Paka Russia!

I sailed through check in and passport control in about 15 minutes. The Krasnodar airport is set up so international travelers walk through the domestic area before getting to customs. It’s way nicer in the international waiting area.

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In true Russian form the woman at the customs counter didn’t say a word to me. I told Nibitu I was nervous about handling customs if anything went wrong (not that I expected it to). She told me “look serious and check what they’re doing.” So that’s what I did. And then I felt like a baby badass. Baby steps of awesome.

Outtakes from Russia

Today marks four weeks in Russia. I remarked to Corinne that it’s crazy how fast you get used to something. My brain has just accepted that its really difficult to communicate with most people. Pantomime FTW!

Here are some of the more funny observations I’ve made here:

Driving
-Everyone is a maniac. There really isn’t a way to not be a crazy driver. Cars exist where cars fit. Rules are for suckers.
-No one wears seat belts in the back seat. Most people only wear them in the front seat because their cars beep at them ceaselessly if they don’t.

Bathrooms
-Most toilets in Russia are low flow. I like this.
-BYOTP is a great line of defense against uncertainty.
-Few Russians keep trash cans in their bathrooms. No idea what they do with used q-tips or hair that gathers in the comb.

Dairy
-Milk comes in bags.

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-The standard milk fat is 2.7%.
-I have serious concerns about how to run my life without ready access to cmeltana (Russian sour cream).

Misc
-Every staircase seems a little off. There always seems to be one step at the top or bottom that’s a half step.

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-Americans use “thank you” as a parting comment way more than Russians. I choose to believe most Russians find this quirky and fun rather than annoying and usual.
-I don’t think I’ve seen a single bumper sticker while I’ve been here. It’s just not a thing.

Flying to Istanbul Monday to begin the solo leg of this journey. Eek! I’m scared/excited!

Fly Russia

I had a Russian tell me this week that as much as she liked studying abroad in Canada she could never live in the US or Canada because it’s too boring. The roads are too smooth, the traffic is too orderly and the utilities too predictable.

It would take me a while to get to a point of embracing that level of unknown and unpredictable.

Everything on this trip is of course heightened because it’s a complete crap shoot if someone will speak English. We were told one thing about bag weight and luggage piece limit and we ended up out of regulation. Luckily, your all-star had extra space and weight to help out her teammates. Feel free to tell me I’m awesome.

Everyone in Russia wraps their luggage. Some people do it at home but most people do it at the airport. For 300 rubles per piece (about $10), I’m in the wrong business. They have giant shrink wrapping machines and each bag takes less than a minute.

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The part that most surprised me was the thoughtful and smooth set up of airport security. The space is large and the identification verfication part is a good distance from the scanning machines. When you enter airport security their are several long tables and stacks and stacks of trays. Instead of flinging your things into trays while a bazillion people in line behind you roll their eyes, you sort out all your things and then take your trays to the line. They even provide plastic sock covers. And now, thanks to the circle scanners, airport scanners in three countries have seen me naked. Woot.
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Editor’s note: Nope, we’re not leaving Russia yet. We’re just flying to Rostov-on-Don (about 1200 kilometers) for a Rotary conference this weekend.

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Nouveau Riche

Moscow is nuts. St Petersburg was old and historic. It felt like an older lady with elegant features and worn velvet.

Moscow is just dripping with money. I’ve seen more $150k cars here in three days than in my entire life. Buildings are going up everywhere. The subway is crammed full of people rushing to work.

As a splurge-y treat, we went to the Sixty restaurant for coffee. The restaurant is located on the 62nd floor of a luxury high rise. The prices are, of course, insane. But! It’s the first time I’ve seen Bulleit on the menu in any bar in Russia. Civilization!…for $14 a shot.

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My favorite part of going to really high end bars and restaurants is the design ideas. This restaurant was incredible. I want to live in their bar.

The hilarious part is that we were taken there for the panoramic views. Instead, I took photos of all the furniture and lighting. Hello, Pinterest!

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Hard.

Rachel made an offhand comment in an email earlier this week, “looks like you’re having a great time!” and it struck me that my first instinct wasn’t to agree.

The pictures on Facebook and the updates here show the best parts of this trip. Russia definitely has the capacity to astound you with its natural beauty and overwhelm you with hospitality. Those two things are very real and I continue to be extremely grateful. But that hides the daily, even hourly, difficulties.

It is hard to not be able to read signs, really talk to most people or buy things independently. It’s hard to live in someone else’s home all the time and never be able to fully relax. It’s really effing hard to travel in a group all the time. You will never know someone better than being with them 24/7 for 2+ weeks. We don’t ever know the program until we arrive in each city. That challenge to my process-oriented brain can’t be understated. It’s hard to eat the same food three meals a day, every day. And so much of it! Russians are apparently morally opposed to dry wine, everything here is super sweet (gross). This country is dirty. Everything feels old and half finished. The roads are shit. Don’t even get me started on the bathrooms. I do a lot of self pep talks.

But I think the biggest challenge of all is the Russian perception of time. We joke that a “Russian minute” is actually 15. I haven’t been on time to a single appointment yet and still I’m usually the first one there. We wait and wait and wait and still the Russians are talking and deciding. Then a decision is made and good byes start. Good byes take half hour minimum (I wish I were joking). I feel caught in this cycle of frustration that is really hard to shake. I get frustrated with the delays and then I get frustrated with myself for not being able to just chill out and go with the flow. I’ve never been a terribly patient person. I think part of the goals for this trip are to beat patience into me.

Your emails and Facebook comments help me focus on gratitude. I miss all of you.

45 seconds with Polly

Polly was my host sister in Ivanovo. We lived the bachelorette life while her parents are at dacha for the Victory Day holiday.

She is just the cutest. She’s a senior in an English language high school and speaks incredible English. She’s warm, outgoing, wears stripes and boat shoes, is a championship snowboarder, and loves school. Basically, she’s the best. Bonus, each night before bed she would play the piano for me.

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En route to Yaroslavl

Russia sometimes feels a bit like 1950s America: seatbelts are semi-optional, you can drink as a passenger in the car and the roads are completely awful.

After saying goodbye to all of our wonderful friends in Chereprevets, we kicked back and enjoyed the three hour drive to Yaroslavl. I have yet to be on anything that really resembles a US interstate. The road we drove on last night felt like a big, long Redmond-Issaquah road. With such temperature extremes it isn’t hard to imagine why they break down so quickly.

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Unfortunately, it makes car drinking difficult. RUDE. We were too nervous to open the champagne while going over a pothole so we asked our van driver to pull over.

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We enjoyed Soviet champagne, Stalin’s attempt to make the USSR fully independent. It cracks me up that champagne was high on his list but I also totally get it. Bubbles are important.

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Chereprevets: Monastery Tour

The Russian Orthodox Church uses a different calendar than the Catholic Church and so they celebrated Easter Sunday, May 5.

Intentionally or unintentionally we toured several monasteries the day before. From the Middle Ages onward dukes and princes from Moscow help to finance fortified monasteries in northern Russia to help extend their influence and protect from Swedish invaders. As our guide at the first monastery told us, these compounds served four purposes: military fortress, religious education, landlord and prison. Their trading was largely free of any taxes and they made large profits as landlords.

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I wowed the crowd (aka my team) by helping explain lots of the stories and biblical context for the frescos we saw in each church. Sister Rosemary would be so proud and probably deserves a big thank you email.

The last site we visited was an incredible surprise. A convent originally built by females relatives exiled by Ivan the Terrible, the building is still home to three nuns. These nuns, along with many lay volunteers, run the most incredible farm with vegetables plus chicken and a full dairy.

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The place had such incredible energy. Everyone there was so committed to hard work and serving others. Growing up those were always the glimpses of the Church I liked the best. However, it’s also easy to see why revolutionaries felt the need to challenge the Church as well as the State. Their wealth was overwhelming and their grip strong. It wasn’t so much they were against people’s individuals beliefs but challenging the Church as an institution.

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