Monday, June 23, 2014

Weekend of June 21st-22nd

On Saturday, we went to see the Angara Ice Breaker Museum. The Angra ice breaker ship is how people traversed Lake Baikal in the winter from the mid-1800s until the early 1900s. It’s also how they connected the Trans-Siberian Railway at first, you put the train on the ship and then shipped it across the lake (well, technically not the Angra, but the Baikal ship they had at the same time too).

A picture of it when it had sunk.
The ships were critical in the creation of the Trans-Siberian Railway. They were also used during the civil war in 1917-ealry 1920s between the Red and White armies in Russia. That war actually caused the sinking of the Baikal ship. When the railway was completed, the Angara was left to rot in a ship yard. In fact, it the 1960s, it even partially sank until the people donated money to save it and turn it into a semblance of a museum.

I say semblance because there wasn’t really any displays of information about the ship, unless you had a guide with you. And they didn’t keep it in “period dress.” However, it was definitely interesting! There was no barriers to climbing all over everything, and rusty metal pipes were just left out, mid repair.

The hold was kinda small, and I can’t imagine a bunch of people being stuck in there, but they say the ship could hold 1,000 people!

After the museum, we went to lunch at a nearby restaurant and then paddle boating, or as they say in Russian “driving on a katamaran” (we obviously have different definitions of what a catamaran is. However, Haley and I had a blast! We definitely want to do it again!

On Sunday, we relaxed and went to lay on the beach. I mean how often do you get to sunbathe in SIBERIA? (or get a sun burn.) It was a nice and relaxing day!

See you around the globe!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Decemberists Museum

The Decembrists were revolutionaries in Tsarist Russia. They staged a revolt on December 26 1825 against the tsar because they believed in equality for the peasants they had served with in the war against Napoleon. They essentially wanted a constitutional monarchy. 

The old kitchen
And like any failed revolutionaries in Russia, they were shipped to Siberia. They weren’t allowed to take anything with them, even their families. However, 12 of the 150 men’s wives decided to accompany them to Irkutsk. We see the house of one of those families.

Because Siberia is still so far from Moscow, they were able to create a little cultural capital in the wilderness (which it was at this time) during their hard slave like working conditions.  After the 3rd revolution in Russia, their sentences were reduced and they were able to just stay in Siberia and live. The family we visited (((THE NAME(((( brought in famous thinkers and musicians to their house to put on little shows.

It was an interesting museum, and to see the type of houses they had was just cool.

A sewing box

They had a greenhouse inside. With exotic plants!

After wards, Haley, Brandon, and I decided to go attempt to find Café Govinda, a VEGETARIAN restaurant in Irkutsk!

It took us a long time, and faulty directions to find it, but when we did was it yummy. It had an Indian feel, but wasn’t straight up Indian food. They had delicious dessert!

Then when we were waiting for the bus/eating ice cream, Haley and I got to see a little dance recital, because today was Russia Day/ their version of July 4th/a holiday that people only cared about since they got off of work for it. 

See you around the globe!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

When You Accidentally See a 4D movie

The weekend after the Baikal trip, we decided to go see a movie. We decided on The Edge of Tomorrow the new Tom Cruise movie about aliens invading because it was an action movie and this didn’t need a lot of dialogue.

However, we misunderstood that the one we were going to see was going to be 4D. We bought the tickets, which were about 100 RUB more than we expected or 400RUB/between $10-15. Then he popcorn and entered the theater, only to be handed 3D glasses.

At this point, I went, well crud. I don’t like 3D movies, they end up making me sick a bit.

Then. Oh then.

We sat down.

And the chairs vibrated.

**Read that sentence again. **

Then we started laughing.

The Russian movie had no previews and had already started when we got there. The movie itself was pretty good- interesting plot and new idea. Actually recommend you go rent it when it comes out.

However, almost 2 hours of vibrating seats whenever there was a tense movement or helicopters (which happened a lot it’s an action movie!) made you feel like you were just shook apart.

See you around the globe!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Getting Bit By a Tick

Getting bit by a tick in Russia is apparently very serious business. In the US, you pull the tick off, and if you get sick later, go see a doctor.

In Russia, you get rushed to the “tick clinic” (I couldn’t make this up). There they give you antibiotics (semi normal in the US according to the internet). But the best part is you have to come back after 48 hours of discovering the tick to see if you got Siberian Encephalitis.

According to the Russians this is an infection and you need to get a shot of immunoglobulin to help prevent it.

According to English language, credible government health sponsored, websites you literally can’t do anything to stop the Siberian Encephalitis and in fact, the immunoglobulin can make it worse. From what I can gather, if you get this version of encephalitis you have a 20-40% shot of dying from complications, so it is pretty serious. BUT it is also a virus, which means we can’t do anything about it except treat the symptoms.

Anyway, I was negative for the Siberian Enchpalitis and get to go back in mid-July to see about Lyme disease (which is another difference between the US and Russia. In the US you just wait to see if you get it. And by the time Russia checks, you would already have the symptoms). 

Healthcare is different in every country, and I’m sure the Russians would have a field day with how we treat tick bites, but it’s always an adventure to go get yourself checked out in another country!

See you around the globe!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Lake Baikal Day Two

The morning was beautiful, and perfect for a hike. However, I should have known to leave the jacket and scarf in the room rather than carry it with me, but it wasn’t supposed to get that warm.

We met our guide in downtown Listivyanka and began the hike. Of course, like any good hike, it began inside the city and you walked to leave the city (not sure if they count this as part of the 18km or not, my guess is not. Which means we walked more like 20-22 km (more like 12-13 miles). They had told our program coordinator that it was an easy hike ALONG the shores of Lake Baikal. When you hear ALONG the shores, you picture a flat easy to walk hike, no?


We were trekking across a mountain on a straight up part for 800 km part and then a bunch of the rest was generally uphill.

I. Was. Miserable. I don’t do hiking, or climbing mountains. Or other big exciting outdoorsy style stuff. I’m a theater and museum type of gal.

The guide set up what I thought of as a brisk pace. Within the first hour, I was wondering if it wouldn’t be better to just turn around and go sit on the shores of Lake Baikal. (Note to self, it would have.) For those of you who don’t know me well, I have knee and heart issues as well as am still within a year of a partial lung collapse. Everything hurt, and at one point I almost passed out. But two of the boys were wonderful and found a walking stick I could use (at some points, I was only walking because I could use my upper and lower body to drag myself up the mountain side).

At one point, we stopped and had lunch along the shore for about an hour. The guide said the rest would be pretty flat. Now, when your Russian guide tells you “it will be pretty flat” assume it’s like your math teacher saying “this will be fun” or your ballet teacher saying “one more time.” It’s a falsehood. Well, more like a half truth. It wasn’t has high as the mountain we had just crossed, but it was the foothills.

We finally made it to little village where we would be catching a boat back to Listviyanka. The boat ride took about 30 minutes. Then there was a 2-3 hour drive back during Sunday traffic.

To me, the hike and views didn’t make the pain and suffering worth it. There was very little that I couldn’t have seen from a boat. However, if you like hiking and 12 miles treks across mountains- YOU WILL LOVE THIS HIKE. However, you will also need a guide, as you could very easily get lost.

See you around the globe!

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Lake Baikal: Day One

Intro to the group: Zach, Brandon, me, Haley, Daniel, Adam, and Steve
June 7th is City Day in Irkutsk, and I was sad to miss it. I’ve never been in Russia on a public holiday with celebrations and it looked like it was going to be a big one! It was their 353rd year as a city. However, our program thought it would be best to let us “escape the madness” so we went to Lake Baikal.

Lake Baikal is pretty impressive. It is a UNESCO world heritage site. If the entire human population was to need to live on the freshwater in Lake Baikal alone, it would last 50 years. There are over 2,000 endemic (native only to Baikal) species in/around this lake, including both plants and animals. It’s about an hour drive or so away from Irkutsk. The river that flows through Irkutsk is the only river out of 334 that flows OUT of Baikal rather than into it.

However, we weren't just driving straight there. We were stopping by two museums along the way. The first was the Taltsy Museum of Architecture and Ethnography, which even lonely planet calls “impressive.” It is essentially an open air museum of structures that were in danger of being demolished in the surrounding region, but are of great cultural importance, so they were simply moved, refirbed a bit and made into a tourist trap. A fun and very enlightening tourist trap, to say the least.

It was a brisk summer day (read in the 50s) when we got there with our tour guide. It was pretty cool to see all of the structures and learn a little about how traditional houses were built in Siberia. The families would often sleep on the chimney/fireplace for cooking because that at least stayed warm. They were tiny log cabins with itty bitty doors and windows (not because people were shorter or anything, but because they were smart and knew that smaller doors meant less heat would escape and they would be warmer.

 We got to learn fun facts, like in the olden times, homesteads were taxed on the number of yards they had, so families would build the house together and mom and dad would live with son and wife (and you thought modern Mother in Laws were supposed to be bad…)! Also, the number of barns you had and if your inner yard was covered in wood were status symbols. Or the fact that the windows were originally made out of this clear mineral found locally whose name totally escapes me.

We got to see a school, church, fortress, houses, and even a Mongol round house. However, the most fun part was the swing set they had that a bunch of college students (ahem, me included) decided would be fun to play on right next to the small children- definitely got some weird looks. But it was pretty awesome. You really would need a friend to play with, or it would be super difficult.

Then after a quick bite to eat (did I mention how delicious blini/crepes with condensed milk are? No, well they are AWESOME!), we headed out to the Baikal Museum/Research outpost, dedicated to the scientific research on Baikal. There are a ridiculous number of endemic species in Lake Baikal and this museum/research outpost is dedicated to them. The most famous are the nerpa (нерпа) seals. They are the only freshwater seals in the world. They look a little bit like a giant torpedo.

After the museum we went up a ski lift to see the lake from the top. It was pretty awesome views and made me extincted for the hike! 

Then we bought some food to make for dinner, followed by just relaxing at the hostel. The boys decided they wanted to jump in Lake Baikal, so we made a quick excursion to do that…across the street from the hostel. It was a kind of early night, since we had to be up the next day bright and early for our 9:30 am 18 km hike.

See you around the globe!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Trip to the Apteka (Pharmacy)

We found out we were going hiking in the woods and would need tick spray only once we got here. And I conveniently forgot sunscreen and my knee brace.

All of this added up to a trip to the pharmacy/apteka/аптека. Pharmacies in Russia/Eastern Europe are different than in the US. In the US everything is out on a shelf for you to look at/maybe go ask the pharmacist about it if you don’t just look it up on your phone. In Russia, everything is behind the counter (and you don’t necessarily need a RX either). 

I asked my professor how to ask for a  knee brace and she wrote it down for me. Our local contact had told us the word for “ticks” and I had looked up “sunscreen” (and came really close with “the thing that prevents sunburns” that one I knew would be tricky!).

However, I wasn’t expecting what happened to happen. Everything is more difficult in Russia, in part simply because you don’t know the language, and there is a large communication gap. Another part is cultural. And the third part is that US bureaucracy has NOTHING on Russian bureaucracy. NOTHING. 

So I walk in and immediately see the sunscreen- SCORE. But the nice seller lady comes over to me and (presumably) asks if I need anything. I attempt to say “tick spray” from memory, but it’s not working. So I pull out my list of words and show it to her. She goes two steps over and pulls out OFF! brand spray and tells me it’s the only thing that works. It’s an itty-bitty can and costs like $10 (knew I should’ve of just brought some with me!). But hey, when you don’t really want to try out the Russian healthcare system, you buy $10 tick spray.

Then I point to the knee brace word. She walks me over to a wall of braces, and pulls like three for me to try on. None are the wrap around kind like I’ve been using post-surgery, but beggars can’t be choosers when they have an 18 km hike in a few days.  So I try one on, and it fits and it happened to be the cheapest (like only $25 instead of $30, I mean come on guys, seriously!). But the poor seller lady keeps trying to ask me questions and I just keep smiling and not understanding. But she is persistent and keeps trying. We’re both laughing at this point about our mutual inability to understand each other when she asks if I need anything else (this in words I knew!).

Since I knew where the sunscreen was, but just needed to look at it, I go back over and pick up the SPF  50+. In the US, I usually get SPF 50 or even 80 if I know I will be outside a lot. But this SPF 50 specifically said “for children” which in my head meant it probably was good for movement and sweating. Considering the next highest was an SPF 30, I was planning on getting that one. But the seller lady had other ideas.
She (I assume, didn’t quite know the words) asked me “But don’t you want a tan?” while gesticulating over her stomach and arms. I trid to tell her was was “very white” and get “very red” but she still looked concerned over me picking the “for kids SPF 50” so she dragged me over to another seller lady and that lady said (in English), “but that one is for children.” I said “I know” and got weird looks.

The first seller lady then took me over to a different location and showed me fancy French Woman sunscreen that was SPF 50, but it was like $60 so I said no and that I would take the SPF 30 (mostly to get out of the store and I figured I could just reapply more often.

Still not quite sure why I couldn’t just buy the one for children….

See you around the globe!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

First Day of Classes

We had our placement test yesterday and BOY was it difficult! In general, I have problems with grammar regardless of the language. So I didn’t know what to expect.

We were each placed in one of three groups. I’m not sure what the actual group or level is supposed to be, we didn’t get any books or anything. My professor is nice, so far, and seems helpful. We talked about what we needed to learn and she decided to teach us about the city, how to shop, and how to get on transport.

We walked around the city, almost in the exact same fashion as the walking tour, and she pointed out interesting stuff to us while speaking in Russian the whole time and letting us practice our Russian. No homework tonight, but I expect some tomorrow.

I think we will need to buy a book, some of the other classes had to. We will have class from 8am-11:25 every day. Then (I think, we get the schedule tomorrow), we will have a history or ecological science course.  

See you around the globe!

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Second Day in Irkutsk

We had a walking tour today with a local guide. I learned that the church I took a picture of yesterday (the white and green one) is the oldest building in Irkutsk while the pretty colored church was used as grain storage during the soviet times. We walked towards the river where we saw a statue commemorating the Kazaks who founded Irkutsk; the city just celebrated their 300th anniversary.

Some things we saw:
This shows the original fort that was built where the city of Irkutsk now stands.

Monument to the Kazaks that built the city.

Memorial to the WW2 soldiers who died. 

Irkutsk region is a great mining center. This is their headquarters.

We wandered around town, making our way towards lunch and passed numerous university buildings, banks, and stores. There was an old orphanage that the soviets got rid of. According to our guide, the Soviets moved all orphanages to the suburbs because there “were no orphans during their time.” Also, the guide pointed out the “Stalin style” which was columns and very decorative pieces, which was different than what I would have considered “Stalin style” (I would have said it was the general “Soviet bloc” style, but maybe that came later?)

There were celebrations in Every. Single. Park we passed had celebrations for “children’s day”. I didn’t get any pictures of the celebrations, but just imagine a bunch of kids everywhere doing normal kid stuff. Some were putting on plays or dancing, some were riding children sized segways, others were getting their face painted, etc.

The wooden houses I noticed yesterday are the traditional of the region, but many were burned down in the Great Fire of 1892 (?). A few were rebuilt. I’ll need to go back and get some pictures to tell you more about what I learned about the houses.

We ended up in the “130th District” which was rebuilt by the government in the old slums/bad part of town as a gift to the town on its birthday. Now it is an outdoor shopping center/tourist trap. Lots of restaurants, shops, and a general path to walk along. It was very pretty and very crowded. It was a nice area, more than likely expensive.

We ate lunch at a restaurant that is a throwback to the Soviet era homes (complete with cassettes, 50s glasses, home style tables, and decorations. They gave us a lot of different salads and either an eggplant or butternut squash mustard dip thing. I had “verinki with potatos and mushrooms.” Verinki are like pelmini/pot stickers/ ravioli. They were very yummy. Then a friend and I shared a blini (crepe) dessert.
Afterwards, our program coordinator helped us get SIM cards for our phones and then dropped us off to find our own way back (we finally did, the bus stop was across the street.)

See you around the globe!