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9 posts from April 2011


Я люблю тебя Москва!

Hello all! I hope you’re all enjoying the spring weather- It’s gotten significantly nicer here so I can only imagine what it’s like in the States! Almost all the snow has melted and the majority of the canals are rid of the massive ice chunks they were previously covered in. Today is my third day  back at school after travel week. Kind of bittersweet to move from the complete fun and relaxation that was my travel week, but I’m glad to be back into the swing of things. 

Anyways, the weekend before last we had our programmed trip to Moscow. It was one of the best weekends I have had here in Russia. I absoloutely fell in love with Moscow during the three short days I was there. In this post I’ll mostly break down the расписание (schedule) of the trip for you all. 

I met the sixty or so program members travelling to Moscow in Mосковский Вокзал around 10:00 the night of the 24th. We boarded a direct overnight train and left the station around midnight. Once on the train, we spent some time hanging out in eachothers cabins, just having fun until around 3 am when the conductors close the doors between sleeping carts. I shared a compartment with four of my girlfriends which was great. Luckily I got one of the bottom bunks and I was able to fall asleep really quickly. I think it might have had something to do with the sound of the wheels rolling over the tracks again and again- but whatever it was, I was the first one to fall asleep and stayed that way until the train lurched to a halt in Ленинградский Вокзал. 

Leningradskii Vokzal

As soon as we got off the train we met up with our tour guides who led us out to our typical travelling set up- two enourmous coach busses. We loaded our luggage up and grabbed a seat (I got to sit in the front this time! aka the best view haha) and we headed off on a bus tour of the city. We don’t waste any time on this program. Our tour was entirely in Russian as per usual (although it still blows my mind how much my comprehension has improved since being here - since when can I understand entire tours conducted in Russian!?) We got off the bus at a few places with senic views of the city to snap pics. I caught some really interesting snapshots of the cities design on the tour. People always told my that Moscow and Petersburg were nothing alike, I always figured they couldn’t be that different- but God was I wrong. They are like night and day! 

Petersburg is on an almost completely flat terrain, the line of the city scape in general is very low as it is against the law to build past a certain height here. Besides for the occasional Soviet style apartment or administrative building, almost every building you lay eyes on is basically an architectural masterpiece and they are all painted in muted pastel colors (sounds bad, looks great.) The city itself has a very intentional feel to it, very much like it was planned out and almost decorated.  Moscow is the exact opposite, with foreboding castle-like skyscrapers dotting the entire skyline, a complete mixture of Imperial, Soviet and Modern archituecture. There are massive advertisments everywhere, my favorite being the massive car ad directly next to St.Basil’s Cathedral. The traffic is unbelievable and grafitti is rampant but the city definitely pulls off it’s seeminly clashing aesthetics. From the midst of all that chaos radiates an immense beauty which I was immediately drawn in to the second I stepped off the train.

We finally got off the bus next to Red Square and made our way over to the center, where we met in front of St.Basil’s cathedral. I couldn’t help but get a little secretly emotional once I finally stopped and looked around the Square. I kind of wandered off to the side and just took some time to reflect on where exactly I was. For me, stepping on Red Square felt like the culimation of my Russian studies. I remember learning about the layout of city in the eighth grade and just thinking about how different and interesting Russia seemed- and dreaming  about the day that I finally got to experience it in real life. It was just really great to look back on all these years of Russian studies and think about how far I’ve come. Lets just say the fourteen year old in me was very proud haha. 

St.Basil’s up close

After a quick tour around the Sqaure we head over to GUM- one of the oldest and most beautiful shopping centers in Russia. My freind and I immediately headed to Gastronom 1 which I can honestly say was the best store I have ever been in (and everyone knows how much I love to shop!) It was amazing. Gastronom 1 is basically an enormous store filled with only the best products. Pastries,Fruits,Vodka,Candy,Flowers you name it, they have the best version of it inside. It smells unbelieveable in there, I was immediately drawn to the bakery where my freind and I bought the best chocolate crossiants I have ever eaten, for only 30 roubles! After walking around a bit we decided to sit by a foutain in the center of the mall, enjoy our purchases and do a little people watching (one of my favorite activities here in Russia. It was soon time to meet up with our group again, so we took a few last pictures of Red Square and made our way back to the busses and headed to the hotel. 

Some friends and I inside GUM

After a somewhat nerve wracking run in with the afore mentioned traffic, we finally made it back to our hotel. It turned out CIEE had booked us rooms at a really fantastic Holiday Inn off the Cокольники metro stop. *If your feeling ambitious, check out this map of the dauntingly enormous  We were at the fourth stop from the top of the red line. For reference all the touristy stuff like the Kremlin and Red Square are in the center around Библиотека Ленина анд Китай Город, that general area.*  

We unpacked our things, settled into our MASSIVE rooms and just chilled out for a while. I took a shower and watch Hairspray in Russian with my roomate. Soon after, we decided it was time to explore so we got dressed and set out to find a place to eat dinner. We eneded up at this really great Italian restaurant where we ordered pizza (somewhat of a novelty here in Russia.) The menu was hysterical, the person who translated it clearly had issues with English and/or Microsoft Word as about a quarter of the Pizzas were labled in English as “Braised eel over rice” and Bread was constantly listed as “Gin.” haha!

We ended up ordering a barbeque chicken pizza which was really great except it wasn’t so much barbeque as it was curry flavored? Needless to say it tasted very interesting, but it was still nice to have pizza! After dinner we went back to our hotel room and met up with a bunch of our friends. Its always fun when our group travels together so we can really have some time to hang out and relax. 

The next morning we had a great (American style!!) breakfast at the restaurant downstairs before we headed off on our excursion to the Kremlin. The weather in Moscow was bizarre to say the least, switching from sunny to cloudy to windy to snowy at seemingly four hour intervals the entire weekend. Of course when we arrived to the Kremlin it decided to snow! I forgot my hat so in true Russian fashion I tied my scarf around my head babushka style. Hey, when in Russia…

The Kremilin was absolutely amazing. There were tons of old cannons and cannon balls laying around on display. The cathedrals in particular were very beautiful, we got to go insde both the Cathedral of the Annunciation and The Cathedral of the Twelve Apostles. We ended the trip with a visit to The Kremlin Museam. I really loved this museam, it was probably my favorite museam in Russia so far. It was filled with thousands of amazing collections of gold, silver, bronze, bejewled creations. Pretty much anything you name, they had it. Want to see a gold enrusted/bejeweled goblet made out of ostrich egg? Its there. How about tons of beautiful Imperial Russian ball gowns? Also there. Catherine the Greats throne? Saw it. Hands down the most interesting museam I have ever been to. 

The highlight of that day, however, was just as we were leaving the Kremilin and the changing of the guards outside the Могила Неизвестного Солдата or the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in the Alexander Garden started. The flame is there to honor the dead of the Great Patriotic War (How Russians refer to World War II.) My Dad had asked me to try and get pictures of it while I was in Moscow and not only did I get a ton of pictures but the whole scene was very interesting. I didn’t know much about the memorial prior to my visit, but its history is very touching. The tomb was officially unveiled in May of 1967 after the remains of unkown soldiers killed in the Battle of Mocow were transported from their original burial place on the 25th anniversary of the battle in 1966. Apparently the torch used to light the to light the flame was brought all the way from the Field of Mars in St.Petersburg, a memorial to those killed during the Seige of Leningrad. The tomb itself was beautifully designed. My favorite part was a bronzed inscription illumated by the flame which read “Имя твоё неизвестно, подвиг твой бессмертен” meaning “Your name is unkown, your deed is immortal.” There was even a wedding party there at the time as Russians newlyweds traditionally bring flowers to the tomb, as a way of thanking the soldiers for affording them the opportunity to get married. I constantly see brides and grooms at famous landmarks in St.Petersburg. I really love how much pride Russians take in the history of their country. They truly believe that in order to know were you are going, you must understand where you are coming from and therefore take the time to honor the past. Reason number 2507 why I love Russian culture so much. 

“Hello Moscow”

After the tour of the Kremilin some friends and I went to the center of the city to seek out the largest McDonalds…in the WORLD! Even crazier than its size, however, was the ammount of people there. We couldn’t even find a place to sit. We had to stand and eat. In the largest McDonalds in the world! We were in shock. 

After we ate our Russified McDonalds (no different in taste just much nicer presentation) we made our way back to the hotel stopping here and there to check out some stores and more famous landmarks. We eventually got back in time to get dressed and make our way to the center of the city where there was rumored to be a Chili’s Bar and Grill. It was really nice to have a taste of America.

Anyways, we found the Chili’s which was fantastic and then made our way out to nice kafe to just relax and have some coffee after dinner. Eventually we met up with some Russians that my freind knew from her previous stay in Moscow and went to one of their apartments which was conventiently near our hotel for a birthday party. It was really interesting to see another Russian birthday party. I’ve already been to one and this was extremely similar, MASSIVE ammounts of food cover the table and the hosts constantly encourage you to eat! We had a great time just hanging out and talking with our new freinds, listening to music and eventually one of the boys who studies music at Moscow State brought out his guitar and we had alot of fun combining our knowldege of Russian and American music. Russians always have the best parties, they are always so welcoming and hospitable, no matter if they are 19 or 65, every Russian I have met knows how to treat a guest. Once the party started to wind down my freinds and I went back to our hotel room to get some sleep. 

The next day we spent walking around the city, checking out a souvioner market and getting lunch at this great Sushi restaurant. A lot of people from our program left early in the day to catch their flights so a few of us that were travelling back to St.Petersburg on the midnight train killed some time by going to see Rango in Russian. It was a really cute movie and my first time in a Russian movie theatre. Very different from the U.S - the chairs are so comfortable! It was eventually time for us to say goodbye to Moscow and get on the train back to St.Petersburg. I was defintely sad when we left, I really wish that I had been able to spend more time there. 

Overall, it was an amazing trip. My favorite weekend excursion so far. Both cities are beautiful in their own unique ways. Despite their massive differences, their is something about both of them that is so appealing to me. Russian cities are just so inexplicably different from those U.S. Anything is possible here and I love it. Maybe thats just the young study abroad student in me speaking, but I really have fallen in love with Russia. I know that it will always be my second home.

Me in front of the Eternal Flame

Allright, so those were my thoughts about Moscow. Hope you all enjoyed!


My personal soundtrack to this trip. Я шагаю по Москве. Final clip of the film by the same title, featuring my all-time favorite Russian actor/director when he was young. Nikita Mikhailkov. LOVE. It Roughly translates to “I am walking around Moscow”


here and there

Hi Everyone! 

Today I’m writing a little bit about, in my opinion, one of the most interesting aspects of life in St. Petersburg- Transportation. In my hometown, my experience with public transportation reached no further than taking the bus to and from school, which doesn’t really even count. Burlington was no better, I used the city bus once- ended up getting hopelessly lost and walking home anyways, and another time I took a taxi from the airport. Granted, I used to take a bus from Hartford to Boston to visit friends with some frequency, but that was easy all I had to do was get on and get off. No random stops or transfers- very straight forward. I’ve only been two New York twice and never used the metro. Needless to say, prior to coming here I was little concerned about navigating my way around such a big city!
St.Petersburg has many different methods of transporation, Metro, Tram, Trolleybus, Marshrutka, Cabs, “Gypsy Cabs” just to name a few. 
Lets start with the metro. 
Seeing as St.Petersburg was built over what was once a swamp, it comes as no suprise that it is acutally the deepest metro system in the whole world. The first metro station, Ploshad Vostannia, was opened on November15th, 1955. 
Each metro ride costs 25 roubles, 50 for round trip. I have a metro pass, which I find much easier to use than tokens, because it is just a card you swipe at the tourniquet each time you get on the escalator down. 
On average, most metro stations have about a 3-4 minute escalator trip down to reach the platform. Trains ususally come about once every minute and thirty seconds, so it really is a very efficient way to get around the city. Most of the time, it is easy to get on the car, find a seat and sit down for the duration of your ride, but during rush hour the same can not be said. Rush hour on the metro in St.Petersburg, both in the morning and evening, is insanity. The sheer volume of people trying to get in and out is unbelieveable! Sometimes it is so crowded that you don’t even need to hold on to anything as the metro starts and stops, the people pressed up on all sides of you are enough support. Alot of the time, you get pushed off at different stops due to the sheer force of the people moving out around you. Culturally, Russians do not have as much of a respect for personal space as I have found in America. There is literally no way to avoid being extremely close proximity to other people during peak metro hours. It was a little disconcerting at first, but you get used to it quickly, it doesn’t even bother me anymore- I have just accepted is as a part of life here in St.Petersburg. I just bring along a book or my iPod and deal haha. 
The metro opens at 6 am and runs until about 12:15. This can be somewhat inconvenient if you happen to miss the last train. All other forms of public transportation like buses and marshrutkas close earlier, so if you happen to miss the metro or just want to stay out later, your only options are walking or my next topic of discussion- taxis!

The majority of taxis operate the same as in the U.S- either call up a service and wait for them to pick you up or hail one down somewhere in the city. Get in, tell the driver where you’re going, pay and get out. Easy. However, cab fares are expensive in the city, so I prefer not to take them, I either get the metro or walk. St.Petersburg is also filled of what are commonly referred to as gypsy cabs. Gypsy cabs are just random people with cars who wait around main streets of the city, calling out to passerby, promising a cheaper fare. We were told never to take gypsy cabs during our stay here, and after hearing a couple of horror stories, I agree with this advice. I don’t know if it is the same for Russians, but I would feel extremely unsafe getting into a car with a random person, even if I had plenty of friends with me.

Bus: There are bus routes all over the city. Apparently once you figure out the system they are the most convenient form of transportation. I, however, can not manage to get a handle of the whole situation. I take one every Tuesday and Thursday to the university where I teach English and that is easy enough but besides for that, I don’t take the bus that often, I’m more of a metro girl. One bus trip costs about 21 roubles, roughly 80 cents- not a bad deal. The city is also full of trolleybusses which are the exact same thing as buses but electric- meaning they run along electric cables.

Marshrutka: Basically privately owned buses minus the person who sells tickets. The drivers do this all by themselves, making stops, doling and tickets and passing back change all while navigating the ever crowded St.Petersburg streets. Luckily I live close enough to the metro that I don’t really ever need to take the “Shrutkee” as we’ve started to call them for short. Kind of scary haha

So thats just a little overview of how I get around the city…I’m almost half way done with my trip here! I can’t believe it, time is just flying by. This weekend I am going to Moscow- check back later for a post about my travel plans during vacation


Sirok-ing my world

So I’m planning on doing an in depth post about food here in Russia at a later date but I thought I’d share with you all my favorite discovery food-wise so far…

It’s all about the Sirok (Сирок) here in St.Petersburg. I absolutely love it. My friends and I sometimes even go on “Sirok Runs” to this продукти (grocery store) near our school to get it during break when they aren’t selling it in the cafeteria. We just can't get enough of it!

The best way I can describe Sirok is a cross between cheesecake and a candy bar. They are sold in really small two bite packages and they are coated in in a chocolate shell. They come in all kinds of different flavors like coconut, chocolate, hazelnut, plain and sometimes even fruit flavors.

Vanilla flavor

Russians love all kinds of cheese, well actually, they love dairy products in general and sirok is no exception. The other day I saw a man using his arm to scrape at least 30 of them into his shopping basket! The best part is that each on costs about 8 rubles which is about 27 cents…I love grocery shopping in Russia haha


Living and learning

So…can you believe it’s almost the end of my fifth week in St. Petersburg? I definitely can’t- time is flying by so quickly this semester. Right now I’m in the library at school on a break between classes, so I figured I’d do a post about what I’m studying here and how my schedule works.  

Every day, Monday through Friday I wake up at about 7:30, have breakfast with my host mom, get ready for the day and then commute about 45 minutes to Smolny Cathedral where I attend classes. Smolny Cathedral is home to the Saint Petersburg State University Center for Russian Language and Culture as well as the Faculty of Political Sciences. Smolny is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful buildings in St. Petersburg. 

I mean, just look at it! It’s even more impressive up close.  UVM has a gorgeous campus but not too many baby blue churches haha. 

CIEE occupies one wing of the building where all of our classrooms are located. In addition to about six or seven classrooms, we have small library filled with both Russain and English books, a tea station, all sorts of games and sports equipment. Pretty much anything you could need during a break from classes. The CIEE program coordinators offices are also in the same hallway along with our as well as our announcement board. The announcement board is great in that the program directors keep an up to date calendar filled with info about upcoming trips, events etc; posted and it always has sign up sheets for things like excursions to a Russian banya or cooking classes. CIEE is great about organizing interesting things for us to do outside of the classroom.
CIEE’s hallway!

I am taking a total of five classes here- Russian Literature, Conversation, Phonetics, Grammar and Russian/American Relations. Each class meets either two or three days a week. My schedule itself is very different than it is at my university because each class meets for an hour and thirty minutes at a time. It seems like a really long class period, but they are all interesting so time goes by quickly.

All of my classes are conducted entirely in Russian. My professors can speak English, but they never use it unless they need to explain an abstract concept. The fact that I am forced to learn all of this new material strictly in Russian has increased my overall comprehension. I feel completely immersed and it makes understanding everything much easier. I’m in the Intermediate group here which is exactly what I wanted. I definitely feel challenged each day, but that is what is helping me improve so much. 

Well, my break is almost over- I have a grammar quiz next period so I need to do some last minute reviewing. Check back sometime next week for a post on transportation in St.Petersburg! Thanks for reading!



Where in the world do I live?

St.Petersburg is a really interesting city in the fact that it is divided in many parts by the Neva River, which create separate islands throughout the city. Therefore, the area is covered in really beautiful canals and bridges.  I am fortunate enough to be living on the lowermost island, known as Vasiliyevsky Island. It is bordered by the Bolshaya and Malenkaya Neva as well as the Gulf of Finland. I live about an 8 minute walk from Приморская (Primorskaya) Metro station, which is the last stop at the top of the Green Line. 

View from outside my apartment complex

I have about an hour commute to school each day, but luckily a lot of my friends live really close to me on the island and we usually travel together so it makes the trip there and back much less boring. 

Every morning I leave my apartment at about 8:15 and walk down what I can best describe as an overhang located in front of the several shops which line my street. I love it because the overhang blocks the wind and any snow or rain so I make it to the metro (relatively) warm. I meet up with my friends in front of the metro station at about 8:25. We get to the Chernishevskaya Metro Station at about 9:30 where a shuttle provided by CIEE brings us all to Smolny which is about a 5 minute drive away. 

 Metro stops circled in pink above. 

All in all I love where I’m living, its a great location and is very beautiful. Yesterday I met a Russian man who lives nearby and he was showing me pictures he had on his phone of the area in the spring and they were GORGEOUS. I can’t wait for some of this snow to melt so that I can look out my window and see the beautiful canal that leads into the Gulf everyday….




 Sadko in the Underwater Kingdom, 1876 (State Russian Museum) by Ilya Yefimovich Repin  How beautiful is this? This is my absolute favorite Repin painting ever and not only did I get to see it up close and personal this morning but I also bought a print of it for only 15 rubles! Thats liiikeee 50 cents. YAY!

Sadko in the Underwater Kingdom, 1876 (State Russian Museum)

by Ilya Yefimovich Repin

How beautiful is this? This is my absolute favorite Repin painting ever and not only did I get to see it up close and personal this morning during our CIEE excursion to the Russian Museam but I also bought a print of it for only 15 rubles! Love it!


And so it begins...

My first impressions of St.Petersburg?

 I absolutely love it here. It really is far better than I had even imagined. There is always something interesting to see or a new place to go visit or explore and I love the sense of adventure that comes with learning my way around the city. The thing that stands out to me the most, is St.Petersburg’s beauty. I swear, even the most boring little convenience store can look like a work of art from the outside here. The majority of the architecture is nothing short of amazing. Even my school is a giant baby blue and white cathedral, decorated with cherubs and gold plating. There are no skyscrapers or highrises here, just rows upon rows of classic looking buildings painted in an array of different (but always muted) colors. It is hard to do describe St.Petersburg and manage to do it any justice but you’re all gonna just have to trust me on this one: it’s gorgeous. Not to mention the cultural scene here is fantastic: There are literally hundreds of museums, theatres, cathedrals, restaurants, cafes, bars and clubs…and I want to go to all of them. Its a problem. There is always something going on in this city, no matter what time it is and I love it. I’ve all ready had a ton of really interesting experiences and met a lot of great people since I’ve been here. It would take forever for me to explain everything I’ve seen and done so far so here are some of the highlights:

The one and only complaint I have so far is: the cold. Apparently, February in Russia is known for being the most bitterly cold of all the months. I was entirely unaware of this before coming here and having known what I know now I would have probably filled an extra suitcase with scarves, hats and gloves. So my word of advice for anyone looking to study abroad in St.Petersburg- bring lots of warm clothes and accessories! Luckily temperatures rise really quickly once it hits March here so I only have a couple more days to deal!

Besides for the bitter cold i am LOVING it here. It sounds totally cheesy but every day really is more fun than the one before it. The people on my program are amazing and I’ve made alot of new friends all of whom I really enjoy spending time with. Every single person on this trip is super friendly and nice. And everyone has a great sense of humor- I feel like you HAVE to in order to deal with the Russian language/living in Russia, so it makes for a really good time. My classes are really interesting and I love my homestay. All in all, I am so glad I chose CIEE, I couldn’t have asked for a better program!

PS: Check out this link- This photo set is entitiled “St.Petersburg as we have never seen it before” and it is full of the most BEAUTIFUL pictures of the city. Love it. 



Питер at night!

This is by far one of my favorite pictures of St.Petersburg at night!


St.Petersburg, Russia.

Russia’s cultural capital, Window to the West, Venice of the North, all of the above. It is a city full of beauty, paradox, adventure and mystery.

St.Petersburg, actually, Russia in general- is as mystifying to me as it was on my first day of Russian class at age thirteen. Yes, I have what I believe to be a comfortable grasp on the language, a working knowledge of Russian history and an deep appreciation for Russian culture. However, not a single one of these facts change my understanding of Russia as a whole.

Winston Churchill once said that “Russia, is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.” How could a country with such a long and complex history and deeply entrenched cultural values be anything less than mysterious? Today, a mere 35 days before I embark upon my 5 months Study Abroad Program at St.Petersburg State University, these words could not resound any more deeply within me. 

In the weeks before my trip, it feels as if Russia itself is trying to remind me of this fact. Upon arriving in St.Petersburg, I will not even meet my host family or find out my home address for at least a week. 

Despite all the mystery surrounding it, I am more excited to stay in St.Petersburg than I have ever been for anything in my life. While I simply cannot fathom the experiences I will have while I am there, I have spent the majority of my academic career preparing for this trip and I am ready for anything that comes my way. I become more curious with each passing day and at this point I cannot wait to immerse myself in the challenges and life lessons that await me.