Saturday, 21 December 2013

So long, farewell...

So here I am at Moscow Domodedovo International Airport, taking advantage of the free wifi to say hello to you guys. I never thought that leaving would come around so quickly! It’s one of those surreal situations where I feel like I've not been here any time at all, but, at the same time, like I've been here forever. Voronezh most certainly has become like home to me - four months is more than enough time to make friends, to get in to a routine and to know then real ins and outs of a place. It was sad to say goodbye to the lovely Galina (with whom I've been living all this time) and even sadder watching the city roll away through the train window. 

Our journey was pretty uneventful. Плацкарт is not an enjoyable place in which to cram an overweight suitcase (26 kilos I'll have you know). Hoards of Russians had to help hoist it far above our heads and we all spent most of the night fearing the shelf would collapse underneath it and kill us all. Apart from the one snorer and the unbearable heat, it was as good as a 12 hour night train could be.

I kept waking up at random times throughout the night and, what with the snorer to keep us all awake, I had quite a bit of thinking time. I think I can speak for everyone when I say that Russia has taught us a lot. It can often be a weird and wonderful place but I can safely say that I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. What has made it the most special are the people I have met along the way and I want to thank every single one of them for helping me to have such an amazing time. Goodbyes have been hard and heartfelt!

Just wanted to give shout outs to a few special people:

My lovely students from VGY

I don’t even know what to say – you guys have been so friendly and welcoming to me and I have thoroughly enjoyed being your teacher. You are all so talented and I have no doubt that in the future you will go far! Keep practising and keep in touch – if you’re ever in England (or Spain) you know you’ll always have a friend to call. I will miss you!

Fifth year: thank you for all the champagne filled evenings, falling on your bums with me at ice-skating and also for all my lovely presents (I’ve been so spoilt!). I’m grateful for the guy who let off a pepper spray bomb on the second floor on Monday night – our café send-off was much better than a boring lesson ;)

 Nataliya's wonderful baking skills (Bird's Milk Cake!)
 'This is how you wear it like a Russian!'

Fourth year: you need to send me our group picture!! Thank you again for my lovely gifts!


You have been the most amazing teacher. We have left your class feeling so much more confident in our abilities to speak Russian. I will miss our customary чаепитие before every lesson and the whole class laughing together about our mistakes (‘я предпочитаю злоупотреблять белым вином’). Thank you for all you have taught us and I hope to see you again soon!


My wonderful хозяйка! Thank you so much for looking after me so well, for putting up with my mostly questionable Russian and for explaining the ways of the world to me. I will especially miss our morning chats over porridge and I hope I will come and visit soon!

I may be leaving the motherland on a 7.30pm flight but don’t worry it certainly won’t be the last post about the land of snow and vodka.

For the last time on the soil of Mother Russia...

With Love from the Motherland

Monday, 16 December 2013

A rather Russian weekend actually...getting in the spirit and all that!

It feels very surreal to be writing about my very last weekend in Russia. Just a few months ago I was taking my first few tentative steps on to Russian soil and now here we are...

Thursday (weekends can start on Thursday right?!...that's where our party begins even if you disagree :P)

This was the dreaded sight that greeted us on Monday morning but...

After a dreaded four day 'finals' period, all our exams were finally over! We decided that celebrations were most definitely in order (a last hurrah if you will)...especially because we were going to be three men down as of Friday night. Yes, our forces are depleting as people go home for Christmas. A few of us went to a favourite restaurant, named Bistrot (yes with t on the end) to fill up on Italian food. It is a hard thing to explain to people that have not been to Russia but a lot of the time international food served in Russian restaurants just tastes like Russia...maybe its the way they cook it, or maybe they sneakily add some dill (Russians have a disturbing love affair with dill)?? Who knows! Luckily, Bistrot isn't one of these places and Italian food actually tastes like Italy. Christmassy decor, brushcetta, pizza and wine...what more could one wish for? Needless to say it was lush!

Our lovely adorned chandelier...
Precursor to a great night...imported wine that doesn't taste like nail varnish remover (WIN!)
Gorgonzola and Fragrant Pear Pizza!


As soon as we saw the advert for this baby back in October, we knew we had to see it. Disney's Frozen or Cold Heart as it is translated in Russian is the best we have to work with this year when it comes to Christmas films. Having seen a few dubbed films, I held the highest hopes for this one - mainly because with a target age of around 6 or 7 I thought I stood a good chance of understanding! Turns out I was right...I loved it! Isobel and I fell in love with the cheeky reindeer Sven (don't know if he has a different name in English?). I would love to see it in English as well, mainly because Idina Menzel plays the voice of Elsa - musical fans will know what I mean!! A nice, chilled last night for Isobel before she jetted home on Saturday morning!


Definitely the most Russian of all nights! Aware of a looming leaving date, I've become very suddenly aware of all the things that I intended to do in Russia that I just haven't quite got round to...Ice Skating was one such thing. So I took the plunge and invited some of my 5th year English students along to the local rink...we were escorted by two perfect gentlemen - Max (Russian) and Brandon (American) - who held us up for the remainder of the night. Considering I only fell on my bum once and the only injury to speak of was the massive blisters I got from my rented figure skates, I deem the adventure a success. Followed by a round of vodka in the local cafe, it was definitely a night to remember!
Kira, Svetlana and I.
My lovelies!
Nataliya, Svetlana and I

As you guys know, on Sundays I teach English to kids in an Immersion Club at Linguist. It was our last club and we completed the Christmas project we had started the week before. Sam and I told the kids of British club all about how we celebrate Christmas. The more we told them about all our traditions, the weirder we realised British Christmas sounds when its explained to foreigners! Neither the Russians nor the Americans knew about Christmas Crackers (no silly hats, toys and jokes for them on Christmas!. They were horrified by the idea of gravy and bread sauce. One thing they did love, however, was the idea of setting Christmas pudding on fire. They made a mini presentation about all they had learnt to show to the American Club, whilst American club performed a rather lovely waltz rendition of the Jingle Bell Rock - much classier than the Mean Girls one we all know and love! We then shared Secret Santa presents from under the tree and played a few rounds of was sad to say goodbye to the kids but it was a pleasure to meet and teach them.
British Club, Sam and I
American Club, Dominique and Brandon
Staff (left to right) Dominique, Sam, Me, Brandon, Max, Rada and Gleb.

After club, the lovely Gleb invited us to his place for pizza, youtube surfing and general merriment as a little staff goodbye - he is the best host (would definitely recommend popping round if you're ever in Voronezh ;) )!

Cold related anecdotes of the week:
I was running late for work so I had to brave the -9 temperatures with wet hair. In the 10 minutes it took me to walk to work, my hair froze solid.  Don't tell my Babushka - if the cough I got as punishment doesn't kill me, she will!

All in all, my last weekend in Voronezh was one to remember - simple pleasures and time spent with new found friends.
С Рождеством (Merry Christmas) from Ploshad Lenina!

With love from the Motherland xXx

Don't worry - this won't be my last post from Voronezh. Look out for a couple of quick ones before I depart on Friday...

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Baby, it's cold outside!

Indeed it is...-15 when I left the house to be precise.
So, it finally happened! We've seen a glimpse of the freezing Russian winter we were promised (i.e. days with double figures below 0!). Up until now we thought that we we're cheating - you can't live in Russia and not have anecdotes about the cold (its like saying you've lived in Spain and never drank Sangria!).

Catherine has the winning anecdote so far! On her walk to uni this morning, she decided to pull her scarf up over her nose. Cheeks always end up the coldest and her reasoning was sound: breath is always going to be warmer than braving the wind! Little did she know what was to come - it was so cold that her breath made frozen droplets on the inside of her scarf which then proceeded to melt on her chin. FAIL. Stupid Russian weather. 

As well as gaining some cool stories to tell in the pub when we return, we've also gained some sound scientific knowledge. I was walking to uni to teach a class when I bumped in to a colleague. She asked if I'd noticed that the snowflakes had started to sparkle? I thought it an odd question but when I had a look they had a different kind of sheen to them, almost like glitter or shards of glass. She told me that it was a sign that temperatures were sure to drop as the snowflakes themselves have frozen even more than usual. That conversation took place in balmy -5, and sure enough, here we are a day later a full 10 degrees colder! The Russian's certainly know their snowflakes! 

 Thought I would share with you some pictures from my way too and from uni (can't beat slipping and sliding in the ice and snow!) and also some of the perks of the chilly weather...
Have the birds found some kind of warm patch that I don't know about?

 Perks of cold weather...
 Not having to feel guilty about indulging...this little beauty cos me £4 but when its 20 degrees colder than your home town you tend to think 'why the hell not?!'
Our favourite 'after uni' haunt (an amazingly cheap sushi place) giving out free hot drinks with every order when its below be honest hot drinks are only 20p when you have to pay for them but I'm a sucker for a freebie!
My favourite perk of all...coming home to a toasty flat and getting straight in to fleecy pjs and slipper socks and lounging about in bed for the rest of the night!

Until next time,
With love from the now rather frosty Motherland x

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

A little jaunt to Moscow....Day 3.

As promised, our third and final day in Moscow :)

Knowing that we would have to wander the streets of Moscow til 10.30pm when our train left, we took advantage of the late check out at the hotel and had a lay in. Luckily, reception (i.e. the guy who sometimes sat in the kitchen, using the wifi) agreed to keep our bags til 9pm so we weren't weighed down.

What better way to end a trip to Moscow than a visit to the souvenir market?! Admittedly, going on the coldest day of the week (a nippy -8!) was probably not the best idea! We were frozen -especially our hands! Gloves are not an option when handling Russian dolls and beautiful lacquered boxes - way too fiddly. Luckily, we managed to warm up half way round with a tea inside. I would love to share all the souvenirs I bought with you guys, but most of them are Christmas presents for the family (I will schedule a post so you can have a peak once they are all opened). For now, here are some of my favourite pics...
Just one of many stands of Russian dolls..
Soviet leader Russian dolls...and of course Putin lurking in the back
Even Cheborashka (famous soviet cartoon star) has a Russian doll...
Beautiful Russian Гжель
 Dolls in Traditional Dresses called Sarafan's
Samovar, for traditional Russian tea drinking...
 Kitch Russian decor in the cafe
Never been so grateful for warmth...
 Russian traditional trays - to go under your samovar of course!
 Beautiful lacquered boxes
and last but by no means least - my personal favourite - cold war chess....the US vs the USSR!

By the time we had browsed and bought everything we wanted to at the market it was already 3.30pm! As I am doing my dissertation on the memory of WW2 in Russia (here known as the Great Patriotic War), I wanted to take a peak inside the famed Great Patriotic War Museum in Victory Park. Everything I had read about it talked about how grand and imposing the building was - they weren't wrong. You definitely can't miss it.

The famous obelisk monument.

These monuments (dozens of identical ones) line the path up to the museum and are separated in to sections according to the year of the war that they commemorate. Each one is dedicated to a specific significant front and the battalions who fought there.
The view from the Museum looking back towards the Obelisk.

Though we didn't have time to look around the museum, the nice security guard let me sneak in to buy some books on the topic. I'm sure I'll have fun reading those in between placements in January - I'm sure I'll do a dissertation post at some point (just to share the agony of 5000 words in Russian!).

By this point we were pretty hungry but decided that we couldn't visit Moscow without going to the Arbat (Moscow's most famous street!). Combining the two seemed the best option, so off we went in search of shelter and copious amounts of whatever dishes were on offer. After traipsing in and out of restaurants with no tables, we stumbled across a branch of the american diner chain 'Johnny Rocket's'. We were greeted with a sunny 'HELLO' shouted by the staff and were treated to dance routines every half an hour for the duration of our stay...and the food was DIVINE. Huge american milkshakes, burgers and ketchup with a smile (literally)!
An obscure thing to come across in central Moscow but delightful none the less.

I wish I could say that our return train journey was as delightful as the start of the evening...

Arriving at Kazanskii station, we were greeted with absolute BEDLAM! The station has a lot of international departures to Kazakhstan and beyond, so some of the passengers were literally dragging their lives possessions around on carts and in to luggage carriages! There was a lot of shouting and a lot of dodging obstacles before we finally got to our carriage.

We bundled back in to плацкарт and found ourselves surrounded by lots of rather large, loud Russian men. As the train pulled off, they proceeded to prepare themselves for the long journey ahead. They covered their table in newspaper and produced a whole cooked chicken from one bag or another. The biggest jar of pickles I had ever seen and then a large bottle of vodka added to their ever growing bottle of vodka turned in to two and it was well past 2am when they finally decided they would go to sleep....

Just when we thought that our prayers had been answered, they began to snore. I have never in my life heard such a noise! IT DIDN'T EVEN SOUND HUMAN! For the next 5 hours until we pulled in to Voronezh station, I tossed and turned whilst contemplating suffocating the perpetrators with pillows.

After a snowy mile and half walk home from the station, I was greeted with smiles and warm breakfast with just enough time for a nap before work.