Monday, September 13, 2010

I'm here!!

It's been two weeks since I arrived in Russia, and now that I finally have internet in my flat, I can update my blog! These past two weeks have been some of the most life-changing ones I've experienced. Is Russia everything I've dreamed it would be? Well, yes and no. Its too soon to tell though - all I know is that I am SO excited to keep exploring this country over the next ten months!

I have no idea where to begin, so I'm just going to follow a piece of advice from The Sound of Music, and "start at the very beginning." (By the way, my friend E is living in Austria right now...if you're reading this, can you please do the movie tour? :)

Monday, August 30 - Flight out of Toronto

So excited and nervous at the same time! My mind was racing at this point, wondering what I might have forgotten to pack (unfortunately, I forgot Ken Follet's The Pillars of the Earth, which is such a fantastic book so far...I only had 300 pages left, so I'm keeping my eyes peeled for English copies of it here in Moscow!) We arrived at Pearson in good time, although traffic was a little slow on the 401. Saying goodbye to my parents and my brother was really hard... I'm going to miss them so much!

My "little" brother, who now towers over me! Love you Michael!

After saying goodbye, I made my way through security without a hitch and spent a little bit of time wandering around the shops. I found the sequel to The Pillars of the Earth so I bought that, hoping that I didn't really need to read the whole thing before moving onto the sequel. Luckily the sequel was set two hundred years after the end of the first book, so I was okay! I found my gate and boarded the plane, where I was sitting next to an older British couple. I had been hoping for a window seat, and luckily the man asked me if I wouldn't mind taking it. "Wouldn't mind? I'd LOVE to!" I enthused, somewhat shocking him with my huge smile. "Thank you!!" So I had a window seat all the way to Heathrow...and again on the flight to Domodedovo in Moscow! (which I found out is pronounced dama-DYEH-da-va)

The flight was smooth and actually really fun. I haven't flown that much in my life (as a member of the Starr family, we prefer the lure of the open road...and my mum's peerless navigational skills!) so it was really exciting to be on a plane. I loved the little personal tv screens! I watched a movie (Dear John, which I'm embarassed to admit made me a little weepy), the first episode of Glee, and then I made a personalized playlist, which was really cool. They have a bunch of different musical options, and you can pick and choose what you want on your list. I napped on and off, and got up a few times to stretch my legs. The meals? They were actually pretty good! Dinner was risotto and veggies, with a roll and a little cheesecake for dessert, and breakfast was a hearty, good ol' British brekkie:

Here are a few more pics:

My first glimpse of London

The cozy airplane socks!

After arriving at Heathrow, we had to take a bus to the main terminal to catch the flight to Moscow. I was the typical North American tourist during this short little bus ride, becoming very excited once I realized that we were driving on the "wrong" side of the road. But it was so cool! After we pulled up the main terminal, I had a two hour layover but this was barely enough time. It took forever going through security...this poor couple in front of me accidentally dropped their diaper bag, and a jar of baby food fell out and broke, splattering pureed squash all over the floor in the line. Well, you would have thought they had spilled anthrax or something, based on other peoples' reactions. Think loud, obnoxious sighs and disgusted mutters as people had to skirt around the spilled baby food. One women started to freak out, screaming about how disgusting it was. Ok people, seriously - have you never travelled with a baby before? It can't be easy. Let's give the poor parents a break.

Anyways, the plane stayed on the tarmac for a while after we boarded, due to an "engineering problem." (Ummm...) but luckily we took off after an hour-ish for Moscow, and the rest of the flight was pretty nondescript. I arrived at Domodedovo around 4pm Moscow time.

My first view of Russia!

I was a little worried about going through customs and migration, because I had heard that Russian officials can be very intimidating and will scrutinize all of your documents. However, I actually passed through everything very quickly, filling out a migration card and then getting waved through to baggage claim. My suitcases were right there and so I lugged them off the conveyor belt and made my way out of the airport. This was when I started to get a little nervous - what if the driver from Language Link wasn't there? There were a TON of people standing there waiting, holding up various signs for people, travel companies, and businesses. And then I saw the Language Link sign! Relief!

The driver spoke only Russian, so there was a bit of a language barrier there, but he was really friendly and asked me some questions about Canada, the cars we have there, etc. The drive from the airport at the bottom of Moscow's outskirts to the very top was so surreal - maybe it was the lack of sleep - but I just couldn't believe I was actually in Russia. I tried taking it all in - the heart-stopping traffic jams, the crazy driving (up on the curbs! No traffic lights!), the pulsing Russian music from the radio intermixed with the occasional Katy Perry song...and of course the driver's frequent epithets at other cars - which, I think, were mostly for my benefit, because he'd swear and then look at me with a grin and a shrug, like Welcome to Moscow.

About an hour and a half later, he pulled up to a building that really looks like your stereotypical, Communist-era apartment block. He had a care package from Language Link to give me, which was really great - fresh, new sheets, a welcome letter with a map of the Moscow metro, a tin of biscuits, a package of sugar cubes, and some Russian tea. It was a little touch that meant a lot! Then he took me up the five flights of stairs to my flat, which was a little creepy...there are no lights in the stairwell so it gets REALLY dark at night...thanks Dad for the little flashlight on my keychain you got me - it has been a big help!! :)

Once we got up there, he gave me my keys, checked to make sure I was ok, and then left. There was a letter waiting in the entrance for me, from my new roommates, a couple - Colleen and Stuart, from Edinburgh, Scotland. They had gone out for dinner, and told me that I could have my pick of the two bedrooms left in the flat. One had bunk beds and a long desk, but the other one was HUGE (I'll put up pics of my flat soon!) and had this gorgeous chandelier, a balcony, floor to ceiling tapestries, a pull out couch, a Laz-y Boy type chair that also pulled out into a bed, a single bed, and a wall-length oak cabinet/dresser. Hmmm...guess which one I picked?

I laid down and napped for about 15 minutes until I heard the door open and Colleen and Stuart let themselves in. They were in the middle of the Internship Training Program, so they had been shuttling back and forth between Moscow and were pretty exhausted too. They were headed back there that night, so we did some quick introductions and then they pointed me in the direction of a grocery store. It was around 8pm at this point and I had just realized I was starving. So, in the mood for a little exploring that would also include food, I set off for the "Perekrestok." Bad idea.

I found it fine, and quickly purchased some milk, a bottle of water, and a few apples. But on my way back to the flat, I got soooo confused and disoriented. All the flats here look the exact same, in my defense, so I wandered around for a while. I tried getting into one entrance, but my key wouldn't work, and that just attracted the attention of an overzealous babushka living there. She came storming out into the street, saw me trying to get in, and immediately launched into a barrage of Russian. "Ya ne panimayu pa-russki," I stammered out. Her eyes narrowed. "Angliiiiiiskaya," she snarled, then promptly pulled the door shut, locking me out. At this point I had no idea what to do - her voice had pretty much reeked of hatred, so I wasn't going to try that again. I found another apartment entrance that looked (surprise!) just like mine, and I got a man to open the door and let me in, but once I got in I realized it wasn't my block. I headed outside again, but this time I used my bottle of milk to prop the door open, just in case I needed to get back in again. I'm not really sure what was going on in my head at this point...I was just becoming more and more frantic, and I was pretty convinced I was going to have to spend my first night in Russia sleeping on a park bench. Finally, finally, I found an entrance that would open up for my key...dismissing my bottle of milk as a necessary casualty, I left it propping up some other door and ran up the five flights of stairs to my apartment, tears (I am embarrassed to admit) streaming down my face. Literally two minutes after I got in, the phone started ringing. Timidly, I picked it up. "Katie? It's Rhea!"

Rhea is another intern at Language Link, from San Diego, who I found out over the summer was also going to be posted in Mytishchi. We started emailing each other over the summer, and got to know each other, which was awesome, because it made moving to Russia slightly less intimidating. I have never been so happy to hear someone's name through an intercom. I let her into the flat, and she came, like the amazing friend she is, bearing gifts - namely, her delicious homemade bread, Nutella, milk, and some other food that she thought I might need. She basically saved my life that first night. How incredible is she?!?!

I had some of her mouth-watering bread and we chatted over tea at my kitchen table. Right away, it felt like I had known her forever. I'm so happy we're both in Mytishchi! She lives in a flat about a 20 minute walk from mine, so although I would prefer to be roommates with her, at least its not too far! She stayed the night and then the next morning took me into the Central School in Moscow for my first day of intern training.

Alright, I'm going to publish this post now and continue with the story tomorrow! Miss you all!!


  1. The update was well worth the wait Katie. I hope you continue with all the details - makes missing you a bit easier. Luv Mum

  2. you're such a good writer Katie! I felt like I was experiencing everything that you did. I would've FREEEAKED OUT, getting lost like that my first night there. update as often as you can, I want to hear more :) xoxox "E" ;)

  3. How exciting! Keep writing Katie--and more pictures!

  4. Watch out... if you feed Rhea she'll never leave.

  5. Haha, I commented after reading only half of this entry. I couldn't contain myself. You're in my old room! I love that room! I love your description of arriving in Moscow; I had the EXACT same experience last year, except the driver, who is the same one I had (the only one Language Link has), was 2 hours late meeting me...welcome to Russia, anyways! We'll meet next month!