Thursday, July 10, 2014

Mосква

Our first day in Moscow was a whirlwind. We arrived in Moscow around 9:30 am, after a 12 hour train ride from Petrazovodsk.

Immediately after exiting the train, we hopped into a tour van and were driven all over Moscow, stopping to visit some impressive tourist spots. Our first stop was the Kremlin and the infamous Red Square, which is not actually red, contrary to popular belief. We then visited Cathedral of Christ the Savior, where Pussy Riot staged their infamous protest song. On the whirlwind bus tour we also stopped at Novodevichy Cemetery, which was attached to a convent. It was a beautiful cemetery, with many famous people buried within its walls. It was one of my favorite stops in Moscow, and I would love to go back.

Our hotel was quite an experience. The Космос had been built for the 1980 Olympic games, and showed its age. A gigantic structure, it had around 15 floors, with restaurants, bars, shops selling all sorts of strange and overpriced goods, and lots of security. Our first evening in Moscow was spent exploring вднх, a Soviet era amusement park, with buildings that represented each republic in the Soviet Union, and an old Soviet rocket on display. Some of the group broke off to visit the aerospace museum, which was mysteriously closed. They were fortunately able to return the next day and visit.


Not wanting to end the night yet, our group ventured into the Moscow metro system, which was much more intimidating than the Saint Petersburg system. We rode the metro to the Arbat, a pedestrian only street with lots of restaurants, street performers, and other tourist attractions. We stopped at the Viktor Tsoi wall, took pictures, and saw some Russian style pictures being taken.

It was around this time that we found out our plans for Moscow had changed. Originally we were supposed to spend two days in Moscow and stay overnight at the airport there. However, an error had been made on our visas, allowing us one less day in Russia than planned. To our surprise we were to fly to Paris a day early and spend a night there. But that experience is another story, for a different time.

The next day in Moscow was spent seeing as much as we could in our abridged time there. We all rallied for a great buffet breakfast at our hotel that morning. I know I was happy to see diverse, and familiar food options at the hotel, as food in Russia had often been much different than in the US.
Then we took a really neat metro line to Red Square. The metro line was filled with beautiful Soviet era statues and decoration. It was really quite something, and it seemed like most people thought the same, as many pictures were being taken there, and many lucky statues were rubbed for good luck.

We had a surprisingly short wait in line for Lenin's tomb, which was free and a must see if you go to Moscow. While in line an argumentative, drunk beggar asked our group for money. I can only assume he thought we were only clueless tourists who didn't understand Russian and would give him money out of fear. I think he was quite surprised when Jamie, our group leader, told him in perfect Russian to go away! This only further angered the man and a nearby police woman was called over. She had to tell him to leave us alone several times, and finally two police dragged him away. I'm sure he was back the next day to bother some more tourists.


 Outside of Lenin's tomb there were signs that admission was 3 rubles and cameras were prohibited. However, like so much signage in Russia, that was all bark and no bite. We were not charged, nor were our cameras confiscated. Though we did have to walk through a very unintimidating  metal detector on our way in.

Which brings me to an observation. There was a surprising lack of panhandlers and beggars that we ran into in Russia. I had pictured there being a lot, since we visited many tourist areas. It was also observed that many people who asked for money were polite at best and went away rather easily. Maybe it's truly a cultural difference, or just a coincidence.

After our trip into Lenin's tomb, we went our different ways. Some went to St Basil's, a group went to a beekeeping museum, and some took walks around Moscow to see what could be found on foot.
Since I was running low on cash, and discovered that Moscow is perhaps the most expensive city I've ever been in, my time was spent walking around downtown, enjoying the (free) sights. It was truly interesting to see just how ritzy and expensive the downtown area was. Being frugal, I was mostly repulsed and a little fascinated by the business people I saw lunching and shopping there. How do they afford to live in such an expensive area, and how can a place like Moscow exist in a country like Russia? I know there can be extreme income differences in one country, but for someone like me who'd never been in such a large city, it was rather mind blowing.

We finally found a coffee shop called OMG!Coffee, and enjoyed the coffee and atmosphere there for a while. Then we were back to walking the streets of Moscow, and observing life in such a big city.
We decided to backtrack and walked to a neighborhood near the university. This neighborhood was slightly more typical of what you'd see in a smaller city. There were a lot of small shops, cafes, and coffee chains. Finally we found the cafe we'd sought out, a tiny place, with fairly priced food, and university student patrons. A guy sitting next to us kindly made sure we understood the ordering process there, and we enjoyed a great meal, and some journaling time.

The rest of the evening was spent packing for our flight to Paris the next day, and enjoying the view of Moscow from our hotel.

by Liz Brown








Sunday, July 6, 2014

Russian Study Tour Banquet

     

Final banquet Hotel Severnaia
The 25th anniversary of the Petrozavodsk-Duluth language camp came to a close Saturday the 5th of July. It was hard to hear it was officially closed. To be honest, I could have gone another month or two. I didn't want the camp to end but all good things must. During the Closing Banquet we enjoyed a great meal and laughed all throughout dinner with our new friends. We also received our official certificate of completion of the courses required of us by the camp. Looking around the room, I could see an atmosphere of happiness and excitement for all the experiences and friendships made here. Words could not describe the emotions we all felt. I also noticed that we didn't have room to preform the skit and songs we prepared for our Russian hosts. I finally got word that after dinner we would all walk to the park and perform outside. Whew, what a relief!
Kizhi hydrofoil trip reenacted 
            So, after finishing dinner, we all walked to the park together. We set up our stuff and the crowd gathered around to watch us Americans perform. Our first performance was a song called миленький ты мой  a song about a woman's love and a man's refusal to love her in a far away land. The girls sang a verse and then the guys sang right back with the second and so on. We sounded pretty good! We then went right into our skit, which we had been practicing all week. While Adam narrated, all of us reenacted our most memorable moments while in St Petersburg and Petrozavodsk. We acted out our night at the "hostel of spilt blood", where unfortunately Ryan cut his thumb in a wine-opening incident! We then reenacted the night we were nearly stranded across the river after going the wrong direction on the metro. After that, we went through the cultural differences we observed while in Russia. The crazy bus rides, long walks around the cities and every day drinking tea! Our last scene was the day we rode the boat out to Kizhi  Island. We encountered some rough waves and cold weather but it was a spectacular place! We had a blast acting out our experiences for them and we got quite a few laughs! 
Our final banquet performance was another song called я бездельник by the band КиноViktor Tsoi "Bezdel'nik" It's a song about a slacker with no home. It's a really fun song to sing and very catchy. I caught myself humming and singing it when I got into Moscow!


Americans emulating the "Russian photo pose"
         
After our performances, they announced that there would be Karaoke at the Blues Cafe in town. No one wanted the night to end so we all met up around 10 p.m. to celebrate. Eventually I mustered up the courage to sing a song, and then another later on. It was a night I would never forget! Russians and Americans dancing and singing together and having a great time! It was quite the evening but unfortunately we had to get some sleep to wake up and leave the next day. I'm glad we all got to celebrate our final night in Petrozavodsk with an awesome banquet, memorable performances and a few extra late night songs with all our new friends!    
by Brett Tyson

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Rafting Trip!!! Russian Study Tour 2014

Rafting Trip

On the fourth of July we embarked on our greatly anticipated rafting trip down the Шуя (Shuya) River.  This had been a trip that I was looking forward to even before I had left for Russia.  Being from Wisconsin, and growing up right next to the Brule River, canoeing and kayaking were always activities that I loved.  But whitewater rafting was something that I had never experienced before.  So with this being something completely new to the rest of the students and I, we were all excited to get up that Friday morning and go rafting!  So on that Friday morning we got up early and met at the university to board the bus at 10am for our rafting trip.  It was around a 30-minute drive to get to the canoe landing, and when we arrived it was pretty cloudy and chilly so many of us weren’t looking forward to the cold water lurking ahead.  After everyone had gotten changed, we walked eagerly down the trail barefoot and in swim trunks to see what lay ahead.  As we got down to the boat landing we saw the beautiful Шуя River.  There were three rafts and three guides accompanying us on the trip.  We all got into groups and got into our rafts.  I was up at the front with Devan and we were in charge of setting the pace for the raft.  Behind us there were about eight other people and our guide who steered the raft in the back.  We started off with a nice and relaxing ride down the river and that was when our guide told us we were approaching the first of three rapids.  I was excited!  Devan and I started rowing faster and faster ready to plunge right into the rapids.  Suddenly all of the waves began to pick up and I could hear the girls screaming behind me as we took on the first wave.  I. Got. Soaked!!  We hit a huge wave head on and nocked the whole to the side and drenched the first few people in the raft.  Back again we rolled down the wave and collided with another wall of water.  This was the one that really soaked the girls so I was cynically laughing to myself.  By this time I was already so soaked I didn’t even care about getting wet so I just kept rowing into the waves and it was so much fun!  Then before we knew it we made it through our first set of rapids.
We then had another calm ride down the river again.  We were sharing stories about our trip, then out of no where someone yelled “Sing us a shanty!”  And Alina began singing the Drunken Sailor in the back of the raft.  We all joined in for a while and then it gradually just died off.  It was a beautiful ride down the river.  It really reminded me of the northern Wisconsin area, from the trees and the climate.  For a moment or two I actually forgot I was in Russia.  No matter where you are in the world, you realize that people are just people.  It doesn’t matter if were from the United States or Russia, we were all just people having a good time together.  But once again while I was lost taking in the scenery and the culture our guide told us to get ready for our second set of rapids.  This one was a little bit bigger, but he warned us to save some of our strength for the last set of rapids, the biggest, and most dangerous.   We all got ready and cruised through this set of rapids.  I’ll admit our raft got a little cocky.  We thought we were the best whitewater rafters out there.  This was until we came to the last set of rapids.  We went into it with hot heads, and we kind of made fools of ourselves.  We began picking up speed going faster and faster as we plunged into the rapids.  Waves were crashing all over the raft and we were just getting drenched.  But this time it was different.  The raft started spinning.  We didn’t just go down the rapids.  We did a 360 as we went down the rapids.  Style. As we were talking about how lame everyone else was (jokingly) by going straight through, we bragged about how we strategically maneuvered our raft to do an awesome spin down the rapids.  This showed our superiority compared to the other groups.  That was until we got hung up on a huge rock.  Our guild told us to start bouncing.  So here we are, the world’s best whitewater rafters, sitting in the middle of a river, hung up on a rock, bouncing on our raft trying to wiggle it free.  I can only imagine how stupid we looked to the onlookers.  Unfortunately the bouncing didn’t wiggle us free.  So our heroic guide took one for the team and plunged into the icy cold river and began to push us free.  I dug my paddle deep into the river and helped push our raft while he pushed us and we broke free!!!  Everyone cheered, but that was short lived.  After we broke free we looked back and we had left our guide!  He was charging through waves (which I am now recalling in slow motion with dramatic background music.)  He kept running as we were cheering for him to make it in time.  With one more stride and a leap, the guide made it back on board and away we went down the river.  We all laughed about that experience for the rest of the way down the river. 
We were just about to the end and we were all exhausted and STARVING!  When suddenly it began to downpour.  (As if we weren’t soaked already)  People jokingly said “Oh great now were going to get wet.”  At the end we were proud that we had conquered the rapids.  We made it to the landing and we all got out and carried our raft up a very steep hill and into camp.  There waiting for us was a nice warm fire and a huge canopy with benches and some live music performed by one of our guides.  He made it very clear that they had CD’s.  Then some workers brought out food!  We were so excited!  They had this amazing fish soup, some pasta, salad, tea, wine, and vodka.  We all sat around and talked to one another and just enjoyed the rest of the day.  It was so relaxing and nice just to sit back and talk to everyone.  It was around this time that Tia thought it would be a great idea to try slack lining.  She accidentally slipped and had a bruise on her leg the size of an avocado!!  We gave her a lot of crap for that the rest of the trip.  Being away from the United States on the 4th of July, I always thought was going to be a bummer.  But it was definitely one of my most memorable and exciting 4th of July experiences of my entire life.   

Adam Holden