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.