the opportunity and went up there. It gave a view of the side of the Golden Gate and the road below, so I didn’t really understand the point of it. The one building it did give a good view of was a brick church off to the left of the gate.

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(A church near the stone cherries and observation deck)

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(Looking out from the observation deck)

After some more wandering and finding another observation deck (upon which we found a large sculpture of stone cherries that I did not get a picture of because there was always a crowd around it), Christina and I approached this brick church to go inside. Inside it turned out to be a museum we had read about that we decided we would be interested in seeing if we found it, but that we didn’t want to specifically seek it out. I guess we found it. I am glad we found it too because it had some beautiful pieces inside. The museum was of lacquered boxes, embroidery and glass. There weren’t very many embroidered pieces in the museum, but I was okay with that because I had seen more beautiful embroidery in Lithuania. We were allowed to take pictures anywhere in the museum, but it was very hard to take pictures of the glass work because the displays had lighting that continuously changed. We probably spent half an hour in the museum, and it was beautiful but the tour groups made the experience very frustrating because it was a small museum trying to fit too many people.

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(Some examples of lacquered boxes at the museum)

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(This one reminded me of Swan Lake)

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(Some examples of the glass work follow)

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(It was very hard to take pictures of the glass because of the changing lighting and the mirrors placed behind the pieces)

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(Trying to not be in the picture here, but the mirrors make it difficult)

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By the end of the daylight hours, Vladimir became so foggy that we could not see the top of a church we visited clearly, and we could not see anything beyond another sightseeing platform we visited. We finished visiting all of the areas that we wanted to for the day and decided that trying to see anything at night would be almost useless because the fog was too thick.

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(A monument, I am not sure what to, but it had a different person on all three sides)

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(Notice as the pictures get progressively foggier)

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(We could only see clearly the objects that were within a few yards of us)

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(It made taking pictures very difficult – this is a church)

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(The front spire of the church after they lit it up for the night, the inside of this church was poorly lit, but very beautiful)

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(This is a different church. We went inside of this church the next day and it turned out to be a very poorly constructed museum)

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(The same church from a distance)

For dinner we went to a Russian restaurant that apparently brews its own beer. The menu was a bit confusing because it had the beer list as a list of dishes that apparently were supposed to go with the beer. In the end I ended up with a plate of shrimp off of this menu. I enjoyed the shrimp except that they still had everything on, so for each one I had to go through the same process of taking their shells off and it got very tiring towards the end.

A Train and a Pizza Parlor Game

05/11/14 

(The image is one of the only pictures I took that day, and I took it from the train).

On Thursday morning we got up at 6 a.m. to be ready by the time the taxi was scheduled to arrive at 6:30. I had hoped that we would be able to get our stuff together rather quickly and then eat some breakfast, but we ended up having to wait until we boarded the train to eat. The train ride was 5 to 6 hours from Yaroslavl’ to Kovrov, and the first leg of the journey was very enjoyable. Unfortunately as the train carried on along the countryside, it was required to pick up more passengers. At one of the stops, a whole group of Middle-Eastern men boarded the train. It wouldn’t have been so bad, but they were noisy and rambunctious and carried too much luggage with them. There is a weight limit of 33 kilos per person on passenger trains and they seemed to have a lot more. I am speaking of at least 20 men who each had this amount of luggage, they seemed to swarm in and take over the train. One of them thought it would be okay to throw one of his bags on top of my stuff, but even though I was flustered by the sudden influx of people I managed to tell him in Russian that that was not okay with me. I knew my friend and I would be departing the train sooner than they were and I didn’t want to have to dig my bag out. I also think that it is just inconsiderate to think it is okay to put your stuff on top of someone else’s without asking. What if they have something fragile in there?

The conductor did not like them very much either. He yelled at them quite a bit about how they were only allowed to have 33 kilos of luggage and how theirs looked like a lot more. He continued to yell at them as they spoke in their native tongue, telling them to speak only in Russian because it was rude to speak in a different language and he told them that their language was too noisy and not nice to listen too.

On long trips I cannot stay awake on transportation, so I slept most of the time even though it hurt my neck, but at least it helped the time pass. As we drew closer to our station, the same conductor who had been yelling at them men earlier was very kind to us and gave us updates on how soon we would arrive at our station. The cadence of his speech was very awkward and very hard for me to understand but I managed. I was glad to get off of the train and away from all of the noise.

All I had eaten so far was a piece of bread with poppy seeds (which prompted a conversation about Christina and me not being able to pass a drug test, which in turn gave into joking around about poppy seeds being a gateway drug to opium. I tripped over my words and the gateway drug to opium became a gateway drug to oatmeal. We go hard on oatmeal…), so when we got off of the train, we decided to look for a place to eat. We knew Kovrov was small, and initially we had planned to spend the day there walking around and seeing what a small Russian city was like. Unfortunately we did not factor our bags into the equation. We had to carry them around everywhere we went.

As we started our walk towards the street that ran straight outside of the train station, Christina’s wallet fell out of her pocket. Luckily she was able to pick it up and put it back in her pocket, but I thought for a moment that maybe she should move it if it fell out once because it might fall out again. Unfortunately I didn’t say anything. We continued to walk down the street and as we came to the end of the block and decided to turn around because we were not seeing anything more promising than what we had already seen, Christina realized her wallet had fallen out of her pocket again. We quickly retraced our steps again to see if it had been left on the ground (although I realized then that we didn’t check the corner we had just been standing on) but we didn’t find it. Christina started to become more and more agitated, which I understand, but I couldn’t deal with it because I hadn’t eaten. I asked her what was in the wallet, and after realizing that it was about 1500 rubles and her driver’s license, I agreed that it was unfortunate but that we needed to move on.

We went to a pizza place to eat because Christina said she still had other money. It was interesting to eat in Kovrov because it seemed as though they didn’t often run into people who speak English. We ordered a pizza to split (smaller than the regular size found in the United States). None of their pizzas looked normal exactly, but it was good to me since I was hungry. It is also hard to go wrong with pizza. We ordered cocktails with our pizza as sort of a comfort drink to Christina for losing her wallet (I think she was more upset about losing the actual wallet than the stuff inside it, but in general it not fun to lose things, especially personal items).

I remember part of the way through the meal she got a phone call from an unknown number and we both agreed that she shouldn’t answer it because how could someone get her Russian phone number? Since she didn’t pick up, they texted her a few minutes later, but her phone can’t read Cyrillic leaving the message to just be a bunch of boxes on the screen. I told her to forward the message to me to see if my phone could read it, and it could. Someone had been very kind and written to her in Russian that they found documents with the name Christina on them. She immediately called the number back, but the person didn’t answer. On the second try, a male voice answered, but Christina had trouble understanding him so she handed the phone to me. It was very hard to understand him because there was a lot of background noise and a woman talking too, but I got across where we were and what we were near and it was decided that they would meet near the train station. After hanging up, we waited for a bit to see if the man would call back when he got near the station, but eventually I sent Christina outside because I didn’t want her to miss this opportunity.

In the mean time I waited. I finished my portion of the pizza, but I felt like I couldn’t just sit there, so I ordered another drink which I made sure to drink very slowly. Christina returned probably after about 20 minutes with a huge smile on her face. All of the money and her license were still in the wallet. We looked in her wallet and speculated how the man had gotten her number, but the only thing I could find was a business card that had the numbers of program coordinators for our program back in St. Petersburg. He would have had to call one of those numbers first before being able to get Christina’s.

Christina ordered another drink in celebration instead of consolation this time. As we sat there, I found out that the man who had brought Christina her wallet was actually a young man. I thought it would have been an old couple, but it turns out that Russian’s are just nice people. Not that I thought they weren’t before, but they have helped us every step of the way on this journey.

Christina ordered a salad to conclude our meal, and we enjoyed seeing how long we could stay at the restaurant. The waiters and waitresses did not seem to become irritated with us, probably because we kept ordering new things. In the end the bill was smaller than a meal for two without drinks would be in St. Petersburg. When we decided it was finally time to leave the restaurant, I only had a 5000 ruble note, which is a really frustrating piece of money to have. It is sort of like a $100 bill; no one wants to accept it and no one wants to give you change for it. I decided to pay with it to see what would happen and have Christina pay me back later. The bill was less than 100 rubles for the two of us, but the change I got back was all in 100 ruble notes. There are two possibilities for the reasons behind this. Either the waiter just wanted to give me a hard time, or the restaurant genuinely did not have bigger notes, which I somehow don’t believe.

For the rest of the time in Kovrov we sat in the train station waiting.

The train ride to Vladimir was very short; it took only about 30 minutes. Before we left, we had looked up what transportation would take us from the train station to the hostel so we thought we were ready. As we sat at the bus stop outside the station in the cold watching bus after bus go by with the time, Christina started getting frustrated again. In the end we decided it would be good if she went back inside and looked up the transportation again. It turned out that a bus that had already passed us multiple times was the one we needed to take and we had been waiting for the wrong number the whole time, but at least we figured it out before the public transportation stopped running for the night.

To add a dark alley to a long day, it turned out the hostel was located in a small building in between apartment buildings, on a poorly lit side road. But, again, we made it safely and that is what matters.

Walking Free and Meat Me

03/11/14

I remember my host mom in Kazan’ telling me that in the Golden Ring, most of the tours are of churches. The Golden Ring is a group of old cities located not far from Moscow that are situated in a sort of ring, thus the name the Golden Ring. Yaroslavl’ is one of the cities located in the Golden Ring, so during my time in the city I had the opportunity to see many churches.

Christina and I had a slow start to our day. We finally had time to relax and take a break from CIEE’s activities, so we took advantage of it and decided to take our time doing what we wanted to do. After I showered, I was able to have a nice conversation with the woman who was working at the front desk of the hostel when we arrived the night before. I like conversations like these because it helps me practice my Russian, but I also get to learn a little bit about someone who I wouldn’t otherwise know anything about. It turns out this woman was a professor, and now she has a son around the age of 35 who already has five diplomas in different areas of study and works in Moscow.

After Christina and I had finished getting ready we realized we didn’t have breakfast food, so we made a sort of makeshift breakfast with some apples that Christina had and peanuts that I had, and decided we should buy some food before we returned to the hostel later that day.

Christina had looked up directions on how to take the public transportation to the city center, but even with directions, navigating a new city can be confusing. We turned right from the hostel and walked until we found a bus stop. We knew the number of bus we were supposed to take; we just had to make sure we got on one going the right direction. Unfortunately it was difficult to tell what the right direction was because we didn’t know the city. I remembered the taxi trip the night before, when the driver told us that we were driving through the city center to get to the hostel and I thought we had come from the other direction to get to the hostel but I wasn’t the one who had taken the initiative to look up the directions so I decided to go with what Christina said.

We got on a trolleybus and passed quite a few stops before we decided the scenery was looking wilder and less populated. We decided eventually to get off and get on a bus going the other direction, and thankfully before we did this we were able to find a café with wifi to look up what busses would bring us to the city center. It turned out that only Marshrutka’s could take us from where we had ended up to where we wanted to go. (Marshrutkas are sort of minivans that you pay a flat rate to go on whatever route they drive. It is like any regular transportation except I believe they are privately run and they don’t have to stop at every stop. They only stop when passengers ask them to, or if someone from the road flags them down).

We decided that it hadn’t been a waste of time to go in the wrong direction because it was enjoyable to see a less populated area of the city. We didn’t have a set schedule anyway, so spending some of our time somewhere else did not interfere with any plans we had. Yaroslavl’ is a small city so we decided the first day that we would just walk around and go to any place that struck our interest.

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(The first church we visited)

The first place we ended up was a beautiful brick Orthodox Church. The outside was magnificent, but the inside was nothing special. The icons looked like a different quality than the ones I had seen in Moscow, Kazan’ and St. Petersburg, but Yaroslavl’ is a less known city so that could be a reason why their icons and ornaments were not as impressive.  Although my friend Christina did mention to me later that she had seen an icon with a dog’s head, which we had not seen in an Orthodox Church before, and looking it up later, she concluded that it was probably St. Christopher, but could have been St. Andrew or St. Bartholomew. The lure behind it is that when the city was a city of cannibals, the people had dog’s heads, but after they were baptized, the baptism cured them of this. Apparently it is very rare to find icons with dog’s heads so this was a lucky find on Christina’s part. I am sorry I didn’t see it myself. The other interesting piece that Christina saw in the church was a stone with a carving of a crucifix on it. Christina has not looked this up yet, but it is interesting because it is not something we commonly see in Orthodox Churches.

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(Another church)

After we left the church, we wandered through the city a little more until we came upon a foot street like they seem to have in every Russian city. We walked down it hoping to find something interesting, but the only part we found interesting was an antique shop which was located a little beyond the foot street. The shop had very beautiful and ornate pieces, but of course they all had painfully high prices accompanying them, so we continued on down the street only to find another cathedral.

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(The church we found down the street)

This cathedral was located on one side of a square. It seemed to be closed so we only took pictures of the outside, but it was interesting because the church was only two or three colors except the arch over what seemed to be the main entrance. The arch was very colorful and didn’t seem to fit with the design of the church at all, but I find with Orthodox churches that their designs don’t usually make sense.

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(The colorful archway)

On the other three sides of this square were three other large buildings. One that was gray and obviously Soviet style with the hammer and sickle represented on its corners, while the others were imperial style with brighter colors and baroque-style white trim. The combination of multiple periods and styles of architecture in one square was really beautiful, and it was pleasant to look at even though the change from the bright white and yellow building to the solid gray building was sort of shocking at first glance.

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(The yellow and white building)

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(The Soviet building)

After we visited this square we had been out for a few hours walking around, so we decided to take a break. We went to an anti-café, which is a café where you pay by the hour instead of paying for each cup of coffee or tea separately. Even after spending a couple of hours there, the bill was very small, and the experience had been enjoyable. I remember when I was in Kazan’, one of my peer tutors had wanted to take me to an anti-café, but we had not gone because at the time I was out of money. I am glad that in Yaroslavl’ I finally had the chance to experience what it was like.

From the anti-café we continued to wander the streets of Yaroslavl’ and take in the fresh air and new sights. We made our way into a second-hand store where we found full-length fur coats for a little over 3000 rubles. Fur coats are very popular in Russia, but they are also very expensive, even at second hand shops. At first when we read the price tag, I thought I had misread it and that the price was 32,000 rubles, which would have been closer to the normal price of a fur coat, but the coats were in fact just very inexpensive.

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(Some random buildings, pay attention to the color scheme here. I don’t think they quite understand the concept of paint)

When the light started disappearing from the sky, we decided it was time to look for an actual meal. Christina had found a restaurant online that appealed to her interest, so the search for that began. The restaurant was called “Meat Me,” and although I am not generally a big meat eater I hadn’t done the work of looking up a restaurant so I was willing to give this one a try.

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(And more oddly colored buildings)

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(Cool brick apartment buildings)

The interior of the restaurant reminded me of a hipster-lumberjack, if that was a thing. The waiters and waitresses were dressed in red and black plaid shirts, and the tables and other woodwork seemed to be made of freshly cut wood. On the wall behind where I sat, was a large map of a seemingly random chunk of Europe with stickers from the various countries placed inside. On my right-hand side was an old motorcycle propped in the window, which seemed a little random to me and yet, it seemed to fit somehow with the rest of the décor. The taste of the food went with the interior design of the restaurant too, so all in all it was a good meal.

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(The bike – looks sort of like a Vespa – in Meat Me)

On the way to the restaurant we had passed many product stores that kept reminding me that we needed to go shopping so that we would have something to eat the next morning. We thought it would be easy to find a store again once we left the restaurant since there had been so many, unfortunately we were mistaken. We probably walked for another half an hour before we found a store that had what we were looking for, which than allowed us to finally head back in the direction of the hostel.

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(Food from Meat Me)

Our day ended with us practicing our Russian by talking to whoever chose to speak to us, and watching movies in Russian that we had already seen in English, so we could better understand what was going on.

When you want to go to a Monastery, but you end up in a Kremlin you didn’t know existed

04/11/14 I guess I should have researched Yaroslavl’ better.

(It makes me wonder if the Kremlin used to house the monastery, or at least had something to do with it, although I am still not sure).

Christina hadn’t been feeling well the night before, so I didn’t rush her to get up in the morning, which caused us to have an even later start to our morning than we had had the day before. After we were finally done getting ready in the morning we decided it was finally time to ask about our train tickets. The next day we were scheduled to take a train out of Yaroslavl’, but the train station on our arrival tickets and the train station on our departure tickets looked different so we decided it was best if we asked someone about it. I had been hoping to ask the lady who I had talked to the day before, but she didn’t seem to be working at this time so I was forced to ask someone else. The two ladies at the front desk who were there when I asked informed us in no uncertain terms that the two stations were the same, which made traveling more convenient for Christina and me, but I also decided it would be best to get to the train station a little bit early in order to leave extra time for any possible complications.

The day before, we had decided we wanted to visit a monastery that seemed to have some importance to Yaroslavl’. (We tended to leave a lot of the mystery of places in the dark until we got there and could see it for ourselves, only looking up general information. If we didn’t understand something, of course we would look it up later when we had access to the internet). When we made it to the area where we thought the monastery was located, we became sidetracked by another beautiful brick church. The inside of this one seemed to be closed, so we only took pictures of the outside. The sidewalks and crosswalks to make it over to this church from where we were had been very inconvenient and poorly designed, but the journey to the other side where we thought the entrance of the monastery was, was even worse.

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(The church that sidetracked us)

Once we made it inside the walls of the enclosed area, we found a ticket stand. The stand sold tickets that granted one access to a variety of historical attractions within the walls, and we decided that it seemed interesting, so we took the time to see a few. A lot of our time was taken up trying to find the attractions we had paid for because there was no map that let us know where we were going within the walls of the Kremlin.

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(Near the church and Kremlin)

The first exhibit we went to was a historical one, at which time I realized we were inside the Yaroslavl’ Kremlin, a place I didn’t even know existed. The exhibit had artifacts dating back to the thirteenth century that ranged from old jewelry and tools to old armor, so it kept us entertained for a while.

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(Another picture of the church that distracted us)

The next exhibit we had tickets to that we stumbled upon was called “The Treasures of Yaroslavl’.” We hadn’t actually intended to buy tickets for this one, but the lady at the ticket booth gave them to us. They weren’t very expensive so we didn’t complain. The treasures consisted of pieces mostly related to Orthodoxy, which makes sense since orthodox churches can be very elaborate. My favorite pieces that I remember were small pendants that had bright pictures painted onto them in detail. All of the colors stood out from one another, but they all worked together to form a beautiful image. The most elaborate pieces, perhaps, were ones covered in tiny pearls. Due to their age, they had to have been hand made because there would not have been the technology to make them with a machine. I can’t imagine being able to see properly after finishing a piece of work like that.

Finally we made it to our last exhibit of the day. This one translated to something roughly along the lines of “The Word about the Campaign of Igor,” which we didn’t find out until later that it was an epic based off of an unsuccessful campaign that happened in the time of Kievan Rus. We decided we would both have to look it up later to better understand it since the exhibit was completely in Russian, and I found quite a bit of information (which I haven’t had time to fully sort through), but the general idea seems to be that this manuscript is sort of the life story of Prince Igor from 1185, focusing mostly on his unsuccessful campaign, but covering other topics too.

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(The only picture I took inside the Kremlin because I didn’t feel like paying the 100 rubles to use my camera inside exhibits, even though 100 rubles is like $2.50)

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(The Kremlin from the outside)

By the time we finished looking at the exhibits in the Kremlin it was around 4:00 p.m. However, since the sun has started to set around 4:00 p.m. it felt much later. We were leaving the Kremlin to find someplace to eat. Instead of immediately finding a place to eat, we noticed how beautiful the sky was, causing us to spend at least another 30 minutes taking pictures of another church we found and strolling along the back of the Kremlin until we found a river. Near the river were four metal trees that had padlocks all over them. They reminded me of those bridges all over Europe that have the padlocks for couples on them, except they were trees that seemed to have been specifically placed there for the purpose of having lovers’ padlocks hung from them.

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(The church we took pictures of)

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(The river from a distance)

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(The lovers’ trees)

We walked closer to the river and found that it was partially frozen, since large, jagged pieces of ice were floating on the surface. It was very interesting to me because seeing a frozen lake is one thing, lakes don’t generally have flowing water, but I have only ever heard of the concept of a frozen river before. No, it was not completely frozen, but it was frozen enough to make me think that it was a very odd sight for me since I had not seen any such thing before.

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(A bell tower near the river)

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(The partially frozen river)

After we spent enough time enjoying the river and the surrounding scenery, we finally dragged ourselves back to the city center to try to find something to eat. I made it very difficult to find something to eat since I have already been in Russia for four months. Although I love Russian food, I have unfortunately started to associate it with what my host mom in St. Petersburg feeds me, which isn’t always appetizing to me and is often repetitive. That is not to say it is bad, it is just tiring for me since I eat it every day. Therefore, while I have been on vacation from St. Petersburg I have insisted on finding cuisine that is not Russian, which can be difficult in cities that are not as well known.

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(Another picture of the river and sunset)

Eventually we found a restaurant that claimed to be Chinese, but also served sushi and some other suspiciously non-Chinese dishes. I would say the food was mediocre for me at best since I have had some really great Chinese food in the past, but it wasn’t Russian food so I was satisfied. In addition, I knew going into the restaurant that finding real Chinese food in a small city in Russia was unlikely. One of the dishes Christina and I ordered was calamari. It was supposed to be an appetizer, but as I mentioned before, Russian’s don’t quite understand the concept of appetizers. The waitress made sure it was delivered after we had finished our actual meal. The calamari was good, not great, but it was also different from any Calamari I had tried before. With it came an odd spiced powder that looked garlicky to me. Christina said it was a little garlicky, but was flavored with other spices as well. I don’t like garlic so I decided to refrain from trying it. Even if it wasn’t the best meal for me, I am glad we both came away satisfied, at least having eaten.

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(Inside of the restaurant)

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(Painted on the ceiling of the restaurant were some fish)

When we returned to the hostel, I realized that we needed a taxi to take us to the train station in the morning and that we didn’t have a number to call to ask for one. I decided to ask the lady at the front desk about it and I was a little confused by her answer at first, but I understood that she would take care of it. All of the women who worked at the hostel turned out to be very sweet and very helpful. Even if the other people our age didn’t speak to us because they heard us speaking English, I still had very pleasant interactions with the staff who tirelessly tried to help us with everything we asked.

I think one of the most frustrating parts of this hostel were the other people who stayed there. They felt the need to stay up really late and speak to each other in the room when other people were obviously trying to go to bed. Of course this was not the hostel’s fault; it was the fault of the inconsiderate people who we had the misfortune of staying in the same room with.

A New Journey (02/11/14)

My new journey was spent in the company of my friend Christina. We left the hotel in Moscow at about 5:30 p.m. because our train was supposed to leave at 7:05 p.m. We knew we would have extra time to wait at the train station when we got there, but it was good that we did because we spent at least 15 minutes trying to figure out where our platform was and what we were supposed to do with our electronic tickets. We were lucky the workers at the train station were so willing to help us out, but as it was, we had to ask multiple people what to do and where to go since the directions were all in Russian and we didn’t always understand everything they were trying to tell us. In the end it worked out, and we knew we were on the right train because the train left at exactly 7:05 p.m. Russian trains are never late.

This train ride was only a few hours, so we arrived in Yaroslavl’ (our first destination) at 10:21 p.m. We had looked up options for transportation online prior to making the journey. Yaroslavl’ public transportation is supposed to stop running at 10:00 p.m., so we decided our best option was to take a taxi. Usually at train stations or airports in Russia, there are men standing around outside asking if anyone needs a taxi ride. It was no different in Yaroslavl’, but when we gave the address for the hostel we had made reservations at, none of the taxi drivers seemed to know where it was. This was very odd to me because it is a taxi-driver’s job to know where hostels and hotels are, or at least to have a gps to find it, but I guess this is Russia. Eventually one man did show up who seemed to know where our hostel was located, and he took as straight there.

The hostel seemed very nice and well put-together, but there seemed to be a few discrepancies. Usually at hostels they provide towels to accompany the sheets, but here they only gave us a small hand towel. When I went to the bathroom, I saw no hint of a shower, so I wondered if they hadn’t given us real towels because they had no showers. Later Christina found that I hadn’t been observant enough and that half of the stalls in the bathroom were bigger and did indeed have showers in them; we just didn’t get towels to go with the showers.

The second problem for me was the beds. As I mentioned in my last post, I had thrown my back out that morning. The beds at the hostel were a thin mattress place on top of wire. My back did not like it, but eventually I was able to fall asleep despite this and one other inconvenience. My friend and I stayed in a 10 bed, gender neutral room because it was the only room left open when we booked it. On this first night there was a man already sleeping in the corner. Throughout the whole night, he snored and coughed very loudly. I kept wondering why his coughing didn’t wake him up, but it definitely woke the rest of us up. Another guy who stayed in the same room, on a bed near me got mad at the guy in the middle of the night. He said these in Russian so I didn’t understand them completely, but he kept making comments to the man about why he was there, and how rude he was being. I understand that one cannot control themselves if they snore, or if they are sick and have a cough, but I also think that one should not stay in a hostel in close proximity with other people if they are sick and risk infecting other people.

Since Yaroslavl’ is not as large of a city as St. Petersburg or Moscow, it seems that every other person in our hostel except Christina and I, were Russian. I didn’t mind it, I had a good time practicing my Russian with the staff, and the other people in the hostel basically ignored us.

Thankfully, our first full day in Yaroslavl’ held a much more rewarding experience than a room with a coughing and snoring man.

Returning to Kazan’ and Moscow

27/10/14-02/11/14 Russian Travel Week with the program

It appears that all of my previous work that I have been meaning to post has vanished, so I will have to start from the beginning of last week.

Last week we had Russian travel week with our program, but we didn’t fly out until Monday night. On Monday we had the same class schedules that we would every Monday, which was very unfortunate for me, especially since that Monday and the week before was the week of midterm exams. So, on Monday I have four classes from 10:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. and an hour of transportation in each direction. I also had a midterm in my Russian Conversation class, so by the end of the day I was stressing myself out wondering if I would make it home in time to finish packing last minute accessories before heading to the airport. To top that off, the program refused to return our passports until the last possible minute. As in, they have had them since the program started and continued to hold onto them to get our visa extensions until that Monday, and then informed us that we couldn’t pick them up until the our classes for the day had ended. Many of us have traveled before and are used to holding on to our passports, as well as feeling uncomfortable without them, so the fact that they keep treating us like incompetent children concerning our passports is rather frustrating. I must say this part of the program was not very good planning on CIEE’s part.

I ended up getting to the airport early so I probably didn’t need to worry about having enough time, but I always think that it is better to be safe than sorry.  Many of us students waited around at the airport for at least an hour before any of the program directors made it there themselves.

The flight left at a time close to midnight and landed in Kazan’ very early in the morning, which caused many of us to be tired for the rest of the trip. We probably didn’t get to bed until about 4:00 a.m.

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(A wall in the old Tatar part of the city)

I was very excited to return to Kazan’ since I spent my summer there, but I was very disappointed with the trip. The first day we went on a useless bus tour around the city the first time I was in Kazan’ and went on a bus tour, it was actually interesting, but this time the only parts of the city they really showed us were many different sports complexes. No one is really interested in visiting a foreign city and seeing all of their sports facilities, it is not interesting for us, but that is what the program chose to show to us. For lunch, they brought us to a mall way outside the center of the city, which made me very angry because it stripped every one of the opportunity to try local Tatar cuisine, and me of the opportunity to return to cafes that I had frequented over the summer. The mall had typical chain mall restaurants, and nothing that was what I wanted.

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(Sightseeing at the end of the bus tour)

I remember the one fun part of this bus tour was at one of the sports complexes. We went to the roof of one of the buildings (I have no idea why) and my friend Sophia and I spent our time sliding around on a giant frozen puddle, pretending to ice skate. The tour was so disappointing that we did this to entertain ourselves. Later when my friend asked about the point of the sports facilities part of the tour, she was told that it was part of their culture (since Kazan’ is also the sports capitol of Russia), but I guess we just have different definitions of culturally significant sights to see. By the end of the bus tour I was at the point of walking back to the hotel since I knew the city well enough to do that, but for some reason I ended up sticking it out.

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(Chandelier in the Kul Sharif Mosque)

That night, I took some of my friends to a Tatar café I knew so we could eat dinner. I was glad to hear that they really enjoyed it since Tatarstan and Kazan’ mean a lot to me because of the experience and people I knew there. After dinner we stopped by a small store or a “продукты,” which literally translates to “products,” and I picked up some chak-chak, which is a Tatar dessert. That night I spent time with some of my friends in my hotel room, sharing the chak-chak with them and just enjoying each other’s company.

The next day had a tour of the Kazan’ Kremlin in it. I think the Kremlin is a wonderful place to visit in Kazan’ because it is so beautiful, but the tour was four hours long, and I had already been there. But at least the tour was much better than the tour had been the day before. At lunch time after the tour, I took some of my friends to one of my favorite cafes in Kazan’ that I had frequented with my friends over the summer. I made them try my favorite dishes of Lagman (a sort of noodle soup that isn’t really a soup and isn’t only noodles) and Plov (a rice dish). I had them order Lipioshka with these dishes, which is a common way to eat them. Lipioshka is a naan like bread that is from a different part of the world. The food is very hard to describe if you haven’t seen or had it before.

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(Kul Sharif Mosque inside of the Kazan’ Kremlin)

After lunch we wondered around the city and returned to the Peter and Paul Cathedral so that my friends could see it. While we were there we ventured into the bottom part of the church, which I had not seen before, so it was interesting for me. When we left the church, we wandered into some souvenir shops to look around, but shortly after we had to go our separate ways because other people had prior commitments. I had plans to meet with my friends Laison and Alfia, whom I had met over the summer, for dinner. We had a very nice dinner, making fun of a group of guys who were getting drunk on the other side of the restaurant, and just enjoying one another’s company.  They had a class to get to and I had had a long day that was not yet complete so I decided to take a quick nap before I left to go visit my host mom.

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(One of my favorite buildings in Kazan’, I believe it is the center of agriculture. In the archway – you can’t see it here – is a tree that holds up the arch that was designed after the Lord of the Rings came out)

At my host mom’s house, she fed me second dinner – homemade manti – I don’t normally like manti but my host mom knows I like it when it is homemade. It was nice to be able to catch up with her, and just talk about everything relevant and irrelevant like we used to, and paint our nails together.

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(A wedding palace)

The last day we went to the Raifa Monestary (which I had already been to when I was in Kazan’ before, and didn’t care to see again). I did enjoy it more this time than the last time, although I think that was in part because we didn’t spend as long there as I had the last time. In addition, it is always enjoyable to see the same place at a different time of year.

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(On the way to my host mom’s house I always see the entrance to the Kremlin)

After Raifa, we had some free time before we had to go to the train. We walked around the rinok and bought scarves and other items like food that would be useful on a 12 hour train ride. In the end we wore ourselves out from walking so much, which was good because we had no choice but to sit or lay day for most of the 12 hours on the train.

I have done this 12 hour train ride from Kazan’ to Moscow before, but this time CIEE decided to give us private compartments. I was in a compartment with my friends Sophia, Helen and Lacy and we ended up watching a cartoon movie about a half-white zebra named Cumba. I have never heard of this movie before, but it kept us entertained for a while and made us practice our Russian in an offhand way since the movie was in Russian.

Eventually we all went to bed, although it was so hot that I couldn’t sleep well at all which didn’t bode well for the schedule the next day. Helen and I tried for about half an hour to open the window in hour compartment, but it wouldn’t open, so we finally gave up and tried to sleep. In the morning (after I had finally fallen asleep) we were all unpleasantly awakened by a Russian lady going from compartment to compartment, violently opening the doors and saying “доброе утро” unnecessarily loudly.

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(Some buildings we stopped to take pictures of during the bus-tour in Moscow)

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(During the same stop but in another direction. I was probably too tired to listen to what these buildings actually were)

Our schedule for the day (Halloween by the way) was of course a bus tour of the city. Our tour guides tour went something along the lines of “on the right you will see *insert a building or a monument,* on the left you will see…” and so on. So, since I was already tired, I promptly fell asleep until we had to get out of the bus to see something. One place we did get to see that I enjoyed was Swan Lake, the lake where the ballet was composed. But other than that, it was not very interesting.

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(Looking across Swan Lake)

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(A row of ducks in Swan Lake)

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(They were pretty, so I took quite a few pictures of them)

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(The lake had a thin layer of ice over most of it, but here the ducks seemed to have found a place to swim)

Later in the day I took a nap because I was just too tired to do anything else (such as wander around the city), but at night I wanted to do something for Halloween. Some friends invited me to go out in the city with them for the night, but after my experience with taxis in Berlin I didn’t want to risk staying out so late that I would have to pay for a taxi to get back after the public transportation stopped running, so I declined. Instead I watched a horror movie with some other friends and tried to go to bed at a reasonable time.

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(The entrance to Red Square. Our tour guide made sure we knew that it was translated incorrectly into English because the word for “red” in Russian can sometimes mean “beautiful,” and this is suppoed to be Beautiful Square)

On November first we went to the Moscow Kremlin. I had already been to the Kremlin last time I was in Moscow, but this time we had a tour of the Armory, which I hadn’t been to before. The Armory, although it didn’t have much armor in it, was very beautiful. It has a collection of gifts from royalty of other countries to the tsars of Russia, as well as a lot of old coronation attire, crowns, and ornate carriages from the tsars. The rest of the time in the Kremlin we spent walking around the grounds, and then visited one church in Cathedral Square.

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(A view of Moscow State University from the grounds of the Kremlin – the white building in the back)

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(One cathedral in Cathedral Square)

After the Kremlin, we went to eat at an Italian restaurant because we had eaten breakfast at about nine, and did not eat lunch until around four. They don’t seem to understand the concept of “lunchtime” and that people get hungry. The lunch was very reasonably priced for Moscow, and it was very good, probably because we were all so hungry. I had a seafood pasta dish. I love seafood, and I really wanted it at the time even though we weren’t close to the sea so it definitely wasn’t as fresh as it could have been, but I still enjoyed it. To accompany my meal, my friend and I shared an appetizer (it came after the meal, so I don’t think Russians quite understand the idea of appetizers) it was a sort of cheesy bread but much better since I don’t really like cheesy bread. It was more spiced than cheesy, which is probably why I enjoyed it but I probably shouldn’t have been eating bread and pasta in the first place due to my minor gluten intolerance.

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(The Bolshoi Theatre, I took a picture because it was on the way somewhere)

After returning to the hotel, my friend Christina came to Helen’s and my room and hung out with us. We had a very fun time talking about whatever subject seemed to come up before we decided to wander around Moscow at night and find a club. We ended up walking a lot because Moscow is big so the nightlife is very spread out, needless to say I didn’t enjoy going out in Moscow as much as I did in Kazan’ or St. Petersburg, where you don’t have to walk a mile to find the next bar or club. In the end we ended up taking a gypsy cab back to the hotel (an unregistered cab. They are very common in Russia, but I would never take one alone).

The next morning we had to pack everything up because it was our last day in Moscow and we had to check out of the hotel by 11:00 a.m. Unfortunately, as I was getting ready, my back went out and I still had to finish packing and I had an excursion to go on even though it hurt to walk, much less breathe. We went to a history museum, but I don’t remember anything in particular because I didn’t have a very enjoyable time walking around with a hurt back.

After the excursion, Christina and I immediately returned to the vicinity of the hotel and got something to eat. I promptly fell asleep on the couch for about an hour before we decided it was time to catch our train for the next week’s journey.