A Meeting of Friends

18/05/15

I remember planning the night before planning to not take a shower the next day until I got to my friend Dani’s place, because I would be walking out in the hot sun with my luggage again. Even though it would only be for about 15-20 minutes, that much time dragging luggage around in the sun can make all the difference. I had taken one the evening before I left St. Petersburg and I try to only take one every other day because it is supposed to be better for your skin and hair, but this usually ends up being every day and a half or even every day because I hate being dirty. Unfortunately this morning I just felt so dirty that I had to take a shower. I got up early because I was still on St. Petersburg time and used to waking up at 7:30 am for class, and the first thing I did was shower (without a towel).

Throughout my travels this last year I have often not had a towel to use, or only a very small one. When I traveled in Russia, I used a hand towel, which was actually a sufficient size to serve the purpose of drying myself off. When I traveled over winter with Kenzy and Ali, Kenzy and I both did not use towels because we didn’t have them to bring with us. Drip drying was good enough. This time I still didn’t have a towel to use, but I needed a shower (I think the lack of towel was another reason I had intended to wait until I got to Dani’s to shower, because I assumed she had some that I might be able to use).

Dream Cube Hostel thankfully has breakfast included since I didn’t have any groceries. The breakfast was the typical European hostel breakfast. There was coffee, tea, and milk of course, some fruit, cornflakes, bread that you could make toast with and jams to put on the toast. I decided to take a couple of pears and an apple and cut them up to put on my cereal. This was the breakfast that we had had almost every morning while we traveled in the winter, with slight variations here and there, and this was the best I could come up with, with what I had to work with.

20150518_183948

(The park we visited)

After I had finished eating breakfast, I let Dani know that I was ready to come over whenever she was. She wanted to take some time to clean up after our other friend left, so I got back to work booking flights and hostels and communicating with my friend in France to see if I could come visit. As has been my intention throughout this trip, I tried to study some Russian, but everyone wants to know what you are doing so it is very difficult in the hostel environment.

20150518_184308

(The pond at the park)

Eventually Dani was ready for me so I headed in her direction. The street between us was on a hill, and thankfully I was headed downhill rather than up.

I found what I thought was her building, and realized that we hadn’t talked about a way for me to contact her when I got there. I managed to get in the building and stood around for a while looking at the mailboxes or for some clue as to where in the building she stayed. Eventually I decided it might be better to exit the building because anyone who came in kind of gave me a strange look since I was standing there with my luggage looking lost in a building that you had to have a key or have someone buzz you in to enter.

20150518_185148\

(Barcelona’s Arch of Triumph)

I stood back out on the street looking at the buttons that would call each apartment (because sometimes they have names next to them), and then Dani came out probably not even five minutes later to throw some clothes away. (She was leaving Barcelona soon at this point and had to decrease the amount of possessions she owned abroad because she could not carry it all home).

After we made it inside, we started off the day (it was probably 1 or 2pm at this point so “starting” might not be the proper word) in a very relaxed manor. Dani took a nap because she was tired from having our other friend over, and talked to my friend with whom I planned to visit Istanbul until it came time for me to attend my online orientation for my summer program.

20150518_185652

(The arch up close)

Eventually Dani got up and decided to show me a little bit of the city. We went to a beautiful park with a pond, and spent some time walking through it and just enjoying the greenery, and catching up of course.

20150518_190749

(Looking for contact cleaner, or on the way)

(A little background on us. Dani and I met at my university in Pennsylvania. She was a junior (3rd year) when I was a freshman (1st year). We met on the cheer team. We both cheered that year and were both treated badly by the captains. She was also in the sorority I joined my sophomore (2nd) year, and she was a major part in me joining. Not because she tried to convince me to join or not join, she (and most of the rest of my sorority) was just the type of person I would want to call my sister. Through mutual experiences, and just having enough in common we became good friends and close sisters).

20150518_191035

(All of the pigeons)

After walking through the park, she showed me that Barcelona had an arch of triumph, like France (not that I have seen the one in France because I have not been there yet).

Before heading back in the direction of home, we decided to look at an optometry store to see if they had the contact solution that I needed. I had not worn my contacts for the last 2 months while I studied because I ran out of the cleaner and could not figure out how to get it in Russia. We asked a lady and thought she understood what I wanted. The bottle I was sold was weird, but I needed to wear my contacts so I thought I would give it a try.

Dani had spent all of her money while our other friend was with her, so she did not have much to spend with me. On that first night she showed me a small restaurant that she said was very local, and the plan was for me to eat there and her to eat back at her apartment since I wanted to try something local.

20150518_191238

(Modern Art)

At first I sat outside because the weather was nice, but the waiter immediately asked me what I wanted, and when I asked for a menu, he said they didn’t have any and beckoned me inside. He sat me at a table and handed me a menu in English and one in Spanish. I was supposed to find what I wanted in English then find it on the menu in Spanish because the man did not speak a word of English. Unfortunately the menus were slightly different. I wanted some sort of sausage with mushroom sauce, and instead ended up with sausages with fries. At least the fries were real, and the meal was only about 6 euros, which is very inexpensive for a bigger city like Barcelona.

That night, after I returned, we broke out the vodka. Dani apologetically mentioned that she did not have shot glasses, but funnily and fittingly enough (because I had been in Russia), I did. We definitely did not finish the bottle that night. We only got about a third of the way through it, and then we decided to head to a bar. The bar we were planning to go to was called the Dow-Jones Bar or something. The idea was that the price of drinks would go up if someone bought one, but if one had not been sold in a while then the price would start dropping. I thought it was a really cool idea, so I wanted to see it.

The night did not really go as planned and we left the bar almost as soon as we arrived and returned home to watch a movie or something. I want to ask my friend before I put additional information about the night and Barcelona in general in my blog.

The Day of Expiration

17/05/15

On the 17th my Russian visa, which had been extended the previous semester, expired. After something like this you cannot feel physically different, but the mental realization was kind of shocking. Russia, and specifically St. Petersburg, had been my home for so long and for such a significant time in my life, and I was leaving the city behind without a notion of when I would be able to return. Who knows when I will be back? But I promised everyone that I would return, including myself.

I had a few rubles leftover, so I decided to buy a bottle of good vodka (0.5 liters) to take to my friend who I would see in Barcelona. The first night in Barcelona I stayed in a hostel because my friend had another friend visiting her and could not host two people at once.

I arrived in Barcelona at the airport at about 8 am. As I was going through passport control, I was stopped because they asked my for my return flight information. At that point I did not have any flight beyond Barcelona booked, so I could tell them when I was leaving the European Union, but I could not give them documents confirming what I said. Normally this is not a problem when flying into the EU, but there are certain cities that are more interested in such information. We all know the rules concerning travel, so it really should not be a problem, but after getting to know more about Barcelona I understood why. At passport control they took my passport and made me sit off to the side for about 10 minutes, then someone came to talk to me and give my passport back, but I was immediately let through. They did stamp my passport, but it makes me wonder if they put a flag on my passport or something, although I doubt it. I have never broken the law, so they would have no reason to. I don’t know why they needed it for so long, but at least it was returned to me.

20150517_090002

(Coming in for landing)

After entering the luggage carrousel area of the airport and picking up my checked bag, the first thing I did was try to withdraw money because I needed cash for transportation as well as paying for the hostel upon my arrival. There were two ATMs right next to each other, so I tried one a couple times, then the other and was a little worried that they didn’t work. I decided to go online to try to check my bank account to see if there was a problem, but this was easier said than done. My phone had updated a few weeks before and ever since the update it has trouble connecting to free wifi, which has proved to be very frustrating because I have no data plan abroad and internet is pretty important when trying to find your way around another city, much less another country. (But, of course, people managed this before wifi as well)

20150517_090110

(Not the most beautiful area of the coastline)

Finally I did manage to connect to the internet, only to receive an email warning that there was unusual activity on my card. I realized I had forgotten to tell the bank I was traveling after I completed my program in Russia. I had only warned them I would be abroad until May 17th, and then the plan was for me to go home (the plan that had been created before I left the United States in June). I quickly let the bank know that the attempts to use my card were not due to fraud, and then set a travel alert on my bank account to let them know where else I was planning to travel. After I overcame this headache, I was immediately able to withdraw money and move onto the next headache of trying to find my way to the hostel I would be staying at for the night. I had purposely booked a hostel located about a 15 minute walk from where my friend had told me she lived in Barcelona so that I would not have to struggle to get my bags onto additional transportation to get there.

The directions the hostel gave if one wanted to use public transportation and not pay for a taxi required a person to make two transfers on the transportation. First, from bus to metro, and then from metro to tram. I decided before I started my journey that this was a bit excessive, so I went to ask information how to get to the hostel to see if they had another option. It seemed that they did – a transfer simply from one bus to another.

I went on my way (paying the bus driver with a 20 euro note. In Russia he probably would not have let me ride the bus, but I didn’t have anything smaller because I had just withdrawn money) and found myself at the main plaza (sort of a giant roundabout) where I would make a transfer to the next bus. Unfortunately, it was not as easy as the lady at information had described. The plaza had bus stops on every connecting street, so I went around in a circle from street to street, with all of my luggage, checking the bus stops and trying to figure out the map of transportation to see if my bus would be there. (In addition to walking around with my luggage, I was still wearing the jeans and light jacket I had donned the night before when I was headed to the airport in St. Petersburg, so I was very warm). The bus stop I wanted was not there as far as I could tell. In the end I decided to try the metro. I am used to using the metro in Russia. I know the one in St. Petersburg very well, and I can get around on the one in Moscow too, and after traveling on so many in the winter I thought it wouldn’t be a problem for me to take this one. What I found was a mess. The entrances weren’t clear, so I ended up carrying (not rolling) my luggage through a mess of underground passageways, up and down stairs, that were supposed to be “convenient connections.” I did eventually make it to the right area and found my way to the tram. Getting on the tram was pretty straightforward, but after getting off, I got lost again.

20150517_115705

(At the first plaza)

The directions after getting off the tram seemed pretty straightforward. Normally I think I am pretty capable of getting around alone and reading a map, since I have had to do this multiple times without a GPS, but I have to get lost sometimes, otherwise I won’t learn. At the end of the tram was another roundabout that I ended up walking around, with all of my luggage with me as well. I finally did find the correct street I was looking for and made it to the hostel where I would be staying for the night. I walked in the front door and found, as with many European hostels, the hostel was on the second floor, so I had to walk up the stairs with all of my luggage. I don’t like taking multiple trips if I don’t have to, so backpack on my back, 50 pounds in one hand and the carry-on in the other; I made my way up the narrow stairs. They heard me coming as the bag occasionally hit the wall, but I made it.

I found reception at the top. A man was working there at the time when I arrived (in his late 20’s); he took one look at me and understood that I was tired (after staying up all night for the plane ride, and then walking around for a while with my luggage, how could I not be). Unfortunately the beds weren’t ready because they were still cleaning the rooms and changing the sheets, but at least I was able to sit in one place.

As I mentioned before, I was stopped at passport control, so I decided that since I could not sleep, that this would be a good time to start booking the rest of my trip. At this point (one May 17th) I only had my trip figured out until May 26th.

Finally the bed was ready, so the rest of my day was spent taking a long nap. The hostel I stayed at was called “Dream Cube.” The beds were such that we basically slept in our own cubes. The room I was in probably had 6 beds, but each bed had a curtain that shut out the light and separated you from the rest of the people in the room. It was very nice to have these curtains since I wanted to sleep in the middle of the afternoon. The hostel was very comfortable, and I would recommend it if you choose to travel to Barcelona.

20150517_115712

(My shadow in the hot sun with my luggage and light jacket)

When I finally woke up, it was much later. This was my first time staying in a hostel by myself because when I traveled alone in Lithuania, I chose to stay with hosts. People traveling in groups bigger than 2 are intimidating to people who choose to travel alone, because I have been in those groups, and unless you approach others, people won’t bother you. Traveling alone you make your friends along the way and go see sights with people from the hostel if you choose. Since I was only in the Barcelona hostel for one night, the social aspect was not as important, but I ended up speaking with fellow hostel-stayers as well as the man working there, for hours. The man was Catalan – the cultural group that is native to Barcelona. He was very nice, so I did not get the initial experience of the Catalan people that I later understood them to be.

The man working there offered me some of his soup, which I decided to try because I think at this point in the day the only thing I had eaten was a bag of peanuts, and it was also too late to go out and buy groceries, not that I really wanted to because I was only there for one night. It was apparently a traditional Catalan summer soup. It was cold and really good in the heat. Although I am from California and warm weather is usually very normal for me, I was not used to the heat anymore because in Russia it had still been cool enough that I often needed a light jacket, and I had not even been out of Russia for 24 hours at this point.

I did end up meeting some very interesting people at this hostel and really enjoyed my stay. Unfortunately I will not stay in touch with them because it was a brief meeting, and you cannot stay in touch with everyone. One conversation I remember having was with a guy, who I believe was from Chile. He was studying in Holland and traveling with a friend he met there. We had a conversation about South American names and how they tend to use both last names from their parents, as well as remembering a few names back on the father’s side of the family. He said if you did not do this, you would never know that you might be related to someone. This is part of the reason why in films from this area of the world the names are so long, but not the only reason. He mentioned that in these films, often a person would add a religious phrase, which would make their name even longer and sound more complicated or interesting.

We had many interesting conversations, but unfortunately it was too long ago now for me to remember.

Since I had slept earlier I ended up staying up later than most people there, but at least without people to talk to I got some work done.

My Last Day in the Motherland… For Now

16/05/15

The next morning I woke up at about 8 because I was set to meet a group of people at 11 so that we could all go to the post office and send extra stuff home. This was very important to me as I would not be going home after the program as was the initial plan when I had left the United States 11 months earlier. Instead I would be traveling around Europe again, this time alone, but that meant that I could not bring with me two 50 pound (23 kilo) suitcases, because every time I wanted to check that extra bag, it would cost me an arm and a leg, not to mention the struggle of taking public transportation with those, and then trying to bring them from wherever I was dropped off to the hostel I would be staying at in any given city. It is not realistic to take a taxi to and from the airport in every location, because taxis become pricy, especially for tourists because the drivers like to increase the price when they see you are foreign. I had bought a carry-on suitcase when I went to Kazan’ a few weeks previously because I knew I would need it.

I spent my morning packing up one of the suitcases to send home and logging all of the contents (because you have to write them down during the shipment process, in addition to getting all of the paper items together that I wanted to send home. I ended up with a backpack full of notebooks and textbooks to send, and my suitcase. I think there were only three students who took advantage of the opportunity to send stuff home. Russian post is really slow, so I wouldn’t expect these things to arrive home for about a month, but at least it is not too expensive. It was about 5500 rubles to send home my 16 kilo suitcase and two packages of paper items, each weighing about 4 kilos (maybe about $100, probably a little more, and even though it seemed like a lot, I had to remember that each time I checked that extra bag, it would cost about $75, which would add up quickly). The whole process probably took about 1 ½ to 2 hours to complete because of the paperwork that had to be completed. Today, (about 2 weeks later) one of the packages of books has arrived home. The books do not have tracking numbers, although the suitcase does. I have checked the progress of the suitcase multiple times, but the last entry was when it got accepted through customs and into shipping in St. Petersburg, which also happened about two weeks ago. I can only assume that it is on a ship somewhere out at sea (it is cheaper to ship by land, so this is why it would be at sea and not in the air) on its way to the United States. Perhaps I will stop checking for progress for a week in the hopes that more information shows up the next time I look.

After I turned these items over to the Russian post, I went in search of a few last minute souvenirs even though I had just shipped stuff home to make room and so that my suitcase wouldn’t be overweight. I spent many hours arranging and rearranging the contents of my bag so that everything would fit, but making sure to put the heavier items in my carry-ons. In the end I had one 50 pound bag to check, one carry-on rolling bag and a backpack. When I finally finished packing I hung out with my host mom for the rest of the day and watched Russian television. She called a taxi for me to get to the airport after spending time calling all of her friends and asking if they knew the best taxi company. (A very Russian thing to do. Any time something interesting was on television, or my host mom wanted to tell someone some news, or maybe there was a holiday, she would spend a long time calling up all of her friends to tell them about it or ask whatever question she needed answered). My flight was around four or five in the morning, but I had to leave my host mom early at about one to get to the airport before the bridges went up. By taxi it only took about half an hour to 45 minutes to get to the airport, so I had to wait at the airport all night.

As I was leaving my host mom’s place, she told me that I would always be welcomed back and that if I ever came back to St. Petersburg, to come visit. I did leave her contact information for me, but I have never seen her use a computer. I know my host dad uses one to skype, so perhaps when he returns the information will be more useful.

What Goes Around Comes Back Around

The End of the Semester, Again.

15/05/15

20150515_145930

(End of the semester boat ride)

I would like to say that when I started writing this blog, I did not really know where I was going with it. I like to write and knew that some people close to me said they wanted to read about my travels, but I also knew that when I write I often give a lot of detail. This can be a good thing and a bad thing. A good thing in that those who choose to read my blog get a better picture of what see, or can better understand what I am experiencing, but bad in that each post ends up being a little longer, and then I don’t get around to writing some other posts because I run out of time. That has definitely happened since I started writing this blog, and despite my attempts to try to stay caught up, I still fall behind and have to jump to the next part because I can never catch up. So here I am again, skipping over months of my experience abroad and jumping to the next part of my blog.

20150515_150335

(They fed us little appetizers and champagne)

20150515_150658

(Smolnii in the distance)

My second semester abroad ended on May 15th, but today is actually May 31st. I wanted to write about my last few days in Russia going into my summer travels. Although I have spent most of my time in Russia this year, I have not written a lot about Russia, because that is when I am in class, and tired and out of time.

20150515_153135

(Peter and Paul’s fortress in the distance)

I think first I will give a little bit of background on what I did this last semester in Russia concerning academics, since that is the reason I am abroad in the first place, to study. This last semester in Russia I took five classes again. Usually in the program that I chose to participate in, people only take four classes their second semester in Russia.  I don’t know why my program is set up like that, but I suppose they have their reasons.

20150515_155333

(Inside the boat)

20150515_163009

(Coming to an end)

Before I realized the situation I was in this semester, I decided to pursue that fifth class because the idea of taking any less than 16 credits in one semester seems kind of ridiculous to me (with four classes I would have only been taking 14 credits), but more importantly I thought that more class time exposure to the language would help me in the long run. So, as the semester started I sought out approval from both my study abroad office back home as well as my study abroad program.

20150515_163706

(It is tradition to let all of the balloons go)

20150515_163709

(Even though it is not so great for the creatures of the earth)

At the beginning of the semester, on the first day, we took a placement test so that we could enter into our proper level of Russian. Here is where the situation that I mentioned I had been in, really started. The previous semester about 75 students participated in the program, while this semester only about 30-35 students did due to ongoing troubles between the governments of the United States and Russia that cause American parents to be over protective of their adult children, but that is their call and not mine. The larger program meant that the previous semester there were more levels available for the wider range of students. This second semester the level I should have been placed in, no longer existed, and I was the only one stuck in such a situation. It is true that the capabilities of each student in a class were much more widespread than they had been the previous semester, but they were not really inconvenienced by this. My placement test score fell directly between two levels, so at first I was placed in the lower level because they did not know what to do with me. I tried this out for a week as they instructed us to do if we were unsure of our placement, but the class was too easy for me, because I had already learned this information, so I decided to try out the upper level class. Although it was manageable, it was obvious that my grasp of the Russian language was lower than everyone else in the class. My vocabulary was obviously much weaker than the rest of the class, and my understanding  and ability to use some of the grammar was not as complete. Regardless of these inconveniences, I knew that I could learn something new in this class, which is what I was looking for, so I stuck with it. This meant that on top of having pursued the fifth class and being approved to take it, I was also in a level of Russian that was higher than where I should have been.

The classes I took were Russian Grammar and Conversation, like I had done the previous semester, as well as Advanced Translation, 20th Century Russian Literature, and Russian Civilization. Second semester students took Translation instead of Phonetics, since we had already completed that course the previous semester. Of all the courses, Translation was the hardest. No matter how hard I tried, I felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere. I definitely improved, but the class progressed as well.

20150515_220242

After climbing St. Issac’s Cathedral)

On the last day of class – the 15th of May – I had two exams; one in Translation and one in Conversation. I had woken up at about 6 that morning because I couldn’t sleep, and I wanted to study. After the exams we had our closing ceremony, and then our program took us on a boat ride around the rivers that run through St. Petersburg. Boat rides are a very popular tourist attraction in St. Petersburg, and after having spent so long there, I still had not been on one, so it was good to go on one the last opportunity I had. By the time the boat ride was over I was exhausted. I had stressed myself out worrying about the test, which makes me tired, in addition to waking up early when I don’t usually go to bed at a reasonable time during the school year as it is. I returned home (to my homestay, which was really like a home to me) and really just wanted to nap, but because the semester was almost over I decided to spend time with my host mom since I did not know when I would see her again.

My host dad had been gone for quite a while towards the end of the semester because he has to travel for work, and unfortunately could not make it back before I left, so instead of a goodbye dinner with both of them, I had one with just my host mom. It was nice, but also very sad. I had lived with her for so long, that it was really like leaving home and not knowing if and when you could come back, whereas when I left the US it was kind of terrifying, but at the same time I had an end date, a date I would be coming home. (Of course, this date has changed since I was initially supposed to return to the United States after my program ended, but plans change).

20150515_222737

(The Stairs. There were quite a few).

I had a couple good friends this semester, so my friend Grisha (Gregory), our friend Nastya (who is from St. Petersburg), Max and I decided to spend that evening together climbing to the top of St. Isaac’s Cathedral (where I also had not yet been), because it has a really good view. Afterward, we went up with Max’s friend Dasha and went to a bar for a drink. We talked about staying out all night, (staying at the bars or clubs in St. Petersburg after midnight tend to become an all-night endeavor because the bridges to the islands open at a certain time to let ships pass through, and since many of us lived on islands, we would not have been able to return home) but I had stuff I needed to do in the morning, and they weren’t willing to commit to the whole night – which I had to do if I stayed out past midnight because I lived on an island. After that decision was made, I left the bar in a rush so that I could catch one of the last buses home, almost forgetting that I would not see these friends again for a long time.

In Prague You Should Eat Mexican Food Of Course!

28/12/14 Second Day in Prague

I like to sleep with the window open. I get this from my dad, and from common sense. It is really uncomfortable and unhealthy to sleep in a room with (in this case) four other people with the window closed and the heat on. Many people don’t seem to understand this. They are still caught up in the world where cold air is what gives you colds, so you need to sleep in a sweat box. Instead, it is the sleeping in the sweat box that will make you sick, especially if someone else sleeping in the same enclosed space is already sick. Five people sleeping and breathing for eight hours in one room definitely uses up all of the fresh air, and you start to breathe each other’s air. You can see evidence of the disgustingness and unhealthiness of this situation in the condensation that gathers on the window and the smell that seems to cling to the room after such a night in a heat box. Perhaps you can understand that the heat and moisture is the perfect breeding ground for bacteria. If rooms were not as large as they are with cracks allowing a tiny bit of air to seep into the room, we could suffocate in a situation like that. I know this is bringing it to the extreme, but perhaps you have heard of those people who get caught in a blizzard and have to spend the night in their car. They close their windows all the way because it is cold outside, and instead suffocate in their sleep. It is better to be cold, and that is what blankets are for. Most people don’t seem to understand this, and these Indian men definitely did not. Throughout the night, I listened as I heard one get up and shut the window that I had left cracked open. I am a light sleeper and this movement wakes me up, so, I waited for some time and got up and opened the window again. In the morning when he got up, he shut it again. At this point I let it go because I knew he would get ready and eventually leave the room.

The next day we woke up to the unpleasant sound of one of our Indian roommate’s alarm clocks going off at about 7:00 a.m. Needless to say we weren’t happy about this, especially since it didn’t seem to be pressing that he get up. He continued to lie in bed for a while after the alarm went off, and then proceeded to start getting ready at about 7:30 a.m. His time getting ready included spending about an hour in the bathroom, 45 minutes of which was spent in the shower and the rest of which was spent doing who knows what.  After He was done showering and getting ready, it was probably about nine. He proceeded to dawdle around, lying on his bed, playing on his phone, until about 10:30 or 11:00 when he finally left. So, why did his alarm need to go off at 7:00? He seemed as though he was waiting for us to get up so he could talk to us or something, (we continued to pretend to be asleep because after such a performance in the morning, we did not have any interest in talking to him) but he and his roommate finally left for the day.

Because Ali wasn’t feeling well, and I woke up feeling under the weather again we decided to take the morning slowly. This hostel did not serve breakfast for a price we were willing to pay (especially since they had already made us pay to rent sheets, except Kenzy who had decided it would be convenient to carry around a hostel sheet), so the only time commitment we had was to try to go on a free walking tour of Prague at about 2:00 p.m. that started out in the square we had been in yesterday. We did not know exactly how these walking tours worked, so we figured we could just show up about 10 minutes before it started and join in.

We arrived at the square probably around two hours before the tour started and wandered around buying and eating food, and enjoying browsing the various souvenirs offered in the stands before we went on a two hour long walking tour. We then went over to where the tour was meeting about ten minutes before it started as we had planned, and found that the tours indeed did have restrictions. The tour guides could only take up to 40 people on one tour. You could make reservations online to ensure your place in the tour and it would not cost anything, or you could show up earlier, but we did not know how much earlier. We didn’t get to go on the tour that day because it had filled up, so we decided to make a reservation for the next day just to be safe. We had heard good reviews about these tours, and did not want to miss out, especially since it was free.

20141228_141740

(The strange silver statue that would be mentioned on the tour the next day as well).

20141228_141751

(The prohibition themed restaurant)

20141228_141837

(A closer picture for a better idea of what it looked like)

20141228_141809

(The district with the prettier buildings)

Since our plan to spend our day going on a walking tour had not worked out, we decided to wander from the square in a different direction than the bridge had been in so that we could see something new. We did see many new things, such as a prohibition café, and a strange silver statue. We also found the edge of the Jewish Quarter and a Franz Kafka statue that stood in front of it. The stores in this area all seemed to be higher end designer-brand stores, but this meant that the buildings they were located in were beautiful. We decided it would be worth walking a little bit further into this area to see some of the buildings, and then head to an early dinner. However, it was still very early by the time we were finished exploring this area of the city, so we decided to find a bar and get a Czech beer since their beer is very good. This helped us waste about a half hour of time, at which point we decided 4:30 was late enough for dinner.

20141228_142300

(I really liked the tree in front of this building)

20141228_142315

(A Jewish synagogue)

20141228_142337

(Franze Kafka Statue on the edge of the Jewish Quarter)

20141228_142758

(Less zoomed in)

We had found someone’s travel blog that said the best Mexican food in all of Europe, was in Prague at a restaurant called Las Adelitas, so of course we had to go. We have all been abroad in Europe for months now and, although each country has its own cuisine, the flavors in Europe are very mild compared to other parts of the world, and we missed serious flavors. In addition, we are also all from the West Coast of the United States, where cuisine is heavily influenced by any country that uses strong spices, but especially easy to find is food and flavors that have come up from Mexico and that we all love. We grew up with this food.

Our early dinner was at this Mexican restaurant, Las Adelitas, which we had found the day before so that we would know where to go. Since this cuisine is so important to us, we decided to make this a big dinner and ended up spending more than we might normally spend on a meal. Thankfully Eastern Europe is cheaper than other parts, so it was not as expensive as it could have been.

20141228_143659

We started our dinner off with margaritas because we were at a Mexican restaurant and really had no choice. Kenzy and I ordered the mango margaritas (they probably had about 10-15 different flavors for margaritas) which came recommended by our waiter. They arrived with a fresh slice of mango in them and were very good. Ali decided she would rather have a strawberry margarita, but after exchanging tastes of each, she wished she had ordered a mango one as well, but enjoyed her strawberry one anyway.

20141228_163851

(Mexican food and Margaritas at Las Adelitas)

One of my favorite things to order in the United States at certain kinds of restaurants, even though it is not strictly Mexican, it is Mexican influenced, are nachos. I don’t mean the cheap tortilla chips with the fake nacho cheese (although I do guiltily like those too), I mean the nachos that are piled with beans, cheese, greens, salsa, sour cream, and so on. Looking at the menu in this restaurant because it had been so long since I had either, I could not decide between the enchiladas and the nachos. In the end we all split the nachos (which were big enough to be a full meal themselves) and I ordered the enchiladas. They had three different kinds of enchiladas (separated by the types of sauces). One had green sauce, another had red, and the last had mole (accent on the e) sauce. I wanted to try all of them because I am indecisive when it comes to food because I want to try everything, but thankfully one of the options was to order a plate with each of these on it. I really enjoyed the enchiladas with green and red sauce, because I am a salsa person, but the mole sauce was a little bit too sweet for me to completely enjoy on an enchilada. Regardless, they were all delicious, and this place was very good as promised. Finally I decided I wanted to try a Mexican beer in comparison to the Czech beer because they had Mexican beers at this restaurant. (The time and food intake between these drinks was enough that I was trying these drinks to enjoy them, not to experience any sort of chemical change).

We probably spent about 2-3 hours eating this meal, and decided to head back to the hostel and our lovely roommates at the end of it.

Even When You Encounter Something Unpleasant, Enjoy Yourself

27/12/14 First Full Day In Prague

20141227_101343

(On our way to the next hostel, the sun was shining)

I had written a couple more posts from winter break that I have not gotten around to posting, so now I am going to try.

In the morning we had breakfast with the Indian girls, who would be staying in this hostel for a few nights, and parted ways (this was the first breakfast we had eaten that had anything hot. There were scrambled eggs and beans here).

20141227_101732

(Also on the way to the next hostel, you can see a few stands of Christmas Markets here)

Our hostel bookings in a few locations, such as Prague, got a little mixed up causing us to have one night booked in one hostel and the rest booked in another. Walking down the hill in the morning to catch the tram at the bottom, we realized how close it was to come from this direction to get to the hostel, but that wouldn’t matter anymore because we did not have any reason to return to this hostel. Instead we went across town to another, larger hostel, and immediately wished our stay in Prague had all been in the first hostel that we stayed in. This hostel was called A and O Hostel Hotel, or something of the sort, and apparently has about six different locations. We did not feel the need to check in yet, we just wanted to drop our stuff off in their luggage storage rooms so that we would not have to carry it around as we spent the day out in the city.

20141227_122108

(A picture of Czech money)

The first thing we did in Prague out in the city was withdraw money of course. For some reason I decided it would be ideal if one person withdrew all of the Czech crowns so that the other two of us could pay them back in Euros. I don’t remember my reasoning at the time, but it made sense then and seemed to work out at the end of Prague. Kenzy decided she would withdraw money, and we headed into the main square, where all of the tourists go. Even though Munich had already started cleaning up their Christmas markets when we were there, Prague’s were up, and they were in full swing. It was okay with us that Munich had already shut their markets down because we had spent so many days wandering the markets of Nuremberg, but it was nice that Prague still had markets open because it offered a different selection of food and other items to look at then the ones that had been available in Nuremberg. Whereas Nuremberg has many markets seemingly all over the city, Prague only had a few concentrated in one square, which was a nice contrast to the overwhelming amount available in Nuremberg.

20141227_122734

(The first treat we ate from the markets. It was very good)

The day was beautiful, cloudy and a bit chilly, but no precipitation to get in our way. Old cars took tourists on rides around the city, and the smell of food wafted from nearby stands. We had no particular plan for the day as we walked up to the square. We immediately found a dessert a friend who had been to Prague described to us and suggested we try. It was dough that was wrapped around a thick metal rod and turned over coals. After it came off of the metal rod, it was rolled in cinnamon and sugar and handed to the waiting customer. It was good to eat on a cold day as the cold froze our fingers while we held them out of our pockets or our gloves while consuming the treat in front of us. Kenzy and I felt almost at home, we were back in Eastern Europe, things were cheaper again and not run on the Euro, and the language had some similar words to what we had spent our last semester studying.

20141227_123655

(A church in the square that we saw as we were eating our cinnamon-sugar covered treats)

20141227_123705

(A picture of a street in Prague, in the bottom right you can see one of the cars that one drive people on tours around the city)

20141227_123729

(An important church that we would be told about on our walking tour)

Eventually the dessert came to an end and we had to keep moving to stay warm, so we moved further out in the square and saw what we could and bought real lunch food from the market. Kenzy and I got chicken kebabs on a baguette while Ali opted for a bratwurst on a bun. It is sad that the mustard they have at these markets out on the square is better than the majority of the mustard people in the United States choose to spread over their food, but there is something to be said for quality over quantity and vice versa in the United States.

20141227_125341

(One side of the Astronomical Clock Tower)

20141227_125633

(In the middle of the Christmas Markets was a huge Christmas Tree)

20141227_125649

(Also in the square, a monument we would be told about on the walking tour as well)

20141227_131604

(The Astronomical Clock)

Most of our day was spent wandering around and enjoying the sites (and occasionally stepping inside where we could to warm up again). We saw an important church (which I will picture, but discuss in a later post), an important astronomical clock tower, and an important bridge. We wouldn’t know the complete importance of these places we had seen until we went on our guided tour a few days later.

20141227_134350

(The view from the bridge of the castle)

20141227_134641

(Another view from the bridge)

When it came time for dinner, we headed back to the hostel. Instead of immediately eating dinner, Ali and I took a nap while Kenzy headed to a nearby store to by dinner for herself and Ali.

In the half hour to an hour that Kenzy was gone and Ali and I were napping, two more people arrived in our room. They were two Indian guys who looked to be about our age, but dislike was almost immediately established from Ali’s and my point of view because even though we were obviously lying in bed with our eyes closed, they decided it was acceptable to try to strike up a conversation with us. Relations did not improve because they continued to be inconsiderate from then on. I remember them saying that first night that they liked to see European cities better at night because they look better. This I don’t understand in any circumstance because a European city will look like any other city at night. They all have lights, and will create a picture of a dark landscape with twinkling spots of light, The light may be in differing configurations, but this is not unique. Maybe going up to a particular building at night that is lit up is a unique experience, but in those cases I like to see the building in the day and at night.

20141227_140751

(Walking off of the other side of the bridge)

After Kenzy had returned with food and the two Indian guys had left to go see the city at night, we decided it was time to eat dinner. We knew the hostel had a guest kitchen, but we didn’t realize how poorly thought out much of what the hostel had to offer, was.

We went down to the guest kitchen and found it was locked, so Kenzy went up to reception to ask them to unlock it. She received a very unprofessional and rude reply that there was only one key to the guest kitchen and someone had taken it so they could not possibly open the kitchen for us because you need the key. Of course they had a master key that opened all of the doors in the hostel, the lady was “busy” flirting with some guys who had come to the bar (they had a bar at the reception desk) and couldn’t possibly spare a second to come down and open the kitchen for us. She also refused to lend us the key even if we promised to bring it right back because we are hooligans of course and would probably use it to go where we shouldn’t. When Kenzy came back and recounted her dealings with the woman at the desk, Ali, who hadn’t been feeling well, had had enough. She went up to reception too, and I don’t know exactly what happened between the lady at reception and her, but words were traded (some cursing that the person working at the desk unprofessionally brought into the conversation) with some indication that the kitchen would be unlocked once reception stopped being so busy.

With this information, we decided to all go up to the reception area and sit looking expectantly in their direction so that they could not forget us. Once reception was clear we finally got the hostel workers to agree to open the door. Here I ask, what is the point of having a guest kitchen if you keep it locked? All proper hostels have a kitchen for the people staying there to use, with dishes provided. People who stay in hostels need and want those dishes and that kitchen available. Usually hostel goers are traveling and want to have the option of making their own food , but are not going to steal anything because that’s not hostel culture and it is too heavy to carry dishes around.

Obviously this was not a proper hostel.

After dinner, we went back up to our room to get ready for bed. Eventually the Indian guys came back and were equally as irritating as they had been before. (I think that along with some of us not feeling well and being tired from traveling, there was a bit of culture clash in the manners and etiquette department. Usually I am okay adjusting to a new culture, but the new culture I was adjusting to here was the Czech culture since I was in the Czech Republic).

A Christmas Day Walk in the Park

25/12/14

On Christmas day we also had a late morning, but this did not affect our plans for the day. We had decided that we would go out to eat some local cuisine in every country and what day was better than Christmas Day? In the United States restaurants would probably be closed, but we had read online from multiple sources that here, places opened up for dinner and we wouldn’t have trouble finding a place to eat.

20141225_141533

(On the way to the park)

We had looked up a couple of places online just to have options, but we did not know if they would be open or not. With this information and having eaten breakfast and finished getting ready for the day, we decided to head out on our Christmas journey.

20141225_141651

(Our rainy Christmas)

It was not a white Christmas in Munich. Although it had been sunny the day before, I woke up at about two in the morning and listened as the rain started to fall. The rain was still coming down when we got up in the morning, but when we left the hostel it had already stopped, leaving a damp and gray day. It is a good thing that I enjoy gray and stormy weather, especially since I am studying abroad in St. Petersburg.

20141225_141714

(We found the park!)

We headed to a park we planned to walk in and enjoy the afternoon in (since there wasn’t much morning left by the time we got there). After getting out of the metro station and wandering around for a bit we found the park (the street setup made it a little hard to find the park), and along with it we found many people also spending part of their Christmas Day walking in the park with their families and dogs. I think the park was called the English Gardens, or something along those lines, although it was really a park. It was beautiful, but there were no gardens.

20141225_141823

(There were no gardens, but there were lots of trees and a small river)

The first part of the gardens we encountered was a small creek at the edge of a neighborhood. We found a bridge to cross into the park and walked to a nearby lake from there. Mostly we just wandered across the different paths of the park in the direction of the old town. At one point we ran across a small stand that sold such food items as we had encountered in the Nuremberg Markets. Kenzy decided she was hungry and bought a sausage on bread like they sold in the markets, I think I just did not want to pay for food so I didn’t get anything. After Kenzy had already purchased her lunch, she spotted peppermint chocolate. They only had one small bar of the peppermint in the whole box of chocolate, but it was enough to satisfy Kenzy and Ali on their quest for peppermint, at least for a short time.

20141225_142156

(The lake with many geese and ducks)

20141225_142252

(I liked the light colored duck because it was different, but it did not want to cooperate with me so I could take its picture).

20141225_142357

As we continued on in the park, the story of our day becomes more difficult to tell.  Many of the families had dogs with them and Kenzy loves dogs so she enjoyed this immensely. Even though we passed by many people walking their dogs and many of the dogs were very cute, I forgot to take any pictures of the people with their dogs. Perhaps this doesn’t seem like a significant mistake, but their were so many dogs in the park that it can’t not be significant. Regardless, it was interesting to see so many different types of dogs in one place.

Moving on from the dogs that we encountered, the difficult part of the story included such events as the quest for the chalice of “Immortality or Whatever,” which they had fresh run out of so this quest would prove very difficult. (I don’t know who they were and I not sure how to tell the story of how this came up to you, so I will leave it at this). It also included climbing the hill to reach the “temple” where the chalice of “Immortality and Shit Like That” was to be found. I think that somewhere along the way we were having trouble finding the area we were looking for and a conversation comparing this search to those of the Holy Grail came up somehow prompting the search for these chalices.

20141225_142804

(Houses across the lake)

20141225_151304

(The “temple” wasn’t so much of a temple)

20141225_151339

(The view from up on the hill with the “temple”)

20141225_152013

(Looking back)

After spending many hours walking through the park, we headed back to the old town to find a place to eat Christmas dinner. Despite what sources online had told us, it was very difficult to find a place to eat dinner, open or closed. This would be the first of our dinners where we chose a restaurant for the sake of eating “local cuisine,” but it was the only one that would be for the sake of Christmas dinner.

20141225_152857

(A river near the end of the park)

20141225_153138

Our dinners consisted of a couple of different types of bratwurst, schnitzel and potatoes done in various fashions of course. Although much of it was good food, the schnitzel, which Kenzy ordered, was not done correctly. This being my first encounter with schnitzel, put me off of the dish for some time, but I would have another opportunity to try it later.

20141225_153337

(The sky was so beautiful)

20141225_161148

Promptly after finishing dinner, we headed back to the hostel. I skyped my family very briefly, on the awful hostel wifi that barely worked. It was so bad that their faces showed up in large boxy (pixilated) images like people used to when skype was a newer form of communication. I skyped them to wish them a Merry Christmas, so other than packing so that we could leave the next day, with that, our day had come to an end.

20141225_163135

(Going back by a church we had passed the previous day)

20141225_172047

(Our German dinner)

Trains, Tickets, Errands, and Markets

22/12/14

(Again, I am late posting again because it seems that the internet at the hostel where I posted the last post only worked for one day and then could not load anything after that. I will do my best posting regularly, but all I can say is I will post when the internet permits me to).

The following day was Monday, so more stands were open and more people were in the market. After eating breakfast (which at this hostel had been a terrible option of copious quantities of bread with choice slices of meat and cheese and some substance resembling cereal) we went back down to the market area with the intention of asking someone where a post office was so that I could mail back the extra Eurail pass that the company had annoyingly sent to me. (A Eurail pass is a pass you can buy to be valid for travel by various means within the European Union in valid countries that is only valid for a certain period after you activate them, but that overall makes the cost of travel less expensive if you plan to travel that much. Unfortunately for them, citizens of countries within the European Union are unable to purchase and use them. We found a post office stand where people were mailing postcards and I frantically scribbled a postcard to my family in the few seconds before it became our turn in line. I like to send postcards and letters and anyone who knows me well enough knows this, there just aren’t very many people who seem to enjoy writing or receiving such things like this as I do, so I end up sending them to my family usually. I am also not buying souvenirs on this trip because Europe is already expensive enough to travel in, so this is my chosen form of souvenirs for my family.

20141222_125419

(There were strange pieces of art all over the city. We found this particular one on the way back from the post office).

We asked our question and sent our postcards (Kenzy sent one too) and went on our way to find the real post-office. I was very annoyed to find out that in Europe you can’t simply write “Return to Sender” on the outside of an unopened envelope or package and have it returned without paying another shipping fee, like in the United States. Instead you have to put it in a new envelope, rewrite all of the addresses and pay the new shipping fee. I had not sent the Eurail pass back before the journey had started because I didn’t physically have it. Since Kenzy and I had been staying in Russia and new that the Russian mail system was not the most efficient or reliable, we had made the decision to send the Eurail passes all to Ali in Aberdeen, so she ended up with my extra one but did not have the time to send it back since she had to pack everything up because she would not be returning to Aberdeen for the next semester. When all was said and done, at least that was one less thing we had to worry about on our journey, even though I had to pay for it.

20141222_125426

(Also on the way back from the post office, just an idea of what some of the buildings looked like in this area).

After sending the Eurail pass back, we had business to attend to at the train station. We had to activate the Eurail passes to be able to use them; this apparently just took the stamp and a signature of a European Union transport official. Our train was the next day, so we wanted to ask all of the necessary questions and make reservations for some trains if they were needed. Apparently Italy has a very messy train system, so we had to reserve all of the trains relating to places we were going in Italy. For the rest of them (hoping there was room) we could just get on in the second class area and fill out the information on our Eurail passes to be stamped when needed. Some of the reservations were much more expensive then I would have liked, but I am told that overall the price for transport done this way was still cheaper than buying each of these train tickets individually.

20141222_163237

(on the way back from the train station, the sun sets early at this time of the year).

20141222_132900

(A church we walked by many times and finally visited).

It was not very late in the day and we had already been productive getting all of this done. (Actually now that I remember this more clearly after the retelling this story, we did all of these errands the same day I got my luggage back, so the day before, but since I already posted about that day and so that I will have something to write about this day other than walking around the markets, I will continue as if it happened this day).

20141222_132930

(The front of the church)

On the way back into the busier parts of the markets, Kenzy bought a desert we had seen at some of the stands before. She let me try a bite and, although it looked rather intriguing, it turned out not to taste like much of anything. It was a chocolate exterior with a flavored marshmallow filling (they had different options for the flavors and Kenzy bought the mocha one). Unfortunately the flavoring of the filling was too weak so in the end it didn’t taste like anything.

20141222_133109

(Stained glass window)

We also happened upon a smaller market area which was located inside what looked like a small village but was all shops. It was very quaint and Christmassy and enjoyable see, but not to walk through. The part that made it unenjoyable was the crowd we faced in every direction we turned. When we left this smaller area and returned to the larger and more open areas of the market, it was even more difficult to walk anywhere because more people kept arriving.

20141222_163905

(Entering the throngs of the market place)

Later we returned to the children’s area of the market because they sold a dessert over there that we wanted to try. I don’t really know how to describe it except to give you the unpleasant image of a mass of dough in a bowl with a watery-textured vanilla pudding substance around it and cinnamon and sugar sprinkled on top. It was a lot more attractive than what I just described, otherwise why would we buy it, and tastier too.

20141222_164214

(It became more crowded as it got darker)

I have traveled with people before who choose not to eat local food because they want to save money and I understand that, I want to save money too. However, I must say that every time I go someplace new I try to find local dishes to try because I feel like I haven’t traveled there and experienced as much as I can of the culture unless I try the food they eat. Also if I am traveling, I know perfectly well that I am spending and not saving money. I can try to spend less, but that does not mean I am saving any. There just needs to be a balance between spending money on food at a restaurant and buying groceries at a market. In addition, if I don’t have a kitchen available to me, then I have to spend money. This is why I am always buying and trying new dishes. Also, if you read any of my blog while I was in Lithaunia towards the end of this last summer and noticed that I went to an Indian restaurant, a Thai restaurant and so on, if I am staying in one location for that long I sometimes miss certain cuisine, but I also like to compare what other countries offer in the area of cuisine and their flavors to what I am used to in the United States.

20141222_165708

(Some examples of what was sold in the market)

20141222_172127

There were a few cathedrals we had passed the previous day in the markets, usually churches are free to visit, but occasionally (in touristy locations) they will charge you. These were free though so we did visit one. It was beautiful and spacious with high vaulted ceilings and stained glass windows. However, it was obviously so spacious, done in an old gothic style, that there was no possible way the building could be heated. A few decorations had been set up around the church for Christmas, but no major decorations could be placed because the ceilings were too high to be useful for decorating.

20141222_133116

(The high ceilings of the church)

20141222_133402

(Inside the church)

One beautiful part of this particular church was what looked like a square filled with white sand, in the center of the square was a small nativity and around the edge of the square, people had placed small candles and drawn designs in the sand with their hands.

20141222_133237

At the end of the day, we really had spent time trying new food and enjoying the Christmas lights and the Christmas markets. Maybe this would not be interesting for some people, but the markets had such a variety of goods to buy and even a section where different stalls represented different countries (the United States was represented by Jack Daniel’s and other ridiculous paraphernalia), that it kept us entertained just looking at many of these stalls. Perhaps I will return to these markets in the future, when I am not already bogged down by a year abroad in Russia, and actually buy something representative of these markets or Christmas. It won’t be the Jack Daniel’s though.

20141222_172733

(More ornaments from the market)

A Russian Morning to You too

21/12/14

(I am sorry for the delay in posting. The combination of me being under the weather and choosing to sleep instead of write at times, combined with the “free wifi” at previous hostels that my computer won’t actually connect to, I seem to have fallen behind. I hope to start posting twice a day, or 3 times every 2 days to try to catch up, but I don’t think these extra posts will be regular, only when I have time to write something extra).

The next morning we woke up and packed up since we had to check out by 10:00 a.m. When we finally made it downstairs to check out, we decided it would be ideal to ask about the two bags that were supposed to come into the airport that day. Kenzy and I talked to the man at the desk in Russian while Ali waited nearby. Another man showed up who also spoke Russian and, although the bags had not yet arrived, we ended up having a very friendly conversation with them about Kenzy and me studying Russian in St. Petersburg, which prompted one of the men to pull out his phone with the comment that St. Petersburg was very beautiful and look, he had pictures.

This conversation led to the exchange of numbers and other needed information in case the bags did show up, but in such a way that these men were willing to work with us and call us if anything did arrive.

20141221_114507

(First glimpse walking into the Christmas Markets)

It was not a particularly cold day, especially when carrying luggage around, but gray clouds covered the whole sky making pictures difficult. The first thing we did was make our way across town to the next hostel. We had to stop at a central metro station for a while in order to orient ourselves, but moved on to the hostel after that. This hostel Kenzy had mentioned that she and Ali had been planning to stay in it for a while. It was located in part of a castle (what was once the location of the Imperial Stables, but had been turned into an international hostel) that was central to Nuremberg in what used to be a militarily strategic location, which meant it was on top of a hill. Since Kenzy was the only one who had her bag at the time, she experienced the full impact of the hill. Ali and I only carried what we had used as carry-ons on the plane. Even without the bags to carry up the hill, it was not a small hill. Once we made it inside, a snappy German man immediately informed us that we could not check in until 3:00 p.m., which we did not care about, we just wanted a luggage storage room so that we could set our stuff down and actually enjoy our first day in Nuremberg.

20141221_120139

(First glimpse of the castle)

20141221_125024

(There were horse drawn carriages giving people tours of Nuremberg, pulled by some of the biggest horses I have ever seen).

After we were granted a storage room, Ali called the airport where her luggage was supposed to come from and I tried to call the number I had been given by Aeroflot representatives. Throughout the day we tried this number quite a few times and never had any luck with someone picking up the phone. I tried that and other airport numbers enough times that I ran through the money that Kenzy had put on her Russian phone should something like this occur. I used her phone because I did not have mine with me.

20141221_133714

(We came back down to the markets to find them more crowded, but not as crowded as they would become).

20141221_133720

(Different parts of the market had different names, this was the children’s section, but good food belongs to everyone, so we visited it).

We spent our day wandering around the markets and trying some food here and there, but since we couldn’t try everything in one day we spent some time scoping out what we might want to try in the following days. I had woken up feeling a little under the weather and with that on top of the worry of not having my luggage returned to me I just felt like the day was dragging by despite how much I tried to enjoy it. At one point we stopped by Starbucks to ask for free water and take a break from walking around, but we were on our feet for the majority of the day. Even when eating, we would buy street food and eat it wherever we happened to be.

20141221_134332

(In the children’s area)

20141221_134340

(There were lots of children)

20141221_134459(0)

(and things for them to do)

Although we spent most of our time in the markets there was the occasional wandering into non-market areas. One that I remember particularly well was a bridge over a small river. I seem to like scenes with water, tree branches and birds or ducks on gray days; I think they are rather picturesque, as cliché as that term is. What was before me in that river was exactly that type of scene.

20141221_134833

(The ducks in the river were either black or white, no in-between)

20141221_135345

At the end of the day we had potato soup served to us in a bread bowl on a napkin, that we also ate standing up. It was very good, but, although I enjoy bread bowls, I always wish there was less bread and more soup because I never eat all of the bread anyway. Regardless, the soup was very good on a cool night, even though it had pieces of bacon in it which I don’t like.

20141221_135550

(As the day got darker, the markets started lighting up)

20141221_151035

(The light shining through reflective objects)

20141221_160747

(You could better see the Christmas decorations)

After eating dinner we walked back up the long hill to the hostel to check in. When we checked in we asked if we could barrow their phone to make a local phone call and they said yes, but once it was past 8:00. When we got up to the room, there were six beds, two of which had already been taken. There were two Asian girls who had basically taken over the room. They had done laundry and hung their clothes on hangers in any available area in addition to taking a roll of toilet paper from the bathroom for their own personal use. It was a little bit odd, but not the end of the world.

We headed back down to the front desk at 8:00 and made the necessary calls to the airport again, which was, again, useless. This time we also called the men at Hotel Moldova, which required me to talk on the phone in Russian.

In the end I had to call the man at Hotel Moldova about 3 or 4 times because the baggage hadn’t come in. During one of these calls it sounded like he had called the airport for me and had inquired about when my luggage would arrive. Either that or the airport called him so that he knew what to tell me. Finally he told me to call him back at ten and the luggage was in. At the time when I went down to make the ten o’clock phone call, Ali came down as well in order to call the airport again to see where her bag was. Her bag had already arrived at the hostel, which we found when we got down to the front desk. Kenzy was kind enough to venture all the way across Nuremberg with me to keep me company while I collected it, which I appreciated very much since it was dark and Hotel Moldova is not located in the best area. It took about 24 hours for the people who work for the Frankfurt airport to make the 3 or 4 hour trip that Kenzy and I made the night before to drop off my bag. I was just glad I got it back all in one piece and that the Russian men had been so accommodating and helpful throughout the process.

20141221_231715

(On the way back up the hill, we stopped to take pictures)

20141221_231726

(Really only as an excuse to take a break though, although the lit-up buildings were pretty)

On the way back I got to experience what it was like to travel with the luggage and later climb the hill with it. On the way up the hill I started singing Keep Holding On by Avril Lavigne. Specifically the part that goes, So far away, I wish you were here… in direct reference to the location of the hostel at the top of the hill and me at the bottom of the hill with a heavy bag. At this point Kenzy joined in and, although we didn’t realize we knew so many of the lyrics, we sang a good portion of the song as we climbed up the hill.

Now It’s a Memory

08/11/14

I am entering finals week, but have been pretty much swamped since I returned from travel week. Despite my intentions to keep up with my blog, I obviously have not managed, but I will keep trying to post something interesting every now and then. In the meantime, I had started writing about the Sturday we left to return to St. Petersburg, so let me see if I can finish it in any sort of interesting manner.

Our last day of vacation was Saturday because we wanted to have a day back in St. Petersburg to recuperate. Since we hadn’t gone to Suzdal’ the day before, we decided to go that day, even though it was risky because our train left at 6:50 p.m. We woke up earlier than usual to try to give ourselves more time in Suzdal’ since it would take an hour to get there and an hour to get back on the bus.

Even after making sure we woke up earlier than usual, we didn’t make it to the bus station until about 10:45 a.m. which allowed us time to buy our tickets for the 11 o’clock bus since the busses left every half hour.

We arrived in Suzdal’ a little before 12 p.m. and had the option of paying a few extra rubles to the bus driver to be driven into the city center, which we decided to do. The first thing I remember as we started from the bus station to the center of the city, was a small field that seemed to take forever to pass in the bus, which made it seem longer than it actually was. Directly after the field we started passing a residential area that seemed very colorful. The one house that stuck in my mind was lavender. I don’t remember details; I just remember the color because it seemed so odd at the time.

Suzdal’ is a small, but very touristy city. In the main part of the city, there is a row of tables set up under small canopies (to keep the rain out since this was obviously a rainy time of year) each hosting a variety of souvenirs ranging from your typical magnets and mugs, to more traditionally cultural related pieces such as head scarves or woven shoes that peasants used to wear. A few yards in front of these tables facing in (to create a sort of walkway where you can buy something on both sides) are people selling the most delicious looking honeys and jams as well as fruits and vegetables. I remember being very tempted to buy honey then because it looked so delicious and I love honey, but I didn’t because my host parents feed me so much that when would I have time to eat it when I returned anyway?

I can’t say that there is anything about Suzdal’ that particularly struck me at this point, it was really a place of beauty, fun to enjoy without pushing ourselves to seek out whatever fabulous cultural experience the place had to offer. The cultural experience was in going to Suzdal’, and experiencing what a touristy city in Russia is really like. (I am not counting Moscow and St. Petersburg in the experience of a touristy city because although they are big cities that attract tourists, it is really not their sole purpose.

One place my friend and I went was out behind the row of buildings that seemed to stand in front of us. It was a bit foggy that day as it had been in Vladimir, but behind the buildings was a cliff that looked out over a small valley with a village of beautiful wooden houses by a small stream. On the other side of the cliff was a group of churches rising out of the mist, all with their own style or color of domes.

Eventually we decided it was time to get lunch because we would have too head back to Vladimir to catch our train soon, so we found a café. I ordered a pasta dish with a white cream sauce and seafood in it. Even though the seafood wasn’t bad, the undercooked noodles smothered in such a heavy sauce just did not make the meal appetizing. However, despite my disappointment with the meal, my friend and I decided this was a good place to ask about a specific drink they only make in Suzdal’. Reading online, it looked as though the version of it sold on the street was either not genuine, or maybe not of a good quality. It advised people to ask their tour guide where to buy it, but obviously we did not have one, so we asked the waitress at the café. She proceeded to ask someone else who asked someone else, but finally we got an answer.

Walking around the building we had already been in we went to the back where there was only mud for a path and nothing particularly noticeable. In the back of the building was a room with ladies behind a counter displaying many different types of Medavuha (the drink in question). I wondered at first why there would be a random room in the back of a large building to sell something sought out by tourists. But as my friend and I walked in to the room, there was noise coming from a doorway. To our right was a sort of old-fashioned banquet hall with people dressed up in older styles of clothing thoroughly enjoying themselves, and probably drinking Medavuha.

I bought a bottle for my host parents and Christina and I bought a bottle to share. After that we walked back to the bus station (better enjoying the colorful houses on the way, although I did not find the lavender house, but the field was not as long as I had imagined it to be).

After we arrived back in Vladimir, it was a whirlwind to catch a bus, make it back to the area of the hostel, buy food to eat on the train, go to the hostel, carry all of our stuff back to the bus station, and make it to the train station. Of course after making it to the train station came the ordeal of trying to figure out the electronic tickets again. I feel sorry I rushed poor Christina, but you can’t be late to something like a train. It doesn’t work.

We did get to the train station in enough time, which is good, and we didn’t have to wait around for too long before we boarded.

On the train we both had the top bunks of our compartments, and unfortunately it was very hot again. The only way to cool down enough was to lay down as still as possible in whatever clothing we brought with us that would give us the most room to breathe (a skirt, a baggy shirt, whatever). We shared the compartment with two older women, of course one of the snored horribly. After one of the women left, a Chinese man took her place (they give each new passenger a new set of sheets and pillow cases). He also snored. I think I eventually fell asleep, but it was definitely hard to stay asleep.

09/11/14

We arrived back in St. Petersburg about 11 hours later (at 5:40 a.m.). The public transportation does not start until 6:00, but while waiting for the people before us to get off of the train and then wading through the masses going in and going out, by the time we made it out of the train station, the transportation had started.

When I arrived back at my homestay at around 6:30 or 6:45, my host mom got up to welcome me back and offered me tea. (Which I gladly took because in such a hot train, Christina and I did not have enough water to stay properly hydrated). Then she promptly went back to bed.

That Sunday I don’t know exactly what I did but I definitely tried to study since I hadn’t done much of that over break, despite my intentions. That day of recuperating concluded my trip to the lesser-known cities of Russia.