Monday, August 23, 2010

Triumphant return (or something like it)

AND--we're back. We've been back for about a week now, actually. (Claire's in South Korea with her parents, and Ariel's in Massachusetts with her parents, and I'm in Washington, on a boat.) It's really weird to be back, kind of disorienting, and it doesn't help that there's this freak cold-spell sort of hovering over the Olympic Peninsula right now. I packed shorts and tank-tops for Russia, and that's all the clothing I have with me, so I've just been wandering around Port Angeles in sandals and short-sleeves, looking like an idiot in the balmy lower-60-degree weather. It's also odd to get free water in restaurants, with ice in it. Ice! And just today, I accidentally stepped into the middle of the road in front of an oncoming car, and the driver stopped, instead of running me over. Crazy.

The food's a lot better, too, but this isn't going to be a sigh of relief about how I'm (we're) back to civilization and away from giant tubs of caviar.


Or random cats sleeping on...

On cars?

Because believe it or not (I'm sure many people would think not), I actually kinda deep-down-in-the-dusty-recesses-of-my-heart miss Russia. What?! Yes. Not in the I-want-to-go-back-right-now kind of way. And maybe not even in the I-want-to-go-back-EVER kind of way. But still. If you were to ask me about my summer in Russia, I would say it was a summer of eating popsicles, with the frighteningly red (or cactus green) flavor melting and dripping stickily down my fingers. It was a summer sitting on dirty park benches in beautiful gardens, in late-evening sunlight that is so yellow and warm that it's almost alive as it sets behind the horizon. And then when the mosquitoes came (and trust me, they always did), we walked home, laughing and covered in the dust of the city.

And it's the oddest thing that I should miss Russia when some days I would walk down the street, squinting at the blazing hot sun, looking at the little kids pooling their money, trying to decide if they have enough to buy candy bars (looks the same in every country), and suddenly the same kids ran past chattering at such high speeds that I had NO IDEA what was going on, and everything was ALL WRONG, and why? WHY was I there? At times like those, I couldn't decide whether to laugh or cry, because yeah, culture shock sucks, but the summer sky in Saint Petersburg is almost the same shade of blue as the summer sky that I've been staring into for the past 18 years, although on the other side of the world. Almost. But not quite.

Some days--some days I really thought the summer would never end. But then, we did learn the word for "shit happens" in Russian, and really, you need that over there, for when you get lost (often), fall down a manhole (painful), or get food poisoning (unfortunate). Because it's the summer, and what happens during the summer is as intangible as the moment when dusk begins and ends. You can't bring it back with you into the red and gold reality of the melts, then evaporates, like the popsicles we sucked on all summer. It leaves a sticky film that vaguely reminds you of...something. And if you think a minute, maybe you'll remember. But then, you don't really want to remember, do you? At least, not fully or exactly. That's the beauty of the summer: you pick your flavor, savor it in the heat with the bugs buzzing around you, and then you walk away into the night, satisfied and exhausted, ready for the next day...

...or next term, as it were. See all you Dartmouth kids in 4 weeks! To everyone who was in Russia with me, thanks for the amazing summer.


The Dartmouth girls

Monday, August 2, 2010

Moscow, je t'aime

Moscow-lovers will be vindicated to hear that we went to Moscow--and loved it. We took the overnight train there, and got there at breakfast time. Everyone was a little apprehensive about going, especially since it was going to be 40˚C there the first day we arrived, which is about 104˚F. Oh, and this is Russia: there's no A/C or ice. Anywhere. Good news though: there was air-conditioning on the train, and I have never been so happy to wake up in the middle of the night, totally freezing.

Party train to Moscow!

Almost immediately after we arrived, we started our city tour; we had the most amusing, sarcastic tour guide yet. We got into a bus and drove around, looking at the old KGB building, among other things:

Tour guide: This is KGB building. It is highest building in all the world. You know why?
Us: Huh? *confusion*
Tour guide: Cause you can see Siberia from the basement. Heheheh.

After driving around, we stopped at the Red Square to take pictures and look at St. Basil's Cathedral.
It's sooo preeeetty...

And Lenin's mausoleum:
He's just, you know, chilling inside

After that, we went to the Armory in Red Square, and on our way, we met a very special someone...Vladimir Zhirinovsky. I didn't really know who this guy was up until that point, but I got a quick lesson, and up front, this guy is a psycho. He's the founder and leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, an ultranationalist party that supports the abolition of almost all religions but Russian Orthodox in Russia; the reunification of the former Soviet Union; state control over technology and agriculture...oh, and it's also the "brain-child" of the KGB. Zhirinovsky is a Jewish Jew-hater (he's known as Russia's Hitler) who starts fist fights in the Duma to remain on the political spectrum; he was the one who started the food fight this past spring, throwing eggs at his fellow Duma members. And we--we got to meet him.


After this exciting interlude, we learned a little about Boris Yeltsin. According to our tour guide:

Tour guide: Bill Clinton came to visit Boris Yeltsin and there were two menus: Bill menu and Boris menu. Bill menu had soup, chicken, and dessert. Boris menu had Smirnoff, Smirnoff, and Smirnoff.
Us: *giggles*
Tour guide: What? Don't believe me? Most Russian prefer Boris menu...

Later that day, standing outside the Presidential palace, our tour guide brought up Yeltsin again:

Tour guide: Okay, and what was Yeltsin's hobby, again?
Us: *laughing* Vodka!
Tour guide: *looking wounded* No! Tennis...

Outside of the Presidential palace, there sits the biggest cannon in the world. Unfortunately, typically of Russia, it's actually too big to work; the cannonballs weigh over a ton each, and they are too heavy to fire. Funnily, the cannon points directly at the Presidential palace...

Tour guide: So, after a long night of drinking, Yeltsin came into the office with a hangover. He felt terrible. So he stuck his head out of the window to get some fresh air...

Tour guide: And saw this:

Tour guide: ...Pointing directly at him. Next day, he moved to building next door.

Next, we saw the biggest (and, surprise, nonfunctional) bell in the world:

With our lovely tour guide!

We went inside the Kremlin courtyard, and saw the several lovely cathedrals and churches inside:
Where Ivan the Terrible was married!

The next day, one of the Dartmouth kids in our group (oh hi, Clark) had a minor (okay, major) Starbucks meltdown. We were exiting a museum when he decided that he really needed a latte, so we decided to try to find one...

Setting off to find Paradise

Found it!

Crying because there's no more

Post Starbucks, we wandered around the city for a little bit, and then headed back to the hotel to meet the rest of the group for the 12:50am train ride back to Saint Petersburg. We arrived back this morning, and went to the banya today! (That will be another, fun-filled post :) With only two weeks left in Russia, we're starting to get a little sentimental, and forget the radioactive mosquitoes and beets and rude babushkas. So in the spirit of dewy-eyed vapidity...

Bridge over troubled waters (really, just polluted waters)

I should actually be editing my final paper right now, so I'll leave you with that deep thought.
Until the banya post, comrades.


Friday, July 23, 2010

The Food Issue

First of all: WE ARE SO SORRY that we haven't done a post in so long. Midterms suck. The weather in the summer in Russia sucks (actually, in the winter, too). Getting a weird 24-hour stomach flu sucks. But hey, we're here to talk about beets and mayonnaise, so we'll get to the point. Russian food pretty much consists of meat and potatoes and chicken and potatoes and fish and potatoes. And maybe some buckwheat kasha in there. Oh, and the kolbasa. It's everywhere. Luckily, St. Petersburg, being the "Window to Europe" has more than just "Soviet Cuisine" (there are actually restaurants that use this as their tagline). Thus far, we've sampled the infamous sushi bars, Korean food, Georgian food, "American" food, and French food.

Georgian food. What can we say? It fuels cheese-induced dreams. "Cheese-induced?" You ask.

Yes, cheese-induced.

It's called khachipouri, and you should probably sit down for this explanation. It's a "boat" made out of fresh dough, that is filled with CHEESE. Yes, cheese. About a pound. A POUND OF CHEEEEESE. Molten, delicious, gooey, delicately salty Georgian cheese. Words cannot explain the deliciousness. Oh, and there's also a runny egg baked into the center. Oh, and when the waiter (who is usually the cook, owner, and busboy) brings it to you scorchingly hot, fresh out of the oven, there is an ENTIRE STICK of butter melted on top. You just died a little bit, didn't you?

And that's just the beginning; one of the most delicious meat dishes in Georgian cuisine is kutchmachi, which is a small clay pot filled with pork and potatoes, topped by garlic, sliced raw onions, and parsley. The pork and potatoes are cooked in a 600˚ + oven, and the toppings are put on immediately afterward, so that the garlic and the onion sort of cook from the heat of the pork,'s indescribable, the crispy, juicy meat. It can also be made with lamb, which is just as delicious.

One of the most delicious foods you'll ever eat in your life.

Enough about Georgian food; we found the most adorable little French patisserie down the street from school, and we go there sometimes after class to get multicolored macaroons and rye baugette (of all things), and blackcurrant milkshakes (or milk cocktails as they're called in Russia. Yes, go ahead. Get all of the Russian alcohol jokes out of your system).

Nom nom nom.

The truth is, the blackcurrant milkshake discovery was a little bit of a fluke (we have issues ordering in Russian sometimes). It wasn't even really a milkshake--well, in the strictest terms, it was: cold milk blended with blackcurrants and sugar, until it's a frothy purple something. No ice, no ice cream, just reaaally good.

And the sushi bars only bear mention in that they were (are) ridiculous. The most popular in St. Petersburg is a chain called "Dve Palochki" ("Two Chopsticks"), that has an odd theme going on. Picture walking into a sushi bar, very modern looking and sleek. You sit down. The waiter comes over and tells you that you can't drink that bottle of water that you have on the table. You look at your comrades and shrug. It's IS the Motherland, right? He takes your order, seemingly oblivious to the confusion that one member of your party has at the fact that good ol' Two Chopsticks offers a salmon roll, a cucumber roll, an avocado roll, or a selection of all three, plus a tuna roll, but no tuna roll solo. You're waiting for your order to come, and suddenly notice that the entire restaurant is screening the odd mating rituals of this charming fellow:

It was even weirder in motion.

Not only that, above the sushi chefs' stations, there are real, working Arrivals/Departures screens, showing flight times for flights around the world. What is this place? You're all starting to murmur to each other. An hour later, and the food still hasn't arrived. One member of your party, in defiance of The Management, has started to take covert gulps from the forbidden water-bottle, ducking under the table whenever a waiter passes by. Finally, the food comes out, dessert first. You're so hungry, you don't even complain, but wait--there are no utensils, so, desperately, you eat your banana tempura with your hands, then your eel roll, then your cold miso soup. One guy doesn't even get his food. You ask for the check, and a member of your party goes to the bathroom, only to emerge a minute later, laughing confusedly at the two toilets facing each other in one stall. With no divider between them. You decide to get out of Dodge, and pay the check. Filing out of the restaurant, you happen to glance up at the evil sign of the evil restaurant. Two Chopsticks, huh? They think they're so clever...And that's when you realize that they never even gave you your chopsticks.

Thus concluded the end of our sushi-adventures in Russia. Although, we have a birthday tonight in the group, and we're going to eat Korean food (yes, we're daredevils...).

As for the American food, it doesn't even bear mentioning. (Imagine a "Caesar Salad" with parsley instead of lettuce, and almonds instead of chicken. Yeah, we though so, too.)

And the Russian food? The famous blini and caviar? We haven't really had the opportunity to sample this highlight of the Russian cuisine (it's been beets, beets, and more beets), although there's one staple of Russian cuisine that we've taken to quite well:

How could we not?

And now, we have to go eat some ice cream. What?! There's no air-conditioning here!



Friday, July 9, 2010

Buggery (Get Your Mind out of the Gutter)

St. Petersburg is hot. Like, really, really hot. Like, 33˚C hot, remembering lack of air-conditioning, and the proliferation of swamp monsters (aka mosquitoes). In between taking cold showers, eating ice cream, and mortal battles with the enemy (again, mosquitoes), we went to Novgorod last weekend, with the other students on our program. There are actually two Novgorods in Russia--Nizhnii Novgorod, and Velikii Novgorod. We went to Velikii Novgorod, which is about 3 1/2 hours south of St. Petersburg. And there were no mosquitoes. Well, less, anyway.

Not even in this swamp.

Novgorod is a lot smaller than St. Petersburg. A lot cleaner, too. And the cars actually stop for pedestrians. And it has reaaaaally pretty flowers.

See? :)

We visited the Kremlin, which, to clear up various questions, is not exclusive to Moscow. There is a Kremlin in each Russian city, and it's basically the Russian equivalent of the local government building. kind of isn't:

It's a fortress.

The Novgorod Kremlin encompasses government buildings, fountains, monuments, and, of course, too many monasteries to count. One of the monasteries that we went to is in lucky possession of the oldest Russian painting recorded, from the 11th century. Unfortunately, attempts to take pictures were countered by angry babushkas wielding pitchforks, so you'll just have to believe us when we say that the painting was pretty amazing. But never fear, because we got pictures of the interiors of lots of other holy buildings (for a price, of course. Ah, Russia...).

Old paintings, if that's your kind of thing.

We visited a lovely old monastery the second day we were in Novgorod, in the middle of what sounded to be the Sunday service, as we could hear several...angelic voices singing to the masses. The flowers were pretty, though (as usual).

It has to be the water.

Woman lighting a prayer candle.

Ah! We're about to be kicked off of the internet, so we'll leave you with this short blog post before there's no blog post at all. We promise there will be another one on Monday, after we visit Pieterhof this weekend.

PS: There are too many pictures to put up here, but the rest will be uploaded to Facebook, to our respective accounts, so look there if you want to see more picture from Novgorod.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Cloudy with a 30% Chance of Beets

Oh hi everyone. This was our first week of classes, so we're really tired and confused and a little stressed out, but here it is. Our last blog post, we forgot to mention the great memorial we visited during Orientation in St. Petersburg. The memorial is to the Siege of Leningrad, during World War II, which, as you may know already, lasted 900 days and nights, and the effects of the siege on the population of Russia played greatly in the start of the Cold War.

900 Days

900 Nights

War Memorial, 1941-1945

On a happier note, we also took pictures of our amazing school for you to see. You think Dartmouth's campus is pretty? What if you took classes in a school painted sky blue?

We do.

Yeah, that's our school, good ol' Smolny. Come to think of it, it's a little obscene how beautiful the campus is. It's all gold-leaf and powder blue, and on the insides there are hand-molded ceilings and...well, we don't want to make anyone jealous.

We're each taking six impossible classes: razgovor (conversation), gramatica, fonetica, gazyeta (news and reading comprehension), a "Directors' Course" with the Dartmouth prof here, and musikal'naya cultura. We're divided into different groups, so the classes are fairly small; about 7 or 8 students in each one. The prepadavatselii (teachers) gibber rapidly and at length about their subjects, and are extremely hard to follow. There's one particularly high strung teacher who teaches razgovor and gramatica...she's really sweet, but sometimes she goes a little off the deep end:

Marina Yurievna: And so he supposed to her.
Class: *blank look*
MY: Supposed. Supposed!
Class: Uhh...
MY: Oh, haha, I meant proposed. AHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! *continues to laugh hysterically for an abnormally long period of time, as the class sits in horrified silence, staring at her.*

Random street sign.

Yesterday we went to Pavlovsk, a small town that holds a Russian palace just outside the city limits of St. Petersburg. (For those of you from Miami, the palace is REALLY similar to Vizcaya/Deering Estate). When we got there, it was raining (and--please remember that Pieter is built on a swamp. And so there are MOSQUITOES. Giant, killer mosquitoes everywhere. And other assorted swamp monsters for your entertainment), and we ran through the forest surrounding Pavlovsk, a swarming mob of bugs on our trail (most of whom strangely attracted to Claire). When we got inside, we wandered around for a couple of hours.

Just, you know, the casual summer home of the tsars.

The ceiling in a bathroom.

Writing desk.

Hallway ceiling frescoes

We made a new friend.

In other news, we're fervently watching the World Cup, making our foreign-ness very painfully evident, as we sit in a bar in a group, screaming at the football players on TV to "PASS THE @#&%!ING BALL!" USA was edged out last night, and Russia didn't even make it to the second round, so we're trying to find a new team to champion...any suggestions?

For now, that's it. We're heading out to one of the city's 500 Sushi bars (We kid you not), where one can find beet borscht alongside with your dragon roll. Beets are everywhere, in case you weren't aware. From the beet-stained mouths of babes, you know.

C lyubovyu (with love!)

Eli, Claire, and Ariel

Monday, June 21, 2010

Bienvenidos a Россия!

So, like, we're in Russia. And we have been for a week. And we know that we promised you all blog posts (multiple times), so this is it. The first, virginal, commencing post of our lovely blog (hope you like the name). Our journey to Eastern Europe was long and fraught with many perils and annoyances, not the least of which the angry Icelandic diva-man who gave Eli multiple concussions with the back of his seat on the airplane. Despite this scary, blond, and rather (ironically) volcanic man, our flight was pretty awesome; we got legitimate pillows and green blankets (Eli was really excited about this, and, in fact, WILL NOT stop talking about it);
the food wasn't too bad (we got polentaaa!); there was an open bar (although, we didn't drink, due to the strong recommendation of Ariel's dad...hi Mr. Shapiro!); and, (Ariel's personal wish) the flight announcements were all in Finnish. All of them.

When we got to Finland, we were escorted to a "chalet" (read: converted stable), in the middle of the Finnish woods. Sound creepy yet? There was also an abandoned water park. We had pre-testing in our stable, and made use of the three saunas inside (one for each was a very high-tech stable). We also went into Helsinki and wandered around for a couple hours, pretending to speak Finnish, and noticing the frightening amount of good-looking blondes in the area.

It's everywhere. Even in Finland.

Ariel, Claire, Eli

Bar llamas?

"Yes, it's gay"

We took the train from Helsinki to St. Petersburg (Питер, or "Pieter"), and though we were warned about the blatant racism that we might come across in Russia, none of us really believed it until we overheard this extremely amusing and disturbing exchange on the train:

Weird Euro-Trash Guy: I have question. Uh. You're both a little dark, eh? Eh? Eh?
Two Russian Girls Who Are, Yes, a Little Dark: *frigid silence*
Guy: Heh. You're a little dark, huh?
Russian Girls: Yes. *glares*
Guy: Yeah, yeah, and you've got the Asian eyes and face! *excited*
Eli&Claire: *horrified silence*
Guy: So yeah, you're pretty Asian-looking. Pretty dark, eh. I bet you get a lot of shit in Russia.
Russian Girls: I mean....
Russian Girls: Go away.
Guy: NYETTT! *and literally proceeds to stand in the aisle for the duration of the 7 hour train ride until the poor girls, having exhausted every defense, go to sleep. And then, he starts taking pictures of them. While they're asleep. As if that wasn't creepy enough, he took their phones and put his phone number in them.*

Since we've been in Pieter, we've had our program orientation, in which we were warned about falling down manholes (the city isn't known for it's strict construction regulations); getting into "gypsy cabs" (apparently you run the danger of being held up with a meat cleaver); and making eye contact with guys on the street (unless you're prepared to spend the night with him). Oh, and NEVER to speak to the Militsia in Russian, because it's really easy to confuse the word for "fine" with the word for "bribe". And that's a situation that you just can't pay your way out of.

We're at our homestays now (coincidentally, the three of us have the "best" homestays in the city: a five minute walk from Smolny, the university at which we're studying, on the main island), and we've been fed свёклы (beets), чёрны хлеб (black bread), kasha, and blini filled with...everything. And lots of tea. But tomorrow we're planning on going to a Sushi bar for lunch--they're everywhere, a lot easier to find than "traditional" Russian food. And we're also learning how to navigate the metro:
(Backstory: Eli and Ariel were put in the same homestay, because the Dartmouth Prof that came with us to Pieter doesn't think that Eli can take care of herself, much to Eli's disgruntlement. Today, we went for lunch about a 25 minute walk from Smolny, and Eli decided to try to find her way back home afterwards...)

Eli: I think this is the right bus...
Yoon (a Dartmouth boy on our trip): Are you sure? I don't want to get in trouble if you, like, fall down a manhole.
Eli: Yeah, yeah. *gets on the bus with Yoon* *turns out it's the wrong bus, and we're not even on the right ISLAND. We ended up having to take the metro back to the main island, and walking 30 minutes back home.*
Yoon: This is ridiculous. I hate you. I THOUGH YOU SAID IT WAS THE RIGHT BUS?!!
Eli: *shrugs*
Yoon: Garreston is right! You can't take care of yourself! You're like a small child!
Eli: Hey! I resemble that remark!
Yoon: *mutters ominously* Maybe I should just leave you here and let Darwinism sort itself out....
Eli: What street do I live on, again?....

We'll put up more pictures, and publish more blog posts later. And we'll send postcards this weekend. Classes start tomorrow, so we're sure that we're going to have lots more amusing stories for you, involving crazy Russian teachers, and word mixups, and getting lost.