Friday, December 3, 2010


Turns out there is nothing as amazing as the taste of a REAL bagel with REAL Philadelphia cream cheese.
So what if it cost a little more than 5$? I got tomatoes.


Friday, November 26, 2010

Thanksgiving and entertainment in Piter

So I'm too lazy to make these two separate posts so this will be one super-long, unconnected post.

Thanksgiving at Nathan's was great.  He lives about ten minutes from where I live which made it super-convenient.  He's definitely gone for the minimalist approach in his apartment, which is a nice alternative to what many Russians decide to do (ie over-crowd their apartments with trinkets that they don't need.  I'm lucky that Nina hates trinkets.)  We managed to get a turkey and even cook it to the point of yumminess.  The Russians were completely surprised that the boys were helping out in the kitchen.  Not only that they knew how to cook, but that they would offer at all.

Side note - chocolate chip cookies are surprisingly hard to make in Russia.  The entire freakin' country doesn't have vanilla extract!  I ended up just adding stuff until it tasted somewhat normal and used M&Ms instead of chocolate chips.  My poor host mom didn't understand the whole concept of cookies, trying to make them pretty.  When they came out of the oven all flat, and not the perfect little balls she had perfected - "Что это за гавно!?  Где мои красивеньки?"

We had pumpkin pie (SUPER good) as well has two coconut pies which were made with colored coconuts (because apparently they don't sell normal coconuts in and green...Christmas at Thanksgiving and all that....).  We also had some home-made wine, stuffing and other вкусноты.

And now for something completely different....

One of the best parts about living in St. Petersburg is the ability to just go to the theatre/opera/ballet whenever you want.  There are little ticket stands throughout the city.  My personal ticket stand is the one at the Mayakovskaya metro station.  The ladies who work there have a special kind of love for their work that one seldom encounters in Russia.  They know all of the theatres, all of the companies that work there, were the best views are, etc.   They’ll talk to you and help you find the best combination of price and place.  I even lost a ticket once and they offered to call up the director of the conservatory to let me in anyway.

But enough of me gushing about my girls.  What I really decided to write about is the dirty little secret of St. Petersburg.  Well, perhaps not so dirty.  Anyway, point of the matter is, if you go to the Marinskii or the Mikhailovskii you are ripping yourself off.  You’ll end up going on excursion to one or both for free (well, not exactly for free….It’s included in your tution…).  Sure they are both great, beautiful theatres.  At the Mikhailovskii, especially, you’ll get to see beautiful chandeliers and signs with hard signs everywhere.  The shows are all amazing (although, I’ve heard you shouldn’t bother to go see Romeo and Juliet), but it isn’t like you can go see the same thing other places for A LOT less.

My personal favorite places to go watch operas is the Conservatory.  Sure the building is a lot less pretty – something out of the Stalin era, most likely – but the shows themselves are quite good.  The sets are very well done, the singing is amazing, and all of the actors/singers are young and pretty (no fat lovers lolloping around on the stage).  My first opera was the Marriage of Figaro.  We were in the seventh row and only paid 350 rubles.  The second opera we decided to see was Evgene Onegin.  We got FRONT ROW seats for only 500 rubles.  Although, I’ve heard that their ballet is not nearly as good.

Also, if you are up for watching movies in Russia (not as bad as it sounds if the theme isn’t too heavy), you’re going to want to go during the middle of the day.  The prices change dramatically depending on when, where, and what you see.  Evening prices are higher and more popular movies are more expensive.  If you time it right, however, you can get very good seats for a complete bargain.  For example, I went to see the first half of the seventh Harry Potter for 160 rubles (a little over five dollars).

Most importantly, take your student ticket wherever you go. Offer it, even if they don’t ask for it and if there isn’t a sign for it.  When we were in Viborg, we offered our student tickets on the off-chance that they would take it (or at least mistake us for Russians).   We ended up getting an even steeper discount than Russian citizens (less than half of the normal price for tourists).

You can do quite a lot of things in St. Petersburg (this isn’t MOSCOW after all) if you know the tricks.  Don’t live your life by the guidebook – go out and explore! (or if you are chicken, ask your host families and tutors).

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

What is that mysterious ticking noise?

So as you walk along Nevsky and the little alleyways around it, you will here "the noise".  It's a metronome like sound that plays in the background just loud enough to be notice.

During the blockade of Leningrad, they would play this sound over the loudspeakers to let the inhabitants know that the city was still under control of the Russians.  Didn't matter what time of day or night, this sound was broad-casted throughout the city.

Apparently, they still play it.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Something somber to match the weather

Living in a city where most of the women wear nicer clothes than I will ever own and where most of the men drive nicer cars than I will ever drive, it’s easy to forget how they suffered ten/twenty/thirty years ago.  I’m not saying that Russia is rolling in the dough – I’m very much aware of the ridiculous lack of a middle class.  Every day I see how my host mom economizes (and she’s fairly well off) and yet it’s still easy to forget. 

For Americans, the phrase “food stamps” brings to mind the unemployed who are currently on welfare.  It’s certainly nothing the average American even has to consider and sometimes carries with it a certain shameful connotation.  For Nina and her family (as well as the rest of Russia), it was their day-to-day reality. 

As with most of our topics of conversation, I have no idea how it started, but I definitely remember her saying:  “Every month we would get a stamp for a kilogram of meat per person.”
As an American, I have no idea what a kilogram is in terms of pounds.  She takes out here cooking scale and fills up a glass that previously held jam with water.  It’s 1.3 kilograms.  She empties a little out – 1.1.  Again she pours a little out.  Finally, it read 1.07 kg.  “It’s still a little more than a kilogram, but you get the idea.”

This wasn’t just for meat; it was for everything: food, clothing, etc. – basically everything that wasn’t grown or made locally.  To exacerbate the situation, the stores were only open during working hours and the lines were the stuff of legend.  A person could wait up to three hours in line waiting for a loaf of bread or a carton of milk.  “My husband and I didn’t have time to go to the store.  What was I supposed to do?  Get myself fired?”

And so her little son, Alyosha, would go straight to the store after school and wait patiently in line for a good hour or two.  The phrase “little” refers to how he was then, not to how he is now.  He’s now a loveable, yet somewhat imposing (over-six-foot-tall) Russian bear.  Even now he remembers:  “I didn’t have a childhood mama.  I spent it all waiting in line.”

Once she’s started speaking about her son, she usually cannot stop herself from singing his praises for a bit (and not without due cause – he’s a great guy).  I get comfortable.  She tells me how they used to hand out food to the children at school.  Nothing much, mind you, just an apple or an orange or a candy or something.  Apparently, every day, while the other children were eating their snack, Alyosha would quietly pocket his own.  The teacher would come up to him and ask, “Alyosha, what’s wrong?  Don’t you like it?”

“I like it.”

“Then why aren’t you eating?”

“I’m taking it home to share with Mama.”

He’d do this every day.  It didn’t matter what it was.  He’d cut the tiniest piece of candy into two pieces – one for him and one for his mama.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Quick update

Went to Anna Akhmatova's apparetment.  Got to see the rooms that inspired a lot of her poetry.

Went on an outing to all of the places in Crime and Punishment.

Went to a museum where they have art done on the tip of a piece of human hair, poppy-seed, etc.  I kid you not.  You go in through this super-sketch stairway and then the museum is in a random apartment and you look at the art through microscopes.

Hockey: We were sitting right next to the team from Moscow.  And a BUTTLOAD of riot police.  SOOOO much fun.  Probably going again soon.

KuntzKamera:  Seriously disturbed shit.  Never again.

Although, when we left KuntzKamera we saw a bear outside the Hermitage, so it wasn't a complete loss.  Living the Russian dream.....

Going to see the Marriage of Figaro tomorrow and the Nutcracker on Wednesday.

Makes up for the freezing cold and total lack of sun.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Catching up and FIRST SNOW

So a lot of things have happened since I last wrote (if you can call that last entry an entry, I mean, really).

First off IT'S SNOWING!  Like honest-to-God snowing, not that mamby-pamby BS that we call snow in Virginia.

We went on our long cruise, which was quite interesting (although some of the tour-guides, not so much).  We visited Нижный Новгород, Казань, Ульяновск (where Lenin was born and grew up), Самара (where one of Stalin's bunkers is), Саратов and Волгоград (Сталинград, where basically the whole city was bombed to the ground by the Nazi's).

My impressions of the cities:
Nizhny Novgorod - an ok city, but a terrible tour guide and we spent WAY too much time there

Kazan - GORGEOUS city with a really interesting blend of Tatar and Russian culture.  The mosque there looks like something out of the emerald city from the wizard of OZ.

Ulyanovsk - besides Lenin, doesn't have much going for it, which explains why they are still completely obsessed with the man despite the fact that he was NOT all that and a bag of chips.  They also have a monument to the letter ё.

Samara - bunker was cool, could have skipped the rest

Saratov - cute little musical city, reminded me of singing with the choir at Middlebury

Volgograd - really sad, although the monuments are a little bit overwhelming.  It occasionally steps of the line of reverent remembrance into cult-like devotion.

Moscow - totally could have skipped my 4th visit there.  Over-rated city.  Got some Nutella though, so not a complete waste of a day.

I think the best part of it all was the fact that we shared the boat with a bunch of retired Germans and British people.  A rather bizarre combination of age-groups and nationalities.  It was super fun watching them dance in the bars on the boat at night.  Makes me sad that I can't really dance like that.  Our generation is not going to age well.....

But now I'm back :-)  Apparently having lost a lot of weight (although I don't really think so....)  My host mom is on the war-path and attempting to fatten me back up.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

About picaso

If you guys want the links to albums I am sending out, give me a shout! (ie - leave a comment) 

I'll still post some pictures, but the process is soooo slow.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Quickie about the dacha

So it was freezing and slightly wet.  And awesome.  I now know how to gather mushrooms (at least some types).  I also ate blueberries and this red Finnish berry straight off of the ground.  I felt very man vs. wild.  We also picked berries her garden.  I have some cool pictures that I'll post at some point.

Btw, it's almost midnight here.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Teaching English

This was seriously one of the best experiences I've had in Russia yet.  A group of the kids picked us up at the train station and led us on foot to their school,apparently, taking us that we had to go the safe way in order to avoid "bad drunk men".  So we get there and the rest of the kids are all standing in a semi-circle and greet us in unison.  Behind them, we see that they have laid us out a mini-banquet.  They seat us so we each get a group of about six or seven students.  They start out a little shy, but before long it becomes a fight to speak.  Every so often, the teacher randomly interupts in order to ask us for a new word or a new phrase (you know, important things like "lumbering along" or "to strut" or "get away from me").

Seriously, I've never felt so appreciated.

They are all so amazing.  I can't wait until next Friday.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Russia - the land of milk and honey .... and prisons.

So it happened.  I got sick.  We all knew it would happen sooner or later.  Here is how Russians apparently deal with illness:

Step one: Freak out.  Find out the cause (aka a person to blame).  In this case, it was my grammar teacher.

Step two: Freak out some more.  Describe all of the worst possible scenarios.  Describe how quickly and terribly this sickness will spread to those around the ill person and how awful it will make their lives.

Step three: Tea.  Like the English, this apparenlty is the solution to all of life's problems.

Step four: Sleep rediculous amounts.  Like 14 hour in one night amounts.  This is not as outrageous as it sounds because you will be putt in solitary confinement and only let out to eat and use the bathroom.

Solitary confinement prison at Крепость Орешек.
Or my room.  Hard to tell.
Step five: Drink boiled milk and honey.  Yum.  I had a deprived childhood.

Step six: (which can ben done simultaneously with steps four and five) Force the ill person to wear a scarf.  In the house.  ALL the time.

Step seven: Freak out some more.  If the ill person hasn't gotten better in a day, it's obvious they are nearing death's door - no doubt by some mischief of their own doing (in my case, not wearing socks with my topachki for dinner)

Step eight: Go to the drug store and by some amazing drugs that you'd need a perscription for in America for about 10$.

Step eight is probably the most affective.

Besides getting sick, I've worked some more on the internship project of updating and translating the handbook and gone on an excursion to Крепость Орешек.  Which translates roughly to "Fort Nut".  Yeah, sounds better in Russian.  It was a fort that was passed back and forth between the Swedes and the Russians, that protected Russia during WWII and also served as a prison for political prisoners (including the Decemberists)

Here are some pics:
Super cool shot with two memorials juxtaposed.

Cloudy morning and a bombed chapel.

Memorial to the peace treaty between Russia and Sweden

Saturday, September 18, 2010

More Gatchina

Island of looooove

I guess you have to pay more if you don't speak Russian....

Friday, September 17, 2010

Гатчина - наша первая экскурсия

Гатчина - это старый замок с замечательным парком и даже "Остров Любви".  Да, это место для свиданий.  Наш тургид был очень скучным и никто не обратил внимание на нее.  Ничего страшного - еще красивое место несмотря на тургида.
Да, солнце светит в России.

Комната без ремонта

I'll post some more later when I have free internet.  Consider this the preview.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Yeah. I live near here. I'm kind of a big deal.

I think this is a theater....not sure.  The sun looks pretty cool, though.

Nina and the Hermitage

By the River

Me with the Bronze Horseman

The Bronze Horseman

Church on Spilled Blood

Church on Spilled Blood
Artwork on the Street

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Some pictures and some info

So this post was going to be basically all pictures, but blogger is being fussy so we'll just have to space things out I guess....  I'll put up a few and some info.

Alexander Nevski Lavra - garden - aka the place where we buy amazing bread

Yep.  I live near here.
So, as part of the internship program, I'm working with a Russian student to update the handbook that they give us and to translate it into Russian and English.  It looks pretty intensive: we just receieved the work today and already we have a "deliverable" due on Thursday.  By the way, the term "deliverable" might be the lamest piece of beuracratic jargon EVER.  I'll keep you posted.

Tomorrow, we're going to Gatchina (this fortress thingy about 2 hours outside of Piter).  Actually, I should post my list of excursions for those who don't speak Russian:
Fortress Oreshek
The Museum of the Blockade of Leningrad
A week-long excursion down the Volga
Ballet (Anna Karenina)
Hockey match
Pushkin (the place)
A tour of the Baltika beer factory
Museum of Dostoevski's appartment etc.
The Opera/Classical Music concert
Lomonovski factory
Banya (Bathhouse)

Monday, September 13, 2010


Расписание классов/пар
Первая пара -  940 до 1110
Вторая пара - 1120 до 1250
Третая пара - 1340 до 1510

Понедельник - разговорная практика, грамматика, фонетика
Вторник - разговорная практика, политология 1, политология 2
Среда - экскурсия/сводное время
Четверг - фонетика, грамматика, комментированное чтение
Пятница - грамматика, разговорная практика, комментированое чтение

Расписание экскурсий

15.9  – Гатчина
22.9 – Крепость Орешек
29.9 – Музей блокада Ленинграда
6.10 – Большая поездка по Волге
15.10 – Балет (Анна Каренина?)
20.10 – Хоккей Матч (СКА – ЦСКА)
27.10 – Пушкин (Екатаринский дворец и янтарная комната)
10.11 – Балтика (по пивоварне)
17.11 – Музей Достоевского
24.11 – Опера/Концерт классической музыки
1.12 – Ломоновский фарфоровый завод
8.12 - Баня

Sunday, September 12, 2010

A little bit about my host mom

There really is no end to the things that you can find in Piter (St. Petersburg).  The other day, my host mom, Nina, took me to visit this thing that she kept calling (something) – island.  I, foolish American that I am, thought that this meant an actual island.  Oh no, my dear friends.  This was basically like a part of Disney land in the middle of Russia.  They had crazy rollercoasters and amusement rides everywhere.  You know the kind – the ones that would probably not pass the safety test in America.  They also had lots of little photo-op stations: characters from Beauty and the Beast, Baba Yaga and even an American Indian/Wild West station.
I’m really outrageously lucky in my host mom for a number of reasons:

  1. 1)      My previous host mom cancelled at the last second.  How on earth ACTR found a person at the last second is a mystery to me.   I guess it really says something about the relationship they have with the host families.
  2. 2)      She is an AMAZING cook.  Simply amazing.  I haven’t had the same thing to eat twice in a row yet.  It’s like she’ trying to use everything in her repertoire. 
  3. 3)      She’s very talkative and outgoing.  I can be outgoing, but, especially in Russian, it’s a lot easier for me to respond to other people’s attitude and questions than to spontaneously start conversation.
  4. 4)      She’s extremely cultured.  We have similar tastes in music (except her odd obsession with Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston*.  And the fact that her ringtone is Usher).    She’s already insisted that we go to the opera, ballet, etc.  At night we read together (right now Evegeni Onegin) or watch movies together.
  5. 5)      She’s extremely open to other cultures and doesn’t judge based on ethnicity or nationality.  She’s actually said that she really likes Americans, American language (English with an American accent) and American culture.  It’s such a welcome reprieve from the constant America-bashing one can receive in Europe.

Nina is hilarious and extremely “open”.  When I first arrived, she told me about her previous two American students.  The first had been here only for the semester, but they’d immediately formed a strong friendship.   They went to the theatre together, studied together – basically became inseparable.  I can’t tell you how many times she’s reminded me that they both cried when she left to go home or how many funny stories she’s told me about their escapades together. 

The second girl basically stayed in her room and barely spoke to Nina at all.  She’d go eat at restaurants and basically ignored Nina.  It was made extremely apparent which of the two I was meant to imitate.  But really, how anyone could manage to close themselves off around such a force of nature like Nina is beyond me.  And why on earth would you want to?

*Seriously.  She received a bonus not too long ago and spent almost all of it on a Whitney Houston concert.  Apparently the movie “The Bodyguard,” starring Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston, is (or was) extremely popular in Russia.  She had her fully grown, adult son download the file and bring it to her apartment so that we could watch it on the computer.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Photos from St. Petersburg Disneyland-type-thing

Baba Yaga's house.

Me with Vadik, my host mom's nephew.

Me with my host mom, Nina.  And Batman.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

The initial lowdown

So after many hours of flying and connecting flights (including a flight from Frankfurt to St. Petersburg on which I fell asleep next to a little Russian girl and I'm pretty sure I fell asleep).  I've read quite a lot of Гарри Поттер и Принц Полукровка (Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince in Russian).  I think I am going to do a post later on the things I found interesting in their translation (like how they did Fleur's accent!).

So, I've picked up a few traveling tips that I'm willing to share with you:
1) United is really anal about weighing baggage and will fine you $200.  To avoid this, put all the heaviest things in your carry-on.  If you want to not make friends, do this at the airport.
2) Lotion will manage to spill everywhere inside the the plastic bag you put it in, even if doesn't open or explode.  It's magic.
3) St. Petersburg really is THAT cold.  You don't think it will be, but it is.

4) Get super cheap cell phones.  All you need to do is call/text simplicity can be beautiful.  Also, the Russian way of doing cell-phones is fabulous.
5) You can get international calling cards for 1-rub per minute of international talk time.  On top of a 7 kopek rate, that's super cheap.
6) St. Petersburg is dead on Saturdays until about 9 or 10 am.   People will look at you strangely if you go out before then.

We meet our host families tomorrow. I'm so excited!  I got dumped by my first mom (ok, exaggeration, she backed out for whatever reason.  Whatever.  I got dumped.), but my second mom sounds really cool and she lives closer to school, which will be nice.   She's also a big talker and really into cultural things, according to Nathan.  I really hope it works out because host stay is my favorite part of the trip.

В конце концов мы прилетили в Россию вчера около полдня.  Мы все так устали, но нам было нельзя поспать до восьми.  На полете я читала около ста пятидесяти страниц книги "Гарри Поттер и Принц полукроквка".  Мне было интересно, как переводили французский акцент и имени многих персонажов.  Может быть я напишу об этом переводе после того, как я прочитала.

Ну, сегодня мы купили мобилники (такие дешевлие!) и снимали фотки для виз и студентских идентификаций.  Не знаю как это случилось, но все наши фотки были такими хорошими, будто бы мы были моделями.  Обычно в Америке, особенно в Виржинии, мы все виглядим преступниками в наших идентификациях.

К сожалению, моя первая русская мать не хотела житъ с мной (не правда, она просто не смогла для личных причин), но я получила новую маму сегодня.  Ее зовут Нина и она живет ближе к университете и Натан сказал, что она любит разговоривать, так что мне не очень жаль.  Переживаю.  Познакомимся завтра.  Надеюсь, что все будет хорошо.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

About this Blog

 Hello everybody, welcome to my fall semester/travel blog.  I decided (slash was forced into by friends and family) to write a blog in order to keep in touch with friends, family, and the rest of my fan-club ;-).  I figured it was easier than trying to remember to message everyone constantly on facebook.  I'm going to try to do my posts both in Russian and English, however, the content won't always be the same in both languages. 

Hmmm, what to write?  Well, the program that I chose was ACTR  (I really need to stop putting everything in the passive.  Ever since I got back from Middlebury, my English sounds very bizzare).  I chose ACTR both because of its prestige, but also because of the great experience I had with them before the summer before my freshman year of college.  Hopefully this semester will be even better.

A side goal of this blog is to improve my writing, both in English and in Russian.  I'm in the unenviable position of knowing that I probably write worse now than I did when I was in middle school.  Four years in a math and science school will do that to you.  I hope I haven't bored you all to death.

Добро пожаловать на (в?) мой блог.  Этой осенью я буду в Питере, участвовая в программе русского языка, которая называется "ACTR".  У меня уже опыт с этой программой (кроме полета домой, который был просто кошмар не шучу, только хороший опыт).  Надеюсь, что я не потеряла слишком много моего русского языка с тех пор, как я уехала из программы Миддлбэри.  Но, конечно, мне надо будет еще сдавать экзамены.  Кажется, что моя жизнь только состоит только из экзаменов.

Я решила писать (а может быть лучше сказать, что мама и несколько друзей требовали, чтобы я писала), чтобы информировать массы о моих делах(и "кипинтучоваться" как говорят на "Брайтонском" языке).  Это будет и на русском и на английском, но важно понимать, что содержание не будет одинаково. 

Надеюсь, что этот процесс будет помогать улучшить мое знание русского языка. 

Ну, вот и все на данный момент.  Пока.