Monday, March 21, 2011

Hard Rock Cafe

Saturday we just wanted a very chill and relaxed day because we had, had a long and stressful few days and a lot of us had laundry and cleaning to do. So we chilled almost the entire day then around two we all started to get ready to go out on the town. It was so fun to take our time and spend two hours getting all dressed up and pumped for what was to become an amazing and the best night of my life!

Lexi has a friend Missy that is also in ILP but they are at different schools, well over our Vladimir weekend we all became friends with her and another girl Auriana. We invited them to come out to town with us and we were going to the Hard Rock Café to just celebrate and hang out and because it was Missy’s 20th birthday!  So of course we were going to go all out and eat some American food and just enjoy the American atmosphere of the HRC.  We meet up with them around six o’clock which we were supposed to meet at 5:30 but we are still trying to get used to the metro and what is what and where things are. So no biggy we eventually found each other and now had the wonderful task of actually find where the Hard Rock was located at.  That in its self took about an hour of walking and wandering and “trying” to ask for directions, which really wasn’t going so well. So we finally made our way to a hotel and figured the front desk person would have to speak a little English and we could ask them for help. They told us how to get there and we were able to find it really easy. 

It wasn’t a big building with all these lights and a huge guitar in front; it just looked like a random building along one of the side streets.  We went inside and asked for a table for seven, they said they didn’t have anything because you have to have a reservation in order to be seated. We all looked at each other and were like, are you kidding me? We have just spent forever trying to find this place and now we can’t eat here? They said that we could sit at the bar if we wanted and we all looked at each other and said, ya sure why not, at least it’s a seat and a place to eat. Well she walks us upstairs and seats us at a table. It was in the “bar” area but it wasn’t actually sitting at the bar. We were so excited and happy to be out and with each other we didn’t even really pay attention to the menu or what to order. So finally after the waitress’ third time of coming to get our order we all ordered a soda and a hamburger. Wow when these hamburgers came out I can’t explain how excited we all were. They were so big and juicy looking and so American!  So after we all enjoyed our massive burgers we wanted to go all out and order a brownie Sunday for dessert. And we asked if Missy got something for her birthday. They gave her an ice cream Sunday with a candle in it.  Then this Sunday came out and it was just like another round of heaven on a plate. It was the best brownie Sunday I have ever eaten. The vanilla ice cream was so good and so creamy I don’t think anything will ever top its taste.  

Laughing, talking, more laughing, singing, a little dancing and enjoying our delicious American meal was the extent of what we thought our night would bring. But during our three hours at the HRC, one guy came to our table and said he and his friend had a bet of where we were from and then he just stayed and talked for a few minutes before heading back to the bar for more drinks! Then the two guys in the table behind us starting talking to us and asking us the same things like, where are you from? Why are you in Russia? Are you having fun? And so on with the questions, we answered to be polite and they finally left us alone. Well we just kept sitting around waiting for the waitress to bring our check and we finally asked for it and she said she would bring it out. We waited and waited a little longer till she came over and said that the guy behind us had taken care of our bill. And we were like, “our whole bill? Like paid for everyone’s food?” And she said yes.  Holy cow are you kidding me? Did that just really happen? Did we just have some random stranger buy our food for us? Yes, yes we did and it was awesome.  They were from Texas and were some big wig construction workers here in Russia building some sort of factory. So to pay for the meal was probably no big deal, even though it probably was around $175 for all seven of our meals.  We couldn’t believe that had just happened and stoked at how our night was turning out. So after we said our thank yous and left the drunken guys upstairs, we headed downstairs to the store to buy shirts. All seven of us bought a shirt to commemorate for such an amazing, memorable night!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Tuesday March 8th

I’ll just make this a quick entry to summarize what happened on this joyous day! Almost from the beginning of this experience I didn’t get along with my head teacher. There was just something about her that I couldn’t get along with and I just tried really hard to ignore things and put it off as we were just two completely different people. I thought I was the only one feeling that way but when me and the rest of the girls started talking we realized we all had the same thoughts and feelings.  The days and weeks went by and things just kept getting harder and harder for me to deal with. Lying, distrust, annoyance, lack of respect and etc. seemed to be a common occurrence between me and her. 
So we found out that on March 4th Casey the ILP director was coming to do his mid semester visit and see how we were doing.  I knew I was going to have to say something to him about how I didn’t think she should be allowed to continue to be here. And I did, when we had our interview I told him my feelings and thoughts about everything that had been going on and what I felt would continue to go on if something wasn’t done.  The others girls did the same thing and Casey told us he would be back the 8th. So we went on our weekend vacation and wondered what the 8th would bring. 
We went into town that day and meet up with him and we had a meeting and he said that ILP was going to send her home and hopefully things would be ok with us and he hoped that we would be able to handle everything without a head teacher. We told him we could do it and we wouldn’t disappoint him or ILP and they could trust us. We were in this together and we were going to prove that we are strong and capable of dealing with a lot of responsibility. Things for me are better now and I feel that I can actually enjoy my time here and do what I came to do which is teach some amazing kids, be in an amazing country and meet some great girls who I hope to stay friends with for a very long time.

Monday March 7th

Vladimir and lots of walking!
When we woke up the next morning we looked at ourselves and made sure we were still alive and had made it through the night ok we got ready and headed to the café where they said we could get some blini. Now I know I said I ate that for dinner but it still sounded good for breakfast.  I decided I was going to put my pedometer on so that I could see how much we really would be walking. Boy I am sure glad I did that, when we came home I took it off and it read 24,000 steps which is about 9 miles or so. That’s crazy, no wonder we were all so tired and didn’t want to move when we made it in our clean and comfy place at the hotel. But yeah so back to Vladimir, Gulia took us to all these amazing churches and cathedrals and some of them still hold worshiping services and some are just a nunnery now. But it was still amazing to see and actually touch so many historical items.  The city of Vladimir was founded by obviously Vladimir the Great and he was the one that brought Christianity to Russia so it’s no wonder there are so many cathedrals in his town!  
I was able to go into one cathedral and just stand in amazement; I almost dare say it was better than St. Basils Cathedral.  There was gold everywhere and paintings and Old Russian writings of stories all over the walls, and there are tombs everywhere that people can come and worship on and pray over. Some people actually bend down and kiss the tombs, not really something I think I would want to do, but hey if it’s part of their belief why not?! So while exploring the cathedral we came across this tomb and we wondered who it was so this kid that was with us is Russian so he translated the writing and said that the guys name was “George the Miracle Worker” kind of a cool name, but defiantly one you wouldn’t want to mess things up with! We asked when he died and the kid said like in the 9th or 10th century. Talk about old and the best was his tomb had a class top so you could see that he was really still in there because I was able to see his hand sticking out of his robe sleeve. Creepy! but also very interesting to say I touched the tomb of a very, very old dead guy!  There were so many things to look at and try and take in and this particular cathedral hasn’t been restored so everything was the entire original work. It’s crazy to think that so long ago someone had this amazing vision and actually built it and followed through with such magnificence! 

We went to this church that was called “The Church of the Intercession” it was one of the first churches that Vladimir had built, and in the summer the only way to get to it is by boat because it is sitting on an island all by itself. So yes guess how we got to it since its winter? We walked across the entire river, which was what probably resulted in a lot of my steps that added up!  It was a long walk across the water and I just tried not to think there was water under me and I just kept my eyes on the church eventually hoping to reach it. So again that was neat to be able to see and touch one of the first buildings in the city. All the buildings are so beautiful from a distance away, but once you get up close and can see all the wear and tear the structure has, it’s amazing to think that they are still standing.  They still are really pretty up close because you can see all the amazing detail the architects put into building and creating their masterpieces. 

So then we just walked and walked some more and then Gulia took us to a nunnery and we were able to step inside a little souvenir store and look around. I was really close to buying a bible but everyone was like why? What will you do with an Old Russian bible? So I didn’t, I ended up buying a glass figurine that has the etching inside of one of the cathedrals. Which is nice since that is what I collect. We were also able to fill our water bottles with some “holy water”. There was a spigot coming from one of the outside walls and it was pure, crisp, clean spring water.  There was line of people just waiting to fill as many of their water jugs as possible. 

We then headed back to the bus stop to finish our wonderful weekend with the three hour ride home. The ride home was a lot better than the ride there; I think it was just because I was so exhausted from everything I just passed out as soon as I sat down.  By the time we made it home it was around eleven pm and we all just looked at each other and said goodnight. I jumped right in the shower though because I just wanted to feel clean after staying in that hostel and from all our walking and sweating because it was so warm. So after a nice long, hot shower I climbed into bed and prepared myself for the next day which was to be full of stress and anxiety with meeting Casey the ILP director for a second time to discus some major issues that were about to be worked out. 

Sunday, March 13, 2011

March 6th

Suzdal and Pancake Celebration

We got up really early on Sunday morning and headed to the metro station the meet up with everyone from the other groups and Gulia to head out on our trip. We were taking a three hour bus ride to Vladimir then once there we were to take a van twenty minutes to Suzdal. To first start out telling about this trip let me tell you how we packed. So basically Sunday was filled with just taking the time to get to our destinations but then to be followed by walking and doing things. We were only spending one night in the hostel then on Monday we would head out and spend all day walking again. So we were told to pack very light and don’t bring a suitcase. So we all packed what we could in our backpacks and planned on carrying them for two days.  

The bus was a really nice tour bus with somewhat comfy seats and a place to put your jacket and backpack. The only bad thing was the girls in front of Jessica and I had their seats leaned all the way back so we were squished for half the bus ride. When we stopped about for a break and the girls left, we pushed the button and made their seats go back to their full upright position. So the second half of the bus ride was a little better but we were ready to be out of the bus, or at least I was. When we arrived in Vladimir we had to wait for our vans to show up so they could take us to Suzdal.  We split into two groups and headed for the supposed twenty minutes to Suzdal. Yeah that didn’t happen we were stuck in traffic for like an hour and a half. The traffic was so crazy and there were so many accidents. I guess everyone in Russia really wanted to get to the festival.  I was so car sick by the time we stopped and I just wanted out and to get some fresh air, I just kept telling myself you are fine and you will have a good weekend!

Once we got to the actual festival it was soooooo fun. Even though it was snowing really badly and it was a really wet snow, we didn’t care. We were just happy to be somewhere and enjoy the festival with A LOT of other Russians!  They had stilt walkers, guys trying to climb a pole to reach the top and get a bag, food, dancing, more food, beer, tug-a-war, and other games for kids, more beer, more dancing and etc. Some of the guys that were trying to climb the pole apparently decided that doing it with only their underwear on would help them climb the pole, well it didn’t and some of the men were not really the type of people you want to see only in their underwear. (I’m just sayin’).  But oh it was amazing to participate in things and just too really have fun and really feel like we were in Russia and being Russian the best we could!  Even though it was snowing and my hair was actually freezing because it was so wet and cold I didn’t care, I was having fun and nothing and no one was going to stop me from enjoying my vacation.  They also did a burning of the ‘Lady of Winter’ so that was fun to see again. 

Once we were done with the festival, Gulia took us to see some old Cathedrals and Churches and we were able to walk around and look at some off the street venders stuff. We were all pretty wet, cold and hungry so she took us to this little and I mean little café where we were able to choose between a dishes of palmeni or a dish of blini pancakes with jam. A lot of kids chose the palmeni but I went for the blini since it was the pancake celebration.  They were so good and tasty I’m sure I could have eaten another plate full.  Our van took us back to Vladimir where we went and checked into our hostel. 

Now a hostel is basically a hotel but not really as nice, sometimes there can be up to ten people in a room and everyone shares a bathroom. So that’s what I thought this was but it was only four people to a room and really even then we were separate cause two beds were in one room and two in the other room. So Daphne and Madi shared a room and Jessica and I shared a room. The only thing I can tell you that came to my mind when I opened the door was horror, it was so scary looking and I didn’t know what we were in for. Then we really started to look around at the bathroom and shower area and we were like, no way no how are we stepping foot in that shower and we didn’t even want to open our eyes when we went to  the bathroom. We stayed up and talked for awhile then we decided we would maybe try and get some sleep and not really think about the beds we were about to lay in!

Saturday March 5th

Pancake Week

In culture class our teacher Gulia told us about these two very historical towns that were a major part of Russia’s history. She showed us a few pictures and explained a few things then she said we will go there to see and participate in the ending celebration of Pancake Week.  So let me first explain this pancake week to you.
Starting on February 28th until March 6th Russia celebrates with a festival called Pancake Week which is to symbolize the end of the cold, dark, dreadful winter and welcome in the bright and happy spring. They use the pancake to symbolize the sun since it is round and gold just like the sun. So all week we were waiting for all this excitement and hype about pancake week and all the pancakes we were going to get and it was nothing special during the week really. Then we were told that the school was having a festival on Saturday and we were welcome to come and join in the celebration and be a part of a Russian tradition.  Well Saturday was a cold and snowy day but we still wanted to go and see the festival. So we bundled up and headed to school soccer field to see what was going on. It was so fun and interesting. A lot of people were dressed up in brightly colored outfits and the women were wearing brightly colored scarves and hats. There were games going on like tug-a-war, and stand that had balls on top and you had to try and knock them over with snowballs. Then they had this balance beam where two people would fight each other with a pillow case full of foam and whoever fell off the beam lost.  Lexi and Jessica went up against each other and Madi and Daphne went against each other. I would have gone against my head teacher but I was afraid I would have dropped the pillow case and just hit her (see story to come later).  They had traditional Russian music playing and everyone was just dancing and having a really good time. And the best part was all the free blini (pancakes), pastries, juice and tea. The blini’s are amazing. They are a really, really thin pancake that they fill with cream cheese, jam, apple filling or meat. I avoided the meat ones!  

Then came the best and the craziest tradition the Russians have associated with this festival. It’s called burning the ‘lady of winter’ which basically means light a figure on fire to symbolize the end of winter.  So they make this huge statue made from straw and put it on top of a huge snow bank and then took a torch and started it on fire.  It was crazy to watch but also very fun to see and hear everyone cheering and enjoying themselves.  After the burning of the ‘lady of winter’ was done everyone started to head home but we weren’t quite ready yet so the DJ put on some American music and basically we just danced around in the empty soccer field by ourselves while everyone looked and laughed and cheered us on.  Some people were taking pictures of us and a few people wanted their picture taken with us, which was nice and made us feel like they really do like us!  We finally headed home to warm up and pack for our weekend vacation to Vladimir and Suzdal Russia!