Muggings, Line Ups and Selfies with Putin

Ellie and I had a rather traumatic weekend! I feel like this story leads back to the awful diet we went on last week. We decided to go on a soup diet to try and prepare ourselves for the glorious weather that awaits. Everything awful in life leads back to a lack of carbs, in my opinion.

We had a lovely evening dining on everything we could get our famished little hands on (in my case – two main courses. Love accidentally ordering an actual potato based dish rather than a side) and speaking to some Russians that hadn’t seen foreigners in fifteen years. Our first mistake was insisting that they didn’t need to walk us back to ours! Silly foreign girls.

We’re pretty used to people coming up to us and trying to talk when they hear us speak English. (See: Russian men who haven’t met foreigners for more than a decade) When this group tried to talk to us, to be honest, we weren’t surprised and we took it in our stride. They got aggressive pretty quickly and we finally managed to get away. When we got home, Ellie realised she didn’t have her iPad. We thought she might have dropped it or left it at the restaurant. Silly foreign girls strike again, and we decided to go back out and search for it. No luck, and on our journey we realised I didn’t have my phone and Ellie didn’t have her purse. It was starting to become clear what had happened!

Long story short, we spent all day Saturday at the police station filing reports about it all. The police called us early on Saturday morning to say that they had my phone and Ellie’s iPad. We were bundled into a police car at half past eight and spent the next 8 hours putting our Russian to the test! Nobody spoke English, and we realised half way through copying a handwritten note that we’d signed something to say that our Russian was of a certain level and we had refused the offer of language help. If you say so.

We weren’t looking good. That’s a serious understatement actually. We didn’t know they were going to take us to the police station. Luckily I changed out of my christmas flannel PJs and into some jeans before going outside. Honestly, we left the house exactly as we woke up. Scroll on if you’re squemish: I’m talking, no bras, we hadn’t brushed our teeth or our hair, no make up. We looked like homeless people. I even have some proof.

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At about 8 that evening the police phoned again to tell us we had to go back. We got there and sat in a room until about midnight before being moved downstairs. We managed to get a couple of selfies with the amazing photographs on the walls!

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After some very useful advice about what not to drink at a russian banya (Vodka should never be on the menu, you can buy some great tea at a market near our work that apparently goes to your head much quicker – thanks guys!) I got to do my line up at roughly 1. It was traumatic. There’s none of this “keeping you separate from the suspect” thing that we do. Standing a few feet from the man I had to point at him and say exactly what he did. When I walked into the room I tripped and the police man had to catch me so I didn’t fall over (Good job, Jen.) and the guy who mugged me sniggered at me. Excellent. Ellie did hers and it was equally as upsetting.

On the plus side, the ordeal is almost over. Ellie got her passport back this morning and we are going to pick up the rest of our stuff tomorrow after work, with any luck! Two of the five are in custody and we are very relieved and feel incredibly lucky to have gotten everything sorted. I can’t even begin to say how wonderful the police have been. One in particular has taken care of us and we couldn’t have wished for anything better.

Now please, Russia. We will be out of your hair by the end of June. Stop trying to make us leave before that!

Wasted Days and Wasted Nights

WordPress does this wonderful thing whereby it tells you something you could write about each day. This topic of course piqued my interest. It’s all about how to avoid wasted days and wasted nights when you have deadlines. I’ll tell you now that I know absolutely nothing about this topic.

Panicking doesn’t even begin to cover it when I think about my Year Abroad essays. I stupidly picked a topic that was interesting but relatively unknown to me. I have yet to make any serious headway. Instead I’m going to tell you all exactly how to make sure you maximise the amount of wasted days and wasted nights with a looming deadline.

1.
If in doubt, make a list. Writing a to-do list almost counts as actually doing what you have written down. Almost.
Note: This method only works for serious things, like essays, vocab learning or keeping on top of your finances. Needing to buy new shoes or go sightseeing are things you will actually have to complete, obviously. Make sure you learn the difference and you will see a notable decrease in stress levels. Extra points for adding things you’ve already done just to feel the satisfaction. We all need a pick me up from time to time.

2.
Try to take on as many new things at once. For example, if you have decided you are going to have a productive working week, make sure you combine this with cutting down on alcohol and dieting. We all know that things work best in threes. Don’t do things by halves, go all in… Feel free to add as many cliches as you need until you have been convinced of this.

3.
It’s stressful thinking about all those things you have to do. If you’ve tried writing it down on a nice new to-do list and you’re still feeling like you should actually start something, try cooking something new. This is the perfect time to make that new dish you’ve been oggling. After all, you deserve it – you’ve done some pretty strenuous planning. (Not to be confused with actual planning; make sure that at this stage you have not yet put a pen to paper. Seeing how little you have on the page will only stress you further.)

4.
Everyone knows it’s impossible to work in a negative environment. If anyone dares hint that you should have started by now, it’s best to cut them out of your life. Negativity breeds more negativity. When you do finally decide to sit down and write, you’re going to need all the positivity you can find. Anyone that does not support your decision to procrastinate better ready yourself for serious work doesn’t deserve to be there when you do finally write the most groundbreaking piece of academic genius of our time.

5.
Speaking of negative environments, it’s equally important to make sure you’re room is in tip top shape for working. If it has been more than about a week (if it’s been less, feel free to change that figure. This is a bit like the 5 second rule – it’s very adaptable to your circumstances) since you last rearranged all your furniture, the stagnant feel of your room is probably cramping your working spirit. Best spend a few days planning exactly how to rearrange and then at least a day actually moving the furniture. Repeat until you get it just right.
Note: Usually this ends up looking suspiciously familiar… Don’t compare the end result to what you started with.

6.
When was the last time you defrosted your freezer? Need I say more? A disorganised home is a sign of a disorganised mind. Or something along those lines. Make sure you add this to the to-do list before you do it in order to reap maximum de-stressing from the process.

7.
If all else fails, find the blog you’ve been meaning to update for the last six months and do as much as you can in two days. After all, writing is writing, right?

Remember: Keep Calm and Procrastinate

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We’ve moved!

Anyone that knows Ellie and I will be able to tell you that we haven’t been the happiest of bunnies in our home stays. My host was lovely (if not a little lax with making sure her dressing gown wasn’t gaping open) but I felt awkward and out of place. Not to mention the food was seriously not the one!! Ellie has a worse time with hers – the food was better but her host could be a real pain at times.

It wasn’t unusual to get something like this at 8 am:

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That’s two days old, by the way.
However we are currently over the moon about our lovely new flat – без хозяек!

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We threw a housewarming party last night and got all dolled up for the occasion. Of course, we took our hosting duties very seriously and so selfie-taking was kept to a minimum. конечно

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Some were sillier than others…

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We also channeled our inner русские девушки and made some rather cute fruit platters. Drunken блины making completed our transformation. Unfortunately fruit and blinis are not enough to get us fluent…

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The party was great fun (from what I can remember – I konked out pretty early) I’m not sure whose idea it was to turn drinking Jenga into extreme drinking Jenga. It took a long time to pick all the wax off my floor!!!

All in all a good week for us! Definitely needed after some very exciting/sad/worrying news from home which I will get into at a later date.

In other news, I am setting myself a challenge for now until I leave Russia. I want to try and update my blog a couple times a week so I actually have something to look back on at the end of this!! I also want to compile a “bucket list” for the rest of my time here – it’s mental how little I’ve actually done. S’pose I should add my year abroad essays to that list really…

We’re back in Volgograd! Seems like as good a time as any to actually write something on here.

We got back last Friday and were hit by a wall of cold air the second we stepped off the plane! Ужасно! It’s really warmed up though, so I can’t complain. It’s only -5 today, with wind chills of around -15. Also more snow is on its way!!

It’s been a tricky week in general, a mixture of the drama of returning, a little homesickness and some other things. Luckily I have wonderful friends and family!

Of course, the Olympics are in full swing! There isn’t a lot of Olympic fever here in Volgograd for some reason. People just don’t seem that interested! We watched the opening ceremony at a restaurant the other night and I actually quite enjoyed it, but the general feeling amongst the Russians I’ve spoken to is that it was a bit of a joke. One of my friends said she thought it was embarrassing. I would agree that there was very little fluidity between the performances and I wouldn’t say it was spectacular, but on the whole it was an entertaining few hours.

I’d say what’s embarrassing is the way foreign press is treating Sochi. There are some things that are quite funny, such as the bathroom situations.

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I don’t have a problem with most of the reports, but some really are quite annoying. For example, there was a lot of commotion about the way Russia dealt with stray dogs that were in Sochi before the Olympics. They, for the most part, were put down. I’m not saying that it was the right way to deal with it, but we can’t have it all ways:

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Another thing is about the water. You can’t drink the water in Russia and it can be annoying. I hate standing next to the water filter waiting for it to fill up after forgetting to do it too, but it’s not exactly the worst thing in the world. What I really don’t understand is how this person can complain when in reality, here’s how it happened: She arrived. Her hotel took the time to remind her about the water in Russia, which they could have easily forgotten to mention and then she posted a photo of said water. Granted, it’s an extreme example of water problems, but sometimes mine looks like that too. It’s not a massive deal. It’ll probably be significantly better the next day.

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In all honesty, I don’t think there was anything Russia could have done to side-step the criticism. Politics shouldn’t come into the Olympics. For the athletes competing, this is what they have worked their whole lives for. Some of them get one chance to do it and it would be heartbreaking to have to sit at home and miss it because you weren’t allowed to compete.

Aaaaand I think that’s it for my rant. Back to feeling sorry for myself and nursing an absolute beast of a hangover!

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Мамаев курган

Yesterday, Nora and I decided we’d go to a shopping center and then to Мамаев курган for a pic-nic. This would have been an excellent plan had it not taken us hours to find the shopping center! Having ventured down the length of Volgograd twice over (it’s a long city) we finally popped up at the right place! We then got an unexpected call from our new Russian friends and they came to pick us up to take us on a little excursion. It astounds me how nice they are considering we (read: I) don’t speak the language and spend 70% of the time grinning like a loon hoping they won’t ask me a follow-up question. Nora actually speaks Russian pretty well, or well enough to be understood at least! After Мамаев курган they took us to a cafe/restaurant where we drank tea and ate pizza. Not a bad day all round, though entirely different to what we had planned! Thus is the nature of Russia.

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A picture of a University building. On it says, “Learn, Learn, Learn. Lenin.”

I’ve noticed a theme in Russia. If in doubt, if you have any spare space on the side of a building or in the middle of a street, make reference to Lenin to fill the space. He is everywhere! We saw this on our first trip down the length of Volgograd in our quest for the shopping center.

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This is where we ended up after asking for directions to the shopping center! We have no idea where it was other than it was as far as you can physically go in Volgograd.

But finally, we found it! Neither of us made any purchases other than food. Shopping in Russia is an absolute rip off! At some point I am going to have to suck it up and buy a coat to see me through autumn but I think I’ll wait for a bit! It’s starting to get chilly here, but for now it’s not so bad!

Finally, we made it to Мамаев курган! This is where possibly the most impressive statue I’ve seen in person is! She’s colossal and has the angriest look on her face. It’s quite a sad place, but so beautiful. Мамаев курган refers to the entire area, and the statue itself is called «Родина-мать зовёт!» which means “The Motherland calls!”

The hill is the site of the Battle of Stalingrad.

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There’s also a breath-taking monument to all the soliders that died during the Battle of Stalingrad. Its absolutely shocking how many names are written on the walls.

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And finally, one of the most poignant parts. Written on a wall is the following:

“An iron wind beat in their faces, and they all went forward, and again a sense of superstitious fear from the enemy: the people attacking them, are they even mortal?”

The iron wind is the bullets raining down on them, but still the soldiers kept coming. 

Month 1 down…

I am quite literally the worst travel blogger in the history of all travel bloggers. I succumbed to the excitement that was living in Moscow and didn’t give myself a spare second to update anything! Enough excuses, though. Here’s a few things I’ve learnt in my time here, punctuated with touristy snaps.

Image1. “Open 24 Hours” does not in fact mean that they are open twenty-four hours of the day. I strongly suspect it means that the building is in fact on the premises all day. Shops advertising such hours are usually open between 10am and 10pm.

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2. Whatever happens, Moscow will never run out of florists. I’m unsure as to where they find these flowers, but if you are ever in need of greenery, look no further than five feet in front of you.

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3. If you can’t find the red M, look for a yellow one. There’s always a McDonalds near a metro stop!

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4. When you want someone to be able to speak English, they won’t be able to. However when you are avoiding charity buskers, they probably know enough to give you a pretty convincing sales pitch.

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5. Exact change is paramount. If your total comes to 181 roubles, don’t be so rude as to consider 200 roubles “near enough.” God help you if the cashpoint gave you a 5000 rouble note. Might as well use it in lieu of toilet paper.

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6. You can’t spend kopeks. They aren’t worth the material from which they are made.

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7. Whether or not you speak Russian, order from the Russian menu. The English one usually has much higher prices!

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8. The national food of Russia is Sushi. I may or may not have made this up. Regardless of the actual national food, Sushi is on every street corner. For the one closest to you, see point 2. r.e. florists.

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9. Russians like to hold the shower head rather than conveniently attach it to the wall. It makes sense really, if you think about it. Oh wait…

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10. Russian men are constantly seizing the opportunity to sexually harass forward.

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(11. One for the Colloquial Russian-ers. Peter Green doesn’t actually live in Moscow. I looked.)

Packing!

 

So Tuesday is the big day. The day I venture off into Russia on my own. I’m really nervous, not helped by teary goodbyes today with more on the horizon.
Rather than dwell on how much I am dreading this I thought it might help me to get down what I actually need to do.

To do:
– print off travel insurance details
– post various things to various places
– scan my passport and visa and print
– find my diploma (scan and print, remembering to pack the original)
– find my 2013 diary
– pack jewellery into original bags and give to my mother for safe-keeping
– PACK!
– look up useful airport words in russian and print mini vocab list
– look up “meeting” phrases for when I meet my home stay and print
– put my pen in my travel wallet
– check I have chargers for everything electrical
– find some adapters

I don’t have a whole lot of people reading this, I know, but I have a question:
Have you ever been to Russia? Do you have any words of advice for me?