Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Last Week

On the 17th, the entire group went to a modern theater called Theater.doc (театр.doc). The play we saw was called БерлусПутин (BerlusPutin). This was definitely an interesting experience for all of us. The theater was small but intimate and sat only about 60 people.  We were surprisingly the youngest group there. The show consisted of only three performers: one actor who performed all the male characters, one actress who performed all female characters, and another actress who acted as stage hand and prop assistance. The show was acted as a show within a show, and because it was all in Russian it was a little hard to follow at times, but the actress was so great and entertaining. I was happy that the theater was smaller because we were able to pick up on her facial expressions and intensity easier, in such an intimate environment. All around we really enjoyed the experience and I’m glad we got to see such an interesting play and unique theater. Afterwards a group of us thought it would be hilarious to check out the T.G.I.Friday’s that is located down the street from our dorm. We each got an order of French fries and talked about the play.
A few days later, a small group of us went to Café Pushkin. It is one of the most popular and famous café’s in Moscow. According to Sravanti, Time Magazine has it listed as one of the top 10 places to check out in Moscow. Because of the incredibly expensive prices, we decided to go just for dessert. Walking into the cafe for the first time was mind-blowing! The decor is supposed to represent how Pushkin’s house looked, and it feels just like it! From the elaborate decorations and dim lighting, to the wait-staff attire, to the live piano and flute music in the reservation-only section. As if the aesthetic wasn't enough, our pistachio cake with ice cream, strawberries, and vanilla mousse was given to us literally lit on fire and glowing blue. Phenomenal and honestly, to watch our waiter light the desserts on fire and present us with the delicious treat, was enough for me, even before we tasted it. Good food, good treats, and great company it was a great way for this trip to come to a close.

Now that we are all back safe and sound to campus, everything has really hit us including the jet lag. This was such a great opportunity and experience for all of us and we were able to take away so much from the trip. Thank you to everyone who made this trip possible with the ups, the downs, and everything in between. From Moscow (and now Wellesley) with love J

Friday, January 24, 2014

The Kremlin, round 1

Tuesday, January 14

Today was our first day visiting the city's hallowed Kremlin. They say that when in Moscow you should visit the Kremlin, but really what they should say is that you should visit Kremlin with Alex, our tour guide, because he was a wellspring of information and lovely droll humor. Among the stories he relayed to us was that of a singularly unfortunate building just inside the entrance to the grounds - it has undergone calamity after calamity, culminating in Napoleon's attempt to burn it to the ground during his defeat and retreat from Moscow. The same cannons stand outside it now.

We also saw the Tsar Bell, the largest bell in the world, at a whopping 202 metric tons! Due to a large chunk of it having cracked and come off, though, it has never been rung.

Farther inside the grounds is a complex of cathedrals, including the Cathedral of Assumption, the oldest and the place where tsars were crowned, the Cathedral of the Archangel, in which forty-six Russian rulers are buried, and the Cathedral of the Annunciation, attached to the quarters of the royal family for their use. Here Alex's commentary on the richly detailed frescoes and engravings was invaluable; without it I would probably not have paid attention to the very interesting depictions of faithful Orthodox Russians going to paradise and the heathen Catholic Europeans being devoured by many-headed fiery monsters.

We also saw a display of royal jewelry and other treasures in the Ivan the Great bell tower. There were flocks of schoolchildren led by guides, and I must admit I tried to (as unobtrusively as possible) listen in on these guides' explanations. It was humbling to realize, however, that although my Russian had undoubtedly improved a lot on the trip - enough that I picked up good information from the guides - my Russian is still light-years behind the average Russian five-year-old's. It's good to have things to reach for though!

Satisfied with our day's trip and looking forward to the visit to the Kremlin's Armory the next day, we went our separate ways after the tour to explore Moscow at the best time of day - dinnertime.

Free Day, Free Thoughts

This past weekend was our last Saturday and Sunday to go exploring in and under the city of Moscow. I began my Sunday with an early morning. Around 8:00 AM, I rolled out of bed and decided to venture  outside of the protected university, ending up at the locally-run cafe.  Inside, I sat down next to an elderly man, who happened to be eating the same apple pastry as myself, though he didn't finish his. Once my breakfast and tea were nothing but crumbs and a soaked tea bag, I found myself walking through the streets around станцая Менделеевская.  On my way back, I discovered a small park across the road from the campus.  A man was feeding pigeons, despite the biting cold, as owners briskly walked their dogs.

I spent my lunch hour with Hannah (Ханна) at the outdoor souvenir marketplace that was off of станцая Партизанская, which was an absolute blast!  I was able to haggle a few prices on fur hats, matrioshka, and tablecloth for my parents. Hannah was also satisfied; she purchased a scarf (or two?) that she had been wanting to buy.  The market consisted of a lot of beautiful buildings and surely hundreds of stands. It was daunting to see so much for sale, especially when the sellers stood in front of their merchandise, trying to call attention to any and every passerby. On another note, it was incredible to see these vendors out in the freezing weather without any gloves on! My hands went numb after trying on hats for five minutes, so I can't imagine what they were feeling standing out there for hours.

After (only) an hour or so of souvenir shopping, I left to meet up with Lisa (Лиза) to go see a Moscow ЦСКА hockey game. I somehow managed to get myself to the correct metro stop, станцая Аэропорт, but once I walked outside, I was completely lost and had no idea how to get myself to the arena. Luckily, the girls I asked directions from were also going to the game, and they invited me to walk with them. They were extremely kind; they asked for my name, where I was from, and why I decided to visit Moscow in the middle of winter.

The day got even better once the game started. Our seats were, quite accidentally on our part, in the visitor section, which happened to be reserved for the Admirals of Владивосток (a city that borders the Pacific Ocean).  The atmosphere of the arena was nothing short of simple bliss and enjoyment; people dressed from head to toe in fan wear, drums played in the background, cheerleaders danced to American and Russian pop music between whistles, and chants of "ХОККЕЙ УРА!" echoed from one side of the rink to the other. It was impossible not to catch the contagious smile that spread across everyone's face.  Our section seemed to be especially animated; as aformentioned, a young man continuously banged on his drum while surrounding fans tailored their chants to his beat.  And twice during the game, a huge flag nearly stretched across the entire visiting section.

Владивосток ended up losing 2-1, though both teams fought it out till the end. Sitting in the visiting section definitely influenced my decision to cheer for their team rather than Moscow's, the team I initially went to root for. Even with the loss, the experience of going to a Russian hockey game was incredible; seeing such a large group of people come together to celebrate the sport of hockey was enough to leave me in a great mood for the rest of day.  Though, something odd occurred after the game ended. Those in the cheering section for the Moscow team (which was almost the entire arena) were let out to leave, but our section had to stay. In fact, a lot of security guards and policemen with their dogs bordered our section off until everyone else had left. It was such a strange experience. Lights were shut off, zambonis had retired, and the arena had been cleaned before we were allowed to leave. Thirty minutes passed until we finally were lead through the exit and out of the arena. Lisa and I were thinking that it was possibly a precaution taken to squelch the opportunity of fights breaking out between fans of the opposing teams. But that seemed unlikely. Who knows! The reasons behind this experience still baffle us.

All in all, this day was a memorable one.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Looking for souvenirs in Moscow?

Saturday, January 11th 

  After a successful first week of class, we finally had a free weekend in Moscow! Because buying souvenirs for friends and family was one of our must-thing-to-dos, most of us decided to go to Moscow’s big outdoor souvenir market in Izmailovo. As we entered into the market after paying 10 rubbles for an entrance fee, we immediately knew that we were in the right place. We could basically find anything that we were looking for: hundreds and thousands of matryoshka, scarfs and shawls, Russian arts and crafts, magnets, and shot glasses…I mean everything! This place was a souvenir heaven.  

Entrance to the market
Matryoshka dolls!
   While we were wandering around the market, one of the sellers approached to us and told us to check out his fur hats. (“девушки, шапки шапки!”) Lured by the beauty and soft furs, I ended up with a hat on my head.  Although the haggling is possible up to 10 percent here, I was a little intimidated by aggressive sellers that I just gave in after my first failed attempt.

Sravanti and I after buying our hats!

Right next to the market, there was also a small but beautiful kremlin and wedding chapel. When we got there, the place was loud with laughter and noise from the wedding. The newly wed couple was posing for a picture in front of the kremlin.

Kremlin (pictures taken by Sravanti) 

Despite the rainy and windy day, we really enjoyed our shopping at Izmailovo outdoor market and were able to get souvenirs for cheapest prices possible!

The Kremlin, round 2

Wednesday, January 15

Today we returned to the Kremlin to explore the many shiny wonders of the Armory. Never before have I seen so much gold in one place. It really drove in how mighty and rich the Russian tsars were as well as the sheer age of the country; some of the oldest pieces were from the 12th century, almost a millennium ago. Unfortunately we were not allowed to take pictures inside.

The first thing we saw when we entered the main foyer was a giant portrait. I was very excited to correctly identify him as Peter the Great (Peter I). He himself stands large in Russian history, both literally (he was 6' 8'') and figuratively as the man who singlehandedly made Russia a European country as well as a great power.

On the upper floor we saw silverware actually made of silver, icons and their solid-gold covers dripping with jewels, armor, enamel, and more. Highlights included the French dessert Olympic service, a set of dishes gifted to Alexander I by Napoleon which Napoleon then tried but failed to take back during his occupation of Moscow since the two rulers were obviously no longer friends. However the French only got their hands on two plates, severely disappointing Napoleon's wife, and the rest of the collection is proudly displayed in the armory with not a little amount of pride over defeating Napoleon in this arena as well. Another highlight was the display of famous Faberge eggs; several were bigger than my head and included moving parts. 

On the ground floor were clothes, thrones, and carriages. We saw a caftan taller than me, made for a teenaged Peter the Great; Catherine the Great (Catherine II)'s coronation gown; and several robes made of cloth-of-gold and embroidered with Russian river pearls made for various Patriarchs. The carriage room held the oldest carriage in Europe, which belonged to Boris Godunov, as well as several of Empress Elizabeth's elaborately painted carriages. Also on display were the throne of the first Romanov tsar, Mikhail Fyodorovich, as well as the double-throne of Peter I and his mentally-challenged brother Ivan V.

I was thoroughly bedazzled by all the jewels and gold, and it was perhaps a bit of overload of shiny things. But despite my renewed sense of being a mere peasant next to such riches, the tour was really amazing. The exhibits were gorgeous, and our tour guide Alex provided interesting tidbits (served with a healthy dose of sarcasm) that kept us all entertained. Afterwards some of the group headed towards Red Square to see it at night, but I was tired and set off back towards the dorm.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Yaroslavl and Rostov

Monday, January 6 - Tuesday, January 7

Bright and early on the morning after our arrival in Moscow, our jaunty group set off for one of the historic Golden Ring cities, Yaroslavl, located northeast of the capital. The following day, we also visited the smaller historic cities of Rostov and Sergiyev Posad on the way back to Moscow.

(A) Moscow (B) Yaroslavl (C) Rostov (D) Sergiyev Posad

Yaroslavl is best known for its beautiful Russian Orthodox churches, and it was in this city that we had our first chance to admire the gilded icons, bright onion domes, vaulted ceilings, and painted frescos of these buildings, which are invaluable works of art in every right. We were also lucky enough to be in the city on the eve of the Russian Orthodox Christmas.  That night, many of the churches and cathedrals in the city held their Christmas Eve service, which a few members of our group attended.

Church in Yaroslavl

Though at night, the city was illuminated with neon signs for bars and restaurants, and Christmas lights twinkled along eclectic rows of newer European and Russian styled rooftops, Yaroslavl still possessed an air of historic, stately magnificence. The city was named after a Russian prince, Yaroslav the Wise, and was the de facto capital of Russia for a time in the 17th century.  The city's coat of arms is a bear carrying an axe on its shoulder, and the city itself is located on the convergence of the Volga and Kotorosl rivers.

The next day on our journey back to Moscow, we made our first stop at the town of Rostov, often called Rostov Veliky or Rostov the Great, one of the oldest towns within the Golden Ring. There, we explored the area and buildings located inside the kremlin walls, and learned about the history and production of porcelain enamel, for which the city is known.  Works that had started as small quarter-sized religious icons developed into decorative ornaments for bibles, to non-relgious works of art, to jewelry, and then to almost picture-like portraits.

Within the kremlin walls in Rostov

Our last destination before returning to Moscow that day was Sergiyev Posad.  This was probably the favorite part of our two-day excursion outside of Moscow.  We visited a little shop where we learned about the history, evolution, and different styles of the traditional Russian toy, the nested matryoshka dolls.  When the first set of dolls was created, the artist named and painted the outermost doll after a girl named Matryona, and the inner dolls were her younger brothers and sisters.  We were then able to paint and take with us our own little matryoshka dolls.

In Sergiyev Posad, we also visited the Trinity Lavra of St. Serguis, the most important monastery in the Russian Orthodox church. That night, the Lavra was open for Russian Orthodox Christmas.  Many of us were able to witness the Christmas service being held in the Church of the Holy Spirit, but unfortunately, the star strewn, blue-domed Assumption Cathedral was closed that night.

Touring Moscow - Red Squre + Evgeny Onegin 1/8/14

          The trip to Yaroslavl was extremely exhausting yet truly enjoyable. It was thus a necessity to have the next morning free. Most of us started our day having had a good night's rest. This day was our first day really exploring the city of Moscow. Our awesome guide Alex (no but actually he's the coolest guide with rad swag) met us in front of the university and immediately proceeded to educate us of the city's history. Although we mainly stayed inside the van throughout the tour as he spoke through a microphone, we were still able to get off at the popular tourist destinations. This was the case for Red Square / Красная Площадь. As we were dropped off at the gates, the view just galvanized us to explore and take pictures. Here are some of them:

As we continued walking around, Alex pointed out the time and explained how every hour the changing of the guards of the "Tomb of the Unknown Soldier"takes place. We also were able to go to GUM / ГУМ, an extravagant shopping center in Red Square.

After walking around Red Square for a good hour or two, Alex took us to Баганьковское Кладбищe, where we were able to visit the graves of some very famous and influential figures in Russian history and literature such as Anton Chekhov, Boris Yeltsin, and Nikolai Gogol.

Following the cemetery, we all decided it would be best to return to the dormitory to start getting ready for Tchaikovsky's opera of Alexandr Pushkin's Eugene Onegin / Евгений Онегин. Thus, we took one last quick stop at Храм Христа Спасителя (a famous church that also happens to be the same church in which Pussy Riot performed). The guards, unfortunately, did not let us in but we were still able to capture some shots from afar.

At around 7 p.m. we arrived at the Музыкальный театр имени Станиславского (theatre). The opera began, and we all felt extremely lucky to have been given such great seats. This is something we had been looking forward to all day. Not only were the singers fantastic, but the visual was truly extraordinary throughout the performance. The contrasting colors and perfect acoustics made the overall experience.