Halfway!

Hello once again,

It’s April already and my parents have come and gone for their little trip out here to visit me. I miss them already, but it’s hard to be down for long when the sun is shining and the temperature in St Petersburg is so warm!!

5 days ago when my parents first arrived we were able to stand on the edge of the Neva, which was still covered in ice.

Me standing on the edge of the River Neva. It wasn’t safe enough to really walk out further onto the ice, but it was thick enough at the edge – at least 1.5-2 feet thick!

We went to Peterhoff again and the sea was frozen along the Gulf of Finland – people were walking on the sea, guys.

The Gulf of Finland from the Summer Palace in Peterhoff.

But now it’s all melted and the sun is out and the brown muddy grass patches are turning green. The city looks so different already – and all in the space of 5 days!

The River Neva 4 days later, pretty much completely free of ice.

That was the River Neva yesterday afternoon after we’d walked around the Church of the Savior on Blood and the Fields of Mars (a memorial garden for fallen heroes in the wars).

The Church of the Saviour on Spilt Blood – named this way because of the attempted (and ultimately successful) assassination of Alexander II just outside when it was being built, I believe.

Inside, all of the walls are completely covered with mosaic representations of all of the key Biblical figures and of scenes of the main stories from the life of Jesus. It was truly amazing – and my favourite tourist attraction so far.

After that we walked along Nevsky Prospekt and got presents for people. Nevsky is the Main Street in the middle St P. It’s like Oxford Street in London.

Back on Friday we climbed the Colonnade to the top of St Isaac’s Cathedral, which was so cool because you could see for miles, even though it wasn’t sunny that day.

St Isaac’s Cathedral.

At the top of the colonnade.

The Bronze Horseman – featuring Peter the Great (1st).

We also walked around the Bronze Horseman (above), featured in a famous poem by Pushkin, who, for those that don’t know, is a very very famous Russian poet.

After that we finished the day spending 5 hours walking around the Hermitage.

The State Hermitage / Winter Palace

The main square – Place Square

The peacock clock – believed to have been made by James Cox. It’s an automation and still in working order, although we weren’t able to go hear it as they only let it play every Wednesday at 7pm.

On Saturday we spent the entire day at Peterhoff Palace – the summer palace by the Gulf of Finland. It was sunny but really bitterly cold that day because of the wind. One of my friends from church came with us. None of the flowers were out yet and the fountains were still switched off so they wouldn’t freeze up over the winter, but lots of renovation work was going on so it should be really beautiful in a few weeks when everything’s in full bloom.

The Samson fountain – removed by the Germans when they took over Peterhoff during the Second World War and probably melted down. This is the newer copy made after the war. The other statues were buried in the grounds and never found by the Germans, so they are still the originals, or so I’ve been told.

Then on Sunday, we went to Hope Church and my parents got to meet all of my friends from church!!

After church we ate at my favourite restaurant, Ukrop (it means Dill in Russian – dill is the herb Russians put on everything they eat!). Then I showed them my uni and Smol’ny Cathedral.

Later that evening, we went and listened to a Russian Composers concert at the Music Hall – it was my parents’ wedding anniversary and I only managed to find the tickets last week. I was worried I wouldn’t find anything as events get booked up very quickly, so it was a real answer to prayer!

This concert was the last of 5 from a series called Musical Journey – the first 4 included music from France, Spain and Italy. This concert featured exclusively Russian music – by Prokofiev and Rachmaninoff.

This morning we walked down the road to Kazanskii Cathedral and heard a sung mass (I think!) and it was so interesting and the singing was so beautiful. These last few days have definitely been an unforgettable experience overall.

Now I’m sat on my bed catching up with year abroad work and uni work and missing my parents (they’re the best!), but feeling positive because the sun is shining and winter is over. I only have 2 months left here and I want to make them count!

I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to study in such a beautiful city full of such interesting culture. Though this year has had its challenges, it’s definitely widened my view of the world and taught me a lot!

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Long time no speak!

Hey everyone,

I can’t believe March is almost over already! Where is the time going?

Here in Russia, it’s not really spring yet. We still have snow and ice everywhere, and the temperature is anywhere between -12 to 0 degrees most days. To us, this feels like spring, because after -24 degrees Celsius I think anything would! I’ve talked to some of my Russian friends about the weather and they reckon it should start to get a bit warmer soon over the next few weeks. But you never really know here.

Last night, I stepped out of my comfort zone again and went to a different house group from my church – basically, the one I normally go to on Saturdays branched off from the main one, which meets on Thursday evenings. I was messaged earlier yesterday, never having been before, and told simply to ‘come’, with no information as to where it would be or when it would start. Fortunately, he got one of the other girls from my usual house group to meet me at the metro station at 18:30. We got there, and started the group off like a regular house group, with some worship songs and prayer time, and then suddenly all the guys got together and surprised us with a late International Woman’s Day party. International Woman’s Day (8th March) is a massive deal here in Russia – we had the day off uni and everything. This celebration was a little late, but it was really sweet. They made eloquent Russian speeches (these are long and very heartfelt!) and they had made us a meal and pudding and wouldn’t let us do anything to help etc. Even getting ourselves a drink wasn’t allowed – they insisted on doing everything! Then after that they gave us a little present in a bag. A mini-cactus and some chocolate. It’s one of the most bizarre but amazing experiences I’ve had so far since coming to Russia. I loved it – though I felt a little awkward and unsure of what to do at some points during the evening! After that on our way home to the metro we all had a little snowball fight and chatted. It was a good evening and I’m so glad I didn’t talk myself out of it and make my excuses!

I’m also glad they got me a cactus. It’s not the most usual flower to get someone on women’s day I don’t think, but they are really hard to kill and need little to no water… and judging by my success (or rather, lack of) with other plants in my room, this one might actually live. It’s not that I neglected them. I honestly don’t know what I did wrong. I watered them once a week like my mum told me, I kept them near the window so they had enough light. I made sure the room wasn’t too cold. Both of them ended up dying. What can I say? I tried!!

Uni this and last week has been a little easier. I feel like I’ve had a small break-through in my russian language acquisition… I understand so much more now, and I can say so much more. My russian is much more accurate generally in terms of declensions (don’t worry if you don’t know what those are – but if you do you’ll understand the struggle that is the case system).

EMN is good too – tonight we’ll be watching and discussing an English classic – the Princess Bride.

All in all, these last few weeks have been challenging but rewarding – I feel like I’m finally getting somewhere with russian this term. I even got round to picking my modules for this coming year in Exeter – I’m so excited to be doing modules on spanish in business and advanced spanish translation. I do miss Exeter a little bit, so I can’t wait for September, though I definitely don’t want to wish away my time here.

There you go, a short and (hopefully) sweet update on my life here in St Petersburg since the last time I posted; (I can’t remember when that was, I’ve fallen off the bandwagon a bit what with all of my work and things!).

More to come I’m sure! Until next time,

до скоро!

Student Survival Kit for Russia

Here it is, your check list of what to consider packing when coming on your year abroad in Russia.

  • Spices and stock pastes etc – especially if you like smoked paprika (they have the normal stuff but in my opinion it has no real flavour!), ground ginger and cumin.
  • Vitamin supplements (B12 and D). You can buy vitamin d here, but if you’re veggie like me you might want to bring a brand you know. (Though I’ve since discovered that Veganika sells D and B12, but not every city in Russia is guaranteed to have them and they could be more expensive here.)
  • decaf coffee – decaf isn’t really a thing here.
  • blue tack
  • prepaid currency cards – I’d recommend Caxton FX. You just load it with as much as you want, and then if it gets lost or stolen or anything you only have to deal with the money on that card and not your whole account, which is a lot harder and will cost you with all the phone calls you’d have to make abroad.
  • Photocopies of your passport, proof of insurance, migration card (you’ll have to get these done after you’ve entered the country), letter from your university/proof of accommodation (not crucial but would be useful).
  • Thick scarf, hat and gloves, especially if you’re coming in the winter season.
  • Thermal layers.
  • Lined paper. For some reason, refill pads are not a thing here. You can buy copy books, but most of the time the paper is squared and not lined. I’ve made do by buying printer paper and hole-punching it.
  • Any bank details/log-in details you might need to do online banking. You just never know if you’ll have a problem with your accounts or something.
  • Paracetamol, ibuprofen and any other pain killer or medication that you are used to taking/have to take. You can’t guarantee that they will sell it here. I have managed to buy Ibuprofen (Ибупрофен) here though… so that one is fine. IF YOU NEED EPI-PENS, MAKE SURE YOU BRING ENOUGH! There was a girl that had to have some specially brought in from Finland and it was a really complicated process…
  • If you’re a gym goer, bring a microfibre towel, and travel bottles for shampoo/conditioner/shower gel etc. and flip flops for the showers. Oh, and make sure you wear a separate set of trainers in the gym than in the street – you HAVE to change your shoes.
  • Bring slippers. Whenever you go to someone’s house/in your own home, you need to change out of your outdoor shoes. It makes more sense once you’ve lived through the winter here and the roads become dirty with black ice and black snow.
  • Bring gifts! If you’re staying with a host family, bring a fridge magnet, tea towel, box of biscuits in the shape of a telephone box/post box…. anything that is a little piece of something traditional from home. Your hosts will love it, although – be warned – it’s not the Russian way to show a ton of emotion when they receive a gift. They’ll appreciate it, but don’t expect them to go into raptures!

I would say that’s most of it. You can find pretty much any cosmetic/toiletry item in shops like ulibka radugi and skarlett (Улыбка Радуги, Скарлетт). For cruelty free stuff I tend to go to Veganika (Веганика), although those other two shops also sell CF stuff too sometimes. Most supermarkets will sell a large variety of food items. For clothes we have H&M, Bershka, Stradivarius, there’s even an M&S and Victoria’s Secret…. so in St P and Moscow and even in Novosibirsk I’d say you can find most things you need like that essentials-wise. For stationary stuff, book void is the best shop – Бук Войд.

 

Week 3

Привет ребята,

Sorry for the late update – I’ve been rather ill these last 3 days and not been up to doing anything more than some homework / revision and watching films or reading a book. Oh, and walking on a river…. more of that later!

I got hit with this cold/flu-ey thing on Wednesday and then it just got worse through Thursday (I think I had a high temperature) until by Friday and Saturday I stayed home all day and didn’t go out. Today feels like I might finally be getting rid of it, thank goodness, so I should still make it to church!

I think partly due to being ill and partly because I had little time to get work done last weekend in Moscow, my lessons this week weren’t so great. I kept getting basic stuff wrong and struggled to answer questions or follow the lesson at all. But I’m hoping that this coming week I’ll be a little more prepared now that I’ve had time at home to get some work done.

On Thursday, despite my high temperature, I went to see Black Panther in Russian (Чёрная Пантера) with some of my Russian house group friends, and I am proud to say I understood 85-90% of it and could even laugh at most of the jokes. (And make a few of my own afterwards). It’s definitely a positive!

Last night there was another student party but I started to feel worse again halfway through so I got a taxi home. Taxis here are so much cheaper than in England. A trip across the city which took about 30 mins probably only cost 235₽… (wait for it I’ll calculate what that is in GBP) £3! That was using Uber. The driver was very chatty, but unfortunately I wasn’t, however he seemed to make sense of what I was saying (my voice sounds a little bunged up with cold at the moment).

The weather seems to be getting warmer here now, and the days are so much longer! The sun comes up at 8am and stays up until at least 6:30-7pm, so we’re all not feeling quite so tired as last term. It was so hard not to just go to bed at 8pm every night because it got dark so early! We’ve actually had a fair bit of sun over the last few days despite the temperature reaching an all time low of -24 (Celsius) last week. This week is a lot warmer, the days start off at about -15 and get up to -7. You have to understand that for us this is like spring weather. After -24 you would think so too, trust me! Today for example, it is currently -16, but will get up to -9 by the afternoon. And the sun will be out so it’ll be pretty and crisp and fresh.

Yesterday I went to get a few bits and bobs from the shops (I was fed up of being inside all day) and I went and had a little walk on the river near where we live. Obviously I wouldn’t have done it if there hadn’t have been other people on it too… and I didn’t stay for long once I noticed the massive cracks in the ice down the middle…. but it was a cool experience nonetheless! Later when I passed over the bridge of that same river with my flat mate to try and go to the student party, the ice had melted and pools of water had gathered on top, so I guess I picked my moment well!!

The cold might be partly to do with why I got ill, as you can end up standing around outside waiting for buses a lot – my bus to uni is often late so I have waited for up to 20 minutes sometimes. And that’s in the morning when it’s coldest.

Overall though if you have a good enough coat you don’t feel it so badly and cope with it pretty well. And a scarf and hat too.

The snow on the streets has melted and all we have is black ice everywhere, most of it covered with sand so you don’t slip. It can be annoying when you get stuck behind a babushka walking really slowly…. or worse, behind two of them walking really slowly and nattering away about their health or the weather (two popular topics Russians like to complain about) – swaddled up in their massive fur coats. You just can’t get round them!

It does make me laugh though to see all of the emails about how my uni in England has closed due to “extreme weather conditions”… but I do understand that England isn’t equipped or used to dealing with so much snow and severely low temperatures of -4 😉

Anyway, here I think I’ll sign off – I still have an literature essay to write (in Russian – *gulps*) and a few other things to do before church today. I hope these posts are still interesting to you all 🙂 I’m going to do some other posts soon about what I recommend students bring with them to Russia etc – a kit checklist.

I hope you all have a good week!

Увидимся!

ЗБК – Winter Bible Conference

Wow! I can’t believe it’s already over – it feels like it went too fast!

St Petersburg team

So the adventure started on Thursday evening last week. Me and my flatmate and a group of other students and people from St Petersburg going to the conference caught a sleeper train at about 23.05 and arrived in Moscow the next morning at 9:40am. The carriages are arranged into lots of little pods of 4 beds – kind of like bunk beds. You have to roll out your mattress and put a sheet on it, and pillowcase on the pillow, and there are extra blankets if you need them, but with so many people in the carriage it was really warm! It was really strange to sleep and be moving at the same time, but because it’s quite rhythmical you usually can get to sleep just fine.

It’s quite tightly packed. A real adventure!

Me on my bed – the light was bad inside the carriage. This was the next morning before we arrived in Moscow.

At the conference we heard from a guy called John McNeal (I think that’s how you spell his name). He’s an Irish missionary who used to go to a church in Birmingham, so that’s how my flat mate knew him beforehand. He was really funny and the whole conference and his talks were based around Matthew 28:19-20. (From the Bible).

We all wrote him Russia-themed postcards and gave them to him at the end to say thank you. There was probably something else in the bag too.

We learned lots of tools for how to talk to people about Jesus, and on the last day we had a few hours out in Moscow to try out these skills. I talked for a long time with a History masters student and she had an interesting perspective on religion here in Russia, which is useful to know as a foreigner studying here. It was amazing and fun and we met so many people from all around Russia. There were students there from Vladivostok and Irkutsk (Siberia/Far eastern Russia).

We all stayed in a hostel together in rooms with bunk beds for 6 people, all of us from the conference of course.

Then last night I travelled back with a few students on the overnight train again. This time I knew what I was doing, although I had a run-in with the carriage lady – I wanted to brush my teeth and couldn’t make the taps work in the bathroom on the carriage, so I went into this little kitchen next door to it and did it there. She came in and saw me and told me that it was her private kitchen. She looked so severe that I almost cried, but I managed to apologise politely and explain that I didn’t know. I tried to avoid her after that! But on the way out of the train this morning she did a double take when I passed her at the door and stared at me as I walked away…

I was home before 8:30 am, and now I’m tired but I have lessons today from 2pm and I have a lot of homework to catch up on so I’m going to get on with that. I’ve spoken a lot of Russian this weekend, and I’m encouraged by how much I know and how much I understood!

It is amazing to see what God is doing here in Russia 🙂

St Petersburg Team at dinner time. 

Week 2(?) Update.

Всем привет!

Hello again – here’s my update for what I think is week #2 back in Russia.

On Friday (16th) we watched Flushed Away at English Movie Night, and I wrote the questions for the discussion afterwards. Lots of interesting conversations came up about the importance of family and material things etc. It’s run by a Christian organisation called New Life, and we try and talk to the students about God a bit in the discussions. It’s one of the highlights of my week and has been since my first term here.

I went to my Russian student house group the next day (Saturday 17th) and took some chocolate bourbons, Rowntree’s fruit pastels and some jelly babies. The fruit pastels were the most popular, but they were all appreciated. They were super friendly too, which is so encouraging when previously I had worried that they would have forgotten me!! Sadly I won’t be able to go to the Victory Day celebration thingy at the main community group’s house tonight because I’m travelling to Moscow for my first ever Bible conference. (More on that to come). Today is a national holiday of some kind where they give men gifts all over Russia – it’s like a men’s day. I was added to a group chat with all of the women in from our community group and the one that it originally branched out of, and they’ve bought all of the guys some cool bow ties and chocolate or something to give them tonight. I kind of wish I could go, but I’d already signed up for the conference before I knew about it.

Church on Sunday was good too, and afterwards I met up with my friend and we read a kind of devotional book together and discussed the verses that came up. By the end of the week I was so tired and I had all of these random Russian words floating round in my head… it’s kind of the running theme when I’m here. New words left right and centre. It’s almost easier to write in Russian than in English sometimes because I’m so used to having to concentrate on doing it. Today is the same – I’m saturated with Russian and have all of these random phrases and verbs and things in my head. This week has been pretty intense – I have a literature lesson and a history lesson and after those I came out and it was like my brain was unable to think anymore it was so tired!! I’m glad I asked to move up a group though, because I understand everything and I am being pushed. I think I’m going to stay with group two now, it just means pushing myself to speak a bit more in lessons where I need to answer questions. I just get really nervous because pretty much everyone else in my class has been to Russia before and speaks the language a bit better. I also need to learn a load of words!!! If only my brain were actually a sponge sometimes…..

Most of this week the temperature has been -19. Especially in the mornings. It’s been pretty sunny though, which is unusual for St Petersburg, so in the day it gets up to around -13/-14. It’s not that bad really. I mean you don’t stay out in it that long, and every building/bus/the metro is really well heated. But because it’s not damp here or humid, the cold is actually kinda bearable. And when the sun’s out it’s really beautiful too. Instead of snow or rain, we get these tiny bits of ice floating around in the air, and they rest on everything and form these kind of crystal-like coverings, so all of the trees and bushes and things look like they are out of fairy tales. I’m so grateful for the experience! This is something that not many people will see.

I am currently typing amid a mess of things as I try and pack for the Winter Bible Conference in Moscow. Зимная Библия Конференция (ЗБК). It is 3 days worth of talks and things with people from all over Russia – some flying in from Vladivostock in the far East! I can’t wait to meet all the people – it’s all going to be in Russian pretty much so it’s going to stretch me a lot and I’ve already been asked to help with translation a bit so we’ll see how that goes. I’ll probably do a post about it next week when I can look back on it. But yeah me and my flat mate (who is also coming) are going to catch a sleeper train with the others from our church. This is our first time sleeping on a train!! We have to catch it at around 11pm and it gets in at like 9:40 tomorrow. It’s all weird and new but I’m sure it will be fun 🙂

Overall, life here is going well, and the downs are not as long as last term! Although, I wish I could be home to see my cat and her new litter of kittens!!

That’s my little update for this week – I’ll try and post about ZBK next week and do another update!

До скоро 🙂

Week 1: Lots of change.

Hello again!

Here’s my summary of my first week back. It’s been kind of up and down, but I guess that keeps life interesting, right?

I went to the gym for the first time on Saturday (10th) and learned a few things about gym etiquette here in Russia. People take towels around with them to put on the seats so they don’t leave sweat on them and they are clean for the next person. Seems pretty obvious, but i didn’t notice anyone do this in England over Christmas, which I don’t understand really because it is more polite and considerate to clean up after yourself… maybe I’ll adopt this when I go home in the summer! Be the change and all 😉 Oh and also, it’s perfectly acceptable (apparently) to go up to someone between sets and ask to use the machine while they rest before the next set… in England this just doesn’t happen! It’s kinda rude! That happened to me and I just had to go with it because I assumed it must be a culture thing. The lady only did one set anyway, so it’s not like it took her ages, but it was a bit strange for me. Also, the showers and changing rooms are communal – no shower curtains, so no privacy. Plus, all of the babushkas go and use the sauna, which is accessed via the showers and has a see through door so they can watch people having a shower. They all huddle in there looking very severe. This could take some getting used to…

It’s still really cold here – the lowest it’s got so far was -14 degrees C but felt like -19 (yesterday, on Thursday 15th). Sections of pavement keep getting cordoned off because of the massive sharp icicles hanging off the edges of buildings and balconies… people actually get impaled – I think one person per year or something. We were warned about this last term by our student reps. Most days there are whole teams of people up on the roofs bashing the icicles off the edges of buildings and clearing the hard packed ice off the sidewalks so you won’t trip over while walking places. It’s actually snowing again outside as I write this; according to my phone the temperature outside is -7, which isn’t that bad. I’m just glad I bought my new coat the day before it was -14. It’s royal blue. I was nice and snug. And proud of myself. #adulting

But yeah – over all the week has been a good one. I was worried before I came that my Russian friends at church would have forgotten me because I was away for so long, but on Sunday 11th most of them came up and gave me hugs after the service and said hi. I brought back some English biscuits and sweets for them to try so I’ll be taking those to my next community group session tomorrow if it’s on.

On Monday (12th) we had an induction day and a really long aptitude test and then an interview at the same time. They called us out of the test one by one to do it. It’s so they know which group to put us in based on our ability.

I was originally put in group 3 (again). But then one of my teachers, (she did my interview) said that I could try the group above me (group 2) for a day and see how I find it and potentially move up. It was a tough decision to make. Group 3 wasn’t that hard, although I tend to slip up when responding to questions. I didn’t feel particularly challenged in the same way I was last year, not even that much in grammar and that is normally the hardest lesson. I went and talked to a lady in the office where they assign us to our groups and she looked very doubtful that I would be able to handle group 2’s material. Groups 1 and 2 often have post a-level people in them, so I guess it’s a big deal that they would let me try it out. I really wanted to be in Group 2 so I would be challenged a lot. I ended up trying it for 2 days, and although they are gonna push us hard this term and get us to do presentations and essays and analyse 20th century Russian literature (Ivan Bunin anyone?). I’m going to have to work hard but it will help my Russian so much.

We get Fridays off, thank goodness. Probably because we have so many hours of lessons Monday-Thursday. Friday is ‘library day’, where you do your work etc. I tend to be quite relaxed about getting work done on Thursday evening/Friday because my brain needs a little break from all of the Russian, but now I’m in group 2 I’m going to have to pull my socks up and fit in some extra hours.

My new flatmates are lovely, we are already planning to go out for lunch tomorrow and make a flat meal together. We went out for a meal last Sunday after church too – I’ve converted them to Ukrop!! (my favourite restaurant here, for those that don’t know what it is).

It’s good to be back I guess, although I do miss my family. And considering how nervous I was about coming back, as usual, I’m now wondering what I was so worried about. I’m feeling much more at home here, everything’s familiar.

Next week I’m going to be going to Moscow on the overnight train with my friends from English movie night and Church to a Winter Bible conference. It’s from next Thursday til next Sunday, and I’ll be coming back Sunday night on another overnight train. I’ve never been to a Bible conference before I don’t think, and this one will be mostly in Russian, although the preacher is from a church in Birmingham which one of my flatmates, who is also coming, goes to. Some of my friends are going to stay on a couple of days and come back on the following Tuesday evening, but I don’t want to miss lessons and I’m planning on visiting a pen friend later in May/early June so I’m banking on being able to sight see when I’m there with her.

I think that’s pretty much everything I can think of to talk about from this week. It’s gone by at a good pace, not too fast and not too slow.

Here’s a picture of Smol’ny cathedral to end my post with. My uni meets in the building directly behind this cathedral; the buildings are part of the cathedral. I’m lucky to be studying on such a beautiful historical site.