Rubles and Ramblings

Rubles and Ramblings

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Hockey Pucks & Tourist Traps

Hello everyone!  Here’s an update on everything I’ve been up to this week! 
Cheering on the team!

On Wednesday I went to a CKA hockey         game (pronounced ska), St. Petersburg’s hockey team!  I wish I could remember who we played that night but I do know that we won 3-1! It was one of the best hockey   games I’ve ever been to, probably due to the fact that I   was surrounded by crazy Russians cheering on my city in a country known for this sport.  I am definitely going back for another game!

Not much else went on during the week, but when the weekend arrived I knew we had to plan something. So I opened up my guidebooks and a group of 5, including me, decided to go around to 2 very famous cathedrals in the city.  The first one on the list was Khazan Cathedral.  It’s a huge horseshoe shaped Russian Orthodox Church right on Nevsky Prospect. 
The inside was kinda dark but very beautiful.  Women had to keep their heads covered because it is a holy place where Russian Orthodox still practice their faith.  They would line up and go to the alter to kiss the icons and light a candle. 
Khazan Cathedral 
St. Isaac's Cathedral
The next cathedral on our list was St. Isaac’s.   After purchasing our student discount tickets, we went up to the top of the dome to get a panoramic view of the city.  It was 271 spiral steps up, and completely worth every one.  The entire city can be seen sprawled out down below.  A combination of the cold, the climb up, and the view below truly took my breath away.  Lets not talk about the mini panic attack I had when I climbed the last few steps to the top in the open with almost nothing but the city beneath me!
View of the Admiralty's golden spire, The Winter Palace next to it, and Peter & Paul Fortress' golden spire across the river
After walking back down the steps, we were able to enter the actual cathedral.  St. Isaac’s is still an active Russian Orthodox Church, so there were people worshipping in a small separate room.  Walking around the huge cathedral was definitely my favorite part of the day.  I’m surprised I didn’t break my neck from staring up at the opulent arches and ceilings!  They were all decorated with paintings that covered every inch.  Here’s the selfie I snapped featuring a man with his head craned back gazing at the beautiful artwork and details!

St. Isaac's definitely tops my list of the most beautiful cathedrals I’ve visited, I look forward to going back there in the spring for more views of the city and to walk around inside again.

Our day of exploring called for a snack break before the ride back home on the metro.  My friend suggested we stop at a small pie shop for a bite to eat.  Best decision all day. The pie was delicious; there were savory and sweet ones that you could order.  I decided on a classic slice of apple pie with a cup of tea! 

So that is pretty much what has been going on in my Russian life!  My language skills are still poor, but it is slowly getting better with time.  All is well in St. Petersburg, I miss everyone back home but I am having the time of my life learning and living in this city.  Until next time!
Sun setting from my window

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Feelin' like a Russian Tsar

Hello everyone!  I am back again with another post!  First off I want to thank everyone for reading and all the positive feedback I have received.  I really enjoy writing these posts, so it makes it even better that people are actually reading them!  Also, I just added a photo gallery of pictures that don't make it in my actual posts.  I'm terrible at uploading pics to facebook, so this option is way easier for me.  Check it out by clicking "Photo Gallery" on the right!

This past week I was finally able to visit the Hermitage, one of the largest art museums in the world.  In my eyes, it is St. Petersburg's crown jewel. 

It would take you 9 years to see all the exhibits this museum holds.  I obviously don't have that kind of time, but the tour we got on Wednesday gave me all the quick highlights.  It is made up of 4 parts, The Winter Palace, Small Hermitage, Old Hermitage, and New Hermitage.  Obviously they didn't spend much time thinking of names for these 4 sections, but each one offers something different.  

The Winter Palace was definitely my favorite.  It is the former main residence of Russian tsars since Peter the Great was in power.  The beauty within the walls of the palace is truly indescribable, and the pictures don't do it justice.  I spent most of my time in there with my jaw hanging open gazing at the detailed ceilings and arches in awe.  

I didn't think the Hermitage could get much better than that, but it certainly did.  I was able to see paintings from Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, and Michelangelo!  I am certainly going back to see as much of the museum as possible.  I even picked up an application to volunteer there!  Even without any Russian language experience (besides reciting the alphabet), they said I could help catalog artifacts or put out chairs around the museum when needed.  I'm hoping I get to do more of the first task...
I'm the girl in red deep in
All in all, the Hermitage was breathtaking and I can't wait to go back. Luckily its free for students!  After finishing our tour and picking up a volunteer application, the sun was setting and the lights in Palace Square started turning on.  Once again, absolutely stunning.  I couldn't get any good pictures, but here's what it looked like during the day!

So that's the Hermitage!  Then on Saturday my study abroad group hopped on a bus for a tour of Catherine's Palace.  The palace is about an hour outside of the city in a town called Pushkin, named after the famous Russian poet.  The one word I would use to describe Catherine's Palace: gilded.  Every wall of the palace shines so bright, it was dazzling.
Dining room goals
Sadly, we were not allowed to take pictures of The Amber Room in Catherine's Palace.  This is a room completely covered in varying shades and shapes of pure amber.  Unfortunately, it was a recreation of the original because it was stolen by the Nazis during the time they occupied St. Petersburg.  Here's a picture I took from google to show how intricate every inch of this amber covered room is.   

What I enjoyed most about Catherine Palace was definitely the gardens.  We walked around for a bit and explored the tree-lined paths and bridges.  It started to snow and for the first time I thought how peaceful it was rather than how annoying the snow is when I'm in the city.  I cant wait to go back to those gardens in spring when it is even more beautiful with the gardens in bloom.

We came across a smaller building in the gardens and a nice lady took a picture for us!  We weren't sure what this building was used for, but there were pulleys and other ropes indicating it was some type of bell tower.  I loved the bright colors and intricate gold details.  The guide told us that before the palace's restoration, all the painted goldish-yellow figures and details you see used to be completely gilded. 

To top off my great day in Pushkin, I saw a monkey in a cheetah print snowsuit.  The owner was charging 200 rubles (roughly $3) for pictures with it, so we just ooh-ed and ah-ed at it instead.  It was soo cute but when the man came up to us holding the monkey she started waving her arms at me and making weird noises...Kinda freaky to be honest.  Luckily my roommate snapped a pic of it when the guy wasn't looking!! 
Photo evidence of the Russian monkey in a snowsuit
That's all I have for this post!  To wrap it up, basically Russians really know how to decorate.  Kinda wish I was born into a royal family now, although it didn't end up too well for Anastasia...Anyways, thanks for reading and keeping up with my explorations and monkey sightings!  Bye for now! 
Russia roomies in the palace gardens <3

Sunday, February 8, 2015

First Impressions: Russian Edition

Hello again friends and family!  I just wrote a post on what I've been up to the past few days!  If you haven't read that one yet, go check it out first!  This post is going to be more about the classes I'm taking, the people I've met, and what Russian culture is like from my 1 week perspective.

I have one class every day.  Monday, Wednesday, Friday is my beginner Russian language class.  My professor's name is Inga and she is so sweet!  She calls my class of 8 "little children" because we are literally learning the alphabet right now.  So far I really enjoy it, the only bad thing about that class is that its 3 hours long...But the more I learn the better, right?
First day of my Russian language class!
My other classes are History of St. Petersburg and Contemporary Life/Political Science of Russia.  One meets on Tuesday, and the other on Thursday.  I am really excited about my history class because part of the class is going out on excursions to some of the less-touristy sites of St. Petersburg.  We are going to the first public library in Russia, the Russia museum, and some other places only locals know about!  The poly sci class is very interesting and I look forward to learning more about Russian life and politics from a Russian's perspective.  The classes are pretty small, but I like them all so far!  It's so nice only having one class each day.

The best part about this trip so far has been living in the dorms.  I love my suitemates and our (kinda dingy) room.  Living in the international dorm has allowed me to meet so many people I never thought I'd be able to.  There are people from Finland, France, South Africa, Algeria, Uganda, and so many other countries.  So far I've only hung out with some Finns and a South African.  We were all so interested in each other's culture and language and had some great discussions and a lot of fun hanging out.  I never would be able to do that if I was still at High Point, so I am certainly thankful for the experience and the new friendships I'm making around the world.  

Another really fun aspect of staying in the dorms is being able to cook.  I never had a kitchenette in any of the dorms I stayed in at High Point, so its been nice staying in and cooking meals with friends (yes mom, I cook!!).  I would say we've gotten pretty skilled at using our little kitchen, but literally as I write this my suitemate Sarah has just burnt her toast to a crisp on the hot plate.  Oops!
First meal of pasta, shrimp, and pesto!
The only real downside to cooking in the room (besides the smell of burnt toast I'm currently suffocating in) is having to buy groceries.  I've been to the grocery store about 3 times, and I'm getting a little better at it with every trip.  The first time was absolutely terrifying, my credit card didn't work for some odd reason so my friend had to spot me some rubles.  It doesn't help that I can't understand or speak the language so I just say niet (no in Russian) whenever the cashier asks me something...It's worked so far!  Although its a hassle hauling back groceries to the dorm on the slippery ice covered sidewalks, the food is sooo cheap here.  I'm talking like 12 cents for a loaf of bread!  So in the end it is definitely worth buying food from the grocery store, no matter how long it takes us to inspect a carton of milk just to make sure its not some weird Russian yogurt drink.

I don't cook all the time though.  At my school, we have 2 cafeterias that serve really good food!  In the mornings they have free kasha (delicious Russian oatmeal) and tea.  I have quickly become obsessed with my morning kasha, and every day there is a different kind!  For instance, some are more like oatmeal and brown sugar while other days it can be like a cream of wheat and honey.  That's really the best way I can explain it, bottom line is its delicious and free.  For lunch, we can go to the cafeteria that serves Russian or Chinese food.  The Chinese food is a little strange, so I stick with the Russian food mostly which has always been yummy! 
A typical lunch from the cafeteria 
More about Russian food, everything I've tried has been delicious.  My favorites are borsch, a red beet soup with different ingredients based on where you get it, and pelmeni.  Pelmeni are little dumplings filled with meat served with butter and a dollop of sour cream!  There's something about borsch and pelmeni that warms you up so well. 

Borsch and Pelmeni!
As for the Russians themselves...They are an interesting people.  If I'm struggling in the grocery line trying to figure out what the cashier is asking me, they just giggle or smile in a way that says "oh you poor foreigner".  Also, something that always bothers the cashiers is not having exact change.  At the cafeteria I paid with a bigger bill because it was all I had, and they really tend to gripe about that.  They'll just ask you for the exact bill amount but eventually give you your change and send you on your merry way after me saying "niet, niet" a few times.   Another common thing with Russians is how serious their faces look when they're walking down the street.  It's like everyone has (pardon my language) chronic bitch face.  I started referring to it as "The Russia Face"; I'm still working on mine.  

I've learned to just take everything as it is and not sweat the small stuff.  I have had an amazing experience so far and it has only been one week!  To cap this post off, here's a picture of the group of Americans I am with in my study abroad program.  More posts and adventures to come soon, but for now goodnight! 

Posing in front of St. Isaac's Cathedral!

My First Few Days

With my first week of living in St. Petersburg complete, I figured it is time to update everyone on my experience so far!  I finally have some free time to reflect on all that’s happened, so brace yourself for some new posts! 

Arriving in Russia was overwhelming and extremely intimidating.  Luckily I had my study abroad group with me, and we all stuck together through passport control and baggage claim.  Once getting out of the airport, the excitement of finally being in St. Petersburg overpowered the feeling of exhaustion from jet lag and flying.  My study abroad group was herded onto a bus, and then we were off to our new dorm.

I live in a huge building for international students enrolled at St. Petersburg State Polytechnic University called ИМОП (E-mop).  Upon arrival, I was faced with my first "Russian Quirk", as I've started to call them.  My suite is on the third floor, but for some reason the elevator doesn't stop on the third floor.  Theres a button for it, but no place for it to go.  All the other floors have elevators except ours.  How does that even happen??  Basically, I had to go up to the 4th floor and carry my 50+ pound suitcase and carry ons down the flight of stairs.  Not looking forward to the next time I'll have to do that...Other than that odd first impression of my new home, I love the suite that I'm in!  I live with 3 other girls and we share a bathroom and kitchenette complete with a fridge and a hot plate.  Its a pretty unimpressive set-up but it is all I need for my 4 month stay.
My roommate Katie in our dorm room!
The next day was the St. Petersburg city tour.  We saw some of the main sites of the city such as Peter and Paul Fortress, Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, St. Isaac's Cathedral, and beautiful city views on the banks of the frozen Neva River.  One of the most exciting things that day was witnessing the cannons go off at 12pm at Peter and Paul Fortress.  This happens everyday to signal the time and has been going on since the Fortress was occupied.  Here's a short video of the cannons firing!

Next sight that I really enjoyed visiting was the church that stands on the place Alexander II was assassinated.   This is the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood.  The story goes that the Emperor was traveling with his men when someone threw a bomb under his carriage.  Its a morbid and gory story, but basically Alexander II bled to death after his legs and stomach were badly mutilated.  Dedicated to his memory, this beautiful church was constructed on the spot where he was assassinated. 

   I also really enjoyed the look-out point of the Neva River.  From here, the Hermitage, St. Isaac's Cathedral, and the architecturally stunning buildings of the city can be seen lining the banks of the river.  St. Petersburg is referred to as the "Venice of the North" with the amount of bridges and canals that wind through the city.  It's a breathtaking view.  The fact that the river is frozen with people ice-fishing and taking a stroll on the banks is another reminder that I can only be in Russia.
View of the Hermitage & St. Isaac's Cathedral's dome
So far, I am really loving this city and am so happy I chose to come here.  Each day there's something new I learn, whether it be another Russian Quirk I discover or simply sitting in my classes learning about this country.  I can't wait for everything else that is to come!  I promise I'll get better at posting regularly, so keep a look-out for some new posts soon!  Also, go read my suitemate Sarah's blog for more updates on our trip!
До свидания! *Dah-sveh-dah-nee-yah* (goodbye!) 

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Fish n' Chips, Please?

Well folks, I have arrived safe and sound in St. Petersburg!  It has been a crazy whirlwind of adjusting to new surroundings plus the fact that wifi has been extremely limited.  With that being said, I thought I’d rewind to last week when I was in London, England for two days! 

My flight over was one of the best international flights I’ve been on.  There was no one in my row, so I was able to stretch out and doze for a few hours until I landed at 6:30am UK time.  Once I met up with a few others in my study abroad group, we decided to go explore the area around our hotel.  Our hotel was situated in the Kensington and Chelsea neighborhood, a premiere part of London where Prince Harry lives!  Rolls Royce and Lamborghinis were not a rare sight since the hotel was situated very close to a high security development nicknamed “Billionaire Row”.  We explored the quaint neighborhoods and gardens all around, stopping to see Kensington Palace where Prince William & Harry were raised by Princess Diana. 
The beautiful Kensington Gardens
Shortly after our walk through the parks, the group I was with decided to check out London’s Science museum (mainly for the free entry and wifi).  Not much to say about that, other than how we lost 2 people in our group of 5.  After searching frantically for over 30 minutes, we eventually assumed they had simply returned to the hotel on their own.  
Lesson #1 learned: Always have a meeting spot wherever you go.  
Suitemate Sarah and I being tourists

After a long day of walking around the city and jet lag sinking in, I returned to the hotel for a quick nap before dinner.  Of course my first night in London wouldn’t be official without a plate of fish n chips at an English Pub!  There were 9 of us total that came along and crowded a place called Gloucester Arms.  We had a blast chatting nonstop about the upcoming adventure in St. Petersburg and sights we were most looking forward to.  It is so nice being around people who share my love for Russia.  Being able to talk nonstop about studying abroad without anyone wanting to tape my mouth shut has been an incredible feeling.  

After arriving back to the hotel and finally getting ready for bed...The power goes out.  Being in a hotel room alone, at night, and with no power is frightening to say the least.  Luckily it came back on around 1am, after a receptionist informed me that it could be out for 45 hours due to construction on a nearby building.  All I kept thinking was “This would never happen in America” and it became my first glimpse of how different things really are across the world. 

Day 2 in London included a city tour via bus with our guide Sally Strange (yes, that is her real name).  We saw all the famous sights such as Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, and so much more.  It was a great tour, I felt like I knew the city of London in just those 3 short hours. 

Once the tour was over, we were free to wander London.  Being a huge Harry Potter fan, I begged the group of friends I was with to walk across the Thames on the Millennium Bridge.  This is the bridge that was featured in the 6th Harry Potter movie, so of course I had to get my picture on it. 

Crossing the River Thames with a view of Tower Bridge and The Globe Theatre was one of my favorite moments of the trip. Being the cheap college students we are, we opted not to take a tour of the Globe, but instead took pictures of the outside.  The thatched roof is the only thatched roof allowed in London!

Next on the London to-do list was to go back to Westminster Abbey to explore there a bit more.  I saw where Sir Isaac Newton is buried and even witnessed a choral performance within the beautiful walls of this historical place.  I was so impressed with every detail and couldn’t take my eyes off the ceilings and stained glass (unfortunately no photography allowed).  The sound of the chorus was definitely the cherry on top to that majestic building. 

Posing in front of Westminster Abbey!

We headed back to the hotel using the tube, which was a lot easier to navigate than I thought!  All in all, I loved London.  I saw a lot of the city in the short time I was there.  The only complaint I have is how expensive it is!!  I am so thankful for how cheap Russia is, I would have been broke after one week of living in London.  Well, that’s all I have for now…Cheerio! 

Few friends from my study abroad group in front of Globe Theatre!
Bye for now London <3