First of all, I would like to reflect for just a bit on how it is actually week two. When I originally decided to come here for five weeks I was very unsure of if I really wanted to embark on such a long journey, but now that one week has already passed and there are only four more to go, it seems like a much better decision than it originally did, which is awesome.
Since I contracted that horrid cold on Friday I stayed in the dorm predominantly this weekend and Monday as well. I am finally feeling better, and was once again excited to go out exploring in Moscow.
I had my sights set on riding a boat tour along the Moscow River from a station near us to Kievskaya, which is about an hour to an hour and a half ride. I grabbed Mary and Juan and we set off on our trek around 4 p.m., but when we got there realized we really had no idea how the rides worked, so instead opted to visit the underground mall near Red Square and do some more shopping! Luckily for my bank account, the coverall-type deal I found didn’t fit me very well, so I came away with only the expense of my dinner. (Not bad!) We then sat atop the mall for a couple hours just hanging out, laughing and having a good time. There was also a small adventure with trying to order a McFlurry from McDonalds, but I won’t elaborate since it was pretty embarrassing for me. Instead of saying, “I want what he got,” I’m fairly certain I instead proclaimed, “I want him.” Oops!
The first week of Russian language class was enjoyable, but also sometimes frustrating and always very taxing on the mind. Even though I studied Russian at WKU all last year, we rarely practiced conversational Russian, so I was very slow at understanding native speakers and even slower in formulating responses myself. And since our professor doesn’t really speak English, it was a very hard first couple of days, but I am adjusting quickly!
The class is four hours every day except Wednesdays (that is when we have our culture class), which sounds horrid, but because the classes require 100 percent of our focus, it goes by quickly.
Wednesday we set off on a program-lead excursion to the Kuskovo Estate grounds, where a classical concert was being held. The estate, quite unbeknownst to me, is located not a 10-minute walk from campus and is, as Russians say, “ochen ochen kraseevee” (very very beautiful). The gardens and walkways throughout the buildings of the estate are numerous and decidedly lush and well-tended. It was truly a joy to visit. As for the concert itself, I was more than pleased. Instead of a small set of strings, or even a smallish orchestra as I thought, it consisted of only two people – an organist and the man she was accompanying, who soloed several Spanish pieces and was incredibly, incredibly talented. In that old, preserved ballroom with that soft but somehow still powerful voice around me, I could almost swear that I was temporarily taken into a small heaven-on-earth. Afterwards, a few of us wanted to stay and get some pictures, but were literally chased away by the police. They say to use common sense when in a foreign country and the police will leave you alone, but apparently that doesn’t always apply. We did, however, manage a few hasty pictures as we practically fled the premises, and I definitely intend to return there to visit soon.
Friday was a pretty low key day. The four of us went out downtown again to visit a rather posh grocery that Juan had spied while wandering around one day; the selections were completely amazing. I couldn’t read half of what the stuff was, but it didn’t matter because I just wanted everything. And such a selection of desserts you have never seen! Huge cakes and tortes decorated with bright fondants and powders, delicate chocolate shavings, and delicious fruit and cream tarts. The desserts were endless; and to be honest, that may be the thing I love most about Russia. I can safely say that 97% of my food stock in the dorm are sweets; no shame.
Saturday the group took an excursion to Novodevichy Convent, which was SO beautiful (I feel as though I describe every place we’ve been that way, but it is so true). There were gardens and trees interspersed amongst the buildings, and a quiet, peaceful atmosphere pervaded the entire area; so unlike the clamor of the city. It was definitely profound. We took a tour through the largest monastery there, where frescos (Which were painted on dry plaster, not wet. Very interesting.) were painted on every surface, and huge domes let in natural light to illuminate the gold-gilded walls and decorations. Three czarinas were buried in the building as well, so we got to see that, which was very interesting. But perhaps the most fascinating part of that venture was getting to visit the cemeteries behind the convent. Some of Russia’s richest and well-known were buried there, and the scenery and headstones are incredible. They aren’t normal headstones, all squared and with a solitary quote, but are individualized to fit whatever person lies there; many have statues in their likeness and small gardens with benches by each grave, while some have etched scenes of themselves with loved ones, etc.
Today we finally got around to embarking on a journey to see the Cosmonaut Museum again (this time without my cold accompanying us). Thankfully, we actually found it this time! The Cosmonaut monument was so breathtaking against the afternoon sun, I can’t even describe it. After that we went under the monument, into the memorial museum. We watched a fascinating film about cosmonauts and Russia’s large contribution to space exploration; or at least I assume that’s what it was about—it was in Russian, so I’m really not sure. Some replications include the first Earth Sputnik, the testing ejection containers (and their inhabitants) of satellites, and the first few satellites.
Directly across from the museum was a large amusement park and “house of the Russian people,” which was basically like an outlet mall. Alas, nobody would ride any of the rides at the amusement park with me, so instead we just wandered around for a bit, then ate. Unfortunately, after that it began to rain quite heavily, so we had to trudge all the way back to the metro without an umbrella. We took the metro directly to the underground mall we had visited previously in order to get some sweet treats at the well-loved Russian “Shokoladnitsa” (chocolate) café.
And so ends my second week in Russia. I must end this now, for I have much unfinished homework to complete before class tomorrow (shame on me!). And so, до свидания, until next week!