And so begins (and ends) my final week in this grand city of Moscow, Russia. This week was going to be hectic, so hectic, in fact, that I have barely had time to type this out! But, duty calls. And so, ladies and gentlemen, please give a warm welcome to my final hour of glory.
Monday dawned bright and sunny, and altogether far too cheerful for my sleep-deprived mind to comprehend. It was a perfect day to begin my last week here. Because of this, naturally, we did absolutely nothing, basically. After class, we were utterly exhausted, and so contented ourselves with visiting the “posh” grocery we had seen before to buy some much needed peanut butter. I was quite pleased with the trek, because I got to buy some honey crisp apples (my favorite), which are rare here, and then a slice from one of the multitudes of world-renowned Russian cakes.
I have made a vow that on this last week of my stay I shall buy a new cake every day until my departure; it is truly the only way to experience Moscow. After gathering our bags of groceries and returning to the dorm, I rallied myself to go on a walk since I was discontent with remaining idle on my last week. I returned to Kuskovo Estate, camera in hand, as the last time I went there the sunset was so incredibly gorgeous, but I did not have my camera on my person. True to form, the sunset was spectacular. And this time I captured it all on film! It was a perfect ending to a stressful day.
Tuesday popped its head out from behind the morning clouds to reveal that it would be another glorious day, and this time I was prepared. I hopped out of bed disgustingly happy at 8 a.m., completely ready to start the day. Mary and I had decided that today was the day to visit the Tretyakov Gallery. Tretyakov Gallery was originally a privately-owned collection by the late Tretyakov, who was a wealthy Russian and very interested in Russian contemporary art. After his death he donated all of his collection to the public, so now Tretyakov is a state gallery for all of us—most of the paintings from the era of 1800s.
Wednesday I grabbed Mary and YaMila to set off in search of the elusive Elk Island Park and Nature Reserve before then traversing to the souvenir fair once more. Supposedly, the park could be found by traveling to the very end of the red line in Moscow, which is the far northwest of the city. Before we even got halfway there the number of people riding on the metro were dwindling rapidly, and all too soon we were essentially completely alone and riding to a destination we really had no idea about. There was an upside to this, however, in that upon exiting the metro station, we realized that where we live was not, in fact, the most “ghetto” area of the city. This is comforting for us, but quite disconcerting for mankind.
By the time we reached where we were supposed to be, it was already almost 2 p.m., and since the souvenir fair closes around 5:00, we decided that we would just try and find the reserve on Thursday. Defeated, we turned back to the metro and rode the almost hour-long trip back to the stop where the fair could be found. Upon our arrival, we unexpectedly came across some of the others in the program here, who told us that most of the vendors were packing up and shutting down for the day, even though it was only around 3 p.m. by that time. But that did not stop us! Determined to not be out done once more, we charged in and made quick rounds through the remaining stalls and merchandise, buying all we could hold for ourselves and various dear ones back home. With a huge stroke of luck, I managed to buy gifts for nearly everyone in one fell swoop, so that when we return on Thursday I have only a couple more things for some people and myself.
Thursday was spent returning to Izmailovo with YaMila, who was leaving on Friday, so that we could both complete our collection of souvenirs. Because we left after class we only had time for the souvenir fair. This happened to me so much! It really was frustrating. I had literally dozens of places I wanted to visit, but many places closed at 5 or 6, and so by the time class was over and we had boarded the metro it really was too late to do more than one thing. But anyhow, we were successful in our souvenir shopping, and had a fabulous time.
That evening, even though I was supposed to be studying for our final the next day, Mary and I went to YaMila’s room as she finished packing to visit with her before her departure the next morning. Again, very sad to see one of our random foursome leave, but at least I was better prepared for the feeling this time. I intended to only stay until midnight or so, but we ended up goofing around until 2:30 a.m., so I really didn’t get to study much at all. Thank God that I know myself so well, so for the last week I was reviewing cases, uses, conjugations, verbs of motion, and vocabulary every moment when someone wasn’t talking to me or I was alone.
Friday was most bizarre, as it was only Mary and me at breakfast, and I was extremely nervous because I had not studied as much as I wanted.
We woke up early and walked across the street to the “gastronom” (grocery) to buy our professor and student coordinator chocolates as a way of saying thank you for being so kind, helpful and generally awesome. Turns out, the test wasn’t even difficult! There were 54 questions, which although seems to be a fairly large number, was actually much more simple than I thought it would be.
Before we began, my professor pulled me aside and firmly pressed that I take my time, because I was forever rushing and she was afraid that not reviewing each question carefully would result in getting some incorrect that I really knew; she was, of course, correct. I finished the test in about 15 minutes, while Mary and Thijs were still focused intently on the first page.
In order to please my professor, I pretended to continue writing down answers and review each one. After 25 minutes or so, I could wait no longer and finally turned it in. She looked, to put it mildly, skeptical. I, however, felt completely confident that I had done the best I could. The worst part about it is that she grades the papers right in front of you and all your classmates, so if you end up getting many wrong then you just feel like a complete idiot. Not to mention, it creates competition. Luckily, that did not happen (this day, anyway), and I got 50/54 correct—happy day!
Afterward there was graduation for everyone involved in the program, where we received diplomas and small matryoshka (nesting doll) keychains for our efforts. I felt very bereft after saying goodbye to our professor, because not only was she an excellent professor, but was in general a genuinely kind and intelligent person. I will very much miss her and our conversation, even if she didn’t speak English so sometimes it was a struggle!
That evening Mary and I took a trip to the Tsaritsyno Open-Air Museum and Park. Here is just another example of how crazy Moscow is—we exited the metro looking for this huge, stately park, and instead were greeted with dark back alleyways and a very sketchy-looking bridge with seedy people loitering beneath. Naturally, we assumed we had come to the wrong place, but decided we would venture just a bit farther, since we were now experienced with the crazy ways of this huge city.
And indeed, after walking under the bridge, up ahead was clearly the entrance to the park: a tremendous wrought iron gate, with acres and acres of green visible beyond. Admittance to the park was free (hooray!), so we eagerly stepped inside and immediately began snapping photos.
For my last day Moscow had managed gorgeous weather; bright blue skies, warming sun, and slight breezes to lessen the pain of no air conditioning. The scenery was, as expected, lovely, and we spent our time just traversing the many pathways and bridges through the park, gazing at the scenery and enjoying each other’s company. Upon reaching the palace of Catherine the Great we stopped and took a multitude of pictures of each other, which were extremely hilarious, and of the palace itself. It is such a beautiful area that we saw, for lack of a better word, hordes of bridal parties walking around and taking pictures.
I am extremely glad that we were able to visit the park on my last day, because it is how I would like to remember Moscow—bright, green, expansive, varied, and happy.
Saturday, the day of my departure, came all too quickly for my liking. I was awake and finishing packing around 6:30 a.m., since my driver was to pick me up at 7:40 to take me to the airport. I had missed the first few rays of sun that peeked out from the horizon, but the sun was still in the early stages of climbing above the tops of skyscrapers and trees, so I managed to capture a gorgeous photo of that.
Mary awoke to walk me downstairs and said goodbye; nobody else on our floor was around because they had stayed out all night in order to party and watch the sunrise. My driver was there, as promised, and as I hugged Mary goodbye I could feel myself beginning to choke up, even though I had promised myself that I wouldn’t. Exactly at the moment, I was about to get in the car the rest of our group walked up, so I did get to say goodbye to everyone in the end. A couple of them teared up, and soon after I could feel my own defeat in holding back tears, so I hastily said goodbye and hopped into the car where I proceeded to rain silent tears almost the entire hour-long drive to the airport.
Five weeks isn’t a long time, really, in the large scheme of things, but when you have spent almost every waking moment with these new friends you make, traveling to new places, and adjusting yourself to life in another place so entirely different than where you are from, it really is like leaving home. I was reminded of my freshman year of college when my mom had dropped me off, moved me in, and then finally had to leave. I just stood in the doorway to my dormitory hall looking off in the direction she had walked because I was so sad I had absolutely no idea what to do with myself.
And so ends my brief, and extensive, stay in Moscow, Russia…for now! I am hoping to return one day, and because I will be tutoring Russian next year at university, I will retain everything I have learned abroad and will also continue my study of this difficult and fascinating language. I could not be more pleased about how this experience turned out for me, and will never forget the kind, talented and awesome people I met while there. But, don’t go away! I will be back next week with, not adventures, sadly, but some general information of things I have learned about study abroad in general, applying to scholarships for study abroad, travel, Moscow, Moscovites, etc. So stay tuned! до свидания!