Monthly Archives: May 2010


First up -- Tallinn

In a couple of days, the spring semester is officially over, everyone is heading back to the US. Well, everyone except me and a friend. Needing a little escape from the Fatherland (Отечество), my friend and I are hopping on a bus and are going to essentially wander around in the Baltic States and parts of Eastern Europe.

On our to-see list:

  • Tallinn, Estonia
  • Riga, Latvia
  • Vilnius, Lithuania
  • Warsaw, Poland
  • Krakow, Poland
  • Lvov, Ukraine (but you have to call it Lviv, or else the little Russians get mad)
  • Kiev, Ukraine

18 days, 5 countries, 7 cities — 1 backpack. I’ll be back June 10. Or at least, that’s what we’re aiming for. We haven’t really planned out how we’re getting from Poland to Ukraine or from Ukraine back to Russia. It might involve hopping in the back of some car. Until then!


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Shawarma is made from cats..?

As I was walking home from my oral proficiency exam today, I happened to pass by a shawarma (or known as shaverma here in Petersburg) kiosk and its alluring, spicy meat smell enticed me to go closer and take a look. Shawarma is notorious in Russia, or at least in Petersburg, for being the perfect drunk food. It’s meaty, it’s somewhat spicy (I guess, I’ve never actually tried shawarma here), and it’s basically the only thing you can get at 4:30 in the morning — they’re usually sold in 24 hour “cafes” or kiosks.

yay food poisoning!

I was, in an understatement, hungry. I felt as if there was a black hole in my stomach and if a stray animal had walked by, I probably would have chased after it with a fork. However, after taking a close look at this particular kiosk’s offerings, I quickly decided to go with my better judgment and not eat the shawarma it had to sell. Call me an unadventurous bore, but the sight of a Central Asian man carving off hunks of pinkish-grey-brown meat from a shapeless skewer just doesn’t do it for me. I also have a phobia of tainted meat — my last run in with bad meat left me not only with my head hung over the toilet but also in terrible delirium (I seriously thought I had to build the Czech Republic from the ground up. I foggily remember crying to my host mom that I had to build the Czech Republic or else there would be no country. She thought I was going to die.)

Also, one of my friends pointed out something particularly disturbing/hilarious to me. While we were in Sochi, there were an obscene amount of stray cats, but not a lot of shawarma stands. However, in Moscow, there are absolutely no stray cats and a ton of shawarma stands. There is a definite correlation between stray cats and shawarma stands. Coincidence? I think not.

Shawarma -- a dangerous thing.

Here’s a nice little tidbit for you all: last year, some homeless people sold body parts to a local kebab house. Russia doesn’t really care about consumer safety. As long as it’s somewhat tasty, right?

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“Welcome to Russia. People do whatever they like.”

I was rapidly deteriorating like a pickled tomato left out in the sun, and my friends were bleary-eyed from the lack of sleep, but we still decided to tempt fate and try and watch the Victory Day parade in the morning. Victory Day(Den’ Pobedy/День Победы) is a nuke-filled holiday that commemorates the end of the Great Patriotic War (the Eastern Front of WWII). This year was the largest parade since the fall of the Soviet union — and by large, I mean absolutely absurd in regards to the tanks and nukes and what not — 11,135 troops, 127 aircraft and helicopters, and the new Topol-M mobile intercontinental ballistic missile. I don’t even know what that means. Also, for the first time, they included military personnel from France, Poland, the UK, and the US. Here’s part of the parade, for those of you who are interested.

As we waited for Molly (Wisco reunion!) in the Chekohvskaya metro station, my heart sank as I watched the seas of people decked out in kitschy-communist garb flow towards the exit. When Molly arrived, we joined the human ocean and slowly shuffled our way out…only to find that instead of being near the parade, we had been placed behind a barrier 200 meters away from where the parade was. Moscow is a sprawling, enormous city, and I guess it makes sense to put up a barrier, because the parade would become chaotic with all the people clamoring  to watch the old Soviet tanks roll by. But still! They weren’t allowing people to exit a good number of metro stops, and they were closing entrances to streets left and right. No forewarning. This is Russia. I should have listened to my host mom and all my Russian buddies and stayed home to watch the parade on TV. Also, in regards to barriers in Russia, it’s not just a fence of some sort, it’s rows of fierce-looking omon — riot police. They’re basically beasts who beat up people for fun.

Human ocean.

However, aside from not seeing the parade (and some hostel glitches), everything was absolutely great in Moscow. We arrived the day before Victory Day at 6:30 am and essentially didn’t stop moving until we passed out from exhaustion on the train ride home. Moscow was particulary spruced up and groomed for Victory Day, and the 80 degree weather was a pleasant surprise. Among some of the sights we saw, we stopped by Novodiviche cemetary and said hello to some interned poets, writers, and former leaders.


One of the more touching moments in Moscow was when we went to Park Pobedy to see more Victory Day celebrations. While they were still setting up the stage for the concert, there were rows of veterans in their uniform and medals sitting along the fountain. Russia has a beautiful tradition of thanking her veterans — people bought large bouquets of flowers to hand out to veterans and thanked them for their service and for helping secure Russia’s future. Call me maudlin, call me a sap, but I was almost moved to tears. Molly and I bought a couple of flowers and gave them to one woman who was sitting all by herself by the fountain. When we handed her flowers, her face softened and she wished us, “Счастья, чтобы не было войны, чтобы вы не видели то, что я видела.” — happiness, that there has not been war, and that you have not seen what I saw.

a little boy singing for a veteran

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the top of the caucasus - we hiked up there.

4 days on a train — an interesting experiment in itself. On the two days there, we were lucky enough to have two babushki with us to protect us from a rowdy, drunk man from the Moscow circus. And on the two days back, the train cabin was filled with rows of not-so-great smelling Russian men, a crazy woman, and some drunk chuvaks.

But the total 96 hours on a train were worth it for the 6 days we spent in Sochi. ACTR really outdid themselves on this long trip. Sochi was a beautiful change of scenery from Petersburg, which still has traces of winter remaining. There wasn’t the oppressing smell of cigarette smoke and industrial smog, and everything was shockingly green (there still are barely any leaves in Petersburg)

The Moscow resident-director led us on a couple of hikes up parts of the Caucasus. The first hike we went on, we climbed (read: struggled) up a part of the mountain to find a status of Prometheus and then climbed down (read: struggled some more) to take a delightful bath in an icy-cold waterfall. The next day, we walked up 7.5 miles to the top of Mount Akhun to see a breath taking view of Abkhazia (no longer part of Georgia). My favorite excursion, however, was when we went to Krasnaya Polyana and went to the top of a mountain on a ski lift. Pictures and words cannot do it justice.

A Russian woman badgered us to take our shirts off and wouldn't leave us alone until we showed her pictures of ourselves with our shirts off.

Now it is off to Moscow in a couple of days for Victory Day/Den’ Pobedy (День Победы). 8 hours on an overnight train to Moscow, 48 hours in Moscow, 8 hours back. I will be celebrating the 65th anniversary of the ass-kicking of Nazi Germany in high-fallutin’ Russian style. Moscow, get ready to rumble.

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