A Travellerspoint blog

Saunas, Russian clubs and that Nuisance, Culture Clash

Apparently there are consequences to typing too loudly in a library...

sunny 31 °C

So a week or so has passed since my last update and I don't quite remember what I've done since then. But I shall try.
An Unfortunate Nation of Prudes...
On Thursday we went to try out a veritable Russian tradition banya (sauna) and it was really quite something. It was in a word-POSH. There was a dining table, a pool table a rather classy looking swimming pool and a sauna. All this for about 3 pounds each and we could hire the whole room/complex.
The catch?
Well, we went with Eastern Europeans and a Finnish girl who apparently don't share the British prudishness. A breast or two (as they do in general come in pairs) I can handle...but that my friends, was not how far it went. It was quite bizarre sitting in a small wooden room with about 11 girls huddling under their skimpy towels and trying desperately to avert their easily offended prudish eyes.
So, on the next day, a Friday, we went on an excursion to a night club. It was also extremely posh and was equipped with quite an undersized dancefloor.
And as the bell chimed midnight, as it were (or in fact were not as it was a nightclub not a church), the routine strip show started. This one was slightly out of the ordinary and was a little bit burlesque, a little bit cabaret, a little bit, well, weird. It was somewhat reminiscent of Oompa Loompas. My friend took a picture and then in true Russian style proceeded to be followed around the club and the car park until she could prove she had deleted the picture. Apparently it breached copyright laws. HA. Anyone whose been to Russia will know they are thin on the ground to say the least.

The Beach. In Russia?
The next day we went to Peski, a beach by Lake Onego, which Wikipedia informs me (possibly not reliably) is the second biggest lake in Europe (after the other lake in that Region of Russia Ladoga). How exciting. It does look quite big if I'm honest. Take a look at the map of Karelia. Petrozavodsk is at the bottom.

It was extremely extremely hot, however even after 2 weeks of 30 the water was like a pool of ice. However, Lena had shown me pictures of the lake in "Spring" (apparently our definitions differ) and it was still frozen so perhaps it wasn't all that surprising...
And whatsmore, in spite of this extremely hot weather I had only managed to get a tanned face so I unwittingly unleashed my white white skin on the unsuspecting, and not particularly grateful public. For that, I apologise.

A Bit of "Not So Adventure Sports"
Sunday. The day of rafting. To say I had spent two weeks waiting for this is an understatement. I was extremely exciting. Just before you read on I have some important news to report. I did NOT fall out. This, was apparently so shocking that someone even said "I was watching you the whole time to see when you would fall out and you didn't. It was quite disappointing". Cheers. Mate.
The river had rapids and it was quite tame but fun all the same. It turned out my rowing "skills" didn't really come in handy. We also got to swim in the lake which was fun, and not as cold as the icy lake. The only downside of the trip was that one of our classmates gashed his leg open on a rock and had to go to hospital. It looked very sore. Afterwards we went to an ice cream parlour which looked oddly familiar....it was filled with Londonesque paraphernalia. The door was even a red phone box. Still had to order in Russian though. Жалько.

Stuffed Cabbage and Grechka
And as the new week began my next weekly trip to Lena's Mother awaited me. Safe to say I had been dreading it most of the day. This time I didn't get a stuffed pepper...it was much, much worse: a stuffed boiled cabbage leaf. I don't like cabbage, especially boiled.
And you know what? I especially don't like it filled with grechka (buckwheat), reheated the next day and served for breakfast at 8.30 am.
That's not to say I wasn't grateful for her hospitality.

And then on Tuesday we got to go look round a comic strip museum of comic book..some of which were rather raunchy. But oddly so.

Put that skin away young lady.
On Wednesday we went to look at a church and there was a miniscule piece of skin showing on my midriff (completely by accident may I add) and a tutting Russian lady who worked at the church came over tutting she came and tied a towel round my waist. I wouldn't have minded so much if it weren't for the fact that not only could I have very easily pulled down my top but also that she turned a blind eye to the girls wearing hotpants.
Next on the agenda, ice cream and tea with Lena. Then a night of spontaneous dancing to Russian techno/cheese. The next day we made traditional Russian dolls and saw Pirates of the Caribbean 2 in Russian. About the only words I understood were heart, box and Davy Jones. Might need to see that again.

Do Keyboards Have Silencers?
The following day was also pretty eventful. I was in the library checking my emails, merrily typing away, in what I thought was in quite an inoffensive manner, when all of a sudden a random Turkish man came over and started screaming at me in Russian and slamming his hands on the keyboard. I was quite scared and kept saying I understand and I'm sorry but he continued and eventually I just burst into tears from the shock. Had I had a better level of Russian, I would have not cried and attempted some cutting remark outlining in considerable detail what a twat I thought he was. Alas, that was not the case. If this wasn't bad enough I had endure a very well-meaning librarian's excessive hugs. I scarpered pretty quickly out of embarrassment and fumed for a couple of hours. The boys in our group played their macho "where is he, I'l sort him out" roles. I did get an apology though, though quite sure it was forced. I did and rather magnanimously shake his hand (more out of the fear instilled in me by the Russians convinced he was part of the Turkish mafia, than out of any real desire to be the bigger person).

Sorry bout the lack of embarrassing stories (though you will all be glad to know this week i have not only nutted myself on a bus but also fell off one too)...


Posted by Sianieee 12:47 Archived in Russia Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

Teacups, Crisp Sandwiches and Stuffed Peppers

Whatever you do don't mention Portugal

sunny 30 °C

I think my last update left you at my little island story which was a little bit rushed due to the rather inconvenient time constraints of internet cafes (which, in my opinion, serve for nothing except the reminder of how much you usually spend on the internet).

Oh Portugal...
So (for lack of a better vodnoye slovo), after the island we went to a Russian bar to watch the football (anyone who asks "what football?" is hereby forbidden from continuing reading). In spite of being (slightly unreastically so) ordered to not to actively support England during the match so as not to provoke the Russians, it seemed like a fun evening was ahead of us. We drank beer, sang songs, in contrary to the aforementioned advice and in a bizarre and unexpected twist of fate the Russians were on our side....and even sang along. There was even a Russian girl walking around in an England shirt...how odd.
Admittedly the joyous mood and raised spirits altered slightly when we went into extra time and became somewhat more dampened when it went to penalties.
And, well I guess you know what happened next.

Good, Old, Birch
So the football aside, on to Sunday, a.k.a. the day i got my first lie in (9 o'clock) before we set off on
an eight (yes eight) hour bus tour.
To put it mildly, it was HOT. It turns out we had arrived to be welcomed by an exceptional heat wave of temperatures of up to 40 degrees.
This had its disadvantages on a coach...
We had an interesting guide who, although he spoke English very well, did average about one word a minute which, after a while became somewhat tedious. My brain did eventually, against all my good intentions, give up.

I did, however, learn that apparently Karelia has its very own mutation the birch tree. Food for thought. It has created quite the artisan culture The best bit of the day had to be peeing in the wood, the toilets were beyond rank. However, the actual best part of the day the day was going to this huge rock face somewhere in the midst of those long, long eight hours, running away from the guide and climbing down them. Me and a girl from my class both did it quite impractical shoes...hers were flip flops, mine weren't much better. Enough said.

A very Russian Tradition?
The next day I went for tea with my host's mother (the one who fed me 2 apples when i arrived). I was not optimistic. But it actually went the other way round this time. I got a massive stuffed pepper (which was an improvement on the stuffed cabbage leaf. Though bizarrely she (excuse the pronoun I have no idea what her name is) kept saying my name and i would look up from eating and she would go yesh yesh (eat eat/are you eating!), which was odd because i was actually chewing at the time.

I also learnt a supposedly very Russian tradition which unnerved me a little. She gave me a cup of russian tea (which I actually love though I do feel like a bit of a traitor to the old PG tips really) and it was in a tiny tiny little cup and i was tryin to pick it up without burning myself (it was very hot) or spilling it (it was very full) when she goes SHON (my lovely new Russian name, it has a certain military ring to it). So I looked up from my balancing act (I may join the circus) to see her pouring tea into her saucer, and then...wait for it...She drank out of the saucer! Which apparently isn't all that odd but all I could think about was how I was never allowed to drink the leftover milk from my cereal bowl and that maybe that it was a joke. Apparently not. So in the interest of not defying a Russian lady who terrifies me and respect for a "cultural tradition" and purely just for the japes I ended up tentatively drinking two cups worth of chai from a saucer. It turned out the idea behind it was to cool it down. It actually worked. Though I'm still not sure if that is a Russian tradition or just one woman's little method!

Frisbee Fun
So then on tuesday after my lessons I walked around for a bit n had lunch as a picnic on the lake beach (crisp sandwiches have become our staple diet. Lunch from a shop is somewhat impossible to get hold of so we've learnt to improvise!) and then I went back to Fatima's hosts for an hour or so before Katie picked us up and we went to play Frisbee. I had recently learnt that Frisbee can be a proper sport (ultimate Frisbee is apparently not to be mocked I have been informed!) with teams and everything. Little did I know that I would be playing with elitist Frisbee players. I am not, as you may know the most elegant or coordinated of people (ahem) but even so I was offended at not being passed the Frisbee once. Granted i was wearing a pink skirt and flipflops (i didn't know i would be frisbeing away the afternoon when i left the house). However, there is only so personally one can not take to being ignored so blatantly. I spent large part of the game standing in wide open spaces not being marked (I don't think I was perceived as a threat) and still was ignored.

Then on Wednesday we had an extra lesson on Russian modern political structure and Putin, and we were informed that after 2008 he had promised to step down (n.b. as of 2009 - we all saw how that turned out!). However, the extended lessons meant I got very hungry and I ate a loaf of bread. Excessive-moi?!

Sorry about the lack of funny stories...though maybe it would please you all to know the cat has weed over all of my clothes. Numerous times.
There is no washing machine...
And on that note...Poka!

Posted by Sianieee 04:26 Archived in Russia Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)


And some Russian Shakepeare...

semi-overcast 20 °C

Hellooo everybody.!
So i guess its time for another update,
The Folk Concert. So i think i left you at the folk music concert...which actually turned out to be pretty cool! It was a Finnish band who spoke Russian to us (which was good because as much trouble as we were having with Russian, understanding Finnish would have been somewhat more of a challenge!). It started off with this oh-so-pretty music and it was all lovely. However the fun began when we were coerced (somewhat easily) into dancing, they got us to like wave our hands and so other such complicated moves (ahem!). We even progressed on to some country-style dancing n it really did turn out to be quite fun!

All the while we've been continuing our lessons which have been rather taxing as they have prepared the whole course under the presumption that we are advanced students of Russian (we think our teacher may have been overly complementary!) So that's been bit hard really! During the days between our lessons and excursions we pretty much just hang around time and eat blini (pancakes) which are yummy! Especially with condensed milk-don't judge until you've tried it!

Twelfth Night
The next day we had a shakespeare concert, in Russian which was supposedly a performance of Twelfth Night. And I have to admit having not read the play I was still fairly confident I would understand the story because I have, of course (I confess more than once), seen She's the Man (Она Мужчина for anyone who was wondering...).
Well anyway, according to some people who had actually read the play (I am a philistine among the cultured folk) the story was completely twisted. It was a man who dressed up as a woman who did not have a twin, although did think he was a woman. Consequently he fell in love with a man and didn't like the female character. Though after having taken his bra off he remembered that he was a man and was not just pretending to be one and fell in love with the woman. Get it?! I certainly didn't!
It was full of bizarre echoes and there was a random jester and lots of porn-style dancing...it was actually pretty funny but I understood nothing aside from the odd word, though somehow I feel that would still have left a lot of explaining to be done!

After that cultural headache we went looking for a bar and just sat and chatted but the beer was rather strong so i only managed half a pint (the shame) before i had to give it away. The next day when we went we went to the same bar n I had milkshake which, and I don't mean to brag, I managed the whole of.

Our next excursion was the Kizhi island which is actually technically a museum because it is host to these really old Russian churches which were (shock horror!) made without any nails (although the shingles on the roof do have nails on so the claim rings a little false...). This was my first experience of actually seeing anything resembling the candle-esque Russian buildings I had seen before arriving and it was all very pretty.

Posted by Sianieee 06:06 Archived in Russia Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

My First Few Days Ever in Russia...

Culture shock, settling in and learning how to make a fool of myself abroad. I do it well apparently.

22 °C

Privet! So I'm here in la Russe which is all fun and dandy though admittedly bit of a culture shock too. So far it's not exactly full of all those cool buildings on you see on post cards...more like very old prison style ones.

However it is very beautiful as there is an enormous amount of land (there is apparently the same amount of land in the territory of Karelia (the republic) as Great Britain but scarily only 750 thousand people (as opposed to our slightly more numerous 1 million)) and I'm staying in Petrozavodsk which is the capital of Karelia. It's home to a lovely massive lake which is so big it has a horizon! And there are lots of trees. I'm staying with a really nice woman called Lena who speaks absolutely no English but we've finally managed to get a bit of communication going.

Anyway... I suppose I better let you all know what I've been up to (aside from embarrassing myself lots...more on that in a bit!)

Day One.
The Journey
So after about an hours delay we finally landed down in Russia...all very excited which I'm afraid soon disappeared when we saw the queue at Saint Petersburg airport for passport control (which was in effect a large white room with some booths at the end) words cannot describe the length of that queue. And us being typically British just stood and queued patiently while everyone around pushed in front of us (though of course we soon toughened up and developed a defensive plan!!!). However, a wee three hours later we conquered all and got through and got on a bus to Saint Petersburg station, all really hot and thirsty.

A Very Russian Train Complete with The Very Russian Army
Now that was interesting, it was a sleeper and definitely no Virgin Train. It looked like something out of a seventies style prison cell. It had 6 bunks to each section and no privacy whatsoever, which normally wouldn't be so bad except of course for the fact we were surrounded by what appeared to be half the Russian Army (who incidentally didn't appear to have seen any women in 15 years) who were also travelling to Petrozavodsk.
Anyway we didn't really get much sleep and the train pulled in at about seven (four English time) and i was met by this woman who was (optimistically) around 50 years old. I had been told I was staying with a 30 year old. Thoroughly confused I got driven to what I thought was her house. After considerable miming and guesswork I worked out it was Lena's mum because Lena was at work. At this point I realised how much Russian I didn't know or understand. Although, I did understand the conversation between the man who drove me to the house (who worryingly appeared to be somewhat intoxicated) and the Mother. It consisted of она совсем неговорит по-русски. She doesn't speak any Russian whatsoever. The Mum made a list of what I eat and didn't eat and then proceeded to feed me two apples. I hadn't eaten in over eight hours and I was starving. Suffice to say those two apples didn't quite fill the void.
I did however get fed properly a couple of hours later when Lena returned and felt much better.
I spent a lot of the day sleeping.

Day 2
Test: a neat little to way to confirm how much we don't know
It was absolutely impossible and I imagine for the teachers trying to mark it was a case of establishing how well written our incorrect answers had been. After that we endured some boring organisational stuff and pottered around the city until the university excursion which was translated by a graduate. Her English was phenomenal. The talk was overly detailed but I found out a lot out about maps, which given my utter lack of geographical knowledge I can't really complain!

Obstacles Abroad: Buses and sitting down
So...later on my way home I somehow managed to get myself in a terribly embarrassing situation.
Just to put it in context: that morning I had been able to stand up no problem on the minibus and I assumed in the evening it would be the same. Though it turns out I hadn't yet learnt the difference between the autobus and the marshrutka! Which it turns out is very important with regards to bus standing etiquette. So I got on the number 17 bus and stood up and the driver started shouting (whilst we were moving) and I of course didn't understand him but I noticed everyone was looking at me strangely and this middle aged man told me to sit down and pointed to this minuscule spot on a chair. This spot was basically between his knees and in what I can only assume was a fit of panic i sat there. Yes, that's right. I sat between a middle aged man's legs. However...sitting there didn't really stop the whispering and the pointing (as you can imagine) because at this point everyone on the bus was looking at me as if I was a cross between a prostitute and an alien. Some would think that getting off the bus might have eased the humiliation but of course this would only be the case had this story been happening to somebody else, and not me, since when I tried to get off the bus not only could I barely make it understood (because there are no convenient little red buttons marked stop to inform the driver you would like to alight. Instead you have to yell STOP PLEASE!). So with the little piece of paper Lena had given me I garbled ostanovitye and tried to run off the bus. I could not open the door. My face was somewhat pink.
Then I got lost on the way home.
Later I ate cabbage and potatoes with Lena and her boyfriend.

After her boyfriend left we went to play volleyball, and now onto my second embarrassment (second being a rather broad term for millionth). We went to play volleyball on a rock face (albeit a small one). Given the surroundings, I will happily confess I had my reservations. Taking a very short person, with a lazy-eye and no hand-eye coordination to play a ball game by a cliff edge doesn't bode well.
just for those who hadn't guessed where this was going: the first thing I did was throw the ball over the cliff edge. Sorry, make that at the second hit of the ball. I was mortified, especially when Lena began to climb down the cliff, taking me with her to find the ball. When we got down she told me to stay where she was and started to look for the ball. There were a lot of rocks. It gets worse. There was even a car wreck. She climbed over them ALL to find this ball. The mortification did not cease but at least I knew how to say sorry in Russian.
Lena then took what I perceived to be a good tactical decision and we started to play again on lower ground.

Day 3
The Lessons Begin
The first lesson was a phonetics so I now I know words like nasal cavity in Russian which is infinitely more useful than being able to get off a bus.

The real fun started when we had our library lesson, it consisted of a woman narrating what could possibly have been her entire life story given the amount of time it lasted and how not-so-young she was. She spoke an awful, awful lot in very fast and complex Russian (at this point any Russian which wasn't "Hello how are you" was very fast and complex Russian). So, naturally I piped up and told her that none of us understood a word of what she was saying so "naturally" she continued, and continued...to drone
So later after being begged (by my lovely classmates) I pointedly reminded her and mentioned our modest 9
months of Russian lessons (i.e. our complete lack of knowledge in Russian). So she just said in Russian well, yes its hard but it will get better and continued whacking out the dictionary only to look up the word for prison-as if that would make us all understand! Safe to say it didn't.

Posted by Sianieee 04:49 Archived in Russia Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

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