Friday, December 24, 2010

Только Локо! Только победа!// Only Loko! Only Victory!

So not too long ago, sometime early this month? We went to a hockey game in Yaroslavl, this game being my first hockey game ever, sadly since Midd has a hockey team. I don't think there's too much to write about the game but I want to put some pics up of the night. The two teams were Локомотив (Lokomotiv) the home team from Yaroslavl, Russia. And yes, like Locomotive! And Северсталь (Severstal') from Череповец (Cherepovets), Russia. I learned a few things this night, hockey games have cheerleaders (in Russia at least), in Russian when you're a fan of something the verb you use is 'to get sick'. So you would say I'm sick for this/that team, and fans are referred to as 'sick people', which I think is pretty funny. The game was pretty good with some good scores and our team ending up winning 8-2!! One of our players did lose one of his teeth and there was blood on the ice and all, kind of creepy for a first game.

Its so crazy that they skate so well, I've gone ice skating 1-2 times and its not really my thing since I never actually learned, but to be able to skate, and go after the puck definitely takes talent in my opinion! I ended up buying a Локомотив scarf with the city's and team's emblems. And I finally heard the Russian National Anthem which is very patriotic (Aren't all anthems patriotic?). So yeah, it was a pretty cool experience and the rest will be pics, I won't ramble on any longer!

PS- Только Локо! Только победа! (Tol'ko Loko! Tol'ko pobeda) is one of the "sick people's" chants for our team. Only Loko! Only Victory!

The sign says "We're all one team", so then why 
do they play against one another?
The really intense cheerleaders with synchronized
dance routines and frequent outfit changes.

Russian bears can do it all!

Friday, December 3, 2010

BRRR… It’s cold in here! And...Russian Rhetoric

This week began with and spend most of its days in the negatives. And I don’t mean -1 or -2 but rather -13 and -15 Fahrenheit, not Celsius people. So I made sure I was bundled up with two scarves, my gloves and my hat that has fur lining in the inside which kept my ears and face pretty warm, thanks to my brother for the Christmas gift last year!
Snow Fall in Yaroslavl, Russia. There's usually a path here.

Luckily I also live about 7 minutes of a walk away from the university so all I have to do is quickly walk until I’m in the building, no buses, no trams, no waiting. Yesterday’s classes were canceled due to the cold and the amount of students getting sick or getting there. I myself had a sore throat for the most part this week and luckily its clearing up now after constantly taking medicine. And to jump from the topics of cold to my Russian class, today was pretty warm (warm being like 4 degrees) when I left the house and so the walk to the Philology building of the university which is about 15-20 minutes away wasn’t too bad. 

My Russian Rhetoric class which I kind of jumped into without looking has turned out to be a great class. The students do their homework, participate in class and have been friendly to me which I can’t ask for anything more. The girl who speaks as quickly as the wind is becoming easier to understand and I find myself laughing along with the students as they joke with the professor or amongst themselves. The last past two classes have been debates, the first which was my side of the classroom, which I was a part of was whether or not Russians are tolerant people (I was placed on the ‘yes’ side) and today’s debate was whether or not Russia should legalize the use of a medical drug (Эвтаназия /euthanasia) which is given to patients who want to die. I asked a question during our debate to the other team last week, and even though I choked a bit on the grammar trying to get my question out I was proud that I contributed to the discussion.

Today as we waited for the other side of the classroom to prepare the girl who speaks like the wind, Ксения (Ksenia) apparently Xenia in English, who’s really nice to me asked how to say in English the word for пряник (pryanik) which sounded like panic to me but ended up being gingerbread. One of the other girls asked me which language I thought was pretty (I guess between Russian and English) and told her that Spanish was prettier to me. One of the guys who sits in my row shakes my hand when we get there and leave, which here is done only among guys, and it’s a gesture of hi and bye, which I appreciate. So I’m feeling more and more like one of the students which is bitter sweet since the semester ends in December so I won’t be having class with them anymore.
I have a paper on the history of Rhetoric for this class, a short 5-minute monologue about whatever topic I choose, a quiz where we analyze a text and finally a written exam part which seems like a lot now seeing it written out here, especially now that December is here. I’m hoping all these things don’t overwhelm me and I’m kind of afraid because I don’t know if I’ll get a dumbed down Russian version of the test and quiz cause if not, it’s going to be… interesting, to say the least when I take the exam. Things have been going pretty well so far but Christmas is really just around the corner and I know that’s when I’ll miss the home the most. 

Wow! All caught up on blog posts! Ура!! (Ura) The Russian version of Hurray!

День Благодарения// Thanksgiving Day

This was the first time spending Thanksgiving away from my family and instead being in Russia. Our group decided to have a thanksgiving dinner together at the university where we would bring in something to contribute to the dinner. Me being me and wanting to have a piece of my family with me at the dinner, I decided to go up to the challenge of making a flan. It really wouldn’t have been a challenge had I not been in Russia of course, but as I made my way down the aisles of Globus, one of the supermarkets in the outskirts of the historical center where I live, I noticed that the chance of finding evaporated milk was becoming less and less. One of my professors said “Yeah, I’ve never seen that before in Russia. Who would drink milk like that?” And that pretty much sealed the deal on finding evaporated milk. One of the replacements for evaporated milk I found online was cream which here is сливки (slivki) and or trying to use coconut milk, so I bought both and enough to make two flans in case one or the other failed. I went for the сливки replacement first which the flan ended up coming out like water but the center of the flan was pretty good. So I used the coconut milk and to make the story short, the flan was pretty damn good for being a Russian made flan. But I wasn’t sure the flan was good so I didn’t bring it in for others to try until this week. But this post I’ll use to post up a list of things I’m thankful for in my life back home in the spirit of Thanksgiving (even though its December 3rd) already, it’s the idea that counts!

  1. Living and studying in states (New York and Vermont) where all four seasons come and go. Russia does not have four seasons, only two: winter and summer. Feel free to argue with me… once you’ve lived in Russia.
  2. Having the sun in my life, I’m glad I won’t be here when the sun dies billions of years in the future, cause seriously… the sun’s rays are so important and its crazy how you’re mood can change based on this celestial object.
  3. The use of salt to remove ice. Omg, I walk around and it feels like I’m walking over a lake as the ice either cracks under me or I slowly walk over a patch making sure to not slip.
  4. Not being called a foreigner at home, read the post about it if you haven’t.
  5. Being able to drink tap water. I hate having to drink boiled water and only once its cooled.
  6. Having a real phone contract/plan, MTC I hate you… and I hope you know that. (I asked to turn off the extra 100 minutes plan on my phone, not the SMS plan!!)
  7. Having real internet… okay this should be #1 or completely its own list. The internet here through the modem is so ridiculous, I can’t wait to be with WiFi again, sometimes I consider selling my soul to the devil for real internet… but then I think of the repercussions.
  8. Not having to live through -15F degree weather three days in a row… and it’ll just get worse from here.
  9. The convenience of a supermarket which you don’t have to take a ½ hr trip to get to, God bless Wal-Mart, K-Mart, C-Town and every other supermarkets I’ve ever set foot in.
  10. And lastly, the American education system. Even though my Russian class is good (I’ll post about that in a bit) I appreciate the system I was educated in where schedules don’t change every other day for the first few weeks. 

This picture is for everyone that laughed when I talked about my internet and how weird it acts. In order to get some decent internet I had to buy a USB-USB cable which allows me to hang my modem off my lamp in order for that little light to constantly stay blue (good signal) instead of red (bad signal).

    Meet the... Wait, I don't know my host mom's last name!

    So I’ll dedicate this post to talk about my host family which I realized I haven’t really gotten to do. So I live in an apartment with my babushka Людмила (Lyud-mi-la), (who might not really be a ‘babushka’ (grandmother) besides having the age) and her sister Наташа (Natasha), who I didn’t know lived with my host mom so I was scared the first day that my host mother went into her room to talk to herself. On occasion, other members of the family come along to visit, I’m still confused about who’s son (Ivan) it is but I’m pretty sure it’s Natasha’s son by now. There are two grandsons, who visit on the weekends. For the most part, the older grandson Даня (Danya) comes to visit and stays over. He’s five years old and full of a lot of energy. He calls me Дядя (Dya-dya) which means uncle which I find really cute. Everyday during the weekend he’s over and I wake up he immediately tells me “Доброе утро!” (Dobroe utra) as I leave my room or as I walk in from being out he tells my host mom “Дядя пришел!” (Dya-dya pri-shyol) which means “Uncle’s here!” (This is probably turning more into a Russian lesson for you!)

    The younger grandson, who’s name I can’t figure out, is about two years old and he’s either terrified of me or hasn’t gotten used to me. Today, he mainly stared at me anytime I passed by him. I was eating breakfast and he came in with my host mom to get an apple and once he saw me he turned into the corner. Then when I finished he was on the piano playing which scared the crap out of me because this was the first time I’ve heard anyone use it, and by use it I mean bang on the keys. Once I came into the room, he immediately stopped playing and put his head down; it wasn’t until I left the room that he started ‘playing’ again.

    The father of these kids is Иван (Ivan) who I finally got to meet this week and then talk to yesterday. His wife I haven’t talked to except said hello once as I made my way out of the kitchen and they were getting ready to leave, her name might be Светлана (Svetlana) but I could be making that up. I’m usually in my room and I tend to feel like Harry Potter when they come over since I never come out and we don’t cross paths. But I finally got to meet him yesterday as we explained to my host mom and her sister, the new 37 inch plasma he got them, which was pretty funny because my host mom once said “Why is everything in English? Put it in Russian!” And then Natasha asking, “Okay, so this turns it off, and this turns it on” as if they were dealing with a spaceship rather then a TV. Ivan is 32 years old so I can’t really call him my host brother or cousin for that matter. He offered me a seat on the couch to show me his pictures of a trip they took to Turkey which then turned into an explanation of how to use the TV in case my host mom and her sister came across problems and finally ended with him, Danya, and me watching Soviet cartoons for about an hour and a half. He explained that to get to know the Russian mentality, you have to watch these cartoons because this is where children learned. We watched a Tom and Jerry style cartoon called “Leopold” except there were two Jerrys who I would say were the bad ones while the cat was good. In one of the episodes the cat tossed a brick out the window the mice left on the table and Ivan turned to me and says: “You see; only a Russian would do that. Toss a brick out the window he doesn’t need. That’s why you need to watch these shows. Don’t need the brick? Just toss it out the window,” and we both laughed at the childish humor from the show which I hope didn’t really happen because I’d have to start making sure I don’t get hit with falling bricks anytime soon.

    I really like my host mom and the family that occasionally stops by. My host mom refused to call me Лёня (Lyonya) which was my Russian nickname all through my Russian education and mainly because Luis was similar to Люся (Lyusya) her nickname so she liked my name. Its funny the first week she asked what kind of food I liked and didn’t because she’d respond with “You don’t like that?! That’s weird, all the Americans I've had loved it!” So I’d explain that my taste was more Puerto Rican and less American and she’d later admit that she herself was the picky eater of her family and so I didn’t need to worry about not eating for example tomatoes.

    I’m glad I haven’t clashed with her and we pretty much agree on everything and so that’s good. And since she’s not my real mom she always tells me to sleep in late on the weekends and or this conversation: Host mom: You look tired. Me: Yeah, I am. Host mom: So go back to sleep, go to school late. Me: I might not go to school at all (staring at the window and the snow falling). Host mom: Okay, so sleep then. Me: I’ll brush my teeth and eat breakfast first and then sleep. (Since I knew she had breakfast ready already) and I slept wonderfully most of the day.

    I’m definitely going to have to come back and pay a visit!

    Иностранец// Foreigner

    Since I’m done traveling for now, I’m going to post about a few random things and experiences here in Russia. The first is about my FAVORITE word… or the lack there of. Иностранец (I-no-stra-nets) meaning foreigner is a word I’ve heard being thrown around by Russians since the first day I stepped into Russia. I don’t have a problem being a foreigner, I know I’m not a Russian and don’t plan to be one anytime soon but for some reason this word just bothers me. I guess being from New York, you don’t have to point out there are people around you that don’t look or talk like you because since the day you’re born, that’s the case. You walk around going about your business and occasionally when you’re downtown you see the ‘foreigners’ or tourists who crane their necks up to see the skyscrapers which calls only for a chuckle because even though they are obviously tourists, I never get tired myself at looking up at the building with what seems to be a never ending roof. I never have to turn to someone on the subway, who mind you I don’t know, just to say “foreigners” as a group of [insert ethnicity] tourists make their way around Manhattan.

    Me being a foreigner at the monastery in Yaroslavl, Russia
     But none the less, I’ve heard the word whether I’m speaking Russian or English, walking or sitting, whether in Yaroslavl or Moscow. And it feels like I’m whining in this post, but I dunno, the word sounds like nails on a chalkboard every time I hear it. I just want to turn around and answer in my best possible Russian, “Yeah so, I’m a foreigner, who also speaks Russian”. Sometimes if I’m speaking English and I hear someone say my favorite word I’ll switch over to Russian to let them know I heard and watch as they stare in awe. Once while we were shopping for souvenirs, we were talking in English and the lady in the next little tent said foreigners to the lady we were trying to buy from, but she had heard us ask “How much” in Russian so she quietly murmured back in Russian “yeah but they speak Russian” and I just had to laugh it off.

    I’m done thinking about the word but every time I hear someone say it I automatically get this scenario in my head. [Insert a Russian person addressing everyone on a bus] “PEOPLE OF THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION! Becareful, there are non-Russian speakers among us. We don’t know what they’re capable of since we don’t understand them. The boy might possibly have a bomb, we heard him mimic the sound of an explosion going off. Please, exit the bus or walk quickly away from them. We’ll try to negotiate with them, this is not a drill!” So I just end up laughing because only my imagination could come with things like that. But, once in Moscow on the line of a Burger King, I talked in English and two guys in front of me looked back with such wide eyes that I thought they were capable of making this scenario happen in real life.

    Being a foreigner, I also wonder what people think of me every time I walk by. I wonder if they write me of as an American or come up with outrageous assumptions like the lady at a kiosk. I was by my apartment and I stopped to buy a Snickers since dinner wasn’t for the next two hours. So I asked in Russian for a Snickers and this is the conversation that took place in Russian, mind you nothing to deal with Snickers or candy: Lady: Are you an Arab? Me: Me? No, why? Lady: No, well you just look like you could be. Where are you from? Me: I live in the United States, but I’m Puerto Rican, my family is from Puerto Rico. Lady: Oh! You’re such a handsome young man. Me: Thanks (As I pay from my snickers, grab my change and walk away).

    I have no idea where the idea of being an Arab came from, being that I am no where near the color of an middle eastern especially being in Russia these last few months. Just as funny, my host mother has given compliments about my hair and how I have such nice, straight, dark hair and once she asked, “It comes from your people right?” but I wonder if she knows who my ‘people’ are, she’s know I’m Puerto Rican but its interesting to see how people think and what they see.

    Enough about being a foreigner, we’ll see if I crack one day lol!

    Back to Russia… Oh wait! 4 DAY WEEKEND!!!! Москва, Россия

    So I was reluctant to leave Spain and in reality I didn’t want to face the cold I would return to. When I got to my town and got onto the bus my body was literally SHAKING as the weather was a shock switching between warm and cold cities, but now what I would give to have a 30-40 degree day.

    What was really nice though was that after Fall Break; we only had three days of class and then a 4 day weekend thanks to the Day of Unity. So a girl from my group and I decided to head over to Moscow where she would meet up with a friend of hers I had meet earlier in Kazan, Russia. I decided why not, I’ll get to see Moscow which I hadn’t gotten to do since I got into the country; only seeing things in the city from afar. We ordered two beds at a hostel, bought our tickets for the train from Yaroslavl to Moscow and headed out Wednesday night giving us Thursday to go around Moscow since we would head out early Sunday back to Yaroslavl.
    Bolshoi Theater
    Despite the weather and some closed things due to the holiday (cough cough, Lenin’s tomb) Moscow was pretty fun. I meet some cool people and was able to see finally Red Square, the Kremlin, St. Basil’s Cathedral, ГУМ (which is a big mall), Tretyakovskaya Gallery, the outside of Bolshoi theater, and some cool metro stations. Moscow allowed me take in both American and Russian cuisines which I was thankful for. My favorite station in Moscow would have to be “Revolutionary Station” which has a dog which if you rub his nose you can make a wish but also the architecture and statues are pretty cool. Though since the stations are so deep underground it feels like you’re riding forever on the escalator and heading straight down to the center of the Earth.

    St. Basil's Cathedral inside the Kremlin
    And the sun made an appearance for about 10 minutes which really brightened up things for a bit, which thank you sun… I truly appreciated. I think this summer I’ll spend it somewhere under the sun absorbing all the rays I missed while being abroad. But after this trip means back to Yaroslavl and no breaks until after classes end in December so I’m glad I got to enjoy Moscow now and also got to speak some more English.

    The Kremlin from the outside; St. Basil's nestled in between

    Fall Break: Rome, Italy// Roma, Italia

    Going to Italy I feel was where I felt the most like a tourist, just because everywhere I went I was amazed by the sights. Once I got into Italy, I immediately went out and did some touring, mainly because Ellie wouldn’t be in her apartment after classes and why waste a morning right? So I headed first to the Trevi Fountain and then to the Spanish Steps. I had some gelato by the Trevi Fountain which was AMAZING but not as amazing as my second gelato which was Banana, Strawberry and Oreo flavored. Having a Russian phone in Italy made nothing easier, I could receive texts but couldn’t call or text back because I had run out of money and I’m pretty sure there were no MTC kiosks randomly around Rome like in Russia. I tried calling from a payphone but that really didn’t help me out so I went to Ellie’s and sat at a park until she came home which I didn’t mind since I was able to sit and relax. That night I got to see the Piazza Navona and the place were Julius Caesar was stabbed which is currently taken over by abandoned street cats. 

    Fontana di Trevi
    The next day made me feel even more like a tourist; I got up early and headed over to the Roman Colosseum which Jesus Christ is so old! (I didn’t know this but originally it was the Flavian Amphitheater… whatever that means.) I’m glad I got my tickets online because I was able to avoid the line and go straight in. With the ticket, I was able to see the Colosseum, the Palatine and the Roman Forum which pretty much took up all of the morning and afternoon. After everything I sat in front of the Colosseum waiting to meet with Ellie and the most interesting part of the day. Not only because I got to see the fake gladiators essentially force and guilt tourist to take pictures with them but also I was able to help out other tourists. I called upon all four languages to help tourists, French really was just an exchange of Merci and De rien which left the couple kind of shocked as I handed them their camera (but this was inside the Colosseum). 

    Roman Colosseum
    Roman Senate
    I helped a family take a picture in Spanish, as they explained to me that their camera broke so they had to buy disposable cameras. And even better I got to help a Russian couple, which probably was the most interesting exchange. They walked by and I heard them speaking Russian as they took pictures of the Colosseum, and then the woman approached me obviously going to ask if I can take a picture but instead of English or Russian coming out her mouth she asked me in Italian and I responded with “Да” (Yes) which left her confused (I assumed she’d ask me in Russian). I then said “I can take the picture if you want” which confused her more since she didn’t speak English so she turned to her boyfriend and said in Russian “Tell him in English if he could take our picture” which I then responded to with “I speak Russian, yes I can take the picture” which finally brought all the pieces together and left her with an exclamation of “oh” as she and her boyfriend posed for the camera. Also there was another couple getting a tour by a Russian speaking tour guide which was kind of creepy because I felt like I was being given a tour as well since I understood her. In part this helped me understand most of the things I saw since I able to pick up English, Spanish and even Russian explanations along the way, guess it pays off to be multilingual. 

    Tempio di Saturno
    My last day of the trip I got up super early and headed over to Vatican City, in order to see the museum and luckily attend mass with the pope himself. I made my way around the museum which was deserted except for the last exhibit, the Sistine Chapel. I was amazed by how the room was so detailed and of course the ceiling where God and man touched fingers; but unfortunately you couldn’t take pictures in the room. I then made my way to where St. Peter’s Basilica is and got to attend an about 3 hr mass which consisted of Latin, Spanish, French, Portuguese, English, Polish and one more language I’m forgetting. I was amazed by the mass and Pope Benedict XVI passed by in his pope-mobile really close and so I got a good close picture of him. After mass, I got some souvenirs and then headed to the San Giovanni church which would be my last stop while in Rome. The church was really pretty and the way the sun shined in made it seem so much more majestic. 

    Pope Benedict XVI
    I’m definitely going to have to come back to Rome again, hope that coin in the Trevi Fountain brings me back!
    Inside the San Giovanni church, my favorite picture from Italy b/c of the intensity

    Fall Break: Madrid, Spain// Madrid, España

    As my plane landed into Madrid, I realized two things: how centrally located the capital was and how I was dieing to see my friends. I had been in Spain once with a trip from high school but we had gone to Barcelona which was closer to France. Luckily my flights went well and having no luggage allowed me to leave the airport quickly. Once I got into the metro I was surrounded my Spanish and immediately felt comfortable. Getting to Shqipnije’s apartment was pretty easy so I was thankful for that. Also, I noticed a few more things: I swear it was like I was taking in so many things at once. There were Goya ads which made my mouth water, seeing people of color was something to get used to again (living in Russia makes you forget that looking pasty is not regular), that the sun exists and how WONDERFUL it feels on your skin and lastly while I was making my way out of the station how my heartbeats increased. As I quickly walked to get out of the station, my heart was thumping louder and louder, I was excited to see Shqipnije, Alana and Darryl and knowing that I would spend time with them for the break made me catch a semi-heart attack. 

    Parque de Retiros
    My time in Spain was GREAT to say the least. I got to see some things around the city such as: a bullfight, a flea market, Reina Sofia museum, Guernica painting, parque de retiros and just random things around Madrid. Being in Spain was…I can’t find the words. Having the sun shining, heat and warmth, surrounded by friends, being able to fluently express myself in the language, meals that made me feel like I was at home and laughing uncontrollably with my friends for those days was just AMAZING. Made me think of Russia and how the clouds fill the sky, the rain comes down everyday, and the winter would definitely makes it way soon enough and the way I fumble to explain things when something isn’t understand. For example, once I was talking to my host mom about classes and I mentioned the word ‘кафедрь’ (department) and she didn’t understand so she kept saying “Что? Кофе, кофе? Я не понимаю” (What? Coffee, coffee? I don’t understand) which ended the conversation really cause I couldn’t find to explain or pronounce the word another way. 

    Plaza de Toros
     Being abroad has made me see how easy it is to point out Americans, which doesn’t make it a bad thing necessarily. It’s weird to see how you stick out by your motions, gestures and of course volume of your conversation. While I was in the airport in Moscow I was walking around trying to find a seat near my gate and while walking I heard a LOUD conversation (loud compared to how Russians converse, aka whispers) and of course it was in English. So I decided to sit next to them since those were the only available seats, and absorb the English since most of my interactions in Russia happen of course, in Russian. 

    Bull being dragged away after being killed by the Matador
    I definitely didn’t want to leave Spain! Being close to my friends was like talking a hit of a drug that you can’t seem to find in Russia (I really can’t explain how I felt in Spain except like a addict lol). I was glad I made my way to Western Europe for fall break cause God knows I needed this break. 

    Plaza Mayor
     Speaking of breaks, while in Spain I jumped over to Rome to visit Eleanor so I’ll blog about that next!

    Thursday, November 18, 2010

    Fall Break: Prague, Czech Republic// Praha, Česká Republika

    So my first stop in this trip was my layover in Prague, Czech Republic. Being that this was my first time ACTUALLY traveling around alone and being in the Czech Republic I was pretty excited to head around the city. So I had looked up how to get to my hostel by public transportation and being that I got in close to midnight when the metro stops, I was determine to make my way and not have to pay for a taxi. Sadly, the machine at which you buy tickets at didn’t take bills- I found this out thanks to the man who asked me if I needed help in English after I foolishly tried to put the money in every slot I found on the machine. So I had to run inside and buy something in a vending machine to get change for the bus, and what was even sadder was that when I ran back inside the bus that was coming was the last one for the night- therefore missing my chance. I did end up buying a 24hr pass for the next day so that I wouldn’t have to go through this again in the morning. I then stood in the rather cold Czech night trying to figure out if another bus would come but sadly that was, like I said, the last scheduled bus.

    So a taxi driver knowing that this was his chance came up to me asking if I needed a ride. The price he offered was what the hostel said would be an average price and having no other choices I decided to trust this elderly taxi driver, who was very nice and pointed things out of where I could visit near my hostel. One of the places was “Old Town” or “Staré Město” which I said to him and he asked if I spoke Czech but in reality a lot of words have a similarity to Russian because of the Slavic. So I got to my hostel, settled in, used the internet, slept and got up at 7am to go around and see as much as I could. With a map in hand and the few that I knew about the town I made my way to different sites such as: Karlův most (Charles Bridge) , Pražský hrad (Prague Castle) , Staroměstské náměstí (Old Town Square), Astronomical tower, Václavské náměstí (Wenceslas Square), Jewish Synagogue, among some other things here and there.

    But there is always that one person! I went into an exchange office to exchange American money into the Czech currency because since I collect money from the countries I visit, I wanted to have actual bills. So I gave him a $10 bill and he asked doubtfully, “that’s it?” I told him yes and then he asked “would you like a map?” Now, I’m guessing this is a free map in the way that he asked. Not would you like to buy a map but rather would you like a map… I think there’s a difference. So he handed me the map and change in coins. I was confused as to why it came out to coins, but being that currency like the Euro has 2 and 1 Euro coins I guessed maybe there’s enough. After walking around Wenceslas Square and sat down to rest, I looked at the receipt I noticed that I was charged for the damn map, in reality I wanted it just as a souvenir being that I was leaving Prague in less than an hour. Thanks to Russian, I was able to figure out that цена in Russian, cena in Czech meant price. I learned to always ask Is it free when someone says would you like something.

    Over all it was a very pretty, nice and since it was early everything seemed so quiet and quaint. I probably walked for about 4-5 hours trying to see as much as I could. Then I took the train to catch a bus to the airport, this time I didn’t need a taxi and accomplished what I tried to do the night before. Then I just did some more waiting in the airport for my flight to Madrid. It was interesting to be standing in front of a Chilean couple and then hearing two Argentinean women talking in Spanish about how their bags will go through some mix up in the Madrid airport in Prague; and it almost made me feel like I was in Spain already.

    Hopefully one day I’ll be able to return to Prague and get to see some more of the city because 5-6 hours really isn’t too much to see a city but it was what I could afford to squeeze in. Now onwards to Madrid!

    Fall Break: Getting to Moscow

    So from Yaroslavl I took a bus that goes straight to the airport in Moscow- thank goodness! So instead of taking the express train to Moscow, the metro to the aeroexpress train and getting to the airport, a bus was able to do all that in 6 hrs.

    On the bus ride, my snickers which I had packed for a nutritious breakfast in Prague during my layover had melted to the heat coming from the bottom of the bus. Luckily I was able to save them before they became liquidly, hot chocolate.

    When I got to the airport I decided to get past security and just wait inside for the 4 hrs, but little did I know you can only check in 2 hours before. So when I got through a first baggage security checkpoint and then a line where they look at your itinerary (which the guy didn’t tell me anything) then wait about 15 minutes to finally be told by the lady that I needed to sit and wait until 8pm for me to check in, so I had to walk back out and sit in a waiting area of two hours.

    About an hour into waiting a police officer came around to where we were sitting, we being everyone waiting for 2hrs before their flights. There surprisingly were a lot of different people ethnicities, and I heard Chinese and Arabic which of course being an airport makes sense…sort of, cause this is Russia and they might not believe in foreigners, I’ll talk later about that in a different post.

    Sitting not to far away from me sat people from the Caucus area of Russia, who have darker features and traits throwing more to the Asian influence. He walked up to every single person of that group (who later turned out to be heading to Tashkent, Uzbekistan) and asked to see their papers and documents. I don’t know if I was shocked or how to describe it. Was this just outwards racism? People say that Political Correctness and that stuff don’t really exist in Russia, but what can we describe this as? A simple routine check-up ONLY to the people those ‘look’ foreign. Meanwhile, I could have easily been a drug trafficker or some outrageous, dangerous person; yet they never came up to me.

    Something else I saw which I don’t know how to explain because I really have no idea what was going on was there was some sort of Chinese tour group apparently heading back to China but as I was heading through passport control, I noticed that the officers had sort of rounded them up and had two of the guys handcuffed to each other. I have no idea what was going on but would have been interesting to see for what reason they though they needed to be handcuffed.

    Nonetheless, I made my way through passport control, security and on to my flight to Prague where I had a 19 hour layover before heading to Madrid, Spain!

    10 Days of Freedom = Fall Break

    As days, weeks, and months pass by I realize that I need to get up on this before everything just turns later and later. Plus we’re entering December which means the wrap-up of Fall semester, final projects, papers and exams. So here goes my entries about Fall Break and onward!


    10 days off to head out somewhere in the world and enjoy my time! So I decided to hit up Spain and Italy where Alana, Shqipnije (Madrid) and Eleanor (Rome) are. No one knows the pain and agony I went through waiting to receive my multiple entry visa. So this is how it went down: when we first entered the country, we were given a single entry visa. This allowed us to register ourselves to our host family and of course enter the country. Now, once that visa is stamped it’s no longer active so if you leave the country, whoops… you can’t come back in. So we had to apply for a multiple entry in order to exit and enter whenever we wanted. But being that Russia is Russia, anything and everything could have gone wrong. It usually takes somewhere between 2 weeks to get the visa but who knows what could have happened in between that time (and trust me I thought of everything when I was waiting). It took us if I’m correct 3-4 weeks to get ours. So me being me, I booked my flights to Spain from Moscow with a 19hr layover in Prague, Czech Republic and then from Madrid a flight to Rome. But I didn’t have my visa yet!! So everyday I prayed and prayed that I would receive my visa, and luckily I did- ONE day before I left. I don’t know what I would have done had the lady told me they were coming in on Friday rather than Wednesday and I was leaving on Thursday. I’m pretty sure I would have cried in a corner of my room for those 10 days instead of traveling and enjoying my time.

    But luckily everything went well. So the next few posts will be about what I saw and did in Prague, Madrid and Rome. Pretty much all the pictures are on Facebook so it’ll be worth it to go on there than wait here. I’ll try and post some here if my internet allows me to of course.

    Wednesday, October 20, 2010

    Kazan, adventure to the Republic of Tatarstan!

    Our trip to Kazan began at the main bus/train station in Yaroslavl in order to take a 4 hour express train to Moscow and then from there take our 12 hour train to Kazan, the capital of the Republic of Tatarstan. The trains I feared would be really old, creaky and very uncomfortable and just plain weird; but they weren’t bad at all and it was a cool experience being on a train where you can sleep on (your tables if you’re located on the side turns into a bunk).

    Musa Dzhalil monument

    After getting to Kazan, we right away had a city tour of the Kremlin where Ivan the Terrible once reigned to other sites that provide culturally insight to this interesting city. Tatarstan is located inside the Russian Federation, but has its own governor and that kind of stuff. I guess I could compare it to Puerto Rico, being a commonwealth of the United States; except Puerto Rico isn’t located inside America. As you can see the republic is named after the Tatars, the town’s name literally meaning ‘cooking pot’ in Tatar. It’s interesting to note that street signs and train stops are displayed and announced both in Tatar and Russian, both living in harmony and there being no tension. The main religion seems to be Islam even though you can find Orthodox Christian and even Catholic churches in Kazan. The town is also located on the Volga River and is known to be the ‘Istanbul of Russia’.

    Some of the sites we saw were: a mosque (Kul Sharif) inside the Kremlin, the university where Lenin and Tolstoy themselves studied, Annunciation Church inside the Kremlin, Syuyumbike Tower (where a legend goes that a princess who was supposed to marry Ivan the Terrible asked him to build this tower and then killed herself by throwing herself off), the Musa Dzhalil monument outside the Kremlin and other places around Kazan.

    Our second day we headed to Elabuga, a town about 3 ½ hours outside of Kazan (for some reason I thought it was only an hour outside Kazan!) Here there was a really nice view of the nature around Elabuga. We also saw the “Elabuga Ancient Settlement Site” which is “Дәүләт Тарафыннан Саклана” which from Tatar to English means “Protected by the state”. The town is known as an ancient merchant town on the banks of the Kama River. While in Elabuga we went to two museums, the Shiskin Museum (a Russian artist) and the Tsvetaeva Museum (a Russian poetess). Both of these museums were set up as the creepy museums I dislike, where it’s actually the home of the person.

    One of our last excursions was to the Raifskii monastery back in Kazan. Here there is natural reserve where there is a lake, a forest and a sainted spring in which people take water to bring back home for the digestive systems. Also, if you wash your face in the water you’re said to become younger/take some years off your life (not in the sense of dieing earlier but get younger). We also visited a Tatar kind of model village which functions as a place for kids to play in with a park and indoor restaurant with a bar for kids (instead of alcoholic drinks there is juice and candy as well).

    Then we headed back to Moscow and then to Yaroslavl where we were actually greeted with warm and sunny weather- unlike now where it’s already hitting the 30s and we’ve had some flurries. But, none the less, Kazan was a good get away from Yaroslavl for the week and we had no class so what could be better than that!?

    Tomorrow Fall Break starts which is even MORE exciting! Especially since I’ll be doing some traveling around Europe! I’ll take advantage in those countries to use the internet and finish uploading the pics to these posts. And of course, write about those trips as well!

    Saturday, October 16, 2010

    Gettin' me a Russian Education!

    Ok, so second post! This one's going to be as the title suggest, about the Russian education system. Might be kind of boring but interesting compared to how things go back in America. This one's going to have no pics but just what I've experienced so far with the education here so don't complain!

    So with the Middlebury C.V. Starr school abroad, we have a couple of courses we can choose from which are taken with the other students studying abroad with Middlebury. Courses range from Literature, Culture, Politics, History, Stylistics (Writing Class), Oral Speech, Russian Film and Grammar. Out of those we have to take 5 courses, but with Middlebury you have to take four courses from that list and then take 1 mainstream course (with real Russian students) at the university if you are at the 300-level or above in Russian. So being that I did language school this summer I have to take a wonderful mainstream in the Fall and then two in the Spring plus I'm also a Russian major so it just makes sense to. So currently I am taking: Grammar, Culture, Russian Film and Stylistics.

    This wouldn't have been such a problem if Russians knew about two things: a course catalog and set class times. I don't understand how things work in Russia but they seem to know what they're doing. The first of course we know is a book/online catalog you can look for your classes, the dean of the department here has a sort of catalog but it isn't as thorough and informative as the ones in America, because from that list some might/might not be offered even if they're listed as being offered for example this Fall. And then sometimes classes might meet an hour later or early or not meet at all on any given day, which isn't a problem for them because the students all travel around as a group and have the same set classes so you don't have to worry about missing the announcement that the last class (para) is going to meet at 15:00 rather than 14:30. Luckily that hasn't happened to me mainly because I was still in the searching period of a course.

    So all in all, I went to three classes before settling on this last one which I'm hoping will be fine. Originally I was searching for classes based around pedagogy, translating, and that stuff being that we are the Pedagogical University in Yaroslavl and also to help get rid of one class for the Linguistic minor I'm trying to fulfill at Middlebury. The first class was recommended by my Grammar professor and it was Russian Syntax which dealt with Russian sentence structure and was pretty much a grammar class as well. I went with another Middkid who seemed interested as well and I was told it was an all girls' class since most of the males are in the music department, being that most of the girls will end up as teachers for elementary schools. The class was really welcoming, one of the girls saying that they never get to see boys in their classes and they were really helpful. The teacher was also really nice but the class didn't seem like one I wouldn't take a lot from- the teacher lectured and didn't write anything down which is fine but I needed more of a discussion based class I guess. Plus due to a schedule change, how I hate schedule changes, I would have to run back and forth between the buildings which are separated by a ~15 min bus ride on the marshrutka in order to get from Stylistics to Syntax to Culture.

    The second class was more interesting in a good and bad way and it was closer to the university, located in the Philology department. The class was called something along the lines of "Issues with Translation in Modern Texts in Russian" and it was for third year students. Unfortunately I had to know Grammar at a native pace and the students weren't too focused I would say. I know back at Midd I've definitely had classes where I would toggle between taking notes and facebook just to stay awake but the underlining message is that I was still focused 95% of the time and ready to participate. One girl in this class must have never heard the word, 'discreet'. Once class started she pulled out what seemed to be her phone and began to read, what, I don't know. The class is structured for an hour and 35 minutes with a break in between, and she literally only raised her head twice from the phone to answer the question which she did poorly; the other students having to help because she wasn't paying attention. What killed me the most was that she was in the direct line of view from the professor and she had her phone held up to her face clearly visible to the professor. No one, except maybe 2 girls out of the ~15 students had prepared the homework and the rest as one girl put it- "I guess it's time to improvise". I also couldn't attend this class due to a conflicting class but it was nice, I guess, to see the setting of a 'typical' Russian class.

    In between this last class and the one I'm in now, I went to the Philology department to check if there were any more classes I could take but when I went the schedules were taken down and they were REDOING them which I can't seem to understand once the semester has started. So I guess my dream is dead of taking a course on translation until the Spring I guess.

    The third class which I'm in now is based in the Journalistic/Advertising department and the professor is my Russian Film professor. This class is Rhetoric and was really interesting because it is more discussion based. The only problem is I've never learned about Socrates, Plato, or any of those Greek/Roman philosophers so I have to do some background research in English to get a good handle on what the heck they're trying to say. The class meets on Friday at 2pm so I guess its not that bad, even though we didn't have class on Friday but its already October and classes end December so I can suck it up. Some of the students speak at lightning speed and the professor has to ask them to slow down- mainly for me I'm guessing but also like she stated 'Its wrong of them to do' being that I guess they're preparing to be Journalists or some other profession which requires them to speak in public.

    Its been interesting jumping from these three different classes and hopefully I'll have no problem keeping up with this Rhetoric class. But I say we should consider ourselves lucky for having all our classes set out a semester in advance with very minimal changes. I guess being here has thought me to appreciate a lot things- like THE INTERNET as well back home.

    Plyos (Плёс) and who gave that lady the microphone!?

    I think it’s about time I stop playing games and catch up with these posts because there are three I want to write- this being the first of that series! We headed to Plyos (Плёс) for the day about 2-3 weeks ago and I’ve been ever so lazy to write about it since the internet=death with this modem. [I'll post pics later, please bare with me; I hate my internet and it hates me]

    So we took a trip to Plyos and it was about 3 ½ hrs to get there, having stopped in a smaller village nearby because apparently there they sold cheap jewelry and we couldn’t miss out on that!

    If you know anything about Plyos you know that the town is really small and not really a tourist attraction I would say. We only hit up two places while we were there- a museum of an artist from the town (Levitan) and a traditional Russian home (Русская изба) as well the back of the house functioning as a small museum of older Russian living. The population is ~3000 people and Plyos is also located along the Volga River. The town is said to have been built in the 15th century and was mainly an “artist’s retreat’ as late into the 19th century.

    Rewinding a little, we met at the statue of Volkov in Yaroslavl before heading out. The morning was rather cold but then it warmed up which was really nice because around this time it is known as “Golden Fall” which is pretty much the time when the leaves turn golden and prepare to shed themselves off the trees as the almighty Russian winter makes its way.

    When we got on the bus our group sporadically sat on the bus finding any empty seats still available, and then the joy ride began. Apparently, when Russians typically take a trip, the person in charge seems to find that talking on the microphone of the bus is a MUST. I swear…the lady kept talking nearly an hour well into the ride talking about Plyos, its history, any famous people, their history and any other related information she had stored in her head.

    I wanted to blow my brains out because I had broken my headphones not too long ago and thus couldn’t pretend like she wasn’t talking, but I found a better outlet: sleep! So I slept most of the ride as my bus buddy, a woman I didn’t know so she really wasn’t a ‘buddy’, had her phone to serve her as an iPod.

    I would have to say that the Levitan museum kind of creeped me out, mainly because the second floor was where he lived and you can peak into the rooms to see his canvas, sofa, and other things he used before he died. I don’t know why but these types of museums give me the creeps mainly because they’re set up to show visitors as if the person is still living there. I don’t really know too many museums I’ve been in like that besides one in France.

    After we climbed up this small hill and saw the Assumption Church and then went up a little further to see a wooden church and a nice view of the town and the Volga. Plyos this year celebrated its 600 year anniversary which means they have 400 more years to get to where Yaroslavl is, I wonder what the world will be like then. None the less, it was a really nice town and I enjoyed the wonderful warm weather and walking around feeling like I was back at Middlebury because of the foliage.

    Sunday, September 19, 2010

    Wait... this town was founded in 862?

    So yesterday I attempted to write but... couldn't get myself to actually do it with the ever so slow internet. So today, in honor of procrastinating and not studying I've decided to write!

    Rostov- Yaroslavl train station (Which we took to go back)

    Yesterday our group, for the most part, headed out to Rostov, which I just realized now shouldn't be confused with Rostov-on-Don. Rostov (also referred to in my guide book as Rostov-Veliky [great]) is about an hour out of Yaroslavl but it is still in the Yaroslavl Oblast. Oblasts I guess can be seen as big communities or mini counties in vast Russia. There might an official definition somewhere out there...

    Before heading into the Kremlin

    One of the churches inside the Kremlin

    Rostov, as you can see from the title is said to have been founded in 862, which isn't yesterday's history. This town was around 138 years before Yaroslavl was even founded! And not to mention, WAY before America was 'discovered'. We headed out by bus and then came back by train, both fares reduced with our student IDs, the trip literally was roughly a 1 dollar or so. Once we got there we headed over to the Kremlin and that's all we saw, the town is a pretty small and quaint, surprisingly since it was once a very important town. I also just learned that actually Yaroslavl's "Kremlin" actually isn't a Kremlin but just a monastery... and here I was thinking it was both!

    Closer view of the onion-shaped domes of the church

    So we got to see The Assumption Church and walked around inside the Kremlin going up to the belfry where the bells are rung in the morning and evening and I also went to the Archeological Museum inside the Kremlin. It was very cool to see, especially the different artifacts found before the actually Russians we know came to be. We got to see some pretty interesting things like Q-Tips which were actually wooden, as well as Mammoth teeth... and I repeat Mammoth teeth!! I don't know, but I don't think I've ever seen teeth from Mammoths before. For all you Soviet Russian Film seers and lovers, some the film "Ivan Vassilivich changes professions" was shot here! We also got to see Lake Nero which is right behind the Kremlin. The lake seemed pretty big and extended pretty wide out in both directions.

    Oh, but of course! Another church!

    More of the onion domes, really amazing design.

    Where the running scene was filmed for "Ivan Vassilivich"!

    One thing that I've begun to realize over time that for the most part, in Russia, a lot of the drinks aren't refrigerated. That includes things like soda, juice, and even the water. Occasionally I have to ask if the drink I want is cold or if they have some in the refrigerator. The typically answer is no followed by removing said warm drink of the shelf to give to me. The common belief is that drinking cold drinks while the weather isn't warm will cause you to get a cold. And interestedly once I told my babushka that I had a sore throat, she instantly responded with "You've most of drank something cold!" But for me, in reality, my throat is sore because I wasn't properly 'covered' one night when we went out, having my throat exposed when it was really chilly out.

    Unfortunately I tried to put pictures up and since it takes soooo long to load I'll try another time, until then you can enjoy this picture of a man painting the town of Rostov from Lake Nero.

    Next weekend we're heading out to a town called Plyos which should be fun!

    Panorama picture of Lake Nero

    A man by the lake painting the town from Lake Nero

    Saturday, September 18, 2010

    1,000 years ago a man killed a bear...

    As most of you probably know from my Facebook statuses, that last weekend (September 10-12) was the 1,000th year anniversary of Yaroslavl.

    The town was glamoring itself up for the arrival of foreigners, Russian comrades, and even the Russian president himself Medvedev. Roads were being repaired, Churches retouched and many awaited the weekend with anticipation. We (being the other students on the Midd program and myself) spent most of the weekend walking around, taking in the city and the buzz of excitement from other people.

    Legend has it the the town of Yaroslavl was founded 1,000 years ago, making that 1010... that's a REALLY long time ago. Side comment, an interesting thing one of the professors said her students from last year mentioned while looking at a 12th century church was that "America wasn't even discovered by then". Which makes Yaroslavl look like a babushka compared to the young United States. But yes, Yaroslav the Wise was said to have been sent by his father to rule around this area, cities such as Novgorod and Rostov already being here (If my memory serves me correct). So when he came upon this area, he noticed that there were people here (Pagans) who didn't follow what the church was instating in Russia.

    The town people believed in this mystical bear... who was their God? So what did Yaroslav ultimately decide to do? Kill the bear of course, make the people turn to the church and then name the town in his honor. What's interesting is that the town crest, has both the bear and the axe, but the bear is CARRYING the axe. Weren't you just murdered with that axe? But none the less, the town is celebrating its 1,000 years of being around.

    The Pagan Bear parades around with the axe

    So we walked around and saw a lot of cool things. We went inside the Kremlin which at one point served as a monastery and got a tour from a tour guide who spoke to us at the speed of light. Oh, and there was actually a bear inside the Kremlin who's name is Masha (in a cage of course). Then we walked around and saw this church (pic below) which is my favorite churches so far. It was recently built replacing a church formerly there but was partially destroyed around the time of the revolutions. In the picture, you can see two block memorials and a flame in the center. The left panel is dedicated to the men war soldiers that fought from 1941-1945 while the right panel is dedicated to the women who worked hard as the men fought. It was really nice to see a babushka slowly walk up to the memorial and bow her head to the statues, giving thanks for all they had sacrificed through the time of war. When we returned a day later, the memorial was adorned with many flowers people had brought.

    The new church in the back and war memorial in the front

    A close up of the church

    Another thing we did which was really cool was go to a new place they had opened. This place is where the Volga River and the Kotorosl meet as the latter feeds into the Volga. I was told that near that location, is where Yaroslav himself killed the bear. Here there is a big plaza area with three fountains (one bigger one in the center and two smaller ones in front and back) which are coordinated and synchronized to music blaring from near by speakers playing from classical music to Phantom of the Opera. (And when you go at night there are lights as well!) Here there is a statue with several panels showing the town's history as well as with Yaroslav himself. Mind you, when we had visited only about three days ago they seemed no where near down, but I have no idea how the finished everything just in time for the celebration.

    The new plaza area with the fountains & statue

    Closer up to the statue
    Little plaque: "So I killed your bear, I swear it was a mistake!"

    It was really nice walking around and getting to see some cool things. I was surprised that I wasn't stopped by the police, being that there were so many officers practically on ever main corner. Saturday night, we headed back out to the plaza and got to see the fireworks. It was so hard getting through the crowd of people but luckily we did and found a good spot on the grass to see the fireworks. PS- If you're ever on a line in Russia, stick real close to the person in front of you... if not, it means "Hey anyone can come and skip me, I really don't care!" I really got to enjoy Yaroslavl and hope to see more stuff now that all the tourist are gone and things aren't under construction anymore. Hopefully they didn't just leave stuff lying around until the 2,000th year anniversary!

    Fireworks on Saturday, could have sworn
    95% of Russia's population was in attendance

    Yaroslavl...ohhh, where's that in Russia?

    If you've seen Soviet Russian films, then you are very familiar with this statue. Which is actually located outside of Moscow, not in Yaroslavl.

    The typical question I got back home was:

    Q: Where are you studying abroad in Russia?
    A: Yaroslavl, Russia.
    Q: Oh ok... where's that?

    I guess many people thought that my response would either be A) Moscow or B) Saint Petersburg. The typical American probably wouldn't have heard of cities such as Perm, Ufa, Omsk, Yakutsk, as well as Yaroslavl if they weren't too familiar with Russia. I myself didn't know where Yaroslavl was until I began to study Russian and was deciding to study abroad. So I had to change my answer a bit. "I'm going to Yaroslavl, it's a small town 4 hours to the North of Moscow." That way people would understand, OH! So not too far from Moscow.

    So, I'm here. Yaroslavl, Russia! A town of about ~600,000 dwellers who call this city their home. And from the months of Sept 2010- June 2011, this will be my home. I chose Yaroslavl for a few reasons. Out of the three cities we had from the Middlebury C.V. Starr schools they were: Moscow, Yaroslavl and Irkutsk. Moscow usually isn't recommended being that the city attracts many foreigners who don't rely on Russian to get around. Irkutsk was too far East for me, and the idea of being in Siberia for a year really didn't sell itself to me. Yaroslavl on the other hand wasn't too far away from the main cities of Russia, easily accessible from Moscow and the cheaper city out of the three.

    The town is very historic (more on that later) and sprinkled with beautiful landmarks! Pretty much from any point in the city, odds are you will be able to spot a church and the city of course has a Kremlin, with a monastery inside. Rumor has it that Stalin never made it to Yaroslavl because one theory was that since in Russian, Yaroslavl is Ярославль and the letter 'Я' is the last letter of the alphabet, he never got done to the end of the list. But who knows what's the truth?

    I won't be updating this everyday because seriously not too much happens on a daily basis. Breakfast, class, lunch, class, dinner, homework... that really isn't blog material and you'd be so bored reading about what we did in class. But, I will say that so far I'll be taking this semester: Russian Film, Russian Grammar, a Russian Writing Course, Russian Culture and one class which I am still looking for me; I might want to take a linguistics course with actually Russian students(but let's see how that goes!)

    I'll write more about Yaroslavl in the next post!

    and.. please excuse any bad grammar, Russian seems to be eating away of any existing knowledge of the English language.

    One of the many churches in Yaroslavl