Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Youch.

Even a quarter of a habanero pepper does not Mexican hot chocolate make.

I am so lucky that I always taste what I'm cooking from start to finish, I almost just killed my friends.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

So a little bird told me...

. . .a couple of times that people miss reading my blog. Alas, sorry to leave you hanging! I thought my trip was over, so perhaps I had nothing interesting to write about.

But I do need a way to feel productive, to procrastinate, and I will certainly have some silly stories to share. My life at school is, if possible, more full of silliness and Questionmark Moments than my travels because I seem to attract the best and craziest people into my life, and keep them around somehow.

So what's new with me? Back at school, five weeks in, feeling remarkably unproductive. It's really hard to get motivated on writing a paper that's due in more than six months, even if said paper needs to be between sixty and a hundred pages. But I do have a topic, and a thesis committee, and other friends who are feeling just as unmotivated as I am. Some of them more unmotivated, I suspect.

My topic is going to be the Fox in Russian Folklore. The other day I decided that if I stick with this topic I may attempt to weasel the title in as: "The Fox in Russian Folklore: The Many Tails of Lisa Ivanovna". See what I did there? The pun, do you get it? How does it make you feel? Lisa Ivanovna is frequently the name of the folkloric fox character, who is the trickster in the Russian animal family. I had a dream the other night that I was walking through the woods, spotted a fox, and we started to play. She play-nibbled my fingers, and I threw a piece of food for her to go and find, and she came back to me and we cavorted. I'm hoping that this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship, and that it means I have her blessings and guidance, in the form of nibbles at my fingers to get me typing. Perhaps it means that she wants to chew my fingers off, and I'm reading too much into it.

And the most recent silly adventure was last night. I fell asleep around 1, I suspect. I woke up (around 2, I later discovered) to murmuring from the bathroom, and for some reason this murmuring made me immediately think it was Christmas. Being sleepy + stealthy voices in the night = Christmas. Not that my Mum and Papa ever have cause to do such things on Christmas eve, it clearly is the fault of the reindeer. Sneaks. So I got up to see what the murmurings were about, once I realized I would still get my presents Christmas morning if I did so. Alas, Karen was feeling unwell, and was searching for Nyquil or some other suitable cough reliever. I searched, and we found some stuff, and then Baby Chicken Katie made an alarming discovery of a "BIG BUG". And so all four of us were all a-scurry. And I put on my clogs and went after it into the outer hallway. And the Katies followed me, and we locked ourselves out. And just as my Death Clog hovered over this disgusting thing, Baby Chicken Katie (henceforth BCK) said "Don't KILL IT!" And I sighed, and we mentioned that such infestations were unacceptable in a place of residence. Karen let Katie back in to ask her gentleman if he would care to get the bug for us. And he hates bugs too, so she came back out and we got locked out again. And we still weren't allowed to kill it. Karen let us in again, and Katie got a cup. And we said "JUST A CUP? YOU NEED A SCOOPER." Clearly some of us were raised differently. And so Karen got a piece of paper that didn't provide enough non-touching of the bug, so I got the sawed off top of a shoe box that suited our purposes far better. And Katie went bravely after this Thing. And it climbed up the wall. And there was lots of maneuvering. And then the Thing fell off the wall, and Katies screamed (I think I said "Whoa!" which is much more dignified?), and Katie leapt backwards and BCK leapt backwards into me, and I staggered into the wall, like a sleepy thing without glasses. And then the bug ran, terrified into the stairwell. And then Katie went after it, and was looking in at us through the window for a minute before we realized that she HAD IT IN HAND and needed us to open the door. And Katies scurried down the hall to the other stairwell to deposit the Thing in the woods.

And then we ate some pretzels in the bathroom to calm our nerves.

I know, you're jealous. You wish you lived in a circus, too. I wish you would write my thesis for me. Want to trade?

Monday, July 28, 2008

Какой ухас...

Just kidding, it was only the travelling that was terrible.

Here is how it went:

We checked out of our rooms and brought down our linens, and Alexandra and I wrastled with our bags, and I crushed a small child who didn't seem to notice that I was carrying more than a hundred pounds worth of stuff and trying to get out of the elevator. I thought she would move, honest!

And then we waited for our ride, and then got in the van. Another sketchy van, with another sketchy driver who really didn't say a thing to us. He drove us to the airport, if hazardous and traumatizing swerving can be called driving. When we got to the airport, the sign said we couldn't check in for more than an hour, which is always delightful. So we sat around and snacked on the various foodstuffs I brought with me and played mad libs, and then checked in when we could. No problems anywhere, really. Except they made me drink my juice that I had just bought inside the airport before we checked in to the waiting area (you have to go through another separate x-ray business before you go wait.)

And onward we flew! I sat next to Charlie who was, of course, sassy. Somehow, because we all checked in together we ended up in a cluster - Vanya and Sasha were right in front of us. Not a bad flight at all. And then to Copenhagen! Which I am struggling to remember, actually. I guess that means it was uneventful? We were all super thirsty and there was no way for us to get water (because we didn't have any Danish money, or any Euros), and that made us grumpy. And then onto the next plane!

Which was also not bad, as 8 hour flights go. But 8 hour flights can be pretty annoying. I managed to sleep, but I just cannot sleep sitting up like most people can. So I'm contorting myself all over the place trying to find a way to rest my head on something. Usually, I go with the tray table option. And on SAS I also like how there are a bunch of movies playing. I watched Horton Hears a Who and Oceans Eleven, and some of a weird Danish movie that I couldn't make myself pay attention to (although that may have been the tranquilizers).

And then came Chicago. And there's no appropriate way for me to put how that went.
First, it was just a mess. We had to go through customs and the line was huge, giving them our passports and things, blah blah blah. No problems with that though, they just asked why we had been in Russia, for how long, and stamped our whatnot. Then we got our luggage. Then a woman told us it would "be easier and faster" if we re-checked it later instead of waiting in the line. So we went to find our counter. And the boys took the escalator, but we couldn't take our baggage cart on the escalator and found an elevator...eventually. We had a baggage cart partly because it was easier, but also because they lost the wheels part of Alexandra's bag. And it came down one floor...eventually. And then since the middle floor was "AG" and had pictures of cars, we thought it would be Auto Garage or something. So we went up to the Upper Level and were lost for ten minutes. And then went back down just in time to see the boys getting on the TRAIN to the other terminal. You have to take a train. A TRAIN. And we missed that train, because the luggage carts can't go on the train - which is dumb in itself. So we got on the next train, and the boys had waited for us at the platform. So we all walked onward and onward.Until we got to the broken escalator, which was a whole nother load of fun. And I partially dragged my hard suitcase because there wasn't room to carry it (which had 6 jars of honey and three bottles of vodka in it, btw).

And at the bottom, we got in line. At the end of the line? Machines. Whose idea was that, United Airlines, you colossal idiots? "Please scan your passport!"the machines said. And then didn't work. And everyone else was standing around too shy to ask for help. And I had had it (I was very hungry). "Excuse me!"I said loudly "But we have NO IDEA HOW THIS WORKS, can you help us out please?" The woman came over and almost helped us, except that it didn't work for her either. When she found out it was a connecting with SAS she implied that we would have to go back to the other terminal, and we all just looked at her. And then she told us to get in line because "we would have to see an operative"as if we wouldn't have preferred to do that in the first place.

And then the operative told us our bags were too heavy. When flying United, ladies and gentlemen, any bag that weighs anything over 50 lbs is subject to a $100 fine. No, I'm not kidding. But luckily the woman at the counter was the first helpful person we had met in a while, and let us move stuff between our bags and gave everyone else (I was the only one with 2 check bags) heavy duty plastic bags to put their stuff in. So that took a very, very long time. Eventually we got our tickets and stumbled along to security. Where we had to take our computers out of our bags for no apparent reason (neither of the other airports required it) and take off our shoes and Charlie got sassed for forgetting about his computer. The man lectured him on being more considerate, because of how hard they worked. The man who said "Please walk to the yellow line. Ok, you passed, please go left." He watched us walk through the metal detector, I guess to make sure we weren't tossing any rifles over it unnoticed, and then checked to make sure we could identify the colour yellow? Nope, none of us are colour blind.

And after all that, the Chilis Bar was too busy for us to find a seat. No margaritas for us. No cheese fries, more importantly. So I got a sandwich (that was made at a glacial pace, part of the bagel fell off and I was so impatient that I just told her to forget it, and then cost me $12 with a powerade). And we hung around, and then boarded. Luckily the whole crap process had taken us so long that we didn't have too long to wait. So we boarded. And then the stewardesses told us the pilots weren't there yet, haha, but they should be there within the hour! And then twenty minutes we all had to disembark and wait, and then reload onto the plane 45 minutes after we were supposed to have left. Awesome. And the pilots finally got there about twenty minutes after we got back on, and said "We would apologize for the wait, but it wasn't really our fault. They gave us a broken plane." Make me wait and then shatter my illusion that airplanes never break? How dare they. And they played a weird movie, and I slept most of the time. And we got in to Newark at 1:30, and the Women's bathroom was blocked off
...

And then we got our stuff, and I found another bathroom, and Vanya's mom found us, and Charlie's girlfriend Steph (who is fabulous) found us, and Ann found us, and we all wandered off our separate ways. Well, except for me because I went with Charlie. And then mapquest had us take the George Washington bridge because mapquest sucks, and we got back to Charlie's around 3:15, where I took a shower and ate two burgers and fell into his sister's bed and slept like a rock until 8:30 when my phone beeped and woke me up. And I couldn't go back to sleep because it was dinner time and I was hungry. So I had two cups of tea, and some waffles, and we watched MythBusters and Flight of the Conchords, and then chatted with Charlie's mom, and then my mom came to get meee!

And now I am home, and home is wonderful. I had sushi for dinner, and the dogs are silly, and my family is grand, and Chris is very tan and tropical. And my bed, well. To say the least, I can't feel any springs poking out of it. But my shoulders and back are still killing me from carrying all my shit through the airport. (Pardon the profanity, but after you carry it for that long, it really is just "all this shit").

And now I'm going to go have a snack. And maybe turn on the stove just because I can.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Aw, crap.

I'm a huge slacker.

Things are fine, haven't been eaten by rats (or swarms of bugs, though that almost happened, but luckily we had a broom and an awful lot of fun swatting).

The thing is, it's just seemed like the more I blogged, the more time that took away from being closer to being home. Which doesn't make sense, and therefore is not a proper excuse. But I'm sticking to it.

Things we have done recently:

Gone to the Hermitage! Gorgeous, huge, confusing, fabulous art, throne rooms, et cetera! I put some pictures up already.
Shopped until we dropped. Literally.
Got all our business in order, except for the returning of the keys and the linens so we can get some American dollars back to spend on emergency burgers and margaritas at the Chilis in the massive Chicago airport, where we will be for five hours tomorrow.
Packed.
Flipped out about going home.
Played cards.
Flipped out...about going home.
Ate some stuff.
Went to the circus! Which was awesome. Expect extensive reviews when I'm ah...not so sleepy.

It's my bedtime. And then tomorrow, we travel. First plane leaves at 2 and gets in at...2. No, really. We get in before we leave because time zones are freaky. An hour in Denmark, and then epic Flightz0rs to Chicago. And then we get lost in the maze of the airport, and realize that Americans are loud and brash and everything is strange to us, and we find some fries and cry over them in the corner. And then we fly to Newark. And then Charlie's girlfriend picks us up at midnightish (the gem) and brings us to his house. And rumour has it we will eat bacon cheeseburgers. And then I curl up on the floor (and maybe suck my thumb a little bit, like a tiny baby) and sleep, and then my mommy comes to get me and I go home.

That is the plan. Wish us luck.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Bureaucracy, and also Kunstkammer

Today, we headed out early to get things signed by our teachers. And had marginal luck finding them. And then the main office was empty, so we couldn't even finish doing our business. And Charlie has a nasty cold, and we were all just generally annoyed at the whole process being silly.

And then we wandered until the Kunstkammer opened. John and I want to go in and see a church while we're here, but I (of course) forgot my scarf to put over my head. So I went in search of one to buy, and we had to wait for the girls at the Accessorize store to finish smoking so they could open at 10. at 10:05 they were done, and we went in and found nothing worth spending money on. Alas. So I guess we'll go to a church another day.

So, because of our stomachs and Charlie's nasal passages, we went to "Kofe Khaus", a chain which is much like Starbucks (on every corner). Except, as we learned today, the service, the food, and the decor is not as good as Starbucks. We had slow waitresses, bitter tea, warm orange juice, and lukewarm bliny that tasted a little bit the way puppies smell. And everything in there was a little strangely proportioned, which was as inconvenient for the waitresses and their trays as it was for Alexandra, whose purse slipped off her shoulder and into the awkwardly positioned sink while she washed her hands. I was luckier - in my stall, on top of the toilet, was a birdy. Like for badminton. No understanding it.

So after that mess, we went off to the Kunstkammer. The line was much shorter than usual, but the old ladies: still vicious. Sometimes they won't even be in line, and they'll feel that they are perfectly entitled to cut in front of you right before the ticket booth. It's rude, and obnoxious.
We have found that
1) You are most likely to be shoved or otherwise rudely bobbled about at fancy places like museums or theatres.
2) If you're going to be shoved, run-down, or squished by anyone it's going to be an old lady. The men here? Mostly polite, or oblivious. Girls? Too busy fixing their makeup and making sure their pants aren't falling down. Old ladies? Have somewhere to go, and you can go directly to the devil and whine about it if that's inconvenient.
3) As long as you don't speak English right before the ticket-booth, you can get the Russian student price, rather than the FOREIGNER price which is 150 rubles more (two bliny!)

The Kunstkammer was basically a weird museum. It was like "Look, at this strange and foreign lands - here is all about their cultures!" Which was neat, because they had a spinning wheel from everywhere, and I desperately wanted to take pictures, but the photo ticket babushki were extra fierce. And then it was like this "FETUSES: and not normal ones, but weird creepy ones, also some babies in jars. And by some I mean A LOT." Some people have weird hobbies. And I refuse to consider the possibility of those babies and preserved baby organs coming to find me in my dreams. The two-headed calf was alright, he was pretty cute.

After the Kunstkammer, Alexandra and I went to the CD store where I had a music accident. 2 Kino CD's, 2 Nautilus Pompilius CD's, and a greatest hits of Akvarium later . . .I also had to get a CD with 1000 Russian fonts on it. 1000! And most of them seem to work in English, too!

Then, back here. I made grilled cheeses for lunch, and then like...two hours later, I made southern fried potatoes (in a skillet, with lots of butter, because that's all we've got) and egg sandwiches. But the sandwiches were open-faced, because Ukrainian bread is apparently very hearty sourdough, and I was unaware of that when I bought it. It's dangerously possible to overwhelm the contents of one's sandwich.

Other than that, not much else is new. We tried for a while to translate Charlie's talking mushroom - some luck, but it still sounds pretty creepy. I wrote it out in the Russian Quake font, which is even creepier.

We have new roommates in the room next door. Not so bad, but that kitchenette is more crowded with more dishes in it, and it's everyone for themselves with the toilet paper. Did I mention I accidentally got some scented toilet paper? It smells like popsicles, but the packaging says nothing about a scent. That's false advertising right there.
Also, I went to take a shower last night and one of the room chairs was in the bath-room... Still not sure why. It's all a mystery.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Erotica Museum, and REAL KETCHUP

...and some other stuff, too, actually.

Today, we went to the Erotica Museum. It was, as we had expected, rather small and quirky. It's still a working clinic (used to be for venereal diseases, now for prostate research and other things). So we went in, and it was weird, and we all lurked in the doorway. And then we saw the big case of souvenirs you can buy, and knew we were in the right place (on account of the naked ladies). So we paid five rubles, and got - I kid you not - Passports to Potency. Yessirree. And inside? Popup things, which I was not expecting, which we laughed about. And then laughed some more. And then we had to put some booties on our feet, which I guess is common practice in venereal disease clinics? (Just kidding, lots of museums and doctor's offices have that here, because of the brooms - which are a whole nother topic).
Here they are: my fresh and sterile foothats.

When we first went in, I was all "Nuh uh, I am not wearing a shower cap in a museum" and then Charlie explained to me that they were for our feet.

So then we had a slightly embarrassed and hilarious look around. It's awkward to be in the way of someone going to (possibly) get their prostate examined because you're looking at all the phalluses. And I mean lots. It was like being in SuperBad.

In case you don't believe me, look closely at this boat.
(Hahahahaha.)
This was a personal favourite, very classy:
I call it "The Cutting Board of Love". Or "Carrot Romance". Or "Time Flies When You're About to Be Put In Soup."

So after the tiny and awkward museum, we went for a walk. And a walk, and a walk. Trying to get to the Smolniy Institute. In my head, I was all "I'm thirsty, and hungry, where are we going, and why is it worth it?"

"Oh," I said meekly, "I guess that's why."
Because angels live there, that's why. Or they did, before I bought it. Sorry mum and dad, about the credit card bill for this month! I'll pay you back, ok? Come visit me in my fancy princess palace?

And after wandering in awe and taking lots and lots of pictures, and wandering, we walked and walked and walked some more. And hopped on the metro, and hopped out of the metro (well, they hopped, I sort of staggered in a vertigo-sick way, eff these escalators) and went to Liverpool - a Beatles inspired restaurant. Where they played Creedence Clearwater Revival instead.

And we had the best burgers of our lives. Ok, they weren't. But they were real burgers. With real ketchup. And bacon. And the whole rumour about alcoholism in Russia? Is because it's so hard to get water. Because I was dying of thirst, and if you order water and get a miniscule bottle of water, and then you look at your friend next to you with his beer, and it looks like there's actually a significant amount of liquid in it, you end up ordering one too, to stave off the dehydration. Except I don't know that beer actually helps with that. But it tastes good with a burger. Because burgers are amazing, is the moral of the story, especially with bacon. They taste like home.

And then we came back here and fell down. Actually, got ice cream and water and fell down. And I started reading my last book. For dinner we had (last night too, actually) pasta and sauce. Last night I made the fiercest garlic bread ever to walk the earth. And it actually could have walked, on garlic legs, because it was that fierce. And people were surprised, but I did warn them that there was a lot of garlic.

And last night we ate an entire pie. And tonight we ate an entire cake. Actually, I have one tiny little chocolate hedgehog left. Chris, I took the hedgehog piece for you! For yooou! Want me to save it and bring it back? I'm not sure if I can though, so I'll just eat it maybe. But I'll enjoy it for you!

Moral of the story: we need to get home and reintegrate vegetables into our diet so we can stop eating entire large pastries out of a feeling that something is missing in our lives.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

(hilarious)

Someone, somewhere, is playing the Final Countdown loud enough that we could hear it through our window.

And all I can think of is Gob.

A guided tour of our kitchen.

Because we didn't do anything today. No, I mean literally. We went out to get food, and otherwise just hung around. Mostly I read, but then I finished my book. There isn't even anything hilarious on TV. So now I'm chewing on my own fingers. Or blogging.

So I thought I would show you around our kitchen. It's pretty huge, so make sure you have your walking shoes on, ok?
Well...there you have it! Just kidding, there's so much more to see!

Like this Fairy Dish Soap, for example. So awesome I considered bringing some home!

And it's just not every day that you get the honor and priviledge of cooking on a stove that needs to be plugged in!

Oh wait, yes it is. And don't touch that metal knobby on the left - it doesn't change anything (the left coil is always on HIGH, and the metal knobby gets real, real hot.

These are our knives, which have clearly taken a vow of pacifism. No violence, shankings, stabbings, slicings, dicings, or opening of wimpy plastic packages for them. It's a very zen existence.

This is my massive counter space. (Not.)

This is the boys cheese grater that we have commandeered for our cheesing purposes (and because all the cooking gets done here anyway.) And also, the pot that I used to use to heat up water for bathing (don't worry, I washed it). That I may again get to use, because our hot water is on strike again, even though the boys say they still have it. Bastards.

To recap, there it is. Our kitchen(ette, ette, ette, it's very miniature) in all its glory. Where I've been cooking dinner for everybody almost every night since we realized it was tastier and cheaper and less stressful than eating in the cafeteria.

And now that you've had your tour, I'm sadly bored again. Oy.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Sleeping It Off.

After some lounging and reading and many cups of tea (for me) and some cake and some cookies with honey on them, Alexandra and I went on a duo adventure today, sans boys. We only managed to wake them around one o'clock, and they didn't seem too thrilled about the prospect of...moving.

And so, we went in search of the Famed Ligovsky DVD stores! Deemed cheap and friendly, by guide books all over the place! They ended up being small and impersonal, more expensive than the Yunona DVD store, and all of the DVD's were only Region 5 and PAL. Which won't work in our players at home. So we left, disappointed.

And went off to the bestest Thai Restaurant In Saint Petersburg. Ok, so I've only been to the one. But that one was wonderful. It had the neatest decor, and our waitress actually SMILED, ladies and gentlemen! We were just discussing last night how we could only recall one friendly wait-person since we had been here (other than the wonderful bliny providing ladies at Teremok), and that was the excited guy at Pizza Hat.

But this restaurant. First of all, called Mops. Мопс. Which I only just now looked up? It means pug. Like a pug dog. Like those bizarre-looking furry little delights that I am increasingly more obsessed with with each alien face I see (not to mention the curly pig tails, oy).

But other than that, there were many things awesome about it. The decor was crazy-fantastic. Dark and stylish, like other places we'd been to, but with weird funky stuff. The bathroom door was (inconveniently, but quirkily) hidden in a wall - the wallpaper had no break in it, so you almost couldn't see it at all! And then the bathroom was just the coolest ever. I put up some pictures of it. I went twice while we were there, because I just loved it so much. A little couch thing across from the fabulous sink and chandellier lights, and then two stalls with toilets and sinks and perfume and face wash, just in case, I suppose? And the stalls were -clean- and nice and beautifully (and darkly) lit, and all the towels were real towels with little woven baskets to put them in after they were used. And the best part was this spooky, soothing, twinkly Alice in Wonderland instrumental music that fluttered around. And Alexandra basically had to drag me out because I was perfectly ready to move in and live there for a time.

And lo, lest I forget - the food! We agonized for a while, because we love Thai food and wanted everything....for free. And then we ordered. and when I came back from my first trip to the bathroom our waters were there, along with a little bowl of sauce with a tiny spoon and some rice crackers. But not just any rice crackers. They were rice puff crackers, a la rice crispies. I figured this out because I put some sauce on, and my cracker...crackled. And then I rested it on my tongue, and it felt like pop rocks. Except the cracker had the same neat sensation as Pop Rocks, without the chemicals and indigestion and terrible before-during-and-after tastes. For dinner, I got panang curry with beef (aaaamazing), and Alexandra got Tom Kha soup, also amazing. We swapped just a little because panang is her favourite but she doesn't eat beef, and I...love food, and am a total food opportunist.

And then we came back here. And it was a good, short, non-foot-hurty, good food adventure. We got some ice cream and some fruit at the market next door. And then lounged, and then had movie dilemmas.
Because my Sleeping Beauty will do Russian with English subtitles, but still has the English audio layered underneath, annoyingly, and has no Russian subtitles. And her 101 Dalmations has no English subtitles. But my Mulan, well, that was awesome.

And now it's absolutely my bedtime.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Last Day of Classes!

And I'm sort of excited. But also not, because I know I was learning a lot, and getting more comfortable listening and talking, and learning really -useful- things.

But class is over, and since they didn't warn us we have to go back at weird times and try to find all of our teachers before Wednesday so we can get their signatures and things. Because as much as there's a bureaucracy, nobody talks to each other. Teachers go and sign in, but it's at the snack bar, and not the office. So they probably only see them on payday. There's no central place to leave a note, or ask them to sign things. So we have to go and be stalkers - which wouldn't be so bad if we only had one teacher, but we all have at least two - and I think John has a different one for every day of the week. Dumb.

So after class yesterday we went over to Nevsky to do some shopping for gifts and trinkets. The boys got what they wanted and left, which left Alexandra and I free to wander and not worry about them being bored - hooray! So we shopped and shopped and compared prices and shopped, and then hopped on the bus and came back here. The boys took the wrong bus (it was a trolley bus, I'm not sure how they missed that it was attached to wires), and then the metro to get back, and got back just a few minutes after we did. Only we had to go up the stairs, because there was like...a tour group or something downstairs waiting to take the elevators in carefully separated groups. Totally dumb. I can't really complain about all those 18 flights of stairs, because Alexandra is off running them four or five times right now. Yikes.

Last night for dinner we made crazy ramen-chicken-BROCCOLI-garlic noodle extravaganza. It was amazing, because Hello, broccoli, where have you been all my life? How have I lived without you? It was frozen (once, not when we ate it), and it was amazing.
And then we got the cakes, of which there are pictures where the pictures live. The cakes were amazing. And John got some vodka, which tastes like burning and makes my throat itchy, but is delicious if you chase it with a shortbread cookie drenched in honey. Alexandra and I were demure and only had a bit, but I got a phone call from the boys at three in the morning asking if we knew where the secret way out of the dorm was, and I could hear them talking through the hall door. I am certain they were not so restrained as we ladies.

We went for a walk on the beach after watching the end of Dirty Dancing (even funnier in Russian!) and some Bewitched (because TV here is way better than at home). And a drunk guy in a sombrero told us to take our drunk friend (Charlie) home in terrible, halting drunken English, because he told us the cops were right across the street and that would be "a lot of bull shit." And then he wandered away and peed off a hill. And we ran off in the other direction and came back upstairs. Where we talked about spiders (who were watching us eat these shortbread cookies jealously through the window), and listened to music (with that neat little speaker you lent me, mum! it works strangely well!) until John distracted Charlie back to their room so we could go to sleep.

And now it is morning and sleeping in was nice even though the sun woke me up by being toasty. And in the mornings here, they still play Looney Tunes and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, as should be the case with all respectable channels. But they're also playing some weird anthropomorphic mouse biker show that looks way to furry for me to be comfortable with. Rachel tells me it's Mouse Bikers from Mars, because she is wise in the ways of all things animated.

And now I must go wake up the boys so we can eat the second cake. But I suspect I should try to be very, very quiet. It may not go well.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Lines.

After class today, we were going to go over to the Hermitage. But the line was longer than the last time we went, when we waited about an hour to get in. No thanks. We wandered off and did some shopping instead. We decided that we'll go over to the museum early some day next week so we might have a chance of beating the line.

I got a book of Pushkin poetry (of course!) and an illustrated Russian-English dictionary. I had seen the dictionary before and thought it was a good idea, but we didn't realize how cool it was until we were all looking at it on the bus. Super detailed everything. I could learn all the parts of the eye (or the teeth!), and the names of technical sports things that I don't even know the names of in english! It's awesome, and I'm really glad I got it.

Then we came back here. And it was raining like crazy. I put some more money on my SIM card, because when I tried to call Chris this morning my phone just beeped and a lady said something in Russian (which I was not prepared to understand so early in the morning). We got some vegetables for our evil dinner plan (chicken and possibly potato pancake things). And then we came back here and fell down. Actually, I fell down for a little and then started cooking. We got the chicken and some more butter, I made the foods, and we ate. The potato pancakes (which I made up, because we don't have nearly enough tools or ingredients to use an actual recipe for anything) ended up being more like potato omelet with shredded carrots and onions. Still good, though.

And now, we are lounging. Tomorrow is cake party, to celebrate the end of classes (I seem to be the only one who wishes they weren't going to be over, but I'll take any excuse I can get to eat a lot of cake).

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Oy.

Russia does not believe in signs, or notifications to the public of any kind.

After class today we went to Lev (Lion) for lunch. The waitress was determined to speak English, and we wanted to practice Russian. It was frustrating. Lunch was good, but not much food for what we paid, and I stupidly paid a dollar for some ketchup to go with my fries. The tea was amazing, because it was the first time I've had cream or cinnamon since I've been here. After that we walked allll the way over to the Cruiser Aurora on the other side of a different island. And it was closed to the public. But there wasn't a sign, and no one was talking about why it was closed. There was just a military guy guarding the entrance, which was chained off. So we looked at it from the dock. And sat down for a few minutes, and came back. It was annoying, but nice to be out for a walk, because it was the first genuinely sunny and nice day in a while. It was also quite neat, but I forgot my camera so someday when I get everyone else's pictures I will post them.

I got some ice cream when we got back, which I've been avoiding until today. Not the ice cream - but this particular ice cream. Because it's just a brick of ice cream, wrapped like an ice cream sandwich. Not convenient to eat, but John's been getting them so I thought I would try one. And it's really, really, really good ice cream. Definitely worth the trouble.

Another cultural observation that we made today was that at home there's a big difference between a day look, and a night look. And generally people follow the rules. Tons of makeup, runway hair, mesh, tiny dresses with flapper fringe, and three inch platform heels are generally reserved for evenings at home. Here, it's normal to see all that (and more) at 8 in the morning. It's hard to tell if people just haven't been home since the night before, or if they get ready for clubbing early. Or maybe they just go to work like that - it's definitely possible.

Now I'm watching X-Files, which is called "Secret Material". I always had trouble understanding it in English, and it's not going very well in Russian. I'm going to go try and figure it out, I think a lady just got sucked into the earth by something with scary fingers.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Yesterday, today, naptime and things.

I have been remiss in my blogging, alas! Partially because the internet wasn't working last night or this morning, we're not sure why.

Yesterday we went off to class! Class was good. Because some of our vocabulary words were about things blowing up and driving words (like hitting the brakes, or hitting a tree, or a deer), we watched clips from "Long Kiss Goodnight" - a movie I had seen part of on TV at home and been unable to identify. My favourite part is where someone throws a grenade at them, and Samuel L. Jackson yells "Fuck it!" and starts running the other way. It kept making me laugh in class because the Russian dubbing in most live-action movies or TV shows doesn't completely cover the English voices.

After class, we went to Teremok for lunch again. Because we're addicts. I'm going to go through bliny withdrawal when we get home. After that, we came back to the dorm and Charlie and I picked up our laundry from the laundry babushka who does all the laundry (even though the sign says "self serve" or something to that effect. It means "Carry it down here yourself, and this lady will do it, and give it back to you without bags so you have to bundle it all in a towel like a baby."

Last night, I tried to make this sandwich for dinner. But we had some trouble fighting with the chicken, and also were missing some ingredients. The important part was, it was delicious and the chicken was just right - not dry, and not undercooked. Numnum.
And then I took shortbread cookies and put them in a frying pan and put chocolate on them and covered them until it melted. And they were spectacular, and maybe the best idea I've had since we've been here.
And then we watched Alice in Wonderland. Good, and weird - which is good, because it wouldn't be Alice in Wonderland if it wasn't weird.. The Mome Raths translated as Forget-Me-Nots. Silly.

There was a spectacular thunderstorm last night. And the light in our room wasn't working, so we had no choice but to sit in the dark and enjoy it - which was good, because I'm usually the only one who wants to do that, and when people don't get it it's really hard to explain. I did wait until the storm had moved over a bunch before going to bed, mumma, because my bed is right next to the window. Thought you might want to hear that.

Today, class was also good. We watched clips from Spy Games, for some more blowing-stuff-up vocabulary. At break there were no more pirozhki (pastry things) so I had to get a Snickers and an instant coffee, and Oh Boy was it delicious.
After class, we went to the restaurant next to Teremok to try out their BiznessLanch, which was terrible and we will not go there again. It went like this:

  • We ordered cheese fries to share, because that's what attracted us to the restaurant to begin with, and we were all dying for some. Turns out it was mozzerella sticks, only with worser cheese and weird sauce.
Business lunch was:

  • some egg salad with smoked herring in it. I can't stand egg salad, and the fish was really fishy, and it had bones in it. Sasha and Charlie were pretty brave, but John and I almost died trying to finish ours without being sick. I didn't finish mine (but I wasn't sick either). I wasn't going to get a drink, but it was an emergency - and Coca Cola here still comes in the adorable (yet wasteful) glass bottles.
  • Cold borshch, which wasn't bad - but also wasn't good. I make much, much better borshch, and why would cold soup be the only option on a cold and rainy day?
  • The "house cutlet" which was like a small but thick burger, with something that was almost salsa and almost ketchup, and some cole slaw without sauce.

And then we went to Teremok to get dessert bliny and cheer ourselves up and get the taste of eggs and herring out of our mouths. We brought them back here and ate them and watched Buffy (the one with her mom's funeral in it, Sasha and I cried even though it was in Russian and we couldn't understand it). And then I took a nap. Apparently for a couple of hours, I'm not sure. I woke up around 6. And had some tea.

And then we went to get stuff for dinner - Grilled cheese with tomato, again! A classic. and we didn't set the fire alarm off this time (because I may have injured it yanking it out of the ceiling that other time), which is now sitting on our counter. And then we watched Aladdin. And it was awesome.

We all seem to be having this problem in which we're tired, and all cultured out. I want something trashy to read/watch (FLIPPER was on TV last night, it made my day), and a comfortable bed to snuggle up in, and just not to talk to anyone or do anything. Probably if you know me you're not surprised - after this long of not being alone for more than fifteen minutes, I'm about ready to crawl into a closet for three days just so I can feel like nobody's looking at me. I'm pretty attached to having some (a lot of!) privacy. It's a problem that I have no way of remedying. But I have to talk to people, and do things, and I feel badly for not wanting to be out seeing the sights.
But we've been out seeing the sights for two straight weeks, and it's tiring. After a while a museum is another museum and your feet hurt just as much as they did in that other museum, and the statues are nice but they keep checking your passes and you're afraid to take pictures, and then we feel guilty for not appreciating it.
So we're waiting to catch our second wind. Tomorrow we're going to go on the Cruiser Aurora (it's supposed to be sunny and not rainy like the rest of this week), which is outside and you can climb on stuff, so that should be good. Apparently someone ran their boat into it last week - always a good choice. I see a battle cruiser that started a revolution? My first thought is to play chicken with it. Every time.

And yes, we're still having fun, and it's still a great learning experience, and all those shenanigans. Just homesick, and puppysick, and lovesick - but importantly, not Giardia sick!

New pictures up: The Cutest Pickle Ever, and the rainbow that just happened outside our window.

Monday, July 14, 2008

YESSSS


HOT WATER. WE CAN HAVE IT.


Sunday, July 13, 2008

Sundayyy

I woke up and my feet felt almost alive.

So we went downstairs and got warm yogurt drinks (erlack, they taste like cheese when warm). And I got an ice cream cone full of marshmellow and coated in chocolate, which is less gross than it sounds.

Waiting at the bus stop, a crazy old lady yelled at Charlie for something having to do with a car. That was all we understood. And Charlie said "I don't have a car!" and she said "Oh, but your friends do." She was literally standing there shaking her finger at him and it was all very epic. Originally we thought it was because he had been talking about the devil when she walked over, but turns out we did something to her car? Not so sure.

And then we got on the bus and we went off to the Hermitage for a while. Because you know what? It's free for students, and we can go as often as we want. So we can go for two hours, and leave when we get hungry and our feet hurt. So that is what we did. Some of my illegal pictures are up on my pictures thing. Today we saw the Ancient Near East (one room, four statues...), Egypt, and Greek and Roman statues. All beautiful, and the building is just splendid.

And then we went to Teremok. And I got my usual ham and cheese blin, and banana and chocolate blin and they were amazing. I also got beech juice, but I won't say it was amazing because it tasted like sweet and cloudy water. After that, we came back here, and got ingredients for pasta. The pasta sauce had hot peppers in it (we don't know why), and we grated our own parmesan and warmed up a baguette with some butter. Nomnom. We also got little pickles (not very good, because I opted for the cheap ones), and I got the goat beer. I call it this because the brand is "Goat" in Russian, and there's a picture of a goat on the label. It's pretty good.

During dinner, we watched Alice in Wonderland. Another good adaptation! The songs and things all sound great.

And now it's epic shower time, and studying, and bed before class tomorrow. Hugs!

Yesterday...

Was another crazy day, in which our feet hurt.

Actually, it started out quite well. Except for the liver thing. Alexandra and I went downstairs to get some food while the boys were still waking up. I saw the beef stroganoff, and thought "Yes! That is exactly what I need!" and I got it on some potatoes. But it was liver. The one substantial thing I list as food I can't eat (mayonnaise is on that list, too). So I ate the gravy and potatoes. And I tried to eat the liver, but I got to that bite that I just couldn't swallow and I had to call it quits.

So we went off, on our adventure! And for all that we'd heard about this crazy outdoor faire on the internet (it's not mentioned in a single guidebook), and from a site that's lied to us before, it was so easy! Took the metro, transferred metros, got on a bus that took us directly there where there was a huge sign (there's a picture of it, in my pictures). The sign will look sort of like
"weird O - hoha" Which is actually Yunona.

And the faire was magnificent. Half of it was the biggest freaking yard sale I've ever seen in my life (where I got an ibrik! Oh, Turkish Coffee, you're gonna happen). And the price made steam come out of my ears...until I remembered it was only about $12 when I converted it. Haha. Charlie got a flag with Lenin on it and some flames that says "Always Prepared" in Russian - we didn't flaunt that one, nor will we let him put it on their door.

The other half of the market is more official looking (not used shoes, and possible stolen car parts) stalls and little stores. We can't for the life of us find any t-shirts with Russian on them. They've got some Engrishy ones, lots of french stuff, and no Russian. It's dumb.
We found the DVD store, and it was heaven. For about $25, I got Alice in Wonderland, Aladdin, Sleeping Beauty, and Mulan. We watched Alexandra's new The Lion King last night, and it was totally awesome. Except I still cried, because it's awful. Jerks.

And then after the outdoor market, we went to Gostinny Dvor mall to find some food and wait for our teacher's brother (our teacher from home), so we could give him some stuff from her and say hi. But we were wicked early. So we wandered around the mall for a hundred years looking at crazily overpriced stuff and getting loster and loster. It's a huge and terrifying maze, and we'll need to eat a big lunch before we go back there.
And then we found pizza, and continued our wander.

And I was right about the Sephora kind of store here - not only are there no Russian brands, but they carry relatively low-end American stuff like Rimmel and Maybelline as if it's really nice. And they didn't have some of the stuff I would have bought if they had it (MAC, Stila, etc.)
Something about having to wear my not-enough-for-one-week clothes over and over again for more than two weeks, and having to shower from a pot of hot water heated on a plug-in stove is causing me to have a relapse into makeup lala land. I've been sneaking looks at makeup online and closing it quickly when people come in, as if it's something illicit. Naughty me. Just so you know, mumma, you'll be getting two packages for me (so far). They're just samples, but protect them from dog terrorism please?

The best two finds, by far, were the honey store, and the fabric store that has strings of tassels for about $8 a meter. Bellydancing costumes, yesss. I need to go back there sometime. But the HONEY STORE. DID I MENTION THERE'S A HONEY STORE? And it's incredible. I got a little pot of Acacia honey, but I am so going back for more before I come home. They had chestnut, and lime, and raspberry, and buckwheat. I'm getting the buckwheat, cross your fingers, if they have it next time I go. It was all out this time.

So we finally get a call from Yulia's brother (not his fault we were a hundred years early and can't stand malls), and then it's impossible to find each other. There are no street signs, there is no map. So what we did was John told him "One of the girls has a pink mushroom toy" and I put the mushroom on my head. And the boys told me to take it off my head. Apparently I was getting disdainful looks from Russian girls - Hey ladies? At least I wear panties when I flash unsuspecting strangers on the street. If you were a guy? You'd be arrested. Don't sass me about my mushroom.
Anyway, the mushroom rescued us, because it's how he found us. And then we went with him and his extraordinarily pretty girlfriend to the car, and they drove us back to the dorm. And I'm glad I had Alexandra on my lap to hold onto for comfort, because driving here is terrifying, and I had to drink three cups of water and lie down when we got back because I hadn't taken any dramamine and I should have taken six for the action-movie drive we went on.
But anyway, they were very nice, and it's not their fault my stomach is a wuss, and they told us to call if we have any problems. Actually, Mark told us to call, and his girlfriend was shy and just looked lovely.

So while I was lying down and recovering my wits and my inner ear, the boys went out hunting and gathering (to the market) and came back for the fixings of chicken club sandwiches. And we made them, and they were amazing, and we watched the Lion King. And I actually slept in a little this morning because it was massively foggy outside so I wasn't tanning.

And there's still no hot water, but we have a system now. Alexandra runs the stairs before taking a shower (so the ice water is refreshing!) And I take a stove-warmed warm sponge-bath in the evening and wash my hair in cold water in the morning which is a 100% guaranteed way to wake up and get rid of the morning fuzzy-headedness.

Depending on the injuries sustained by our feet yesterday, maybe the Hermitage today. Wish us luck!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Yesterday...

Was eventful.

We went to class. Class was ...sort of a total bummer. I've been trying to be really optimistic about the whole thing (and it's been working, too!). But I just can't talk. Over three years, I have learned almost no useful vocabulary, and I can't take part in a simple conversation without grabbing my dictionary seventeen thousand times just to make a single point. We had a debate yesterday, and after class, my teacher said something to me and I must have looked confused. "Quiet," whispered one of the girls next to me (who may or may not be an angel.) So she was asking why I was quiet. "I don't know," I said, because I know how to say that really, really well. She said something again, and the teacher herself translated that one "bad mood?"

Oops! "No, no, I just...have too few words." There is a better way to say that and extrapolate upon it, I'm sure, but I don't know the words to do so. Then she said something else involving seventeen other words I didn't know, but I think it was friendly, so I'm not going to worry about it.

Then we stopped at the Universam (24 hour sorta-grocery store) for lunch things. We came back, and I swiftly made grilled cheeses that we then devoured. And then I made myself two peanut butter and honey sandwiches, which were amazing. I just had another one for breakfast, but now we are all out of honey ;.;

After lunch, we lounged. And got more water, because I am a fish. And I studied and painted my nails, and took a brief shower. I've started heating up water on the "stove" for my face, because I just don't feel like washing my face with cold water does anything but wake me up.

And then we got fancied, and during that process there was a frantic knocking at the door. "We're not late, are we?!" I thought, and the boys came running in yelling that there was a naked girl on the roof. So we looked, and we're pretty sure there was, unless her bathingsuit was flesh coloured. We have our own naked guy, like in Friends, only ours is a lot farther away and might not be naked. Also, a girl.

So then we continued fancying, and went off to the ballet! We took one bus to Nevsky Prospekt, and caught the other one - going the wrong way. Thankfully the babushka taking money and giving tickets didn't charge us. So we hopped off, and looked in vain for a place to cross the street (ended up using one of the subterranian crosswalks), and caught the bus in the right direction. Turns out we totally could have walked, but whatever.

Funny observation that we discussed over dinner: Russian girls don't mind being naked in public. They wear the biggest stripper heels and the tiniest skirts, and very low-cut shirts, and either they don't know how much they're showing, or they don't mind. Like nakedgirl on the roof. Oh, it's sunny out? I think I'll sit naked on the roof of my building which is directly across from college dorms. Naked girl on the bus was pretty spectacular, though. From where I was sitting, she went up to give the bus driver her money and bent over, and lifted her leg (because her platforms were about 7", and I said to myself "I have got to ask the boys (who were on the other side of the bus) if she was wearing anything under that tiny trenchcoat of a dress." The answer is no, she was not. And she sat on the bus seats, which have been goodness knows where and have had whatever spilled on them, and the thought just squicks me out. Also, because I like to think that the person who last sat in my seat wore undapants. That's just something I take for granted, I guess.

So then we got to the theatre.

Got our tickets, and went in! The theatre is just gorgeous. Outside it's lightminty green with white trim, and inside is just decadent and lovely. The rules say no taking pictures, but everyone was . . .except for me, because I forgot my camera. Which is better, because my back is already injured just from carrying the stuff I had in my bag - I have got to find a way to rationalize buying a new purse. Only it might be hard to find one here that's not some fancy name brand.

So we got to our seats, and a piece of advice is: If you have to pay more for the better seats, do it. Alexandra and I both agreed that we're going to next time. We couldn't see the whole stage. And then two seats were open so we moved up and we could, and then the jerks showed up late and we had to move back. Rar.

But! It was awesome anyway. Here it is. The cast, and plot synopsis
Karen, some notes for you:
Do you know what role the ambiguous shirtless guy plays? We were pretty sure he was Conrad's lover, and then the three of them had a whole happy three-way relationship. Accurate? It is possible I just made that up, but our programs were only in Russian and I (thankfully, for my back) did not bring my dictionary. Here is the part in question. Also - incredible, watch it. I think it was the same choreography, though definitely played by different people and her outfit was HOT PINK. Which looked nice with shirtless lovah's blue pants.

The live orchestra in a small (compared to some places) venue was amazing. And the set was very cool. And the dancers were just incredible. At first it was all plot driven frisking about on stage, but later there was some very cool acrobatic stuff. Pirate fights, and the guys solos, which I tend to think of as "power dances" (Look, how I can fling myself about the stage and make it look so easy!) were awesome. And the main ladies were just incredible. There was one sort of minor part of the main Corsair lady who was amazing, in her red character shoes and general awesomeness. She did a folkier kind of dance. Medora and Gulnara were both spectacular, and their costumes were very shiny and I want to be a ballerina way more now than I ever did when I was little XD
But I wouldn't sacrifice eating everything I want for it, so I'm all set.

And then after the ballet, there was a grand adventure. In which the boys had explored while we were at the ballet and picked a place to eat, that we went to. That was overly posh, and our waitress didn't once crack a smile, and the food was amazing but more expensive than some of us might have liked to pay. (I didn't mind - roast chicken with mushroom risotto is worth a little sacrifice when I don't have the comfort of a warm shower anywhere in my near future.) After dinner we walked over the bridge to catch the bus and found out the 7 stops running at 11:19. and walked to the metro and made it for the last train. And then walked all the way back to the dorm from the metro station, which is not a short walk. And fell down and cried over our poor feets and pulled out our hair at the lack of hot water, and shook our fists at the sky. Except for all that last part. Mostly we just whined a little and flopped over into bed (or at least that's what I did).

And now I guess I should get dressed. For I am hungry.

Friday, July 11, 2008

My feet hurt

...a lot. Good thing the bus we need to get home stops running at 11:19. Jerks.


More tomorrow. Goodnight!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

And again

Still, no hot water.

I made bacon and eggs and toast for dinner. Apparently Russian bacon is even more salty than bacon at home. Like...almost unbearably so.

I have heated up water on the stove in which to wash my face. So there.

Not the Vodka Museum

Today we were going to go to see the Cruiser Aurora, since it was supposed to be a nice day. Since it looked like it was going to rain, we decided to go to the Vodka Museum today instead of tomorrow, and just could not find it. We walked around for a good long time and it was nowhere to be found. We think it may have been closed because of some construction? But we don't know.

So we came back here. Uneventful. Buffy's on again.

And now, for some geeking out. Girly-style.

I was so excited to come and get some makeup with Russian on it. Super excited! But as far as I can tell, all the good brands are imported. I might be able to find some really low-end stuff, but I'm trying to convince myself not to waste the money. They've got a Sephora-like store that has the same kind of stuff it has at home (Dior, Lancome, etc.), but I do want to go in and see if the prices are better.

And another geeking out point - is the perfume. Apparently Russian women love musk. At home, girl's perfumes are all light and flowery and overly clean smelling (like soap, to me). The only time I've smelled that here was on tourists. Here it seems to be the guys that wear clean-smelling colognes, and the girls are all musked out. Which is awesome, because it means that if I can smell someone's perfume, there's a good chance that I like it instead of getting a headache.

Not really much news, other than that. Excited about the ballet tomorrow, really want to take a nap. I keep not napping so I can sleep at night. Maybe I just should, because it's not working.

Still no hot water. Crap.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Where has all the hot water gone?

Apparently, they go around turning off the pipes in the summer so they can clean them. To be honest, I'd rather have hot water. The water isn't safe to drink, and the brownness always goes away after a couple of seconds, so why bother? The moral of the story is cold showers are cold, but after two days I couldn't put off showering any longer.

Today we had class, mine was the reading section with the Wednesday teacher, who has just these stunningly ice-blue eyes. All of my teachers (there are 3) are such Russian ladies in very different ways. Apparently Wednesday teacher isn't going to be our Wednesday teacher anymore, which is a shame, because I really like her. But I like Monday and Tuesday teacher as well, and she's taking over Wednesdays. So all is well.

We read a story today in class about a little girl who is terrible ill, because she simply must meet an elephant. And so she does, and is healthy. There's a lot more to it, but that's the idea. And then we made up dialogues, and titles for the chapters, and it was just silly, really. Still no banana pastry in my hungry little paws at break, tragic.

After class we toddled over to Imperator, a crazy fancy restaurant that we remembered had "Business-Lunch", for 190 rubles. Literally, визнес-ланч. Say business lunch with a Russian accent, and there you go. Originally they seated us on the fancy side, with the brocade chairs and woven table cloths and fancy napkins, and excruciatingly delicious-looking menu. I said to myself "Alas, self, I don't know if I have enough cash for this!" as soon as I saw the table setting. "But wait, I have my credit card if there's an emergency!" (I was hoping there would be a food emergency, in my mouth. I want one of everything on that menu). Menu told me, "Sorry, lady, no credit cards." John went and asked about business lunch, and they rerouted us to a different room that looked a bit like a dungeon with a bar. Much more comfortable, much less expensive. And business lunch? You sit, and they just bring you food. I assume you get your own drinks at the bar, but we just went thirsty. They brought us bread, Olivier salad, yummy soup, and then mashed potatoes with what I think was mackerel. It was all plain, and it was all delicious - which makes me want to try the fancy stuff even more, because you've got to be a good cook if you can make plain and simple food so amazing.

The Kunstkamera lines were still massive, so we went to the Zoological Museum instead! It was...a whole lot of dead animals. Some were neat and well preserved, and some have obviously been there since before the invention of modern taxidermy. It was all pretty cool, though. I think the Blue Whale at the Whaling Museum is bigger (haha, take that, Zoological museum!). I put up a few pictures, but my camera is getting low on battery and I wanted to make sure I saved it for the goofy stuff. Like that rodent with his party teeth on, and the touching sign that is now my desktop.

On the way back, I mentioned that I may or may not go on a killing spree if we had to eat downstairs at the cafeteria again. I was a little surprised when everyone agreed. So we stopped at the Park Inn (fancy hotel with an ATM that doesn't charge) and pretended like we belonged and got some rubles, and then the grocery store for some vittles. And then came back here and fell over. And then went over to the market next door for some more vittles. So I made ramen noodles with added veggies fried in butter, we bought a whole rotisserie chicken for the equivalent of $5, and had a feast. And then since we don't have an oven we fried some bread in butter on the stove and put honey on it. It was immensely pleasing after a week and a half of only restaurant food. And apparently, Papa, I have learned how to carve a chicken (though not very neatly) after all these years of watching you do it ^.^ I was also loathe to throw out the carcass thinking I should try and make some soup, but the boys were threatening to fling it out the window (for some reason they really want to do that) and I thought it would be safer if it just went into the trash.

And now I'm just hanging around, making Skype calls and bothering people and wishing we had hot water. I really, really wish we had hot water. Because a lukewarm shower I can manage, and swimming in cold water is refreshing, but there's just something about sticking my head under a faucet of ice water that's not nice. Alexandra had the right idea and ran up and down the stairs a few times before she tried it, but she's been doing that anyway training for soccer. And I uh...I don't run. Unless it's a safety issue.

We bought our first ballet tickets, today! We're going to see Le Corsair at the Marinsky on Friday, and I am vair excited. I don't know if it's a "good" ballet, but hey. It sounds like there are sailors and pirates and maidens and harem girls, and also the Kirov ballet - how can we go wrong? The boys don't want to go, but when I mentioned that maybe they might want to escort us home for safety purposes, they basically said "Duh, we were going to do that no matter what," and looked at me as if I were a fool. Which is comforting.

Also, as a mass thingy: Thanks for the comments, everyone who commented!!! I'm reading them and loving them, but I can't figure out how to comment so that I'm replying to you and not to myself. When I figure it out, I'll be less of a bum.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Today...

Was a bit of a down day.

On the way to class, we ended up on the most crowded bus I've ever been on. We usually take the little marshutkas to class, because they run more frequently and I think make fewer stops. But on the one this morning we were so crammed in that people had to get off to let people off at their stop, and then hop back in. For most of the ride I was holding on to the ceiling like I was in the flipping Matrix.

Then we had class. Class was good, uneventful. By the time we had our break, there were no more banana pastries left. I nearly cried. I did have a Super Fruit! Iced Tea, though. It tasted like iced tea with lifesavers. Nomnom.

After class, we went to the weird kebab restaurant for lunch. Nice and cheap, and the meat was easier to eat when it was in a sandwich and I repeatedly reminded myself that there were almost no parts of an animal I would refuse to eat, so what's the point of asking myself that question? After that, we walked along the river, intending to go to the Kunstkamera (Peter the Great's collection of bizarre stuff), but the line was immense. So we decided to go to the Zoological Museum, which was closed. So we got on a bus and came back here. I got some tea and some honey and that made my day, easily. I might have another cup before bed.

So we spent the afternoon watching TV (Bones, Buffy - season 5, and Sabrina the Teenage Witch all dubbed into Russian! Awesome!), and I spent a lot of time knitting, and realizing I had screwed up, and unknitting and reknitting. Then dinner, an adventure to get Charlie some headphones, and back here. We made a more extensive evil plan (John drew a calendar! what a fabulous idea!), and then I came back here to call people. But everyone's busy. Slackers. I should start calling home at weirder times, I guess.

We're already planning what we're going to get at the Chili's in the airport during our three hour wait in Chicago. It tastes delicious. But from what I've heard, it might take us three hours to find our own faces in the Chicago airport.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Yesterday and Today

Since all I got around to yesterday was telling you about my spider woes, here is yesterday:

We went to see the Bronze Horseman! It's a huge, statue on a huge rock, and it is a little bit badass. I wanted to link to the poem, but I can't find a site with a good translation. We wantered about and saw St. Isaac's Cathedral, which was vair neat, and then toddled over towards Nevsky Prospekt. It rained on us, and everyone was very concerned about melting (and I love the rain). So we ducked into a Souvenir shop with everything from nice cheap stuff, to nice crazy stuff. The sales girl in the back fancy room was really pushing the Faberge eggs for tens of thousands of rubles, made of real egg with pearls and crystals and all sorts of jazz I would love to have and gaze at.

And then we toddled along some more, found an ATM, went to a bookstore for notebooks - and I got a couple post cards too - but how can stamps? And how post office? I have to figure that out. And then we backtracked and ate at the Greek restaurant.

I said "Hello, four please" to the hostess in Russian.
She said "Of course, right this way. But we have no alcohol, only beer," in English. Apparently my accent is very obvious - I'm not surprised. It was kind of her to warn us, but we wanted FOOD and not booze at that time. I had...meat things. I don't know what they were, but they were pretty good. They had the most amazing brunch spread, but it was like... 660 rubles, which is around $20 something dollars, and we've all gotten so used to Russian food prices that we whine about having to pay actual money. Toddled about some more, came back here, I posted about spiders, had some dinner when we got hungry.

Then we went to the 24 hour store - which is sort of like a real grocery store! I prefer to get the real fresh stuff from the place next door, but it's really hard when you don't speak very well and don't know what things are. I like to be able to pick stuff up and read the package and figure it out before committing to buying it. We got some groceries, and came back here and lazed.

AND THEN, I was actually so excited about this that I ran down the hall to tell the boys like someone deranged. THEN I turned on the TV for some Russian background noise for my knitting? And guess what was on. Guess. Can you guess?

Ok, in case you're not obsessed like some of us, that's Dr. Venture. From the Venture Brothers. One of the best shows ever. That I like so much I have the DVD with me. The DVD this episode is from. I brought two things to watch, and this was one of them. (The other is Milo and Otis, because Tillie is a thousand kinds of awesome.) So the Venture Brothers was on, dubbed in Russian (rather poorly, Hank and Dean don't sound nearly stupid enough, but Dr. Girlfriend still had a man's voice.) And then we watched House for a bit. And some movie with Meg Ryan and a kid with a bowl cut, because apparently Russian's prefer American TV?

No spiders got me last night, thank goodness. Our roommate still slept elsewhere, and I'm starting to worry she hates us. Or something. Maybe we smell.

And then today, we went to class. Tra la la, four little schoolchildren are we. Class was good, and I had the most amazing Banana pastry during the break (they make snacks there, that are awesome), and some instant coffee that tasted like heaven. We watched the Ugly Duckling in Russian today, and it was awesome. But Russian poultry are even harder to understand than regular people.

And after class, we scampered across the bridge with the intention of going to the Russian museum. But by the time we'd taken a bazillion pictures of the Church of the Savior on Blood and walked through the garden and found the restaurant I had picked out (as kommandant of food, apparently I'm in charge of maps and planning now as well), it was too late to go to the museum. The restaurant we went to for lunch was a fusion kind of place with European, Russian, and Japanese food. I wanted to eat every single thing on the menu. Everything. Except the cow tongue. But everything else. I had lasagna bolognese, and I'm surprised I didn't melt right down under the table. And it wasn't terribly expensive, even if we are used to paying almost nothing for whole meals.
The ambiance of the restaurant was a little weird - British TV was playing, and it was all swanky and Manhattany inside, and there was a pavillion thing for eating outside. But as we were waiting at the crosswalk, someone in a sporty audi did that thing you see in movies. Where they come around the corner and peel out and lose control and get it back right before crashing into all the civilians on the sidewalk, like a TOTAL DOUCHEBAG. Like in that episode of Numb3rs almost. So we chose to eat inside. Apparently that part of town is where the "cool kids" (douchebags) hang out. We were un-chicly dressed and got some sassy looks and just seated ourselves when no one helped us (though for all we know, that's how it works). But the food was awesome.

So after discovering that it was too late to go to the Museum (it was 3:15 and it closed at 5, and we would have had to pay to get in), we wandered about the Field of Mars (and basked next to the eternal flame, it was a little chilly out today) and walked through the Summer Gardens and giggled about some of the statues (we are incredibly mature), and sat in the chair art installments. Unfortunately, I'm a big dork and forgot my camera, but everyone else got pictures so someday I will post them. There are pictures from yesterday, of the Bronze Horseman and all that.

And then, we went back the way we got there, after a brief distraction by ducklings in one of the canals. They're so fuzzy. And gave a lady from D.C. directions (she had a knitted purse with a FLAMINGO HEAD on the strap) towards the metro, even though she had already walked by it. She asked us for directions in Russian, and we were all "oh, you don't really want us to answer you in Russian", and she was all "oh, thank goodness." And Charlie's shoulder got pooped on by a bird.

Which is weird, because walking over the bridge to Nevsky my foot almost got massively pooped on by a bird. It just barely missed me. Charlie's poop was only a little one, but still a bummer. He didn't really believe me when I told him it meant he would have a good day.

And my fingers are tired from all this writing. We need to get more water, because we need more water every day. Because we don't want giardia, and I am a very thirsty person.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Alas, and alack.


So last night, I woke up to rearrange the blanket on my feet. I was super excited, because it was the first night I've been chilly since I've been here and flipped out and took apart my blanket (which was a wool blanket partially sewed inside a hot pocket of sheet) so I could sleep without melting. I love snuggling under warm blankets. Next to a warm fire. Knowing that it's snowy outside. But barring that, just being able to sleep with blankets is nice.

And then I noticed the spiders outside. We had left the window open, because it was so windy yesterday that I guess they stayed in their hidey holes until later than usual. "Alas", I said to myself, and skooted over to close the window. Once the window was closed, I snuggled back into bed. But as I was rearranging my blankets, I noticed something crawling across the ceiling.

"Alack," I said. Ok, that's not what I said. What I said is a few choice and naughty words portraying indignation, disgust, and the sort of panic I don't normally feel about spiders anymore. Something about working at the sail loft and being surrounded by all sorts of bugs at all times really takes away the panic.

But these are not normal spiders. Certainly, my picture doesn't do them any kind of justice. They're the big evil looking ones with sinister oblong bodies and long, pincer-like legs. And I hate them.

So, trying to stay calm, I put on my robe (to cover my neck! my exposed neck!) and put Bear in my pocket, so he wouldn't get eated either. And I got my flashlight, and we surveyed them from across the room.

Here were my plans:

1) Get something to kill the spider with, standing on my bed precariously close to the window and the SPIDER. Except there is...no way I'm getting that close to those PINCERS. And those leggy legs, and eeew.

2) Wake the boys and beg them piteously to rescue me. Offer to pay for the next meal if they weren't enthused. Or the next three. And maybe get them a kitten. But Charlie already warned us that he wakes up punching when he's really sleepy. And I don't know their new Australian roommate. And I would feel super bad for waking them up. And rude.

3) Find something longer to kill the spider, because there is no way my hands are getting anywhere near it.

Option three it was. So I looked about. And found the mop. And put the envelope from my new and unnecessary passport photos on the mop, so I didn't get our roommate's mop dirty. And then, I'm sorry to say, I squished the life out of that beastly thing. And then put the mop away. And calmed down. And saw another, smaller one. And tried to use the mop. And knocked it onto the floor, and used my shoe.

And eventually fell back asleep. The window is closed at night, from now on. Unless we find a huge screen to put in our window. But Russia does not believe in Screens.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Saturday, July 5th, 2008

Day off, wee!

Last night was a little alarming, because apparently the boys hadn’t heard that Alexandra and I were refusing to acknowledge the existence of the massive spiders outside our windows. So they came over to our room for a few minutes, and commented on them while they were here. Which makes it a lot harder to pretend they didn’t exist, especially since they noticed a few more than the ones we had already seen. So we’ve resorted to sleeping with the window closed, which leaves things stuffy, and makes my brain feel squishy and baked in the morning after sleeping in the sun. But blinky and toasty is better than eaten by spiders.

I’ve gotten used to the weird sunlight surprisingly quickly, and hardly ever have to sleep with my little masky thing on.

The restaurant right near the dorm is, get this, called “NyamNyam”. In Russian, of course. But still awesome. I’ll take a picture, in case you don’t believe me. Unfortunately, though the bliny are pretty good, we’ve eaten there thrice and they’ve gotten our orders wrong twice. The first time they completely forgot about John’s food, and turned off the grill, so he had to get something else. And then tonight they gave Alexandra and I both the wrong thing, and gave Charlie one of what we had ordered instead of the french fries he ordered. Bizarre.

Today we went on a grand adventure over to Petrogradskaya (another island, this city is actually made up of about a thousand islands). We went to the artillery museum, which was cool but epic. My baby camera only holds about 10% what everyone else’s fancy cameras hold, so I let them take the pictures of the gazillions of weapons, and I’ll get them when we are slightly more...wired. Then we went over to the Peter and Paul Fortress, which is basically a massive tourist trap. We might go back to see some of the stuff there, but for some reason it makes us all grumpy to have to pay to go into a church or cathedral. What if we urgently needed to talk to Jesus?

One really cool thing over there was that in the canal that makes Petrogradskaya an island, apparently they have speed boat races on Saturdays. Not sure about other days, but by the time we left, they’d been making the rounds four almost five hours. As weird as it is to be in the city, being able to smell the ocean sometimes makes me feel a lot better. Anyway, the boats were super fast and it looked like an awful lot of fun. I hope everyone at home is boating for me, since alas I cannot.

In other news, there really isn’t much other news. Aside from the dreams in which I was fleeing from spiders, I dreamed that we were on the airport, and I was wishing I had more time here. I’m trying to convince myself that if it was time to go now that’s how I’d feel, but I sure would like to sleep in my bed (as well as about a zillion other things). I feel like I’ve been gone a whole lot longer than a week.

(New pictures up where the pictures live!)

Friday, July 4, 2008

Oops

Ok, I lied.

Sasha and I watched Beauty and the Beast in Russian. And it was AWESOME. If I come back with a suitcase full of Russian Disney movies, don't say I didn't warn you. Because this is a warning.

I get to sleep in tomorrow...I wonder if I can?

The Fourth of July!

Is totally not a big deal here.

We celebrated by having dinner at Pizza Hut and stopping for our first Russian beers on the way back. We all picked the same one, except the boys got big bottles, and I got a small one. I'm not very optimistic about my constitution score. It's pretty good (Balticheskaya Klassika, which I have read is one of the more popular beers in St. Petersburg), but I wish I had some cheese. The fact is that I always wish I had some cheese - I'm not ashamed.

Pizza Hut is actually transliterated as "Pizza Hat". Unfortunately not Pizza Gut. (For some reason, most English words that begin with an H begin with a G in Russian, even though the "kh" letter is much more like an H. Examples: Garry Potter, and Gamburger.) I was hoping for Pizza Gut, but Hat is good too, even though it is not the Russian word for hat.

The whole experience was very silly. Out waiter was either one of the most enthusiastic people I ever met, or he was really excited to have real Americans eating in a Pizza Hut. He said good evening when we walked through the door, and I was so surprised by the fancytimes setup that he thought we couldn't speak English. We talked to him in English and Russian the whole evening - his English wasn't very good, and our Russian wasn't either. You can get a pitcher of wine at a Russian Pizza Hat, which we thought was amazing. We refrained, though.

I don't know if Rachel is reading this, but I thought it might make her laugh. Stila transliterated? Like the makeup? In Russian is a word that means "shame". It makes me chuckle, and wish I could find the Russian Sephora to get some lip glosses with Russian on them.

Otherwise, nothing much is new. In my class today, which was supposed to be Phonetics, we learned vocabulary and made up stories to go with some very sexist cartoons. I'll bring them home with me and scan them. They're pretty spectacular.

I've been delegated the Food Officer while we're here. As a group, we can't seem to make decisions, and at lunch time we wandered around the same enormous block in one big loop trying to find a food establishment that someone would have strong feelings for or against. Eventually, we ended up eating at Teremok again. I wish I had gotten the Kasha, my chicken had weird fatty bits in it.

We made the big list of things we want to do today - where they are, when they are open, and how much they cost. It's a long list, but we have a lot of free afternoons. We were invited to two parties, an outing to a club, and a concert today by classmates, but we just weren't feeling it. Which is sort of a relief for me, because I really don't want to do any of that but the concert, and that not today. I was worried that everyone else was going to want to party, and I was going to have to tag along for the sake of babysitting (drunksitting?) and staying together.

The plan now, depending on whether or not I stop being a chicken about asking my roommate to borrow her DVD, is to watch the Flinstones in Russian. Hopefully it lives up to its potential.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Day 6, in which we eat Russian fast food, and it almost rains sometimes.

Firstly, my pictures are here.

I still need to figure out how much this is all costing (this internet business), before I post the rest of them. Oddly, the website is entirely in Russian, and the instructions I got only have the english names for things. That's the only time that's happened since I got here - usually it's all in Russian, so at least I can match things up so I know what they're looking for.

It was much chillier this morning than it has been, which was nice. Partially because I like the cold weather, and partially because I overestimated the cuteness and practicality of light sweaters in the summer. For me, they're almost completely impractical, and I look less cute when I'm annoyed with my sweater.

It was my conversation class today, and I wasn't really sure what to expect. One of the girls in class yesterday told me this teacher talked a lot faster, which was true, but she was just as nice as the other ones. She was much younger, and more informal, and teased me a little for not talking very much. I told her I might talk tomorrow.

We learned about beverages today, which is convenient since Alexandra's been craving milk, and we weren't sure how to order some. The stores are mostly a lot different here, at least the ones near our dorm. It's like an open air market, but indoors. You tell them what you want, and pay for it, and they give it to you. At least, we tell and mime and point at what we want, and they sometimes get annoyed with us for being clueless (but are also sometimes very nice) and then we pay, and they roll their eyes at our large bills (stupid ATMs), and we get our food.

So during our beverage class we learned all sorts of adjectives for drinks - strong, sour, cloudy, sweet, dry ("In Russia we don't really know about wine, we just drink it", our teacher said...in Russian, of course). Part of our homework was to try any of the drinks we haven't tried. So I went out this evening after we ate dinner and got some Kefir. She said it wasn't yogurt, but it is. But not sweet, and much more sour. I'm going to keep trying it, but I can't say that I liked it. It was suggested that I put some fruit in it, but I don't want to ruin the fruit. It tastes a little like sour cream. So that part of my homework's done.

As an aside, in other interesting gastrological news (everyone I'm travelling with seems surprised about my one-track food-based mind, how odd), I tried Russian hot chocolate at the Russian fast food place (Teremok) today. Russian fast food is much different - I had a blin with ham and cheese, borshch, and Russian hot chocolate, which is fabulous. Because a small comes in an espresso cup, with whipped cream, and also it's pudding. Yeah, you heard me. It's slightly less solid chocolate pudding, but also better than the jello kind. It makes you feel more like you're drinking/eating food, than something made of plastic and marshmellows and potential pig peds.

Next on the list is Russian beer and vodka, but I think we're all so intimidated by having to pick out the bottles and tell the devushki ("young ladies", but what you call any woman working in a shop, really) exactly what we want, that that might take a while. They give us dirty looks when we're just buying water, for goodness sakes. Such sass. Although, that might just be their faces. But the sass we've experienced is so much sassier in contrast with the lack of confidence in most American girls working behind counters. Russian shopgirls pretty much own you.

We did manage at one point today to outwit an ATM (bankomat, in Russian). Unless it thought it was outwitting us. John went first, and when a big wad of 100 ruble notes came out (instead of five hundreds, which are useless), it was like we had found the holy grail. So we all put in strange and tricky amounts, and got hundred ruble notes back. Definitely a good ATM to visit, and it's right near school. So when doing intellectual combat with robots, we're all set.

I lost it and gave in to depending upon the internets yesterday night. I've been trying and trying to figure out the pattern to the shawl I'm making since I got here, and it just wasn't making any sense. So I posted on Ravelry, and someone rescued me, and it's going much better now that I don't have to keep unravelling the whole thing.

We're feeling a little intimidated by the upcoming weekend, I think. It's been nice to have something to get up and do every day, and the afternoons to study and relax. The idea of a whole day of free time freaks me out a little, but we have a whole list of places we want to go. Apparently at the Zoological museum they have the only preserved Mammoth, and a blue whale. Some incredibly huge amount of species on display. And yet, in the back of my mind, I'm not sure if I do or do not want it to be like this.

I have one bug bite on each of my elbows. Do not ask me how this happened, for I do not know.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Wednesday, July 02, 2008


Day 5 – In which we find the internets, and now they need to find us.

I had trouble sleeping last night, but class was good again today. We had a new (to me) teacher, who was also very nice. Wednesdays are my reading class, so apparently we read and go over (very) short stories, and then talk about them. So far she just let me be shy today, though I wouldn’t have minded reading so much.

It’s a little frustrating to be switching brains. If I didn’t like the people I was here with, it wouldn’t be a problem. But everyone’s so silly and funny that to get the jokes out we have to talk in English. So I wake up with my brain confused, am in English on the way to school, switch to Russian after a few minutes of class, and then emerge back into English slowly and confusedly when we meet after class to get lunch and go wandering. I hope we can all just start talking in Russian soon, because I hate to let that brain place go, and it’s also frustrating to be switching. It took me five minutes after class today to remember the word coincidence, and it was maddening.

Today we went with a bunch of my classmates to a little kebab kind of restaurant down the street from class, that was pretty good. If we go again, I’m going to get one of the sandwiches, because it has the Greek white sauce on it, and is less prone to attempts at identification than the exposed chicken bits on my kebab.

From there, the adventure to find the internets began. We walked and walked, back down the Neva where we were yesterday to the main St. Petersburg State University campus (which is weird and old and lovely), and scampered about. Eventually we found the lady, and set things up after filling out forms that were entirely in Russian (and confusing). And she told us to go next door to the building with the Kassa, and follow the directions, and then go back to her. We were thinking a Kassa was an office, where we were supposed to give someone our money and sign some more stuff. The people whose directions we asked for thought it was the campus “bank”, really a bookkeeping office, and after determining that the bank was indeed open we took the longish trek over there to find that the woman in the office had no idea what we were talking about.

Apparently, a Kassa is a kiosk thing that we have seen every day since we’ve been here. There is, in fact, one downstairs in our dorm. You put money in for your internet or phone card or whatever, and it...does magic, supposedly. We discovered that because after all that losting about, we went back to her the original office to find that the girl after us in line really knew what she was doing, and she showed us. I put money in, got a receipt, got an Ethernet cord from the woman in the office, and we left. Woof.

And after all that, it turns out that what we pay for is the kilobytes of space we use, or whatever. Space, downloading, something. (Stop all the downloading!) So I’ll post some pictures and see how much it costs, and then maybe just post the rest when we get home. We’re all going to be using my computer, because the whole thing was so abstract and confusing that we could not figure out how it worked. And they needed my passport for all that business, which makes me wonder if they’ll somehow be attaching the trail of websites I look at to my permanent record.

So now I wait in the tall grasses for the internet to come by (I guess I just leave it plugged in?) and when it does, I will leap out and grab it by the tail and wrangle it with the threat of giardia and this broken chair.