Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The PowerGoth Girls

So this is apparenlty me. Yay for having internet that doesn't cost me money!

I will get round to writing about Moscow and stuff in more detail, but for now I'm just going to say that I made it to Chicago safely (and they let me in the country with remarkable ease) and it's my birthday! So celebrations will be had.

(A very confused as to the time zone) Sara xx

Friday, December 16, 2005


Moscow is cool.
The cash machine at the Red Square gave me 400 roubles in 10 rouble notes. This was hilarious.
More later!

Coffee is thicker than water...


Saturday, December 10, 2005

Last full day in Krasnoyarsk

Yup, tomorrow it's time to get on a train and head for Moscow... all very exciting, but sad. There are some great people here, and I'm happy to have met them, but leaving them will be strange. Going to Moscow where we don't know any Russians will be strange - we've been so used to bumping into people we know we've felt like locals!
Moscow I'm looking forward to though - Red Square, St Basil's Cathedral, Lenin... and I have already been warned by Mark not to take any parts of Lenin as a souvenir, so I'll bear that in mind. Might be a little tricky to explain at customs anyway.
So, the next time I write I'll probably be in Chicago! That's going to be a long post...
As for now, it's off home to pack for me. Not looking forward to that, my "acquisitive instinct" seems to have got the better of me here... silly rouble being such good value!
So, for the last time, "From Russia with Love"
Sara xx

Coffee is thicker than water...


Thursday, December 08, 2005

It's been a crazy few days...

...what with an unofficial birthday, being arrested and our last day of lectures.
I'll start with my Krasnoyarsk birthday. My real birthday is the 19th December, but by that time I'll be in Chicago (yay!)so the people here decided I needed a Russian birthday too. So during our lessons on Monday, I was surprised to learn that it was my unofficial birthday! It was loads of fun, we had cake and champagne at lunchtime, and hugs from all the Russians and stuff like that. In the evening we went to a Japanese restaurant on the south bank of the river, and ate lots of sushi (with more champagne!) which was really really good. I love sushi, and I think I converted a couple of hte others too :) After that good meal, we went to the pool hall where the Russians met us, and I got flowers and presents and thigs too! Thanks to Uliana for the shapchonka, and Andrei for the rose (don't get jealous Rob, it's normal for girls to get flowers from male friends here!), Julia for the CD and Dasha and co for the candle! Pool was a lot of fun, we taught Julia how to play (and almost won), ate more cake and had beer and generally ran riot in the place. We've been there before, it's fine!
Overall I had a really good day, although I must apologise to Roman for being the worst passenger at directing ever... I was more concerned with talking to Dasha and Olya than telling him where to go, which is fine except that he doesn't know where I live :)
The next day our adventures with the militsia took place. It all began very innocently, as we walked through the underpass by the cinema and stopped for a moment to eat the mince-pies that Marianna had sent us. Unfortunately for us, there were a couple of militsia guys standing down there too, out of the cold, who then came over and asked for our documents. I had mine (smug grin), but the others didn't - Ben had a photocopy, Rach and Sophie handed over their Durham campus cards, while Vicki and Christine decided to run away!  As I had my back to them I didn't see this, but I heard the details later - Christine almost deciding to hide in the slot-machine room, Vicki taking off her hat and pulling down her hood as a kind of "disguise"... good stuff guys.
Anyways, these two guys spent a long time scrutinising my passport and visa, and eventually decided I was missing some kind of stamp. He started writing out reports and things, while the other took Sophie outside (which we were most concerned about) - turns out that he said we could go if we paid a "fine" (read: bribe) of 1000Roubles. Sophie, perhaps too much influenced by our market experiences, tried to haggle, but he was having none of it, so they came back inside and he also started writing out forms. This was amusing. In Russia, people have a given name, a patronymic (derived from their father's name), and a surname. Now in England, we don't have patronymics. The militsia didn't seem to understand this, and were most aggrieved when we didn't tell them what our patronymics were. Eventually we settled on middle names, and that made them happy (despite it being nothing like derived from our fathers' names). One of them also decided he knew what he was talking about, so he kept correcting his friend, and then we had to keep correcting him... I spent a lot of that time trying not to laugh, they were a proper comedy double-act.
After that, some random passer-by started arguing with the militsia, asking how they dared to do this to us, and pointing out that if there were going to be illegal immigrants in Russia, they would not come from the UK. Fair point, I thought, but the coppers were determined - if they weren't going to get money out of us, they would at least waste our time.
Eventually we were put in a Soviet re-painted police jeep things, with our three "witnesses" (people dragged off the street) in the cage thing at the back and then us four English and one other random Russian on the back seat. I ended up sitting on Ben's knee, Rach was on Sophie's - it was exactly the kind of thing that you'd be arrested for in England, and here it was happening after. Oh well, this is Russia after all. After a short detour (I think one of the coppers was buying cigarettes) we got to the police station and waited in the back room with another bunch of people. They all seemed to be Kazakh or Mongolian, and there was one guy happily sleeping as he lay against the wall with a chainsaw at his feet. We stood around for a while, and then I was called over to the desk sergeant person (as I was the only one with documents). "Where is your registration stamp?" he asked. "I don't know," I answered, "Maybe it's in Naushki." This is the border town between Russia and Mongolia, and I think in truth that's where the registration stamp is. We didn't know we had to re-register when we re-entered the country, we'd been told our visa covered all this. Eventually Vera (our foreign students rep) turned up with photocopies of our documents when they still had the stamp, and after a conversation about Siberia and England ("How do you live without ice?" "Warmly!") with some random lawyer type person we were let go. Hurrah. Straight across the road to the nearest cafe!
The following day we were re-registered by the university. This should mean that we can actually leave the country now, which I feel is a bonus. I must just say that even though I texted my mother to say I was arrested, I've heard nothing from her. Maybe I've been disowned <sniff>.
Today was our last day of lectures. Another party! More champagne, cake and snacks, and lots of photos and presents and even certificates to say we studied there successfully. It was sad though, most of our teachers were really good, and since it's Krasnoyarsk's turn to send one to Durham next year we're campaining for our favourites :)
Now it's time to go home, and later we're heading down to Smaik to enjoy the gin and tonic in a can... with our passports in our pockets.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

I was on tv!

It was all a little strange...

I'd been told that it would be on between 8-9am. That was fine, maybe
a little early for my taste but sacrifices could be made for my tv
debut. However, when I emerged just after 8 my haziaika a) was very
surprised to see me that early and b) told me that the piece had been
shown at 7.15. Well. I went back to my room and texted the crew,
saying not to bother getting up because it had been on, when there was
a shout from the kitchen - "It's being repeated!" So I got to watch
myself trundling around Krasnoyarsk and making silly grammatical
mistakes after all. My haziaika found it hilarious, I cringed. But
still, it was an experience.

Now I just need to get a copy...

Follwing from this, we were in lessons yesterday when the Dean came in
and asked to speak to the teacher. Fine, ok. The teacher came back in
and told us that we'd been "invited" to teach at a school on Friday
and that the Dean was quite keen that we did it. Why do we keep
getting volunteered for things? And why did she not ask us herself,
since she came down to find us anyway? So this has been causing much
unhappiness, with people feeling like they should go even though they
don't want to. I, on the other hand, said "Sod that" and so did Ben
and Christine. It's our last (full) weekend in Krasnoyarsk people, we
have things we want to do! I don't like being volunteered for things,
and especially when the person who did the volunteering won't even
tell us herself.... <angry>

But, there's good news too. I have my plane tickets! So I can actually
leave the country all legally and stuff and not have to stow away and
freeze to death in the wheel carriage space. This is a relief to all

Apart from that, we have a busy time until we leave. Tonight we're
going for coffee with Julia (need to leave soon), tomorrow there's
teaching and a goodbye party thing for us at the school, and maybe
ice-skating, and I'm sure there were at least 3 other things we had
pencilled in for tomorrow. Our list includes films, theatre, more
skiing, dinner at Renata's (the Canadian girl), shopping for presents
and vodka, clubbing, general hanging out with Russians, along with
somehow going to uni and doing the work for that too. We need a group
diary. Or a secretary, that'd be good. Send your CVs to...

Well, time for me to be off. I may get chance to write again before we
leave for Moscow, but if not, well, you'll have to wait won't you?

Love to all xx
Coffee is thicker than water...


Thursday, November 24, 2005

Another week done

Since I have a three-day weekend :)
Although I may well make that a four-day weekend, since the teacher we have on a Thursday is... how can I say... not my best friend. In fact, she hates me and I can't say I love her either. <Shrug>
But she doesn't warrant too much space on my blog, so I'll move on...
Everybody needs to cross their fingers for snow! I don't understand how it can be consistently below freezing and yet the snow and ice can still melt... it's not as if they bother to salt the roads or anything here, there are enough car crashes when there's no ice for it to make any difference. And yet it appears that Britain is going to get snow, while ours is "walking away", as the Russians will have it (although only in one direction and only once, which means it's a very specific verb in Russian... silly verbs of motion). But we want to go skiing tomorrow, and for that we need snow. Which isn't forthcoming. 
Wow all I seem to do recently is complain!
More cheerfully, I have a place to live in Montreal, which is exciting. It's a bit of a convoluted chain though, are you ready... Rob's brother Peter did his degree in Montreal, and lived with a guy called Brian (who I have met). Brian is now living with two other guys (who I haven't met), since Pete has moved to Winnipeg. One of these guys is going off on a cruise ship for 4 months, but wants to keep his room. So, I'm going to sublet his room while he's off working on a boat, and when he gets back I should be leaving the country anyways so as not to overstay my "visa". Yay chance and happenstance! Now I just need the Y to love me and want to pay me...
Tonight is going to be another of those weird ones... We were drafted in to talk to the second year English students at uni, as seems to be the norm around here, and they thought that doing a guide to Krasnoyarsk for next year's students would be fun/ a good project to practice their English on. We agreed, but now we need to meet up with them to decide what to put in it. Well, it'll be more informal than that.
The problem is that we attract randoms on a fairly regular basis, which is a little disconcerting, if a big ego boost... last week was a prime example. We were sitting in a cafe, and a woman comes over with a piece of paper, which she asks us to read. So we did. It was an invitation for us to come and talk English (why can I not type that? Keeps coming out as Englsih) in some school, which had been written by her son who had overheard us talking in English last time we were in that cafe but had been too shy to come over. So sweet! But we really don't have enough time to take on another school, so we had to say no. And twice this week we've been welcomed to Siberia by someone who's heard us talking English. Also sweet, but we've been here 3 months now! I do quite like being welcomed though, it's better than being scowled at. (Swearing doesn't bother me, because I don't understand it!)
I really hope FedEx tells me when they're going to send my tickets or they'll end up in the US for a third time... but now it's Thanksgiving and no-one wants to tell me anything... grr.
That's all for now, going to teach some kids how to play hangman or something.
Coffee is thicker than water...


Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Post offices

What is it with Russian post offices? First there were no stamps, then the computer wasn't working. I gave up that day. Then today there was a break just as I was trying to send my parcel (in Russia, as soon as it's time for a break, they're having that break come hell or high water... English girls trying to send parcels are neither of these things and therefore can safely be ignored). Oh and apparently you can't send clothes that aren't new in a parcel... so I lied in my best "confused foreigner" way. <shrug> if you're going to have silly rules, I'm going to break them! Such a rebel. My favourite thing of all, though, was being asked to write the number 9 "normally". Now, my handwriting is by no means perfect, but numbers are generally discernable (ooh good word). Silly Russians.
So having caused a very long queue of Russians to all chant out the price together (cos she said it too quickly and I didn't follow) I no longer need to go back to the post office! This is a cause for celebration. As Vicki said, "I hate the post office... and all who sail in her!" I am aware that the post office is not a boat, but still... it's a good phrase.
Still no news on when my tv debut will be. This is not necessarily a bad thing! Will try to get some copies of it though.
In other news (why do I sound like a newsreader?), Travelocity are rapidly losing my respect. Having sent out my tickets (which I need in less than a month) and had them returned because the Russian courier was far too lazy to do his job and called at the flat only once, leaving no card or any sign that he had ever been there (honestly he may well be a ghost, or a figment of a diseased imagination), I got an email telling me to call a number and give them more info. I duly did this, buying a phone card so I could call the US without bankrupting my haziaika, and then spent a very long time trying to explain to the woman I eventually got through to that I was in RUSSIA, which was why there was a) no state and b) funny names. Then we went through whether Siberia was a country or not (nope, sure isn't) and whether Russia and the Russian Federation was the same thing (yep, they sure are). Eventually I managed to get out of her that my tickets would be re-sent (huzzah!) and that I'd get an email with a tracking number so I could call them again and find out when they'd be delivered (and therefore when to stay at home to sign for them). There was no chance of them being sent without needing a signature (despite the fact that the airline themselves would do that, and have previously).
I don't have that email yet. This is a problem.
Another problem is that the cat died on Friday. She's been around for 15 years, so it was sad.
But, we're going skiing on Friday :) the others went last weekend, but I was too tired :( silly not getting to sleep until 5am! So I'm quite excited about that.
What else... oh yeah, Gulya found out that she could buy my meds without a prescription because she "looked like a normal person". So now might be my chance to stock up on half-price meds! (Half the prescription price that is) as long as I don't get stopped at customs :)
That's all, am off home to eat before yoga. It's quite relaxing, but I don't understand what she's saying so after "close your eyes" I have to keep peeking to check what's going on...
Coffee is thicker than water...


Thursday, November 17, 2005

I'm famous!

Or maybe I will be...
It must be said that filming was the single most surreal thing that's ever happened to me. I never did like being on camera...
To start at the beginning, partway through our lesson with Gulya yesterday we get a knock on the door - it's the  lady from TVK and a cameraman, weilding a very large camera. It's quite an effort to get both him and the camera in the room, and as for the tripod - forget it. Even the correspondent lady (I really wish I remembered her name... it was something typically Russian, Olga or Nadia or something) couldn't squeeze in and had to stay outside in the corridor while we finished our lesson (we were talking about our ideal university... not the most thrilling of subjects, but still...). Christine put in a valuable comment - in her ideal university, everyone would be "well dressed". Following on from her earlier comment about her ideal school being only for beautiful children, this caused general merriment. Except to the cameraman, who was busy filming Sophie's dictionary and then Vicki's water bottle.
Then the class was over, and we were told to go and wait by the dean's office while they interviewed Gulya about us. She wasn't expecting that! When she came down to see us just after, she was very excited/embarrassed/confused, all in one go. Which is how I spent most of the day too. We were then filmed walking out of the university, the cameraman running about here there and everywhere to get a perfect shot (and managing to avoid falling on the ice as he did so... impressive). Then came the first interview... Ben and myself were collared to stand in teh snow and answer questions from the correspondent. Ben's went fine, he answered really well. I didn't understand the question and had to get her to ask it again in English. Whoops! Not the most inspiring of first impressions. Then Sophie was asked a few things, and we moved off to the little shop by the bus stop where we had to buy things. I'm not sure why this was of especial importance, and the shop staff looked just as bemused as we felt, but I can at least by things in Russian now so that was ok.
Back outside the shop, and we were asked many random questions about it - did we have such shops in England, did we like the range of food and things in them, what was our favourite thing to buy, etc etc etc. Max and Andrei turned up partway through, and were busy giving their own answers in English, which was amusing. Then we all got on the bus and I was interviewed about buses. Now anyone who's ever been on a Russian bus may well be thinking, "How did you manage that?" as there's usually not enough room to breathe let alone have a huge camera and be interviewed. The answer is that this was the start of the route, and it was therefore empty until we got a few stops further on. Then it got very busy very fast, and we got off the bus (to the relief of hte passengers, the conductor, and also the rest of the Kras crew (as I'm affectionately calling my fellow students here) whose part in the filming was now over). We piled into the TVK Lada (oh yes, I missed those Ladas) and drove back to my building, where there was more filming of me walking up to hte door and stuff like that. I felt like a film star! Except that I was walking through the snow in Krasnoyarsk, rather than along a beach in the Bahamas or something.
Once actually at the flat (on the way up I was asked my opinion of Russian lifts) an unsuspecting Nadia opened the door and was a little surprised to see my accompanied by TV people. But she soon recovered (she had been expecting it after all) and we all piled inside, taking off shoes as is expected (somehow it struck me as odd to have this cameraman darting around the flat in his socks). Then I had to do a guided tour of the flat, pointing out which was my room and anything of interest in it. There wasn't much! I got as far as showing my Russian books, and the foldout bed, saying that this was unusual in England. It was a blatant lie, we DO have foldout beds in England, but they seemed satisfied. 
After that they were busy filming me with photos of home and some Russian music (my Brothers Grimm album saved the day!), panicking when the cameraman knocked over a flowerpot with all his prancing about, and then making Nadia come and invite me to drink tea in the kitchen. I was about ready for a cup of tea then, if not something stronger, so I willingly acquiesced (I've just read Jane Austen's Persuasion, can you tell?). After that I was thrown out of the kitchen while they interviewed Nadia about me (hahah) and I stood in my room, still wired up to the microphone, sipping hot tea and feeling more than a little bemused. It was nearly over though - after Nadia's interview I had to "look wistfully out of the window at the snow and look like I was missing my family" and in truth I think Amy would have found it hilarious. After a few more fumbled answers on the differences of life here and in Britain they were gone, and my last task was to wave at them out of the window. Quite a trite ending, I think (I have no idea what trite means, but it sounds good here).
After all that excitement, playing pool that night with the Kras crew and the Russians was quite a relief. As was the beer.
Before I go, I should just add that I potted four balls in a row last night. This has never happened before, and I feel it should be mentioned for posterity.
When I see the piece broadcast (which may or may not be some point next week), I'll let you know. For now, though, it's off to teach.

Coffee is thicker than water...


Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Russia really gets me sometimes

Strange things keep happening. Usually it's fairly low key, but today seems to be the day of annoying Sara.
Why is it that I can't seem to send letters from a post office? I tried 2 different ones today - the first didn't have stamps. Yes, that's right, the main post office in the centre of town did not have stamps. Hmm. The second one I'm not sure what happened. She said there were stamps, but then she took my letters and my money and didn't give me any stamps, or put them on my letters. Instead the last I saw of them they were just sitting on the desk, with her writing numbers in the corner of the envelopes. At that point I was holding up the scrum of Russians who wanted to send letters to the Ukraine (and already had stamps, I don't know where from) and complain about the cost. So I left. People may or may not get their letters by March. Sorry.
Also, persuaded my haziaika Olga to phone FedEx in Moscow to organise where my plane tickets (at least that's what I think they are) will be sent. I got an email from them asking me to confirm my addess over the phone, and I did try, but when I called once the office was closed (silly time difference) and teh next time I just got the information line for Krasnoyarsk. How I don't know, but I did. So I gave up, and asked Olga if she'd do it. No problem... today she phoned them, and started to look concerned about 20seconds into the call. This is never a good sign. It's quite hard to worry a Russian. Then she phoned another couple of numbers, each time explaining what was going on. Apparently the tickets were delivered just fine, Rob had put my address in teh system flawlessly. However, they sat in Moscow for a week before someone noticed that they were for Krasnoyarsk, which is always fun, and then the courier here decided that plane tickets are not important and only called round with them once before sending them back to Moscow. Why he didn't a) leave a note saying he'd called and there was no-one home, b) try more than once, c) get a neighbour to sign for them, d) leave them in the post box (which is padlocked) or any number of other things that you'd think would be possible in Russia given the lax state of things here I don't know, but they're now either in or on their way back to Moscow. They may even be on their way back to Travelocity in the States, I'm not sure. There's yet another number to be called tomorrow, so we'll see what that says...
The other excitement of the day relates to a passing comment I made much earlier about possibly being on TV. I thought I'd misunderstood, but apparently not - I had a phone call today from the TV lady asking me if I was free on Wednesday from 2 till 5pm... all a bit odd. Apparently it's not just me - they'll be in the last part of our lesson with Gulya, so all the Kras crew and our favourite diminutive Russian will be on TVK at some point! I'm still not sure what they're going to want to do... I think just follow me around and try to get me to talk Russian. Good luck with that, I say!
More when I'm famous!
Sara xx

Coffee is thicker than water...


Monday, November 14, 2005

The weekend of frantic busyness

This weekend (or in fact week) has been pretty crazy. Friday involved shopping (well really, it has to be done) and after much deliberation a trip to Gagarin, one of hte clubs here in Krasnoyarsk. This should have been a simple matter, however nothing in Russia is simple. Allow me to explain. "If we get there before 12, it'll be free for girls. Otherwise it's 300roubles". Excellent, it's now 10.30 and we're on our way. "OK, stay quiet and walk in with a Russian, in pairs so the bouncer doesn't think we're a group and tries to charge us anyway". Ok, no problem, we lurk around the corner in pairs and go in at intervals. I go in with Julia, who's very cool (and also complimented my Russian - it's amazing what a little Dutch courage does for your language!). She walks past the bouncer without a problem, I (dutifully staying silent and affecting the Russian bored look which I've practiced on buses) get stopped by an arm that almost clotheslines me. Julia asks why, the bouncer doesn't answer but it's clear he thinks I should buy a ticket. We both go outside to wait for Ulyana. She arrives, Julia (sadly) leaves, we try again. Same result - Ulyana walks in, I get stopped. I throw caution to the wind, and ask the guy what I need to do to get in. He answers "Buy a ticket." (Well, makes sense, but I was angry). I shake my head, storm off down the stairs, buy a ticket, come back up and practically throw it at him (not quite cos he's a big guy and I don't want to get beaten up) and then he has the cheek to want to inspect my bag. I don't have a bag - just a kind of purse on long string (sounds weird, looks good). I summon all the venom I can and muttering "What can I possibly have in my bag, blah blah blah" and give the dirtiest look I've ever managed. I was proud of it. He seemed immune.
After that it was a good night though, despite the strippers. Apparently they're a normal part of club life here, who knew?
Saturday was another of those surreal days. We went to the dacha owned by our boss at the language school. It was amazing, log fires and the biggest kebabs I've ever seen! Too much food, as is traditional, wine, tea etc... and playing in the snow with 2-month-old puppies. So cute! We got very high-pitched and girly over them, so Ben got jealous and tried to pelt everyone (and the dogs) with snowballs. Hmm.
We've just been to see Swan Lake, possibly the most beautiful thing ever, although now I want to be a ballerina. This is not a good thing, as I possibly have the least style and grace of any aspiring ballerina ever... those of you who've seen me after a few know exactly what I mean!
Well, should be off now, uni tomorrow and then more teaching... not actually had time to do any of the homework yet, could be a late night!
Sara xx
Coffee is thicker than water...


Friday, November 11, 2005

We're just too busy

Who would have thought that such a simple thing as being English would get you such a social life? We just keep getting adopted by various Russians who want to entertain us!
The concert thing on Monday that we got volunteered for was hilarious. It was more like a talent show than a concert, with some guy on the balalaika and the (really intensely questioning) twins demonstrating some gymnastics... and then us doing a campfire-type skit along the lines of "If I were not in Krasnoyarsk, I would be..." and then having different professions - with actions! I was in the precarious position of having Christine swinging her arm over my head (and often forgetting to stop when the rest of us did, with the result that I was smacked in the face) on one side, and Ben pretending to be a footballer and taking a penalty kick over my head on the other side while I ducked and tried desperately not to get a kick in the face in front of about 150 people. Exciting! But afterwards we all went to a place called smaik (cmauk, if I could persuade the Russian keyboard to actually type in Cyrillic) which is cheap and has lots of skis in it, bizarrely, where we met up with a load of hte first years who'd also been in the show and who came over and were generaly rowdy with us for a while. Then they were heading off to a club, but we arranged to go out on Friday (tonight) instead. Whether any of them will actually turn up tonight remains to be seen, but it'll be fun anyways!
Then tomorrow the head of the language school we're teaching at wants to take us all to her dacha, which will be very cool although she does want to leave at about 10am, which after a Russian club might be interesting. Maybe we just won't sleep. After that, also on Saturday, there's some kind of weird party thing at the museum (I don't really understand either) where someone called Vika will be with her American friend who wants to meet us so that he can speak English, as he says he never gets to do that here. Sunday we have tickets for Swan Lake (oh yes, I'm so excited!) which cost us all of 150R (about GBP3) - bargain! And then it's Monday again, and we're supposed to have done some work at some point...
So it's all a little crazy here at the moment. Only a month left now until we leave Krasnoyarsk (sob) and head over to Moscow for a few days, and then I get to go to Chicago and see my boy! Which is also very exciting. Whew.
But then again, being busy is good. Although we never do seem to have time to do anything, because we're always doing other stuff!
I'll stop now, time to go and meet the others and have a look for presents for people...
Sara xx

Coffee is thicker than water...


Tuesday, November 08, 2005

I wish I could understand the news here. We learned about the madness in France only by chance, when a teacher mentioned it to us when we were talking about our future plans for the year abroad.
The film "9 Rota" was excellent, although very very sad. Sorry to all those who got texts saying confusing things like "That was awful... but brilliant" cos that doesn't make any sense... Truly well filmed, and just amazing (but heart-wrenching). Needless to say, I'm going to buy it and inflict it on all of you too :) (there are versions with English subtitles out there, so that won't be an excuse!)
Just read this on the BBC website - "The [US] Senate has passed legislation banning torture, but the Bush administration is seeking an exemption for the CIA spy agency." This scares me quite a lot.
And now, having caught up on the news thanks to the BBC, I'm off to write letters and drink coffee while waiting to go and see the opera (yes aren't we posh?!) "Evgeny Onegin". It's an epic poem by Pushking, turned into an opera by Tchaikovsky. So now you know.

Coffee is thicker than water...


Friday, November 04, 2005

Abhorrent Villager-Abducting Terror Addicted to Rage
Snatching Abomination from the Ruined Abbey

It's cold here now

It's finally becoming more like the Siberia I was expecting! Apparently it's about -10C today, which isn't bad for the 3rd of November. The town looks a lot prettier in the snow!
Apparently when it gets really cold we get steam from the Yenisei. I found this hard to believe, but it's all scientific (probably why I didn't understand it). <Puts on white coat and intelligent-sounding voice> You see, the Yenisei doesn't freeze due to the fact that there's hydro-electric dams on it which keeps the temperature up (cos trying to get electricity from ice is a little hard). So, when the temperature around the river is much lower than the temperature of the river, you get steam all over the city. Sophie described it was being like a city-sized banya! I don't think it's going to be that warm Sophie, but...
This is a sad story. The lift wasn't working one morning so I walked down the stairs and found a tiny puppy cowering in the corner. There was a piece of cardboard and a bowl of something there too, so I assume he wasn't completely abandoned, but he just looked so sad and pathetic... I picked him up and stroked him a bit, and he seemed happier, but when I put him down he couldn't even stand up and just fell over and then lay and stared at the wall again. It was like he was trying not to be there. I had to go to uni and couldn't take him with me, but I made up my mind that if he was still there when I got home something was going to have to happen. But he wasn't, and I haven't seen him since. I hope that means that he was taken in by whoever owned him, but I can't be sure. I really hope he's ok though.
What else? Oh yes, it turns out that I had understood the woman from the TV station correctly. She phoned my haziaika to check it was ok (or something) and so I was greeted at home by her being all excited and me trying to follow what was happening (as is usual). When she'd calmed down a bit, I managed to understand that she'd been called by the TV person, and that something involving me being on TV was definitely going to happen. She said something about "after the 19th", so as soon as I know more I'll post it!
Going to see the film "9 Rota" (9th Company) today. It's THE Russian film of the moment, and it starts in Krasnoyarsk! The rest of the group have already seen it, but I was ill :( so Sophie and Christine said they'd watch it again at the cinema so I could get the full effect... Ben was confused, since both he and Christine (and possibly Sophie) have the DVD with English subtitles, but the girls were adamant that I needed to see it at the cinema. It's supposed to be really sad, everyone I know who's seen it (ie everyone) has said they cried. Boys too. Maybe I should go and stock up on tissues.
If it's good, I'll buy it too and then I can inflict it on everyone, hahaha!
That's all for now, hope everyone is good etc etc xx

Coffee is thicker than water...


Tuesday, November 01, 2005


Yes I know I've been excited about it before, but now there's actually more of it. Although as I'm typing, it seems to have turned to just cold rain. Boo. However, the presence of the fabled white stuff was enough to prompt Sophie and Ben to start a snowball fight, much to the consternation/complete bafflement of the Russians.
For all those that got my text yesterday saying something along the lines of "I've accidentally become a teacher", it's true. Scary. Here's the story:
Way back in those days when Mongolia was still a dream to us, we met (or were hunted out by) a girl in our department who teaches English at a language school in town. She asked us if we wanted some work (paid of course) to which we replied with a resounding yes, us being poor students and all. She re-found us yesterday after our long absence, and asked whether we'd like to see the school after our lessons at uni. Sure, why not - we're gonna be working there after all. So off we trundled, sat and had tea and biscuits etc, all very civilised. And then came the question none of us had expected. "So do you want to start teaching today?" Erm... we had no lesson plans, no idea what to expect. But since we thought we'd just be helping out, we thought why not? Ben and I soon found out why not. While the others were led away by teachers to just help out, we were led to a classroom by the girl, who said to the class "Here are your teachers. Speak English." - and left us to it with the advice "Just talk to them". Right. They're twelve years old, slightly mutinous in the way that kids are when there are new and untested teachers, and we didn't have a clue what we were doing. It was scary!
But having exhausted the usual introductory things we had the brainwave of talking about animal noises. It may sound crazy, but I'd really enjoyed it when we did it in uni, so off we went. "What noise does a dog make in Russia?". The answer came, a little confusedly to be sure - "She goes gav gav." "Well in England, it says woof woof." Much hilarity ensued - "What says...", "What says ...". Success!
Next time I'll need to be a little more prepared though.
The next lesson (we were feeling confident by now, so stayed for another) was with older kids, 14-15 kind of age. We split them up and chatted to them about allsorts. There were lots of questions, mostly loaded ones which I had to be careful about answering! Two of my group kept bickering and I know I should have stopped it, but it was far too funny. "You not pretty girl." "Shame on you! You donkey." and so on.
Explaining to my haziaika that I'd become a teacher accidentally was equally amusing. She's a teacher too, so she was very enthusiastic, but she couldn't quite believe that I didn't know I was going to teach until 30 seconds before-hand! She kept saying "But you need to prepare!" Yes, yes I did, but that wasn't an option!
Another very strange thing happened to me today. We were sitting waiting for a class, and in came the teacher with someone else. We're kind of used to being shown off as attractions now, so we took no notice. But, when Elena Vladimirovna left the room, she began to talk to us, and although it was in rapid Russian I think she said something along these lines: "I work for the TV company TVK and I want to make a documentary about the university life of foreign students. How do you fancy being in it?" Now this was strange enough, there's lots of foreign students about including some Canadians who've been here since January and therefore speak much better Russian than we do. However, she then turned to me and said directly to me, "Sara, can I have your mobile number and house phone number, and we can arrange when to meet up and do this recording." How she knew my name is still a mystery, not just to me but also to the rest of the group.
So it appears that I might end up on Russian TV. How weird is that?!
I'm slightly dazed by all this.
Thanks to Amy for saying I'd make a good teacher though, that gave me a warm fuzzy feeling inside! (A warm fuzzy is a good thing. It looks kind of like a fluffy ball when seen in its natural environment, and likes to make people feel good. That's for those who don't know already, which you all should.)
Well, that's about it for now. I was going to write more about Mongolia, but I've got caught up in the moment and can't really remember anything of note without photographs here to help. Bad memory.

coffee is thicker than water...


Friday, October 28, 2005

Whew that was a long email yesterday. And I didn't get through half of
what we did...

Currently I have so much to do and I'm a little scared. Trying to sort
out Canadian visas seems to be the main thing (it says I can apply in
"the country where I was legally admitted" - does that mean I can
apply at the embassy in Moscow, or do I have to send all my stuff to
London? Answers on a postcard please... or actually by email or by
comment, since postcards wouldn't reach me in time). Yes I know I
should have sorted this all out already, and really if the worst comes
to the worst I can still go and sit in on university classes without a
problem until my money runs out. This is just to see if I can get
paid, which would be nice. The YMCA in Montreal has a language school,
so I've emailed them to see if I could help out there. I've also said
I can work in the centres themselves if there's work going there. Hope
I didn't sound too desperate (although I am by now!)

On a more relaxing note... nope I don't have one. I'm trying to
negotiate the perils of the Russian postal system to send people
letters and things, but I don't think I'm in the correct state of mind
today (or ever, really, but I'm going to try very soon).

I would like to still be in Mongolia and not worrying about these things!

We're going to book the train to Moscow in December soon too (Monday?)
so Fi, if you can't have us all staying now's the time to let us know!

On the plus side, it's supposed to snow soon. I'm sceptical. I also
just spelt sceptical with a k, silly American spelling taking over!

Right, I'm going to find out what's going on in the world and stop
typing random crap. You can all breathe a sigh of relief.

(Rob, thanks for calling this morning - that made me happy)


Coffee is thicker than water...


Thursday, October 27, 2005

So today is really really warm. Why is it that in the middle of Siberia at the end of October it's still +14C outside? Yet it's snowing in Moscow and Petersburg and pretty much everywhere else too. I'm understandably confused.
On the other hand, traveling in good weather is always good. Except in Irkutsk, where it decided to rain as though it were trying to turn the entire city into Lake Baikal's younger sister. Boo. But, we managed to get a Mongolian visa which was all important (and looks very pretty in my passport, which is also important). And also went to Lake Baikal, which was immense. It was like the sea, but drinkable! Unfortunately it was sleeting there when we went, so there was a lot of hurrying from place to place and much eating of smoked ommel (the native fish of Baikal). Mmmm smoked fish. It was good, except that we bought a lot of it and then had it for the next four meals. There's only so much I can take!
Accompanying us to Baikal was a crazy Russian by the name of Julia, who worked in the hostel we stayed in (the Downtown Hostel - much recommended). As seems to be the habit with us when we go to pretty places, we found the steepest hill we could and climbed it (it was like Divnogorsk all over again!). It was fun though, and we all dutifully dipped our hands into the lake. It's supposed to add a year to your life, and swimming is supposed to add 25 years (as long as it doesn't kill you instantly!). Needless to say, on a sleety day none of us were that brave (although Sophie and Christine drank some, to check it was actually fresh, and they're still living, which is a bonus I feel).
Most of this day I was very hungover, due to an unfortunate incident with an Australian and some (read: lots of) vodka... word of warning - when trying to drink vodka Russian style, don't try to outdo the crazy drunken Aussie. And remember that vodka waits for a while before hitting you. It was an interesting night, during which I got very well acquainted with the hostel's bathroom. Sorry to everyone. <hangs head in shame>
But, the fresh air of Baikal cured me and we were ready to continue our journey to Mongolia. This part of the journey was done second class, as there were no third class carriages across the border. You'll have to look at pictures (which I'll post some of when I get to somewhere that's not charging me money) to understand what they were like! But it was lots of fun, chatting with random Russians, Mongolians and the ubiquitous backpackers.
Border crossings are a nightmare. Why does it take 7 hours to check our passports twice? This is a question that can only be answered by the border guards, and they were too scary to ask. So I didn't.
We finally arrived at Ulaan Bataar (say it in a Scottish accent, and that's how it's pronounced, bizarrely enough) bright and early in the morning and were met by the guy from the hostel. Wasn't that nice of him? This hostel also deserves mention - the UB Guesthouse (which is mentioned in the Lonely Planet guides) and is a very friendly and helpful place. They organised our trip to Terelj, where we stayed in a ger and rode horses and drank mare's milk (nicer than it sounds!), and where it was so silent... I've never been somewhere that quiet before. No cars, no planes, no hustle and bustle of the city... it was amazing. Again, I'll post photos asap.
Mongolia is a strange country - it's kind of a cross between Russia, with the Soviet buildings still very much in evidence, and Asia, with the Buddhist monastery that sits right in the centre of the capital.
(Sorry to break this off here, but I need to get moving and will be back tomorrow anyway to write more. The combination of random game noises and a scary sounding Russian film is very distracting! And I'm still being charged by traffic as well as by time :( despite this being a different place. I'm also bored now.)
Sara xx

Coffee is thicker than water...


Wednesday, October 26, 2005

I'm back!

Mongolia was great fun, not least because we managed to actually get there...

But I can't say much now, it's Sophie's birthday and we've just been
to the banya (so much fun, feel so clean) - so I need to get home and
eat, so I can go out and drink beer later :)

More soon (probably tomorrow)

Sara xx

Coffee is thicker than water...


Tuesday, October 11, 2005


It tried to snow today. It was a bit of a feeble effort, but at least it tried. Hopefully this means there will be snow at Irkutsk/Lake Baikal, as it's supposed to be colder there <shrug> because that would make for good photos! And snow on the Mongolian steppe would be pretty cool too...
Everyone is now in a last-minute buying-warm-stuff frenzy. I feel quite smug, since I have all mine already. :)
That's all for now, we're off to Rachel's to sort out all the communal stuff we're taking. Excitement!
Love you all xx

Coffee is thicker than water...


Monday, October 10, 2005

We're going to Irkutsk!

It's only just sinking in really, despite having had the train tickets for a while. And Rachel is now coming to Mongolia (if we manage it) too! She wasn't going to, but her mum told her not to be silly :) well done Rachel's mum.
My Dad's comment on Mongolia was that when he was at school, it was as far away as the moon! And still is... that made me giggle.
So at some ridiculous time of night we're going to be on a train, possibly quite drunk after being in Che Guevara (the crazy Cuba style bar thing right by the train station).
I have nothing else of interest to say...
Oooh excitement! Just found Liz online (or she found me)! This is exciting stuff, mostly because I'm usually too lazy to sign into any of the chat things... and when I do there's no-one here... thanks guys, you've made my day!
Coffee is thicker than water...


Saturday, October 08, 2005

Let's see if this will work...

I'm back! Although it's taken me many days to get here (kept being lazy and not wanting to deal with silly internet things).
So I left off last time at Nadia's birthday. It was surreal (which is my favourite word at the moment to describe all things Russian) - sitting in a school playground, drinking lots and lots of beer with lots of people I didn't know, and being told in no uncertain terms that "drem end bess is best music!". Ok, I quite like a good bit of drum and bass, but not from an MP3 player phone...
We also went to the ballet, Romeo and Juliet, which we bought tickets for way back in the first couple of weeks here. It was amazing! Prokofiev's music, and (so we were told) a new choreography which had all the classical ballet movements but also a lot of more contemporary stuff going on (stamping around and so on - not what I'd thought of as ballet, but worked really well!). And the costumes were beautiful - I particularly liked Tybalt in his red and black stuff showing that he's bad (oh colour symbolism, what would we do without you?). All in all, a lot of fun and only four pounds! More please!
And then there was Divnogorsk... it was an adventure (that's the only real way to describe it). Basically it's a dam, and supposed to be quite something to see. Uliana, one of our Russian friends, said that her friend had been able to walk right up to it and even on top of it, which sounded very exciting, so us students (minus Vicki, who was shopping for a dublonka - big furry coat) plus Uliana and one of the four Maxes that I know now, set off one sunny Saturday morning to go and see it. Started off just fine - bus there, got us to the village of Divnogorsk. Good. Got to the dam in taxis, one of which had a broken windscreen. Not so good, but made it. So we walk up to the guard in his officey type thing, to be told that we couldn't go any closer and hadn't been allowed to for 6 years. Ah. So while Max pleaded with him, telling him that we'd come all the way from England and really wanted to see the dam, Uliana phoned her friend to find out how she'd managed. Turns out that when she visited, there was no-one in the guard hut and she'd just walked straight through. Obviously that wasn't going to work for us, and Max gave up arguing with the (rather amused) official (who had a gun, so the arguing wasn't too serious anyway) and we went to play on the beach for a while. It was cold.
Looking at the hills next to the dam, we could make out a road up the hillside from where (according to a fisherman standing on the beach looking a bit forlorn) we would be able to see over the dam and into the reservoir behind. So we set out to do that... the bottom of the road was in another fenced-off area, with another guard who wouldn't let us through. We decided to walk around the fenced bit until the fence ran out (it wasn't all built yet) and then follow the road from there, but the sentry got a bit anxious and told us that even though there wasn't a fence higher up we would still be trespassing. Since he also had a gun, and I didn't really fancy being arrested in the middle of Siberia, we didn't argue that point. Then Max remembered that it wasn't this road the fisherman had meant at all, but one higher up the hillside. The quickest way to get to this road, however, was not to walk 2k back down the road we were on, but straight up the hillside. So, being slightly crazy and more than a little desperate to see this reservoir (I don't know why either, I've seen plenty in my little lifetime) straight up the hill we went (watched by the now very amused sentry)... it was a scree slope. And more than a little steep. I'm still impressed that Sophie managed all this in heels - a true Russian effort, well done!
Having slipped and scrambled and used trees to get to the top of this hill, we found the promised road (and a good job too!). And a sign that said we were in a forbidden area. Hmm. But, we hadn't come here for nothing, and seeing nothing official-looking around, we walked up the road. Eventually we got high enough to see over the dam and into the reservoir (or sea, as we called it) and it was pretty.
But the adventure was not over yet, oh no! (Sorry, this is turning into a bit of an epic). Once we were safely back down the hill (following the road this time - I've come to the opinion that roads are much underrated), we got to the bus stop to take us back to Divnogorsk only to be told that there were no buses (or something). This might have seemed a problem, but in Russia every car's a taxi! Just hold out your hand and wave till one stops. And one did stop. It was possibly the smallest car I've seen in Russia, a little Peugeot type thing. There were 7 of us, so we were prepared to flag down another car too, but the driver was quite insistent that we would all fit. It was the most interesting car journey I think I've ever had! But we got back to the village safe and just a little squashed, so that was ok too. And finally in this epic day, we went into the kassa to buy tickets for the bus journey back to Krasnoyarsk, but were followed in by some guy who had a 7-seater minivan thing and wanted to drive us home for the same price as the bus, with a bonus stop at a viewpoint! So we did that too... The viewpoint was cool, there were amazing views over the Yenisei and the mountains (as you might expect), and also lots of ribbons tied to trees. But we knew why! Having listened in Gulya's lessons, we had learned that couples about to get married went to that viewpoint and tied ribbons to trees as a sign of their affection and a good luck wish for their marriage. It was a very pretty sight, kind of like Christmas but less sparkly.
Wow this is long eh!
This week has been quiet by comparison to last week though, we're all psyching ourselves up for train journeys... we leave for Irkutsk on Wednesday, and arrive back on the 25th. Hopefully we'll manage to reach Mongolia, but that depends on whether we can get visas. If not, we'll explore round Irkutsk and Lake Baikal (which contains a fifth of all the earth's fresh water - thanks Lonely Planet).
Tonight we're gathering at Ben's place to watch films. Good way to spend a Saturday night I feel!
Speaking of films, there's one out here called "9 Rota" (9th Company) about Russian troops in Afghanistan in 1988. I didn't go to see it because I wasn't feeling too good, but apparently it's amazing and should be watched by everyone. I'll probably buy it (yes, I've seen it on DVD already) and make everyone watch it. Even if it's only in Russian. You have been warned...
Before I go, thanks to Mum for sending me the Trans-Sib guide that I cleverly left at home, and to Dad for his letter :) I like getting things sent to me, and my family gets excited too! And thanks for emails and texts and stuff, I appreciate them even though I'm useless at replying.
Hmm, sorry that last bit sounded like an Oscar speech (although I'll never have the chance to do a real one, so deal with it). I'll try and post again before I go travelling, but if not there'll be a mammoth epic when I get back!
(Oh and there was a woolly rhino in the museum, I think it's awesome and should be genetically engineered back to life)
Sara xx


Wednesday, October 05, 2005

I've finally made it back to the internet cafe! Yay me. Although I think I might be brave soon and branch out to another one, where we don't keep getting different prices for the same thing.

Lessee... rugby match is where I left off last time (not through choice). There was a lot of shouting, as you might expect - many cries of "davai, davai!" which literally means "give" - wasn't sure whether that was telling the players to actually pass the ball, or more in a Canadian "give'er" kind of style. From watching my amazing 6 films on one DVD, I learned that it's the equivalent of the English "go on!". So that's that mystery solved.

There were also cheerleaders, which was a little surreal. They were mostly a distraction from the pitch when the ref and players were having a disagreement - someone would start up the music and they'd run through their routine. Then the argument would still be going on, but the dancers would have run out of dances, so they'd stand there and watch what was happening until another song was put on and they'd start all over again. Amusing.

And of course the important thing was that Krasniy Yar (our team, of course) won! Take that, all you people in Moscow :) . Of course the ref was biased and there were soooo many tackles that even I could tell were illegal (diving on someone at head height, or dragging them down by their shirt)... but we still won. It was exciting.

In other exciting news, we now have train tickets to Irkutsk and back! We need to get there to get visas for Mongolia. If we don't manage that, we can enjoy Lake Baikal. Perfect. We leave on the 12th of October, and get back on the 25th... wish us luck!

What else... oh yeah, it was Nadia's birthday yesterday (my hostess's daughter) which was interesting... there was a lot of beer. I was surprised it wasn't vodka, and secretly kind of glad - given the hangover I have today, if it had been vodka I think I would have been very ill...

It started off all very civilised with a meal (there were prawns! Well I found that exciting) and three 2 litre bottles of beer between 4 of us. Then there was cake (provided by me, cos I'm good like that) and then I ended up going out with Nadia and her friends to drink beer in a school yard.

Yet again I wrote out a huge amount of detail about what we did, and yet again I lost it, this time when saving it... why can the page not be found!? I think I'm just going to write everything out in an email to Rob from now on, and he can post it for me. Sorry everyone, but it's now 6.30, I want to go home and recover from my hangover and I'm annoyed that I've just spent at least half an hour on this only to lose it because Russian computers don't like me.

(Note to self: write about the rest of Nadia's birthday, the ballet and Divnogorsk)

Monday, September 26, 2005

Seems like forever since I used the internet last... still got to work out a better way of doing this. The place where I am at the moment has extremely variable prices - I think it depends on whether they think we're Russian or not. My trick so far has been to say as little as possible in the hope that this will be mistaken for true Russian surliness. It sometimes works.

So let's see, what's happened since last time... ah yes, Stolby. It's soo pretty! For any climbers reading this, it's like Font (but with more broken glass due to the Russian habit of drinking piva - beer - as often as possible. I've seen them on the bus on my way into uni with an open bottle in hand...). For everyone else, it's a huge national park type thing with lots of hills, trees and the stolby themselves (which are huge rocks that are randomly scattered about the place). Surprisingly, I didn't do much climbing! And nothing too technical. I was basically too slow, Ben beat me to it and then the teacher we were with started pleading with us not to do it... and yet she led the way up a different rock later on. Weird.

So anyway, looking out over the Siberian forest from the top of a stolby and seeing all the different coloured trees... autumn literally arrived overnight, so where on Thursday everything was green, on Friday there were so many different shades of yellow etc. Poetic. I don't know what I mean by that.

Saturday we went to a market, which was fun if intimidating... luckily I wasn't looking for anything, but those who were kept getting accosted by the Kazakh stall owners, saying "Please look, girls, try this, try that, why are you going away?!". We managed to escape alive though, although it was a bit close at times! :)

Sunday was the day of work. Sad, I know, but it has to happen sometime! What with grammar and then Gulya on Monday, it's a bit of a tough way to start the week (although most of our grammar lessons so far have been on phonetics - ie how to pronounce these sounds that don't exist in English. I thought I could do them pretty well, but apparently not...). In the evening though we went to see a rugby match - that was so much fun! It cost us a whole 50r to get in (about a pound), and then Ben got stopped by the militsia, which was scary... turns out they just wanted to check whether he had any alcohol in his bag. He didn't, to which the militsia man replied "What, don't you drink in England?!" Ah, if only he knew...

(I wrote out a really detailed description of the rugby match and other things, and then lost it when it wouldn't post despite the fact that I'd saved it as a draft... now I'm too disheartened to write it out again, so maybe next time! Stupid IE!)

Friday, September 23, 2005

Not much has happened since the last time I wrote (unsurprisingly, it being only two days later)... Mongolia still isn't sorted, and won't be until I actually have some money (stupid student loans!)... we're going to a club tonight called Che Guavara (accompanied and escorted by Russians, so that's ok) and then it's off to Stolby tomorrow (Stolby is a national park type thing, that from the photos I've seen looks rather like Fontainebleau in France where the Durham Climbing Club went at Easter... how exciting!)... should be good.

My haziyaika (hostess type person) made pirozhki (pies) at 11 o'clock last night... they were sooo good fresh from the frying pan... Think I might actually head home and eat some more :)

More when I have something interesting to say!

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Sorry my last post was angry... I was just, well, angry. Silly computers.

But, all is still going well here. I am now the proud owner of furry boots! And no, they're not stilettos, I decided to be practical (and stillettos aren't really me anyways). They're not actually needed yet, since the weather has now decided to be chilly in the morning and then really warm in the afternoons... this causes a dilemma, because the university building is freezing! We asked one of our teachers today about heating, and she said that heating in Russia is not like in Britain (or anywhere else on the known planet, for that matter) - instead of each building having its own system, the whole town is on one central heating system... and because it's so warm still, we don't get heating until the bosses in their offices get cold. Boo.

In other, rather more exciting news, we're finally getting trips to Mongolia sorted! We're down to looking for accommodation and finalising train times so we can make sure everything connects and then buy tickets... it's exciting! (But hard work). I could not be a travel rep, it's hard enough trying to make sure I'm where I need to be, never mind 300 other people!

We're also making new friends. The best way to do this (or one that works so far) is to sit in the canteen at uni and talk in English till someone comes over to practise their English with us, at which point we terrify them with our appalling Russian... there's benefits of being put in the foreign languages department (the building does not class as a benefit).

Hope everyone is doing well, I might get around to writing letters (ha!) or more likely postcards to people at some point. Send me your address if you want one, cos then I'll have fewer excuses not to write.

Monday, September 19, 2005

I officially hate Internet Explorer (stupid Russian machines not having anything but!)... I was researching how to leave the country in December (which is looking very expensive to do the way I'd planned... it might be that I travel back via Moscow and London if that's cheaper... as if it's cheaper to go the long way around?) anyway, I was saving all that research in an email as well as writing bits of it down, and then IE crashes my gmail page! I'm angry cos now I'll have to pay lots of roubles and won't have been able to send stuff to Rob so that he can laugh at me for wanting to do things the hard (and expensive) way...

Thursday, September 15, 2005

The plan for the weekend (all 3 days of it, hahah) involves finding the train station tomorrow, so that we can sort out trains to Lake Baikal and Mongolia, and then shopping for warm coats (I have one already) and boots, and other such useful things for the Siberian winter... maybe watching a rugby match if there's one on, and maybe watching the Brothers Grimm since that's out today.

This I tried to write the other day, but it wouldn't let me post for some reason (and my Russian isn't up to explaining computer problems!)

"We now have tickets for the ballet! "Romeo and Juliet" is on for two nights only in the Teatre operi i baleta, and we have tickets for the first night. They cost all of 200r (4 pounds!)

That's the excitement of the day so far.

We also got our passports back yesterday, so we can now start booking travel and things. One of our teachers recommended that we go to Mongolia in October before it gets too cold, so soon it's off to the train station to find out when things can happen...

We also plan to go to Lake Baikal at some point. Most of us want to go there in the snow, but Ben now wants to go swimming. According to the Lonely Planet, if you dip your hands in the water, you add a year to your life, dip your feet in for five extra years and swim for 25... if the shock doesn't kill you first. I think he's crazy, although we have said that we'll break the ice for him and stand by with a flask of brandy.

I think the teachers here have got something wrong. I mean, this is supposed to be a year off right? They keep giving us work! :P Yes Mum, am actually doing it too. Be proud.

Last night was a quiet one (because Sunday wasn't)... stayed in and listened to some of Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" while following it in the Russian copy I bought the other day. It actually works remarkably well - the audiobook is a little bit faster than I can read in Russian, but I can follow it well enough to know when things have been changed or missed out (and that's all that matters!)

Now I'm just putting off going home and doing work... suppose I really should though.

Or I could mention the huge amount of mosquito bites that I've managed to gain. Stupid mosquitos, leave me alone! apparently I'm tasty. Who knew (well except for Amy, who wanted to eat my arm shortly before I left.. and she wonders why I decided to go so far away! :P ).

One more thing before I go (this keyboard is pants) - it costs me to receive calls from abroad, which is not good. So warn me if you're going to call, then I can buy more credit!

More random stuff soon (I should write stuff down as it happens, then type it all out in one go... this relying on my memory thing means that things appear in a really strange order!)"

Maybe it's not a bad thing that it wouldn't let me post.

Monday, September 12, 2005

It's not raining here today! And it's really warm too, about 18/19C. And people told me it was going to be cold... ha! (yes I know it's only September and there's plenty of time yet... but am actually looking forward to buying some furry boots!)

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was just as good in Russian as in English, except for the fact that whoever did the dub for Johnny Depp wasn't as fantastically creepy... Apart from that, everyone knew the story anyway and so could follow it quite easily. Yay for us.

Rob called this morning! :) That made me happy. Although we got cut off partway through and then it kept saying that my number was suspended (apparently) and I can't send him texts any more... will have to work this out. Maybe I need more credit already.

There are lots of Ladas here, it reminds me of my youth :) (for those who don't know, my dad used to have Ladas. They've got good heaters!)

We're probably going to play pool tonight with the Russian lads that have adopted us... we were sitting having a beer at a cafe on the street (a whole 25r - 50p!), and they heard us talking in English and came and joined in... our conversations are in a mixture of Russian and English, so it's good practice! They seem very nice, am a bit wary but there's 6 of us and 2 of them, so we manage well.

Anyway, think I should be off now... coffee to drink! (and some work to do, but have all day tomorrow too. Bought a dictionary yesterday, mine was too heavy to bring! And it was 89r, which I thought was pretty good).

Hope everything is well where you are!

Friday, September 09, 2005

Some generalisations about Russians:

1) They all smoke. Everyone seems very surprised that none of us Durhamites smoke, and with cigarettes costing about 9roubles a packet, it's not hard to see why! Maybe I should take it up just so I can think about how much I'm saving by not smoking in England :)

2) Every woman under 35 wears stillettos. All the time. Apparently that doesn't change when it starts to snow either...

Autumn is much like that in England, it likes to rain. A lot.

It's Christine's birthday today, so we went to the zoo! It was actually quite depressing in places, makes you realise just how good English/North American zoos are. Although I now want a reindeer, because we were feeding one grass and it let us stroke its nose... it was soooo soft! Oooh and possibly a yak, because I've never seen one before and it was like a walking carpet :)

It got cold, so we ate the chocolate cake we bought and then went back into town and straight into the nearest cafe. We're planning on going to a restaurant in a bit, and then to see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory... although it'll be in Russian, so "Charli u Shokoladniy Fabrike"... I'm so excited!

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

I'm here in Russia!

Don't ever fly British Airways, they're useless. Took an hour and a half to check in (at a desk that was checking in for any BA flight), so the vouchers we were given to get food with (because the caterers are on strike) were useless as we had to go straight to the gate for boarding... by the time we got to Moscow we were starving! And then they lost Ben's bag, which still hasn't turned up, so the poor lad is in the same clothes he's been wearing since Sunday...

Need to find a better way of accessing the internet. This place is in a courtyard through a scary alley and I'm not a fan.

Russia itself is odd. The buildings are all exactly like you see on teh news (usually where there's a war going on) - all 60s Soviet buildings that look a little the worse for wear. Getting around is really easy though, buses go everywhere and cost a grand total of 7 roubles per journey. Considering there's 52 roubles to the pound, I think that's pretty bargainous!

The family is nice, although I have great difficulty in communicating... I'm getting about 1 word in every 4 or 5, which is just about enough to get by as long as I don't mind teh looks of patient waiting that cross their faces.

And today we were taught by... Gulya! Yes, the miniature Russian of the first year has... well, not returned axactly, but reappeared in our lives. And I understand her a lot more now than I did then, so that's got to be a good sign.

What else? It's been a crazy few days. Oooh we got our timetables, yay for 2 lessons a day (even if they are an hour and a half each) and Fridays off! And the head of the International dept said that if we want to go travelling, we just have to let her know how many lessons we're going to miss... hehehe. Although Gulya has decided to give us a lot of reading to do, so now I'm regretting not bringing my big fat Russian dictionary (even though I couldn't have carried it)... ah well, time to brave the Russian bookshop!

More when I find out how to get to the internet more often.

Sara xx

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Well, I'm back in England and have been for a week. Can't seem to shake the jet-lag this time (maybe I'm just lazy and like sleeping late, or maybe I'm just living on the "student" timetable which I didn't do whilst at uni). Ah well. Just means that when I actually go to Russia (yay more travelling east) it'll suck some more... boo.

Did nothing at all last week, it was... quite boring actually. So on Saturday we (my mum, my sister and myself) went to the Tate Liverpool to see an exhibition on psychedelia. It made my head hurt in various different ways... my sister said I blended in. The cheek. My hair's not even that bright at the moment! Then today (all this weekend in fact, but we went today) it was the Matthew St Festival, also in Liverpool - lots of free stages round the city, with various bands and things happening. It was pretty good, and the atmosphere was decent - probably because all the pubs were checking ID, although this did mean that we couldn't go and see any of the bands playing in the pubs (Amy's still underage, awww).

So having not been to Liverpool in a very very long time, I've now been there twice in 3 days, and am going back again on Thursday cos Mindy's coming up! Yay! (Mindy was one of my housemates last year - can't believe that went by so fast - and we were each other's worst influences :) so next year isn't going to be the same without her!)

And on Saturday I'm heading down to London, and then it's off to Russia on Sunday... I'm a little scared.

There'll probably be more later this week when I'm discovering that I'm actually going to Russia. It's still not quite real...

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Well I think that's enough photos for one day... how am I going to bore you all with slideshows if I show you all the photos now?! And getting them to arrange nicely is really difficult using this little input box that is designed mostly for text, I think. Anyways, more when I can be bothered!

This is at Ingolf, which is where another branch of the family have their cottages. I spent a long time making "'nakes" for Matthew out of PlayDoh. I love PlayDoh.

Two different views down this lake - one at night as people were leaving, and one the following morning as we set off to find the aliens.

Hey look it's me! Relaxing on an amazingly comfy wooden chair after a hard evening of PlayDoh 'nake making and blueberry pie eating (the pie was real, not PlayDoh... and soooo good!)
More Lake of the Woods... the one on the left is during an amazing thunderstorm (glad I wasn't at camp trying to entertain kids through that one!)

More thunderstorm. You can actually see the rain in this one... it was fierce!

Another pretty sky shot. This is what evenings at the lake are all about.

The cottage itself, I think with Claire and Brian inside.

Looking down from the cottage towards the lake.

Well, it's the arrival of the much-heralded photos... this is taken from the Tulloch family cabin on Lake of the Woods. Isn't it pretty?

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Oh yeah, and if you haven't seen Charlie and the Chocolate Factory yet, you should. It's possibly the best film I've ever seen (although having seen some illegal photos of it from Andy Kirkpatrick when he was giving a talk at Durham Uni, I wasn't quite as impressed with the river as I should have been!)
It's been a long time since I updated, as my Mum is very good at reminding me... I have an excuse though - I've been on an island in the middle of a lake in the Canadian praries. That's a good enough excuse I think!

My last update was on the way to Winnipeg, I believe. In the three weeks since then (has it really been that long?) I've spent a week at Camp Stephens (where I spent the summer of my gap year in 2003 and have been back every year since... so that's only two years, but it really is in the middle of a lake and I feel that's dedication - www.campstephens.com), and then a week out at Rob's family's cabin two islands away. Then came the sad day when we had to head back down to Chicago (well sad for Rob, since it meant he was going back to work). The border crossing this time took all of about 30 seconds, which was a miracle, but a much appreciated one! Eventually, after a 14 hour drive, we arrived back in Naperville where Rob's brother Ian and his significant other Alison were waiting for us. This week has been much chilling out with Ian and Alison (well, for me - Rob's been working), staying in the condo downtown and eating out a lot, so everyone is now feeling fat and poor. Oops.

I'll put some photos up at some point, Rob has a fancy new camera so there's a LOT of photos knocking around. Just not on this computer yet.

Anyways, it's off to drink beer and watch films for me. What a good Friday night.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

So I haven't updated in a lot longer than I meant to... oops. That's because I've been in Chicago (yay!) but staying at Rob's parent's swanky condo (or flat, to the ordinary folks) in "downtown" Chicago, which doesn't have internet access.

Getting over here was a lot easier than I expected. Since I now have a Russian visa in my passport, I was expecting a lot of hassle from the border people (or "Department of Homeland Security", as they're rather pompously known). However, it was really easy - the guy didn't seem to want to talk, so I got through with no problems. Yay me.

So I've spent a few days in sunny Chicago. It's been ridiculously hot, with lots and lots of humidity. Is it really a normal thing to have temperatures of 77 degrees Farenheit (dunno what that is Celsius, I'm not good at converting) at 7 am? Cos I don't like it and think it should be banned. At least when the humidity is 80% (uuurgh sticky!)

But apart from the stickiness, I like Chicago. I spent most of my time there sunbathing in Millennium Park (www.millenniumpark.org), where I got horrifically sunburnt. And then spent a lot of time hiding from the sun in the shade and listening to the orchestra practising for one of their shows (hehehe free live classical music! Very classy).

Now I'm in a hotel in Duluth, Minnesota on the way up to Canada. We could probably have been chilling out at the Lake of the Woods by now, except that Rob cleverly left his passport in Chicago... we only realised when we were about 5 hours away from Chicago, having driven till 2.30am and slept for a few hours before getting back on the road. This was not fun! After a few frantic phone calls, Rob's mum agrees to drive up and meet us halfway with the passport and all-important Green Card... because Mums are amazing. So we met, 2 1/2 hours later, in a place called Madison which didn't seem to be very exciting except that we had lunch. Then it was back on the road, and by 5.30 pm we managed to pass the place where we had turned around seven hours earlier... and people call me dopey at times! Hah!

We've just been out for possibly the best Thai food ever, so now I'm very very full and ready for bed. Ooooh and the exciting thing was that Rob had his ID checked, but I'd left mine in the car (because it was my turn to forget something) and the waiter guy wasn't bothered! This is a rare thing and I was quite impressed.

Well it was exciting for me anyway. I might be 21, but I don't seem to look it. I can deal with that.

This is a long long post eh?

Just a couple more things, and then I'll go to bed. One is Harry Potter - if you haven't read it, do so RIGHT NOW! And if you have, can I just say "Oh my God!" quite a lot? I'm not going to spoil it for anyone, from fear of severe pain and/or death, but seriously - why?

And the other is that I'm going to be out at camp (www.campstephens.com) next week, so no more from me. Ok, no real surprise there, but at least this time you know, right? This camp is where I worked in my gap year, and it has this amazing hold on people... they just keep going back! I love it. Hopefully (and don't tell anyone) I'll be there for the full 4 month period next year, as part of my year abroad... well, lots of the Canadians speak French, I can practice with them!

That's quite enough from me for now. Hope everyone is well etc etc etc, leave me comments!

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Not a particularly recent picture... this was taken at Easter, on a climbing holiday in Fontainebleau, just south of Paris. It's a massive forest, with crazy amazing boulders everywhere, and it's a climber's paradise!

(Photo taken by Mindy Jhittay - thanks)
Hey look I'm updating!

So I spent last Thursday in Edinburgh, which was good. I was up there to get a Russian visa, because Marianna (my Russian tutor at Durham) said that it was easier to get to and more relaxed than the one in London. I'm glad, because we know what happened in London on Thursday. To all those affected, I'm thinking of you. Stay brave.

What else? Erm... I was working at the NorthWest Face Indoor Climbing Centre over the weekend, which was fun. I've worked there for far longer than I care to admit now, I think it's almost six years. Considering I'm only 21, I think that's good going!

And exciting events of the week include getting the deposit back from the house I was living in last year, so that's gone straight in the bank to try and reduce my (scarily large) overdraft. I like getting money back. It's a good feeling. There's also a wedding reception on Saturday (not me... my Mum's cousin and his fiancee), and then I'm off to Chicago on Sunday to see my boy again! Yay!

Ok that's enough for now. I might update again before I leave to see Rob, or I might just leave it till I'm there and bored while he's at work. wait and see!

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Hey look, it's me! My hair isn't like this any more though... at the moment it's partly this colour, but with turquoise (Special Effects Fishbowl, for those who care) strips. Nice.

This was taken at Navy Pier in Chicago, when I was visiting Rob, my boy (http://syrrys.blogspot.com). That was a good day.
Wow my second post... yeah I'm not good at this diary type stuff.

I've spent the past 3 days in Manchester hunting for the Chinese embassy... it's in the middle of Rusholme, in case you need to know. Not in Chinatown, but Rusholme (the Curry Capital of the North-West). So having found it, I still can't get a visa cos that has to be done within three months of the date of travel. Since I aim to be travelling through in December, now is not the time to get a visa. Bah.

I suppose I should explain myself. I'm a languages student at the University of Durham, studying French and Russian. I've just finished my second year, and next year is the fabled year abroad... so I'm off to Russia (Krasnoyarsk in Siberia) in September, with the aim of getting the Trans-Siberian train across Russia, through Mongolia and into China at the end of the placement. Hence my need for visas.

So far the organisation for this is not going well. I never claimed to be organised, but it seems to be expected...

Friday, June 17, 2005

So, my first post... um yeah. Nothing of interest really, just wanted somewhere to keep photos online and since this is supposed to interact with Picasa (which I like) I thought I'd give it a try...

Oh and I don't know why it's decided that it's 6.23AM here, cos it blatantly isn't... I'll keep changing the time and date till it remembers (or I forget, one of the two).