Friday, November 28, 2008

Stairs and Hopefully the most Adventful Thanksgiving of my life!

On Nov 26th in the morning I fell/rolled down a flight of stairs and smashed my head into the metal railing. I went to the clinic on campus and the cleaned me up. I had gauze on my nose and over my eye.

The Resident Director and I agreed that I might have a concussion and should go to the international clinic/hospital. I got an appointment for 6:30 Wed night. When I got there they re-looked at my injuries on my head and decided that the one over my eye (on my eyebrow near the bridge of my nose) needed four stitches.

***getting stitches in Russia***
I had to lie down on a table and was cover with gauze. Then the nurse put guaze over under my head. The doctor and nurse then put on surgical masks and head coverings. The doctor then told me to close my eyes because the light would be bright. He then proceeds to turn on a surgical light. They then placed a piece of cotton over my eyes and a sheet over my face except where he would be stiching.
then they started stitching!

I then saw a neurologist, who determined that I had a concussion and wanted to do an MRI of me, but the MRI couldn't be until tomorrow. But then he decided that he wanted to admit me. This is apparently normal in Russia.

Once I was admitted I could immediately get an MRI. That was fun. However, in Russia you can get the results right away. The technician told me that it was normal.

I eventually (after dealing with the annoying people at reception who wanted $2,000 before I could be admitted --which insurance that I have is supposed to cover every thing without me paying anything up front) was brought to the coolest hospital room I have ever been in.

It had a nice bed, balcony, flat screen TV, mini fridge, and tolitries in the bathroom.

A new neurologist came in later and told me that the MRI was normal and that I should be able to go home in the morning.

Eventually I got dinner.

After dinner, I got 200 ml of saline solution, which kept me up until 2:30 in the morning, because the nurse wanted the lights on. That was the most painful IV I have ever had!

When I got up at 5:30ish, because it is hard to sleep when you can't bend one arm and there is shooting pain. Watched Tv until 9ish when a new head doctor came in and told me that I wouldn't be able to leave until at least the next 200 ml of saline solution had been delivered. She seemed surprised that I wanted to leave.

Got breakfast (which was yummy) and laid around and waited. And waited. And Waited.

Had blood drawn and then an EKG. (which was normal)

Finally at 12:15 a nurse came in and told me to get in the wheelchair and took me to an eye doctor. the eye doctor did a lot of things checking my vision. It appears that I have some old scar tissue next to my left retina that could eventually (with more trauma to the head) cause retinal detachment.

Went back to my room and the head doctor came in again. She told me that I was getting released, because it was a mild case. However, since in russia they usually keep people with concussions for 5 to 10 days i had to sign a "against medical advice" form. Then the eye doctor came back in and wanted to get an ultrasound of my eye (because she hadn't been able to get a real good look at the retina) just to make sure. That turned out normal.

Then I was able to get discharged. Asked the reception to call me a cab. And went downstairs to get the prescriptions (a pain killer and two hefty vitamins). Then waited for the cab. It took almost an hour to get here!!!!

Went back to my homestay, showered and left for Thanksgiving dinner at "The Other Side." It is a restaurant owned by an American expat. Instead of turkey, I got falafels. We had mashed potatoes, mashed sweet potatoes, corn, brussel sprouts, I got babganosh (no idea) instead of stuffing, and homemade cranberry sauce. For desert we had a different pumpkin pie with three layers that if eaten together tasted like pie, but without didn’t. It also had almonds in it.

Then went home and crashed!

Feeling a little better today, and have another doctor’s appointment tomorrow morning at 9AM.

See you around the globe!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Hermitage and Church

Woke up after the night of no heat to discover a huge snow storm with really big winds! I could see it whipping the snow around outside. And couldn’t see across the street! I had been planning to go to the navy base (on an island) but decided not to based on the oh so lovely weather. However, the heat and hot water were back on. (I think the heat is hot water heat though pipes that are to radiate heat.)

Decided to go to the Hermitage and Alexander Nevsky Monastery instead of an island during a snow storm. Spent quite a few hours at the Hermitage with Casey and Jess. It was snowing when we went in (think pelting ice in your face!).

However, when we got out, it had warmed up and was currently raining. This turns the streets of St. Petersburg into rivers. Literally. We then figured out that our winter boots were only water resistant NOT water proof.

However the Russian Orthdox church service was beautiful. The priest (father? Bishop? Whatever they call them) stood up there and chanted. I think it might have been Psalms or such because every now and then I would hear numbers I understood.

We then waded home to the warm cozy apartments.

See y’all around the globe!

Pushkin’s Apartment

On Saturday we went to Pushkin’s last apartment, for a tour of where he lived and what it was like when he died. The tour guide spoke English, but she gave the tour in Russian for some reason with Katherine translating. It wasn’t that great, but was a cool thing to do. I still don’t understand where people slept without beds in their houses!

Came back to my homestay to discover that I had no heat or hot water. Apparently there had been an accident and they broke the hot water pipe. It was very cold and I slept in three layers that night!

See y’all around the globe!


On Monday November 17th it snowed. I was so happy! I have never lived where it snows before. It didn’t stick, but was soo pretty when it was falling. However, on Wednesday it snowed a lot and stuck all over the place! We think our teacher thought we were crazy because we were so excited about snow! (Out of the 7 people in the class 3 of us don’t live where it snows: Hawaii, Texas and Florida.)
So on Thursday, I wandered around the city taking black and white photos for my “St. Petersburg in 27 Photos Album”

See y’all around the globe!

Beautiful wanderings

Went shopping for souvenirs that I wasn’t able to get on the free day in Helsinki. And found them at the first store I went to, so I literally wandered around the city for about 2 hours. The day was perfect- clear and just a little nip in the air. Stopped by a little famous café that still makes cakes using medieval recipes and got a piece to go for the train. Started to wander back to the city center to go back to the hostel, when it started to rain, so I ducked inside Stockmanns Department Store. It is 7 stories tall, including a a fully stocked grocery store on the bottom level. Didn’t get anything because the cheapest shirt on sale still cost 40 Euros. (or about 50 USD). Went to head back to the hostel and got distracted by sale signs in another store. I ended up buying a pretty long sleeve stripped black and blue sweater dress and two pair of cute socks for only 11.95 Euro.

The train ride back was just as long, but it was made worse by the fact that when I was about to fall asleep, we stopped for customs, so I had to stay awake so that they could look at my face and make sure I wasn’t someone else.

See y’all around the globe!

To Tallinn!

Another early morning because we had to be on the ferry to Tallinn by 7 AM. The ferry was nice. I think it was bigger than some small cruise ships. Not even kidding. I was expecting a little ferry thing where people drive cars on, and a few people walk on, but this was a nine story ship that the bottom three or four layers were car parks, and the rest were shopping centers, restaurants, bars/cafes, and look out points. Four of us made it to the back of the ship and got a table overlooking the water. Which is where we stayed the entire time.

When we got to Tallinn, we walked to meet our tour guide for our walking tour of the old city. It was starting to rain, and my umbrella decided to break completely with two of the little spoke things snapping in half (and when you only have like six, this is not good). So the umbrella was trash and I just pulled my hood up and wrapped my scarf tighter.

We went our guide who was an Australian, who had come to Estonia to study abroad and fell in love and moved back later. He has lived there for 3 years. We was really good, telling us some of the key points, pointing out cool stuff, and telling us little jokes. He pointed out the former KGB headquarters, where the bottom windows were blocked up (scary)! And he told us the legend behind a church: there are two stories, and he let us decide which one was true.

The city of Tallinn was going to build a new tallest church in the world, and they drew up some plans, and then began searching for a builder. But when they started asking around, all the prices were too high.
Then this guy showed up and quoted them a really high price that was 3 times more than they had saved. They were about to turn him away, when he said “But- if you can guess my name before I finish building the church, then you get it for free.” The planning committee was like “Cool. It will take him at least 20 years to build the church and if we don’t guess it by then, we will have at least saved up the money by then.”
So they agreed.
They came back in a few days to see if the guy had at least started surveying the ground and found a wall knee high. So they asked him all the names they could think of off the top of their heads and he answered “NO!” to all of them. So they went home to think and came back in another week and found the wall a little over their heads. Now they started to get really worried, because there was no way they could pay the man anytime soon. So they got a meeting together and wrote down all of the names they had ever heard of both foreign and domestic, biblical and fairy tales. They went back the next day and the wall was even higher than before. They read all of the names out of their list and the answer was still no.
The committee didn’t know what to do. That was all the names they had ever heard of. So they just anxiously watched this man single handedly build the tallest church they had even seen in the shortest amount of time. Finally, someone had the brilliant idea to have him followed. And they sent and errand boy to follow him home one night. The next day when the man left to go to work (the church was almost finished) the boy peeked in and saw the mans wife holding a crying baby and heard her say “Its okay, sweets. Alfanaso (or some other weird combination of alfanso sounding name) will soon finish and we will have food.” Since the boy had never heard this word before he ran back and told the committee, who raced over to the church and saw him about to put the steeple on. Therefore, they yelled up to him “Hey Alfanaso! It needs to go to the right a little!”
The man was so shocked that they had found out his name when he was so close to finishing that he fell off the church and landed at their feet. He died, but something strange had happened- (it was either that he burst into bats or some other “dark” creature).
It was then that they knew that hey had made a deal with the devil.

The other story is:

They wanted to also have a lookout over the harbor as well as a church, but only had enough money for one building.


After we finished the tour, Kristin and I went to the Occupational museum that cover the time since the Soviets, Nazis, and Soviets again occupied their country. And boy do they hate the Russians. That museum, while was probably based in fact at some point was basically propaganda against those Godless, awful, killing machines that happen to be called Russian. I mean in three years that Hitler was there, he killed about the same amount that the Soviets had in their first occupation, but they still worshiped Hitler and some even joined the army. It was interesting to see their view of the occupation, but I couldn’t help but feel that it was a little theatrical.

Finished the museum and walked back to continue souvenir shopping but on the way ducked into the Russian Orthodox Cathedral and Lutheran Church nearby. The cathedral was beautiful as always, and had some neat icon mosaics. The Lutheran church was just amazing. They had this old tradition that when the wealthy would die, they would make a death shield to carry in the procession and then hang in the church. They were AWESOME! I mean I jus stood in the middle of the church and twirled a few times trying to take it all in. There was also a lady practicing a musical program and there was only me (and Kathryn) in there, so it was like a private concert.

Kathryn and then wandered around and saw some other people, and got a few good shots of the city at night. We stopped in “Olde Hangas” restraint where we got yummy tea. I asked for hot chocolate, but the lady said “Oh sorry, but back in the day we ere a very unhappy people and we didn’t have chocolate.” That is literally the coolest way anyone has ever told me that they don’t carry something. After leaving we went “fake shopping” which involved Katherine trying on these weird hats fostered on her by the shop owner because she tried on one hat. One of them was red with three little pom-poms on it that she said made her look like a court jester. Then the owner tried to get her to buy a hat/scarf combo that you wear as a hat and it wraps around like a scarf because it is so long. We then wandered around the lower city for a while and stopped in a little café for hot chocolate because we were freezing again and had about an hour to kill. We met up with Anna (a girl in my class). Then Kathryn got a call from one of the boys that had missed the bus and decided to stay in Helsinki, that he had just got kicked in the face and wanted to go to a hospital to make sure that his nose wasn’t broken. (He ended up being okay, it was just some random act of violence. He tried to get around a fight that was breaking out, but someone got caught in the middle of it).

The ferry home was still big, but not as nice as the one there. But it did have a supermarket for alcohol, candy, and small food stuffs. Anna found a cool bottle in a shape of a horse!

Went out to a karaoke bar when we got back and let me tell you Finnish is not a pretty language to listen to in songs.

See y’all around the globe!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Museum, Fortress, and Shopping!

Started off the day going to the free Helsinki City Museum which told one about the history of Helsinki from the stone age through both the Swedish and Russian rule to modern day independence. It was very interesting. I spent about 2 hours there just wondering around. They had a lot of good information in English.

Then wondered down a Street Museum (that marks the different time of Helsinki by what the streets would look like). And wondered around the market square around the ferry, and then was able to watch they ferry leave without another departure for another hour. So I went back to the hostel and dropped off the cool purchases.

Took the ferry to the Fortress called “Summolinia” or essentially Fortress of Finland. I wandered around the main street, which takes you from one side of the island to another. They have a cool Orthodox-converted-into-Lutheran-Church (which means when the Russians were here they made a Orthodox, but when the Finns took over they changed it into their faith Lutheran). I took a few self-portraits (which involved setting the camera on self-timer and running- which would have looked funny had I seen anyone else around me!) Then as I continued wandering, I encountered the main museum, which I went into. It had a lot of really good information on the history of the fortress. I also got to watch a video about the formation of the fortress both a professional one and a 6th graders video. The 6th graders was so cool: they had mad sheep and cut out puppets that made the sheep mad. (the sheep could save people and through them over from one island to the other).

When I left and continued wandering I found about 6 to 7 other people from our group, this was right after I had just thought “Man I thought a lot of people were coming over here, but I haven’t seen anyone from our group!” We continued to walk around what they termed the “Shire” (Lord of the Rings reference I believe). We then found a really relaxing place that we just sat at and looked over the sea for about 20 minutes.

After taking the ferry back, we went to Hesburger. The Finnish equivalent to Burger King (I say this instead of Micky D’s because their fries tasted better than MD and they had a VEGGIE BURGER!!!). It was really delicious. Then we went shopping at H&M, a cool store that exsists in some major cities in the US. I didn’t get anything.

Went back to drop off everyone’s purchases and then went out to the AussieBar. It was really cool inside with posters that said things like “These are my boys. Service brought to you by the descendants of criminals.” Or “Exiled for killing sheep. Service brought to you by the descendants of criminals.” We wanted to get a poster, but they weren’t for sale.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

To Helsinki!

Got up around 5 Am to leave for the train journey to Helsinki with AIFS. I had to meet them at the train station at 6:30 AM. But I got breakfast before I left.

The train journey was long (think almost 7 hours) and 1/3 of that was spent sitting at customs on both sides of the border. Besides the car getting hot it was relatively easy at customs.

When we got to Helsinki we met our tour guide for our city tour by bus and got to see all of the main sights. The rock church, senate square, Olympic arena, opera halls, Only orthodox church. It is a very pretty modern city. The bus dropped us off at the hostel, and Casey and I then went to the post office to mail souvenirs home so that our suitcases would close (and the packages would make it home from Finland not Russia). Then we met up with people for a expensive dinner at a Nepalese restraint (think 7 dollars for less than a cup of tomato soup). Nepalese fare is curry.

Then we went back to the hostel (no more than a 10 minute drive by trolley) dropped off our bags and went back out to DDR (Dance Drink Revolution) to hang out.
Oh- and every one speaks English and is NICE!!!

Yusoprov, All Night and Nutcracker on Ice

I was going to get up early this morning and go get some last minute shopping done before I went to Finland, but accidentally said “9 o’clock” instead of “10 o’clock” (devit or decit in Russian). But it was fine since the shops were closed when I got there anyway. Today AIFS went to the Yusoprov Palace and I just met them there. This is the palace where Rasputin was ‘murdered’. The inside of this palace is beautiful. I could totally live here. Everything was tastefully done and just wonderfully beautiful. I took about 100 to 200 photos of the inside of this palace.

I say ‘murdered’ here because they tried to poison him with cyanide but he didn’t die, so they took him to the cellar and shot him three (or more) times and left him to die and went back up and partied some more. But when they came back down to check on him he had dragged himself out into the courtyard to escape so they wrapped him in a rug and threw him in the river where he drowned.

Went to a little Irish pub for lunch and had yummy cream of broccoli soup. Then went home to rest because I wanted to go out all night. It is possible to get caught in the center of the city because the metro stops running and the bridges are drawbridges which are raised every night. We left the dorms around 11:30 ish and got down into the center about an hour later. However we did not stay out because one of the guys had a headache and left, which put the other people I was in a group with in a bad mood and no one wanted to stay out. So we walk along the main street looking for a descent cab ride home before the bridges are raised. We finally find one guy who will take all 5 of us and he rushes through the city at a mad race only to be stopped at a raised bridge. I look out the window and see that the bridge time says 2:45AM as when it will be lowered again. I look at the watch and see that it is only 1:50 AM. We all start laughing at the stories we will be able to tell people when we get home. We ask the guy if he can take us back to a café so we can at least wait somewhere with hot drinks, but he says that 2:45 is the latest that they can keep the brigde open, but they usually close it around 2 ish. So we decide to wait and take kopeck bets on when it will close. Josh is the closest with 2:22 (it was 2:21). We get back to the dorms and sneak past the old snotty woman at the end of the hall. And I sleep in the extra bed in their room and go home around 9AM.

I then had to get up to go the Nutcracker on Ice at 3 pm. That was good, there were two parts: one was a different version of the nutcracker and the other was like a recital. It was good- they were all teenagers. The second half was very …interesting. Not good, but not bad, just kind of different. It consisted of a Russian folk show on ice, a circus, and freaky alien dance. But I got popcorn and all was good.

See y’all around the globe!

Weekend of Crime and Punishment

On Saturday, we had classes because Monday and Tuesday are federal holidays and the schools will be closed. So the government/college admin decided to have language classes on Saturday. It was okay, just kind of sad going to classes (not so) bright and early. And the weather was horrible. However, we did get to show of teacher Dr. Seuss.

That was entertaining. One of the girls in my class had “Oh the Places You’ll Go” with her. Victoria (my teacher) saw a typical Dr. Seuss animal (large green furry thing sticking up from a manhole) and said it was a mix between a hippo and a giraffe. Later on as she is reading it, she says, “This is so happy. Why?” And we tried to explain to her that children books are supposed to be happy and uplifting.

Then I asked her if there were any happy Russian movies. Or movies that had happy endings. She referred me to Soviet movies where at the end the boy and girl would have steadfast faces, looking brightly to the future. She said if you are happy that means that you are satisfied, and if you are satisfied then you won’t work to improve your life. While that makes a little more since, than they just don’t like happy endings. Even if it stinks higher than Heaven.

After class, we had an optional walking tour with Misha to go to Dostoevsky’s house and neighborhoods of Crime and Punishment. To was freezing and only 7 of us went (which turned out to be a good thing). By the end of the tour we couldn’t feel feet (in side our winter boots). We started off right when we got off the metro at Sennaya Ploshchad (which means Hay Square- and you guessed it, it was essentially a hay-market back in Dostoevsky’s time in the slums. This would be where the main char of C&P confessed to the murders. It is also, where he wanders around for a good part of the book. Misha then told us that this is still not a good area to be in after 10:30 PM.

He then took us to a bridge over the canal with the most turns in St. Pete where more action happened. Then he showed us where Dostoevsky lived when he wrote Crime and Punishment and where the main character lived in his books. We can find these places because he gave actual addresses in the book. We were able to go into the courtyard of the main character’s house due to a kind babushka who let us in. Then we went to see where Sonya (the main woman char of the book) should have lived based on descriptions.

We stopped a few times for Misha to explain some good history things about St. Pete (like there was a decree saying that you couldn’t build higher than 3 stories & if you had black on your house you had a higher tax). We then went to the house where he killed the old woman, and where he hid the goods. Apparently in the staircase that they call in memory of the main character, people write little memos to the main character (like “Theres another old woman” or “Good job man”).

Then Misha wanted to show us a different side of St. Pete that you don’t usually get to see. Apparently for the 300 year anniversary of the city, the city spruced up the outside of buildings. He had stopped us in front of a beautiful building, bright colors and pretty white carvings. Then we went inside. In the US the building would have been destroyed, or if it wasn’t destroyed then it would have not allowed anyone to live here or even come in. I’m sure some of the walls were still damaged from WW2. We didn’t want to touch anything, and then Misha made sure to tell us not to touch anything (which when a Russian guy is telling you not to touch something, it is bad).

But people still lived here. He then took us to another like building, but this one was slightly nicer, not much, but slightly. There are either multiple families living in one half of a floor, or one family living there. I’m also sure that some of these people got these apartments in 1991 as well.

After the walking tour, we defrosted in a little café (that wasn’t that good drink wise but had a really yummy croissant with chocolate inside. After that Teremok (blini stand), and I tried to get a real food blini and they just don’t do those good. I like the sweet blinis of cabbage blinis better.

Went back to the dorms and ended up talking to Kori for about an hour, since we hadn’t hung out in a while. I wanted to recommend some places to her in Prague.

There was sun! This is a big deal.

We went to Dostoevsky’s last apartment, where he died for a tour. It was cool. They had refurbished everything how it would/could have been in his time there. He was surprisingly a good father (one has to wonder with the uplifting messages of his books). But he smoked 50 strong cigarettes a day. He died of emphazema (SP?). And his wife later died of lung problems.

After the apartment, a few of us went to a local church and got to see part of a wedding ceremony in Russian Orthodox. It was neat, never thought I would get to see that. The church was also really cool. There were beautiful paintings sill preserved and frescos.

Next we went to a little market that the Katherines had told us about. And it was okay, but really expensive. They did have more exotic things that the regular supermarkets.

When I got back to my stop I went to Karusel (carousel) because they have good prices and a cheap card to get cheaper prices. And they are within walking distance of my homestay.

After dinner, I went back to the dorms where we were having a late Halloween party for ourselves and to show other international students what Halloween was all about. Someone had made cider and popcorn and little sugar cookies. It was really fun. I went as a nesting doll. We also had the KGB, Euro Trash, a mummy, a Pharaoh, a Christmas lamp, a cat, Sally (? The girl from The Nightmare before Christmas)and people just wearing masks. It was a really good time.

Was spent enjoying my day off by relaxing and watching movies in Russian. I am planning on going to see the new James Bond this Thursday to see Bond in Russian (I mean it was partially filmed here, so we have to go see it right?).

Tomorrow, I want to try to go out to the naval base here to see the cool cathedral and where lots of important things happened. We also have an opera tomorrow night. It is “Eugene Onegin” by Pushkin (well, he didn’t write the opera, but you get the idea).

See y’all around the globe!