Tuesday, September 13, 2011

New year, new country, new blog

I mentioned on a previous post that this year, I'm saying da svidanya to Russia and hello to England. If you're interested in following my UK adventures, I've got a new blog set up here - http://rainbootstowellies.blogspot.com.

(If you're like my dad, who needed an explanation for my blog title, I was inspired by all the differences between UK and North American English - I'm going to have to get used to calling my rainboots wellies, and referring to paper towels as kitchen roll! Weird! :)


Tragedy for a Hockey Town

The recent, heartbreakingly tragic plane crash that took the lives of the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl KHL hockey team has been weighing on my heart. After reading about it in my local newspaper back here in Canada, I felt that I had to say something. Here's my letter to the editor:

"I spent the last year teaching English in Mytishi, Russia – a town that quickly became my home away from home. I lived literally steps away from the KHL arena that was home to Atlant Moscow Oblast, and was immediately accepted by Atlant’s fans as one of their own (albeit one who still insisted on wearing Canadian Olympic mittens!) The memory that stands out the most for me happened after one match, when I walked to the corner shop to pick up some milk. A group of cheering Atlant fans stormed into the shop, decked out in full fan gear and boisterously singing hockey songs. Their joy and elation were infectious as they bought beers and vodka and trooped out again, still singing with pride. I never had the chance to watch a Lokomotiv Yaroslavl game, but I do know this – Russia is full of hockey towns, just like here in Canada. These towns come alive during KHL games, with everyone celebrating and supporting their team with a fierce love. I can’t even imagine the shock, pain, and heartbreak that Yaroslavl is experiencing. Kanada skorbit vmeste s vami. Canada grieves with you."

My prayers go out to all the family, friends and fans of Lokomotiv.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Happy 450th Birthday, St. Basil's!

This is the Google header for today - the 450th birthday of St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow, which is the most breathtaking piece of architecture I've ever seen.

Red Square from inside St. Basil's, looking out

My parents and I inside St. Basil's

One of the several iconostasis (iconostasi for plural?) inside

St. Basil's

Looking up one of the onion domes from inside

In May, my parents and I toured the interior of the church. Its actually a collection of ten separate churches all clustered together, with those distinctive onion domes that a Russian Orthodox priest I knew referred to as "Dairy Queen swirls"! It is much easier to realize that there are ten individual churches once you are inside, as you make your way up twisting stairs and through arches to the different churches, all named after separate saints. The full name of the cathedral is the Cathedral of the Protection of Most Holy Theotokos on the Moat, but it has always collectively been known as St. Basil's, named after Saint Basil (Vasily in Russian) whose remains can be found in the tenth church.

Who was St. Basil, anyway? Well, according to this information inside the church, he was a a "Fool for Christ and a nude walker." Wow. So this stunning historical artifact was named after a guy who was basically a streaker? Nice.

Anyways, if you go to Moscow, St. Basil's is an obvious must-see, but I also really encourage you to tour the inside of the church as well. Ticket prices are very reasonable (I think its around 150-250 roubles per person, about $5-7 CDN) and it offers a totally different visual perspective on Red Square, not to mention there are English-language pamphlets that explain some interesting history of the cathedral.

It is one of those sights that people just automatically associate with Russia, like the Eiffel Tower and Paris, but I promise you that as trite and touristy as it may seem from a jaded traveler perspective, IT IS TOTALLY WORTH IT. No words can truly describe how beautiful and other-worldly St. Basil's is. It is unlike anything in the world - magical and mystical, somehow encompassing the ancient power of Holy Rus and the might of a country that is simultaneously beautiful and barbaric. And it will be the sight that acts like a punch in the stomach to you, the sight that makes you fully realize, "Wow. I'm actually in Russia!"

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Missing the Wild East

Katie the Canadian girl

Katya the Russian girl

I've been back in Canada for a little more than a week, and I'm just getting used to being able to go running without looking over my shoulder for packs of stray dogs.

I'm getting used to sleeping in my big double bed and putting my clothes in the dryer after washing them.

I'm getting used to breathing clean, smoke-free, smog-free air.

I'm getting used to eating my daily jar of peanut butter again (slight exaggeration, but not really...I love that stuff).

I'm getting used to having conversations with random strangers in the street or in the shops that go beyond a simple "zdravs-voo-tye" (hello).

I'm getting used to the Toronto version of traffic jams and rush hour which, in comparison to Moscow's legendary chas pik, is almost laughable. Don't even get me started on the Toronto subway.

I'm getting used to having my "personal space bubble" back again, although I almost MISS having sweaty strangers rubbing up against me in the metro as we all cling wildly onto poles/each other. Almost.

I'm getting used to hugging my mum and dad, going for long walks around our neighbourhood, hanging out with friends, and seeing my sister in her usual semi-prone position on the couch.

I'm (slowly) getting used to not seeing rows and rows of vodka at the grocery store, although I still look around for the produce guy with the gold teeth to weigh my veggies. And where are all the street vendors selling everything from cabbages to knives to bras on the corners??

I'm getting used to walking past "old" buildings that are 100 years old, instead of buildings that are over 800 years old.

What I'm NOT getting used to is the fact that my time in Russia is all too quickly becoming almost an ephemeral dream in my head, as if I can't even believe I was actually there, that I called Moscow home, that I used to walk past the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour and stop by the Kroshka Kartoshka there for a quick snack. Last night there was a news programme in Russian on TV and I almost cried when I heard the reporter say, "Skolka?" (how much?)

So yes, I'm getting used to being back in Canada, and although it has been wonderful catching up with my family and friends, I miss Moscow and all her history, her food, her winding, circular streets, her higgedly-piggedly array of architectural styles, from Stalin's neo-Gothic Seven Sisters to turn of the century cotton-candy coloured palaces, her babushkas and smoggy streets and romantic bridges and even the stray dogs and the old men who growl "tvoyu mat'!" at delinquent young men in Adidas tracksuits and mullets.

I've fallen in love, and I have a feeling this is going to be for life.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Land of Smiles

Quick update from Heathrow Airport.

The flight from Moscow to London was very smooth and quick. The best part of it all was that I had a window seat and an unoccupied seat next to me! But the reason for that is quite the interesting story...

While I waited in the departure lounge for my flight at Domodedovo, I couldn't help noticing one fellow passenger, stumbling around and slurring incoherantly to people, plants, signs, benches...he was hardly a discerning conversationalist. Clutched in his hand was a bottle of vodka, which he would periodically wave around in order to further illustrate a point, which I'm sure was very intellectual and engaging.

To my horror, I overheard him telling some poor entrapped guy that his seat number was 19E. Who should be the lucky person who had 19F?

That would be me.

I started to look forward to a loooooong flight.

However, when it came time to board, Mr Vodka had ceased his chatter, clearly finding plants to be not the best listeners I guess, and had passed out on a chair. More kindly, charitable passengers tried to rouse him by various means - shaking his arm, slapping his face, lifting up his eyelids, yelling "davai! come on!" at him, and finally pushing him off his chair...but all to no avail. This guy was out cold.

It was amusing but also pathetic at the same time, and I had a strong desire to take a picture of him but I thought that might be a little rude. Anyways, I boarded the plane and a few minutes later the pilot came over the intercom.

"On behalf of British Airways," he began in that delightful British accent, "I apologize in advance for what will be a short delay in takeoff. One of our passengers has been denied entry onto this flight, and he is currently being detained. However, he is offering up some resistance but we will deal with the problem efficiently. Thank you for your understanding."

I looked at the empty seat beside me. Ding ding ding! Clearly Mr Vodka had woken up and was not best pleased to realize he'd be missing his flight. I have no idea what they did to him, but I'm guessing he sobered up pretty quickly...!

Anyways, thats about as exciting as things have gotten, thank goodness. I've had a great time exploring the duty-free shops at Heathrow, and bought a super-cute Olympics 2012 tote with a Union Jack on it as well as some Cadbury chocolates and an international adapter that was on sale for 9 pounds (which I think is a good deal...still trying to figure out the pounds thing!)

The best thing so far though is just the sheer amount of English everywhere!! I can read all the signs! I can chat with shop clerks and airport staff and compliment the Starbucks barista on her nailpolish colour - all things I was so limited in back in Russia! And everyone is smiling...something I just can't get over! Russians have a saying about how only fools smile, but here I can walk around with a huge grin on my face and no one thinks I just got off the idiot train yesterday. That being said, I'm not comparing England to Russia in any positive/negative way. Just different. Its very interesting!

Well, they just announced my gate opening so I better wrap this up and head over to departures. Maybe I'll pick up some vodka at duty-free...but then again, that might not be the best idea...

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Farewell, Moscow

As I'm writing this, I'm sitting in the tiny, hot, stuffy flat on Dimitrovskoe Shosse in Moscow that has been my "home" for the past few days. I've got my window wide open in the hope of catching a non-existent breeze, and I can hear an ambulance wailing while car horns honk madly and the smell of cigarette smoke drifts up from the street. My stomach is pleasantly full (ok, maybe not that pleasantly, I'm actually stuffed!) from my "Last Supper" of tvorog and the delicious Russian bread that I've become addicted to. My month of camp is over, and in 5 hours a taxi is coming to take me to Domodedovo Airport. My destination?

Canada. Home. Or, rather, my other home.

I've always believed that your home is where your family is. Maybe that's because I moved a few times as a child and teenager, experiences that made me realize that it didn't matter what school I went to or what house I lived, as long as I had my sister (who was always my best friend growing up), my younger brother, and my parents. I still feel that way, and I'm excited beyond words at the prospect of being home with my family this summer.

But at the same time, Moscow has really become my second home this year, which is a little puzzling because I came over here in September entirely on my own, knowing no one and having no support system that wasn't reliant on wi-fi!

It surprises me how quickly I fell in love with the city. I made friends - both Russians and fellow expats - who became a second family to me. There were obvious things that I loved right away about Moscow - the history, the culture and museums, the language, the food...and even non-obvious things that I'm actually REALLY going to miss. Like the pigeons. And, dare I say...the ubiquitous mullets that 99.9% of men sport?!?

Today was my last full day in the city, and I wanted to make the most of it. I headed to the heart of Moscow first - Red Square and the Kremlin. For me, this was the spot where it finally sunk in that I was IN Russia, that day way back in September when I did the 5km Nike-sponsored run on Red Square. Still probably one of the coolest things I've ever done!

It was packed with tourists and I have to admit to feeling a sort of smug "I'm a local" feeling as frenetic Asian tourists madly dashed after flag-toting guides, even though I realized with a shock that after today, I may never be able to say "I live here" again (although who knows what lies in the future, right?)

My initial plan was to go to the Armoury, but even though I arrived an hour before the excursion started, tickets were already sold out. I was disappointed, but honestly somewhat relieved that I had a viable excuse to save 700 roubles. Those tickets are pricey! If you have an ISIC (International Student Identity Card) definitely bring it with you because you'll save 450 roubles. Or, you know, you could be a Hero of the Soviet Union and get in for free. I wonder what THAT card looks like?

So instead of the Armoury, I checked out the State Historical Museum, which is right inside the gates to Red Square. Ticket prices there are much more reasonable (250 roubles) although in hindsight I should have splurged for the English audio guide because all the exhibits were in Russian. I definitely would have gotten a lot more out of the experience otherwise, but it was still a very pleasant way to while away the hottest part of the afternoon! There are some interesting artifacts there, including a tapestry from 1389 that was commissioned in order to celebrate the Russian victory over the Mongols at Kulikovo Field in 1380, and some very old manuscripts in Old Church Slavonic. If you're interested in the Scythians or pre-Christianized Russia (prior to 988 CE) there is a LOT at this museum to check out!

After the museum, I met up with Rhea in the Alexandrovsky Gardens and we went on a massive walk around the city centre. I thought it was very fitting that my last day should end with Rhea, who played such a pivotal role in my first (disastrous!) day here! She's staying here and continuing teaching for Language Link, and I'm very excited to stay in touch with her and hear all about her adventures that will continue in the fall.

We eventually parted ways with a big hug in the Arbat metro, as she was headed off to the Gogol Bordello concert and I had to get back to my flat to finish up packing! How have I accumulated so many things?!? I'm actually leaving A LOT behind...this is hard for me as I'm somewhat of a hoarder...

So. Anyways. Time to say goodbye to Moscow. For now. I do feel a little sad, but I know that our goodbyes aren't forever, and that I'll be back.

Thank you Moscow, for an incredible, unforgettable year. I'm a different girl than I was when I arrived - I now feel SO much more confident in my own abilities, but who wouldn't after learning how to navigate the Moscow metro?! - but at heart I'm still the same devushka I've always been.

Mosvka, ya tebya liublu. Moscow, I love you. Thanks for the memories, and I can't wait to return one day. Maybe by then the fashion will have passed from the 90s to the early 2000s and the mullets and scrunchies will be gone. At the very least, a devushka can always hope, right? ;)

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Beet Stops Here

A shocking confession: I am beet. Beets - my longtime love - have beat me.

After eating them approximately twice a day for the last month, I don't want to see another beet for a very, very long time.

You see, about two summers ago, I entered into a rather passionate love affair with beets. I suppose I had liked them well enough before, but for some reason after I broke up with my boyfriend of two years, I turned to beets. Yeah, I know, its messed up. Girls are supposed to find solace in Haagen-Daazs after a break-up, right? Or Ben and Jerrys? Well, I'm clearly not a normal girl, because somehow I found myself making trips to the London farmers' market on a mission to buy beets.

And that was just the beginning. I used to defend my obsession to my roommates and family, who were all equally tired of finding beet juice stains EVERYWHERE, as proof of my Russian heritage. "This is just a sign that I really am Russian," I'd say smugly. "Its in my blood, my genetic makeup, to love beets." (Note: sadly, I must confess that there is very little likely chance that my ancestors were Russian, regardless of how much I love beets...and cabbage...and vodka...)

My beet love continued unabated and kept going strong during nine months of living in Russia. But in the past month, living at Euro Club camp and eating beets for breakfast every morning (breakfast of champions, didn't you know?), something has happened...

We've broken up. I honestly don't know if I can stomach the thought of eating beets EVER AGAIN. (Yes, I am prone to occasional hyperbole if you haven't noticed yet)

You know, I've spent a lot of time this past month fantasizing over what I want my "first meal" back in Canada to be. Mum, Dad, if you're reading this, please be aware that greeting me with beets would be a cruel, cruel joke...because I truly am beet.*

*In more ways than one. Finally back in Moscow for a few days before my flight back to Canada, and I am exhausted. Off to bed!