Today was absolutely gorgeous out, that quintessential perfect fall day where the sun is shining, the leaves are golden, the sky is blue, and everyone is outside, enjoying Mother Nature's last few gifts to us before the winter comes. And since this is Russia, I'm fully aware that I can't take days like today for granted. (But oh, to live in a place where everyday is this amazing!)
I slept in today, which was glorious, then went for a good, 45-minute run around Mytishchi. After eating breakfast, I made plans with Rhea to go for a hike in the main park here. Mytishchi has a lot of stereotypical Soviet architecture, its true - big, ugly concrete block apartments - but it is not an ugly city at all. There are green spaces everywhere, tons of trees planted along sidewalks, and little parks and courtyards all over the place. The biggest park is the one where we headed today. Part of it is forested trails, which is where I had run earlier (flashback to high school cross-country meets!! :) and part of it is paved with wide boulevards and plenty of flowers and benches whereupon several people sit to just relax and enjoy their ice cream (Russians LOVE their ice cream!!)
The paved walkways eventually wind down along the river, where there are lots of trees, more flowers, pigeons (you can't escape them here! Even "golubchik" - pigeon - is a term of endearment!) and...kids! Everytime I've gone to this park, I've been struck by the amount of families with young children there are here, just walking, running, and scootering around. I love how Mytishchi has so many young families, and how everyone just loves being outside. Today was extra special for a lot of people here, as there were about six or seven different weddings going on. After the ceremony, the wedding party traditionally comes to the park for pictures as well as to take part in a Russian wedding tradition. The bride and groom attach a lock (usually a heart-shaped one) to the wrought-iron bridge and then throw the keys into the river. It's so romantic (and optimistic, but I am one of those true-love believers who love things like this!)
There are also some interesting statues in the park, as well as an Eternal Flame for soldiers who died in the Great Patriotic War (1939-1945, what we call World War Two). It has been estimated that the USSR lost 26.6 million people in total (civilian and military deaths) - an astounding and sobering number. The memorial is always covered with fresh flowers, and there are usually at least one or two people just standing in front of the flame, reflecting.
Other highlights of the park are the beach volleyball courts, the tennis and basketball courts, and the numerous playgrounds dotted throughout the birch forest section. If it wouldn't totally creep people out, I would definitely play on the equipment, because everything looks like so much fun!! Think back to every piece of equipment that has been outlawed in Canada for being too dangerous, and you've got your average Russian playground. But that's what makes it fun! There's also this random inflatable pool there (fairly big, circular) with these giant, clear plastic balls that they put kids into and the kid can roll around in this huge ball on the water...hmm, that explanation was very vague. Imagine a clear plastic ball that gerbils or hamsters play in, and that's what it is, basically. Only a lot bigger. And there's a kid in there instead of a gerbil. When I first saw this, my original thought was horror because it was just so...gerbil-like. Then my inner kid kicked in and I thought it was really cool. I'm still a bit divided: what do you think?
Anyways, Rhea and I walked through the park for awhile, then turned back onto the streets and stumbled upon a ярмарка (yarmarka), or market. In many ways, a yarmarka here is a lot like any farmer's market in Canada. Individual stalls set up by people, selling produce, honey, fish, meat, etc. But whereas in Canada you mostly see farmer's markets on specific days of the week, and in certain places only, here yarmarkas can be found everywhere...and all the time. On the side of a busy street in Moscow, in a corner somewhere, beside the grocery store, alongside the highway...they are also often open until late at night, which makes buying some late-night cabbage very handy when you've suddenly got an urge to make borscht (I will save that story for another post's topic...)
So we walked through this yarmarka, which was quite large, and we became really excited when we noticed all the selection. Most of all, however, it was the huge pile of арбуз (ar-BOOZ, watermelon) that caught our eye - and the ripe, juicy half-section of one that was tempting all passersby. Powerless to resist the siren call of such a summery fruit, we were like Eve in the garden of Eden. So we hurried back to my flat to get our money, bought a huge watermelon, and then walked past a few more stalls because my appetite for fresh produce had been whetted. I ended up buying a few cucumbers (which I love cutting up and dipping into fresh Russian cheese, or tvarog) as well as several small tomatoes. The men running the stall where I bought the tomatoes immediately noticed my horrendous Russian (I couldn't hear the price they told me, so I had to ask "skol'ka sto-eet? How much?" a few times, apologetically). But they loved it! They asked me where I was from, and then they told me they were Uzbek. They tried to sell me a few more things, but I just laughingly shook my head and kept saying, "Nyet, nyet, spasiba! No, no thank you!" Then to my surprise they handed me a big bunch of juicy grapes AND a pomegranate and said, "For you! Free!"
I thanked them very profusely, as the pomegranates and grapes were pretty expensive, and made sure that they were, in fact, giving them to me for free (I didn't want any miscommunications happening, ending up with me in jail or something...) Then Rhea and I walked back to my flat, cut open half the watermelon, and sat in my sunny kitchen eating it with two spoons - total bliss! We watched an episode of Jersey Shore (she has the entire season 2 on her hard drive - yes!!) and laughed/groaned at The Situation's antics and Angelina's overall obnoxiousness. Cheesy reality tv it is, but oh so entertaining. :)
Now I am just finishing dinner and eating some of those grapes for dessert. I was never really a "grape person" before, which sounds strange (but I used to be very picky about fruit) and now I'm wondering why I wasted so many years of my life not eating grapes! These ones are delicious!! Thank you, kind Uzbek men for your generous gift of fruit!
Well, I suppose I've put off studying for my grammar test long enough. The Intern Training Program is over this wednesday, but not before they test us on everything we've learned so far. Modal verbs, phrasal verbs, present perfect continuous, phonetics...ahhhhhhhhhhhhh! I think my mind is going to explode. Wish me luck!! (notice the use of the imperative there... :)