Category Archives: Rambling thoughts

Beauty is everywhere here

Dnager! Entrance is prohibited!

Peter and Paul Fortress

After a long day of testing and presentations, my friend and I decided to escape the heat by lying underneath the shade in the Mikhailovsky Gardens. It was absolute perfection — the sun shone between the trees, there was a warm breeze, and for an hour and a half, there wasn’t a care in the world.

My time in St. Petersburg is rapidly coming to an end. I leave for Karelia and the north this Sunday, and a week from that, it’s time to make my way back to America. It amazes me that I’m soon going to be leaving, and that it happened so quickly. Was it really almost 7 months ago that I was in DC, anxiously waiting to hop on that plane over here?

And what have I learned in the short amount of time that I’ve been here? First and foremost, that Russia’s not simply full of vodka and bears. More importantly, that Russia is at first a scary, unpredictable place, one that you hate at first but then fall in love with. Russia has so much beauty to offer, not just with its bold war monuments and theaters, but with the small things, too: the light hitting a cupola of a church just right, the lazy and calm rivers, the hardened grandmothers, everything.

The Bronze Horseman

I love the brutal honesty of Russians. I love their ability to talk to any stranger as if he was a close friend. I love their inner friendliness that isn’t immediately shown. I love that what you see is what you get. Hell, I even love the rough Russian language, kind of in the same manner that I’d love a drunk, fat uncle just for kicks.

As we were leaving the park after getting kicked off the grass, we walked pass the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood (Спас на Крови). I stopped because I was awe at how the sun was hitting the golden onion dome, and how the church stood in contrast with the clear blue sky. A lump formed in my throat. I can’t be leaving this. I just can’t.

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Time is Running Out

Officially a month left until I return until Madison, WI. I’ve got mixed-to-negative feelings about returning to the States, but I’m not going to dwell on that now. For now, I’m making a check list of things to see before I leave this wonderful city.

– The Cruiser Ship Aurora
– Kuntskammer – the museum full of 300-year old pickled fetuses
– Peter and Paul Fortress
– The Tixvin Cemetary
– Chornaya Rechka (Черная Речка) – the place where Pushkin died in a duel

A makeshift memorial at Park Kultury in the Moscow Metro

There is such an incredibly short amount of time left before I return to America, and there’s still so much for me to learn. I’m not ready to leave.

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The most adorable statue ever

St. Petey’s has some really magnificent and awe-inspiring monuments and architecture — the Bronze Horseman being a classic example or the Horse Tamers on the Fontanka. But this little guy really takes the cake for the cutest monument ever.

Chijik Pyjik! (Чижик Пыжик)

At 11 cm tall, I’m pretty sure it’s the tiniest monument ever. People throw coins at it and if the coin lands on the little bird’s perch, you get to make a wish. My host mom and I went on another marathon walk* and she poured a handful of kopecks into my hand. However, because I am severely lacking in the hand-eye coordination area, I wasn’t able to land a coin.

This little guy also comes with a famous ditty! Unfortunately, I only know the first 2 lines:
Chijik Pyjik, gde ty byl?
Na Fontanke vodku pil.

Chijik Pyjik, where have you been?
Drinking vodka on the Fontanka.

*Since the weather’s a little better, my host mom loves to take me on walks. I thought walks meant strolling around for 30 minutes or 45 minutes at the most. I was wrong. Tanya power strolls for 3 hours at the minimum. (Yesterday, we went on a 11km walk for fun.) And when I say power stroll, I mean she speedily darts between crowds of people, leaving me defenseless and helpless in a sea of Russians. Tourist season is high upon us, but that also means a ton of Russian tourists pour in from other cities. All tourists are the same — they walk with that confused, dazed look on their faces, with their head tilted up at an angle. Which means that they don’t watch where they’re going.

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Throwing the coin into the fountain

“Let’s go for a walk.” I readily agreed. The weather had been grey-scale and rainy for most of the day on Sunday, and it was depressingly cold for a summer’s day. Only around 8 pm did the stormy clouds part to blue skies and sun. Tanya, my host mom, and I set off for Palace Square (Дворцовая Площадь) from our house, passing by the Mariinskii Theater and the Cathedral of St. Isaac’s on the way.

Исаакиевский собор

On our way back, we took a small detour in Aleksandrovskii Garden. Leading me by the arm, Tanya took me to the fountain that was in the center. “Look at the arc in the middle. If the sun hits the fountain in just the right spot, a rainbow appears. If we had left just a little bit earlier, we would have seen it.” I leaned against the fountain and stared up at the sun, in disbelief that it was almost 10:30 at night. Reaching into my bag, I fished out two 10-kopeck coins, one for her and one for myself.

“Ah, you have to throw the coin as far as you can, you know that?” The farther the throw, the better chance that the wish will come true, right? The wind up, and then the throw. I watched as my coin disappeared into the sunlight and somewhere into the fountain.

“Your coin practically flew!” Tanya exclaimed gleefully.

I wished that I could stay in St. Petersburg, not only for the summer, but for the year and more. In the past five months that I have been here, I realized that I still have so much to see and learn, and that I have barely scratched the surface. I am just beginning to understand what it is like to live here and I have finally adjusted to the daily rhythm of the city. I am finally beginning to understand the Russian character and soul, and at the same time, I am finally beginning to realize that I still know nothing at all about this enigmatic and historic city. It’s not just my wish to return to Russia, it’s my goal, and I will find a way to come back here.

St. Petersburg, for better or for worse, I have fallen deeply in love with you.

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Please stop.

Dear lecherous Russian men,

Please stop groping me on public transportation. Please stop groping me on the street. Please stop approaching me on my walk home and asking me if I want to get to know you* — because I don’t. Please don’t stagger after me and demand that I kiss you — because I won’t. And most of all, please stop approaching me in groups because that’s just frightening as hell.

Just because I’m not white doesn’t mean that I’m not human.

*Getting asked “Do you want to get to know each other?” is synonymous to “do you want to have sex?”
Edit:

I realize that my last sentence may have not been clear. The following may be an overarching statement that isn’t entirely true, because I’m just basing it off my experiences. From what I’ve seen, foreign women (foreign in the sense of not being white) get harassed by men much more than their white counterparts. A pretty good example was when we were on the train from Kiev to Moscow, and my friend and I were lucky enough to have the last coupe to ourselves. There was a man from Azerbaijan who would walk back and forth from the smoking room to his coupe, and every time he would pass us, he would say something snarky to me, invite me to go smoke, invite me to go to the dining car, etc. He even stopped to just look at me, and this was when we were dozing. However, no pass was made to my friend, who is white.

I asked my host sisters, who are both half-Kazakh, how they dealt with the unwanted attention. They just sort of smiled and said, “We already got used to it. You have to as well.”

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The Baltics: Really Adorable

My apologies for the somewhat prolonged hiatus. I have just returned to St. Petersburg from Moscow, the last stop on our trip. In order to avoid the obscenely long blog post, I’m going to break up my documentation of the Eastern Eurotrip into three parts: the Baltic countries, Poland, and Ukraine. So first up — the Baltics!

Having just finished the spring semester, my friends and I respectively dropped our grammar books, jumped on a bus, and headed over to Tallinn, Estonia. After living in a big Russian city for four months, we were immediately thrown off by the friendliness and the cleanliness that we encountered in all the Baltic countries. Our group took advantage of the fact that each city was particularly walkable. With a bottle of cheap beer in one hand, a bottle of even cheaper vodka in the other, and low-grade energy drinks (with names like Revo, Jaguar, Tiger, and Generic Energy drink, you can’t lose!) bulging out of our pockets and bags, we set off to explore the capitals of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.

Tallinn, Estonia. In front of the tallest waterfall in the Baltics...which is only 8 meters tall. Can someone say underwhelming?

Some of the more memorable sights in each country were the Museum of Occupation in Riga and the KGB museum in Lithuania. Slightly depressing, to say in the least. I can’t even begin to describe how unbelievably creepy it was to be in a former KGB prison. However, in my humble opinion, Riga and Vilnius didn’t present themselves as martyred and cowed cities. Instead, they presented their Soviet history in an eerily calm manner. “Yes, the USSR did some terrible things, but that’s behind us…so let’s move on.”

Riga, Latvia

Even though we were only in each city for two days, the impression that I got was that unlike most Post-Soviet things, the Baltics did not crumble, but instead, have emerged from the Soviet yoke. And while they still face economic and social hardship, things are looking positive. Hell, even the Lat (Latvian currency) is doing better than the dollar, and that’s after just having emerged from some crazy debt. That’s something to be said.

Overall, each Baltic city was charming in its own way. From the adorable Estonian language (pood means store) to the cobble-stoned Old Towns to the extraordinarily friendly inhabitants, our time in the Baltics was a particularly enjoyable one. Add obscene amounts of alcohol on top of that, and you can sort of imagine what our 6 days were like.

One of the few things that I noted with distaste was the ex-pat community living in Estonia. The people who ran our hostel in Estonia were Australians who had been living there for two years or so. Yet, they had absolutely no grasp of the language and had no intention of learning it either. It was my understanding that ex-pats leave their country in order to, I don’t know, experience something new. But instead, they just crowded together and created a new little Australia/US and didn’t bother to actually live in the country that they were currently working in. Perhaps I am being too harsh. Or perhaps I am still somewhat bitter, because they conned us out of $20. Losing 20 bucks, unfortunately, was not the worst thing that happened to us, since we got stopped by the police in Ukraine. But that’s another story for later.

More pictures

The most violent seat belt safety sign ever. If you don't wear your seatbelt, not only will your head explode, but the guy sitting in front of you will also explode. bloodily.

A view of Tallinn from the top of some ancient wall

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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.

Edit:
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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