So, I’ve been putting off writing about Mongolia because I’m lazy, basically. I had to write a travel journal for class, so I figured I might as well just copy and paste it in here and add in some details as I go. I’m going to leave it in Russian (because I have Russian friends who read this, so why make it hard on them if I wrote it in Russian in the first place?) and translate/add some stuff for the rest of y’all. (Извини, мой блог—ещё на английском вообще, но здесь и есть русский язык!)

A guy herding some sheep on a horse on the Mongolian steppe.

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A couple days ago, we came by overnight train to Ulan-Ude.

Everyone, upon finding out it would be my first time on a Russian train, said things like “good luck” or “oh ho ho”, or other things to imply that Russian trains were terrible. It wasn’t that bad. A little cramped. The best way I can think of to describe the platzkart we were in is to say that it’s like what would happen if the NJ Transit had a sleeper car.

Arriving at Ulan-Ude in the early morning.

 

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Ольхон / Olkhon

April 3, 2012

This is a placeholder post for me to write about our trip to Olkhon, which desperately needs to be written about, but not right now because I need to talk about the stuff I’m doing now. So, Olkhon coming soon!

So, I took about 293049234 pictures to document this awesome day, but I don’t have any of them due to the tragic loss of my camera. I miss you, camera. 😦 Thank you to Mark and Marina for the photos I do have.

The Russian holiday of Maslenitsa is a combination of a pagan folk holiday (celebrating the coming of spring) and a religious holiday (marking the beginning of Lent). So, for example, the tradition of eating blini for Maslenitsa has two justifications: blini symbolize the sun and represent the spring, and also they contain butter (maslo), which is forbidden during Lent. The Maslenitsa celebrations in Irkutsk have mostly consisted of our school cafeteria serving overpriced blini, so on Saturday we went to the historical museum at Tal’tsy for a real traditional Maslenitsa.

From the Tal'tsy website. Imagine this but more snow.

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So, now that I’ve had like three weeks of classes, here’s my schedule:

Monday: “reading day” (AKA I get a three-day weekend every week!)

Tuesdays & Thursdays: Russian literature, speaking practice

Wednesdays & Fridays: Grammar, Siberian history

Each class is 90 minutes, which is typical for Russia. They’re all fine. Grammar is actually my favorite, because being in Russia makes me so much more motivated to work on my language skills, since it directly influences my actual ability to communicate.

A pretty Irkutsk church.

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pervaya nedelya

February 7, 2012

Hey guys. So I haven’t posted here because there’s not much to post about. Classes haven’t started yet, so I haven’t been doing much, just getting to know the city.

First of all, I have to say I am really glad to be here and not in St. Petersburg or Moscow. I was worried that I would get to Irkutsk and feel like I’d made a huge mistake, and miss St. Petersburg a lot. I do miss St. Petersburg, but that’s because a) it’s a magical fairytale land of a city where everything is beautiful, and b) I actually knew how to get around, and fun places to go, and things like that, whereas here there does not even exist one single accurate bus route map. But overall, Irkutsk is just what I wanted: a medium-sized city that feels like Russia, and not like its own private magical world (St. Petersburg) or a colder New York (Moscow).

And here no one speaks English, which is great. At the same time, it’s more diverse than the places I’ve been in Western Russia, because it’s so close to China. Signs on the buses are often in Chinese and Russian. (Speaking of diversity, one of the Middlebury guys told us in Moscow that there’s a game that students play: which will you see first, a jogger or a black person? I thought I saw a jogger today, but he was just running on his way to play football with his friends. Understandable, since the weather climbed all the way to 12ºF today. I, too, was feeling a little spring-feverish.)

Anyway. Here’s some things I’ve been up to.

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Irkutsk + Listvyanka

February 4, 2012

 

Listen, I’m gonna run through the “oh I have arrived in Irkutsk” stuff really fast so that I can just post a lot of pictures of Lake Baikal.

So, I’m here, and my apartment is awesome. My host family is on vacation in Thailand, so I haven’t met them yet, but they left their grandmother here to greet me and feed me. She is very nice and has been feeding me lots and lots and lots of delicious Russian food. (“Delicious Russian food” is redundant.) One of the things I love most about Russian culture is the complete opposite of food-shaming. Whereas in America, if you eat a lot, you might find yourself apologizing or trying to justify it (“oh, I’ve barely eaten today, so I was really hungry”), in Russia I more frequently find myself apologizing for not eating enough (“I’m sorry, I’m completely full, I can’t eat any more blini, no seriously”).

My bedroom

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Moskva!

February 1, 2012

Hello, guys! I got into Moscow yesterday afternoon, but since I spent yesterday trying to fulfill all my basic needs (fun fact: it’s not actually possible to eat, sleep, shower, and drink coffee all at the same time), today was the first day I really explored Moscow.

Room service borshch... it came with smetana and a cabbage pirozhok!

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January 30, 2012

I’m leaving in about ten hours for the airport. Then Moscow… then Siberia!

I’ll update when I get to Moscow. I’m so excited! I’ve never seen Red Square before!