08 September 2011

A much overdue farewell, with a new beginning.


Just in case anyone still checks this (doubtful), I wanted to let you know that I won't be posting here anymore. ...as you could probably tell, given my many months absence. But, worry not, you can still read a few witty and Russian-related tidbits brought to you by yours truly (and my mom and sister!) on our new food blog, The Troika Table. I've become quite obsessed with food blogs and decided it was nigh time to make my own. So, there you go.

Thanks for reading about my Russian adventures, and I'll check back in to let you know if (ahem, when) I have more.

From Pennsylvania with love,


18 July 2010

What to do if there's an armed Communist uprising near your home when you're having a party

On second thought, maybe the blog isn't finished quite yet. A spot to share random things related to Russia, perhaps? Me thinks yes.

30 June 2010

The end, for now.

I decided that since those Russian spies were recently caught it was a good time to write my last blog post. Here it goes.

My year of studying in the Motherland is over. ...rather, it's been over for the past month and a half and I'm just now getting around to writing this last post. Do da do.

The last weeks in Moscow couldn't have been more packed with things to do or have felt more surreal. We were all extremely busy working on our research projects, taking finals, and running frantically around the city trying to see things we had always wanted to but of course had put off.

The research project presentations went well and were not as intimidating as I had imagined. Although we each had 15 minute presentations all in Russian, it wasn't so scary - it was just the five of us, Irina, and a few other professors. There were also a few cakes, fruit, candy, tea, and champagne patiently waiting for us to finish. Once Thursday, the Day of the Presentations, was over, I only had four more days in the city I had grown to love.

Speaking of love and Moscow, why do I love it? Love is a strong word, I admit. But, guess what. I even love Russia. (No, I'm not a spy, and no, I wasn't brainwashed. I think.) Really, though, Russia for some reason captured my attention and I spent a nine months in this foreign land trying to figure out why. Did I succeed in solving this riddle? Ehh......not really.

It's a mystery! There are so many things wrong and weird and strange and backwards and different and and and about Russia, specifically Moscow, that I often times wanted to scream. The living standards aren't up to par with what I'm used to; the people seem rude and cold; the weather is horrible; there always seem to be creepy men staring at you; the bureaucracy makes everything painfully inefficient; there is no concept of a line, anywhere; six wrinkly jalapeƱos cost $15. So why put up with it all? How could I even enjoy living there?

Honestly, sometimes, I hated it. I was usually exhausted at the end of each day and, feeling grimy from a day in the city, would fall asleep to the blaring sounds of traffic or people yelling outside my window. Looking back, it actually was hard to get used to living in Moscow. I put on a good game face but it did take me a few months to really feel comfortable. I knew Moscow would be different but I also thought that since I had lived in Germany since I was 13, it would be a piece of cake to get used to another non-America. Silly girl; Moscow is so completely different. Moscow is so completely unique compared to any place. Aha! This, my friends, is one reason I love Moscow - its uniqueness.

Moscow is so unlike any other city I've seen. First of all, the buildings (yes, I'm going to talk about architecture for a bit) are all so different. Moscow is home to grand, beautiful Tsarist-era buildings; ugly, run-down apartment buildings from the Soviet years; trippy, 70s colored apartment buildings; new, modern and surprisingly not ugly apartment buildings; thousands of Orthodox churches with their own unique architectures; Stalinist style buildings with Soviet symbols all over; the Seven Sisters; you can see it all! There is one spot on what I believe is old Arbat street where you can literally see all the layers starting from the late 1800s to late 1900s. It's really cool and really beautiful in a quirky way. I didn't initially think Moscow to be all that pretty, but after living there and actually experiencing the city, I learned to look past the rough edges and truly appreciate it. I don't think this would have been possible if I were just a tourist.

Moving on, I really enjoy what I perceive to be the Russian sense of humor. It tends to be sarcastic, dry, and witty all while making fun of a situation which really should not be comical. Finding oneself laughing whilst in a non-comical situation also seems very Russian to me. After all, what else are you going to do? Sit there and cry? No, you laugh. Many Russian authors capture the comedy of Russia in quite satirical manners, and I often found myself feeling like I was trapped in one of Gogol's plays, trying to find the perfect coat or outwit the silly bureaucracy. While this should all be (and was) very frustrating, in the end it makes for a good story and makes you feel oh so very Russian.

I feel like I'm beginning to ramble and will stop here with the realization that I may never be able to explain why I fell for Russia. There's certainly plenty wrong with it, but isn't there something screwy about every country?

For now, I await senior year and my return to Dickinson. Much has changed over the last year, and I'm very excited to see what this year will bring. The blog is going dormant for a while but I would like to post some more pictures in a few weeks. ...I had issues with my computer but will soon have it back and be able to put up my final shots of Russia. Maybe the pictures will explain what I cannot?

Thanks for reading my posts and I hope you enjoyed them. Who knows, maybe another Russian adventure is waiting for me. I do still need to take the train to the east...

16 June 2010

Kiev, or the city where everyone is happy but still speaks Russian

Four days after my return from Lithuania, the group set off for Kiev, Ukraine. Again traveling by train, this was to be our last group trip of the year.

The first day we had a little bus tour around the city, stopping at several points of interest along the way. Our guide was very talkative and seemed to know everything about every little street corner. He also was able to talk about Kiev without getting all political and anti-Russian, which was nice.

The People's Friendship arch. The statue below is a Russian and Ukrainian holding the Soviet Order of Friendship of Peoples.
Kiev is just so friendly.
(No, but really.)

On tour.

Our hostel is somewhere down there...

St. Andrew's church.

A historic area of Kiev, right by St. Andrew's. It was very quaint and crumbly.

After bidding farewell to our guide, we were free to roam the city. There were lots and lots of people out on the streets, enjoying the warm weather and festivities for the May holidays - May 1st, International Worker's day, and the upcoming Victory Day, May 9th. Aside: why does the U.S. have it's labor day in September instead of when the rest of the world does? Glad you asked, for it turns out the inspiration for International Labor Day on May 1st actually came from the U.S. but then things got a little silly (aka it was the Cold War) and in 1958 Congress declared May 1st "Loyalty Day." How lovely.
Anyways, the streets of Kiev were filled with people, and the group noted how happy everyone seemed. We also noticed that people weren't always in a rush to get somewhere, and in the metro one could even stand on the left side of the escalator without fear of getting plowed over by a Moskvichka (Moscow woman) rushing to work. It was very refreshing.

Group of free-style dancers near the McDonald's.

Khreschatyk Street, the main shopping street.

It seemed like there was music and people dancing everywhere we looked. Kim and I decided to join.

Day two from more excursions to the Kiev Pechersk Lavra (monastery of the caves) and the Great Patriotic War museum.

While walking to the monastery, we stopped by the monument to the Great Famine, also known as Holodomor ("death by hunger") of 1932-1930. Records are apparently still iffy, but estimates of the death toll have gone as high as 10 million.

This was one of my favorite monuments; it gave me the chills.

The group at the monastery.

The Great Lavra bell tower, which was the tallest free-standing bell tower when it was built in the 1700s.

Kiev from the monastery.

We went on a boat later that night: The monastery at sunset.

After the monastery we walked up what seemed like millions of stairs to Rodina Mat ("The Motherland") and the Great Patriotic War museum.

Rodina Mat, the protector of the Motherland.

"Their heroic deeds will live eternally, their names will be immortal."

Workers and farmers.

Inside the museum: the papers are fill-in-the-blank letters informing people that their loved ones had died. The table was lined up and down with them.

The last event of the day featured a boat ride in the sunset.

Our last day we went to the Chernobyl museum which was both interesting and slightly terrifying. We also had an excursion at Mikhail Bulgakov's (Soviet writer and playwright) apartment. I admit, my favorite part of this excursion was not the interesting details our guide told us of Bulgakov's life/books, but the tea we drank before the excursion. It was seriously the best tea I have ever ever had. The teas were actually Bulgakov's family recipies, and were served with deeeeeelicious varenya (fruit preserves) of pumpkin, berries, and my favorite, a varenya made of a fruit which is like an apple and a pear. Moral of the story: if you go to Kiev, go to Bulgakov's apartment and drink tea. ...and then you can think about touring his living quarters.

The Kiev trip was one of my favorite trips of the year: it was sunny and warm, the trees were freshly green and flowers were blooming, the people were all happy and relaxed, and the city was beautiful. I definitely want to go back to Kiev someday, and although I was only there for three days, I found myself wishing that I could have also studied in Kiev as well as Moscow.

24 May 2010


After much ado, here is my post about the Lithuania trip (21 April – 26 April). Enjoy.

Remember hearing about that little volcano incident in Iceland? Along with being unpronounceable and messing up tons of other people's travels, it tried its hardest to mess up the aforementioned plan of awesomeness to go to Lithuania. In fact, both my flight and Braeden's (the aforementioned fellow Dickinsonian to be met in Lithuania) flight were canceled. Because of a volcano. In Iceland. A VOLCANO! I was a little dumbfounded and in shock and couldn't help but laugh (in that cynical kind of way) at the absurdity of the situation. Determined not to be outdone by the Voldemort-like volcano, we decided to fight back and venture to Lithuania by train.

If you look at a map of Eastern Europe, the train trip from Moscow to Kaunas, Lithuania, doesn't seem too horrible; it's basically a straight shot west. It would be really very easy, actually, if not for that pesky little country standing in between: Belarus. I have (or rather, had) nothing against Belarus, but they have this annoying little requirement of possessing a transit visa just to travel through the country, even if the traveler is just passing through and doesn't even give a lick about Belarus. I had an inkling of this transit visa business but set off to buy tickets anyways, convinced that I could just take trains around. After finally finding the correct line to buy tickets (after about two hours of standing in two other lines...), frazzled Kara asked the ticket lady for train tickets to Kaunas, but going through Riga, Latvia (so as to avoid Belarus). The befuddled ticket lady curtly responded: "What? How through Riga? Why?" I started to explain that I couldn't go through Belarus, but she said "No no no you can go directly to Vilnius" and assured me that Belarus wouldn't be a problem. This was convincing enough for me and I happily bought the tickets. (Keep in mind this was April 19th, the day before my train was to set off for Lithuania.)

I got home pretty excited that I defeated the volcano, when a random friend from class started talking to me and said something along the lines of "Um...you can't go through Belarus without a visa. Have fun being stuck at the border." This was at about 1 in the morning. I quickly freaked out to Jonathan who told me to calm down and then looked up Belarus on the travel.state.gov site (what a handy little website, by the way). There it was in black and white: travelers even just traveling through Belarus need a transit visa, and people have been kicked off trains in the past, fined, and even put in jail. Extremely worried and slightly seething with anger, I went to bed and got up in the wee hours of the morning (aka 8) to set off once again for the train station to attempt Plan C: taking a train to Riga and somehow finding a bus to Kaunas.

I got my money back for the cursed Belarusian tickets (which actually proved to be the easiest part of this whole process), and stood in yet another line, prepared to beg if necessary to buy tickets to Riga. It took the ticket lady a bit to figure out how to find the tickets to Riga, but find them she did. Finding tickets to come back to Moscow was a bit trickier for some reason, and she had to get up and go ask someone for help, giving ample time for impatient Russians to line up behind me and ask what in the world was going on and why our ticket lady had disappeared. She eventually came back after about 10 minutes, started clicking away at the keyboard, and announced that all my tickets were in order. Literally surrounded by Russians on all sides of me, I whipped out my documents and money, paid for the tickets, and then, finally, strutted away from the counter with an unbreakable smile on my face.

Later that evening the time finally came for me to get on my train and start my adventure to Lithuania. I may have mentioned this before: I love sleeper trains. They are the best thing since sliced black bread. I shared my area with a Latvian woman, Natasha, and her son, Igor, who had actually arrived in Moscow via the same exact train earlier that morning. For the first ten minutes of the journey I sat quietly and pretended to be focusing on a book, until finally a train worker guy (btw what's the equivalent of a flight attendant for a train?) came and asked if we would like tea. Once the tea arrived, Natasha promptly said to me, "Ok. Now it is time for you to explain why you are here." We talked for a few hours about my studies, why I was going to Lithuania, my family, etc., and I in turn asked them questions. It was really very cool, because we didn't have problems understanding each other. I can converse with everyday people about lots of subjects. Sweet. Natasha and Igor also have the best senses of humor; they would say something that could be serious but then ironically laugh about it. I loved it.

We were awoken around five in the morning for the border crossings. No big deal, just some Russian and Latvian border guards, dogs, and flashlights. About thirty minutes across the Latvian border I bid farewell to my new Latvian friends, and we even exchanged emails and telephone numbers. I now had basically the entire end of the train car to myself and sat anxiously until the arrival in Riga, Latvia. Once in Riga, I had an entire 30 minutes to find the bus station, buy tickets to Kaunas, Lithuania, and find my bus. Luckily they speak Russian in Latvia, and I easily got directions to the bus station, which happened to be about a five minute walk from the train station. I quickly bought bus tickets and was soon staring out the bus window as the Latvian countryside turned Lithuanian. It was lovely. I finally arrived in Kaunas six hours later, found Braeden and Evgeni (hostel man who picked us up to take us to the hostel), and epic adventures ensued.

Kaunas is a lovely little city and I really cannot describe how awesome our stay was. I won't even try. It. Was. Awesome. Also the fact that we successfully defeated the volcano added an extra little somethin' somethin'.

The trip back to Russia was not nearly as hectic. I had about four hours to spare in Riga while waiting for my train back to Moscow and thus decided to explore the old town and take millions of pictures. I've actually stayed in Riga before and it was really nice to walk around and be a little lost but still know how to get back to where I needed to be. It was also a beeeeautiful day and I didn't even need to wear a jacket. Scandalous.

On the trip back my train neighbors were an older woman on the bottom bunk across from me and two Belarusian men above us, who happened to be transporting a gagillion bags to Russia full of magazines which they claimed were for an “exhibit”. I’m pretty sure “magazines for an exhibit” is code for contraband. When we got to the Russian border crossing, the border patrol said to the men: “So, all these bags are yours? And you’re taking these magazines to hand out and not to sell, correct?” The men responded, “Oh yes, of course,” at which point the woman and I exchanged knowing glances. They did give us candy at the end of our trip, though. Sure it was probably smuggled candy, but beggars can’t be choosers.

I arrived in Moscow about 27 hours after leaving Kaunas (worry not, I am now a pro at sleeping on trains) and went into energizer bunny mode for my last three weeks of school.

Next post: about our group trip to Kiev, Ukraine.

08 May 2010

a joke

Brezhnev has a meeting with Sophia Loren. He says to her "I am willing to grant you any wish."

"Please, allow anyone who wishes to leave the Soviet Union."

"Sophia, you sly little minx, you just want to be alone with me."

06 May 2010


Sorry for lack of posts -- it's that lovely time of the semester where all the time is taken doing final projects.

I still have to tell you about Lithuania, Kiev, and life in general, but while you're waiting you should watch this:

You might have to somehow put it on repeat, though, because my next post could take longer than three minutes to appear.