Please check out the second and final part of my friend Matt Bodner’s Chernobyl video blog. Pictures and detailed story of our adventures are forthcoming!
I apologize for the sparse posts. There are many more stories to tell, and unfortunately, I do not have a lot of time. I will most likely continue to use this site during my first few weeks back in America to show pictures and tell tales of my (mis)adventures. In the meantime, here is a video from one of my traveling companions, Matt Bodner, showing some of our trip to Chernobyl and Pripyat in Ukraine….check it out!
In honor of Russian Election Day (and presuming there will be some level of protests starting tomorrow) here is my favorite tip from The Moscow Times on how to deal with Russian cops:
“Just in case, bone/polish up on the Russian for various body parts and organs so that you can say — politely — Не пинайте по почкам, пожалуйста! (Please don’t kick my kidneys!) It may be helpful to memorize the all-purpose phrase: Ой! Больно! (Ouch! That hurts!)”
Check out the full story here:
Thursday, February 9th was the inaugural meeting of the Russian Баня (Banya) Club for this semester. The баня is a Russian version of a sauna that is fairly distinctive in some aspects, although I haven’t ever really been in a sauna to confirm what is actually different.
For our first banya trip, we had a smaller group of 6. We decided to rent a VIP banya room, which was slightly different than the typical banya experience, but a welcome introduction. Honestly, I wasn’t really prepared for the fact that this was a naked thing. I kind of thought it would be fine to wear a towel or swimsuit. . .I was wrong on that, let me tell you! So that was pretty awkward to start out. Although I guess I wasn’t entirely naked: I did wear a felt banya hat that looked somewhat like a Viking helmet to protect my hair from the intense heat.
In the main banya room, it is dark and wooden. There is a furnace thing which contains hot rocks. You pour water onto these rocks and it creates steam. This honestly was the hottest I’ve ever been in my life. For the first round, I say on one of the lower benches. However, on the second go-round, I went up to the higher level. It literally felt like I was inhaling fire into my lungs. I had to put my hand over my mouth so that it was slightly less painful. According to my research, the temperature usually exceeds 200 degrees Fahrenheit in these things (I realize that this seems impossible….don’t ask me how it works!).
After you get good and sweaty (which really only takes a matter of seconds!), you hit yourself with a dried bundle of birch sticks and leaves. This bundle is called веник (venik), and the procedure is done to improve your circulation and release toxins and lactic acid, I presume. Once we had finished one “session”, we then ran out of the banya and jumped into what was essentially a Jacuzzi filled with really cold water. In some places, people will jump into a snow bank or into an icy river or lake, although that is not something I’ve done yet.
Once you’ve cooled off from your dip into the chilly waters, you then take a bit to relax in another area. People usually will have drinks and snacks and will just hang out for a bit before going back into the banya. I think we did the whole process three times.
When we went to Великий Новгород (Veliky Novgorod), a historical Russian city (a post on our trip to Novgorod is forthcoming…), we also went to a banya. We were able to recruit a larger group this time around, and this was probably more of a traditional banya experience.
There was a large locker room area for storing clothing, then a large shower room where you could wash yourself before entering the banya. This was more traditional just in the sense that it was a public banya, so we were with all sorts of other people. There were also some kids there with their dads, which I found to be surprising. The most shocking thing was that while people are in the banya (again, this is a naked experience), the babushkas who worked there came into the steam room and were sweeping the floors. Why this was necessary at that moment was beyond me, but made it even more awkward, for sure. Definitely added to the experience though. This banya also didn’t have the cold Jacuzzi, so you just had to take a cold shower. It worked, but was definitely less effective. I’ll be interested to see how other banyas are as well. I walk by one every day on my way to the Metro near my house, so maybe I’ll check it out.
Sorry for the sparseness in blogging….I have a few entries I’m working on, and hopefully will have all of you caught up by Wednesday afternoon!
In the meantime, here is a photo of my favorite sight in SPb so far….Храм Спаса на Крови (Khram Spasa na Krovi) or the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood. It is beautiful at any time of day, and I’m sure I will continue to get some great photos of it throughout the semester!
Last week was the first week of classes for us at Санкт-Петербургский государственный университет (Sankt-Peterburgskiy Gosydarstvenniy Universitet = St. Petersburg State University or SPbGU). CIEE is attached to the Department of Political Science, which is located separately from the main SPbGU campus (main campus is on Vasilievsky Ostrov, where I live). We are on SPbGU’s Smolny campus, which is on the mainland. The Smolny campus buildings are housed in the Smolny Cathedral complex.
Yes, that really is the center of our campus. Our classes are in the building behind it, which is similar in style and architecture.
Unlike college at home, but likely just due to the cold temperatures, we are able to change classes without leaving our building. All of our classes are in the same general area of the building as well, which makes it really easy. While we don’t take classes with Russian students, they are in the same building as us and we see them when we are changing classes.
My classes this semester are:
- Ethnic Studies: National & Ethnic Issues in Modern Russia (this is already my favorite….one of the primary focuses is Chechnya, so I’m in heaven!)
- Russian Civilization: Popular Stereotypes & Social Behavior
- Presidential Elections in Russia & Challenges of Democratic Transition
- Intermediate Russian Conversation I
- Intermediate Russian Grammar I
- Seminar on Living & Learning in St. Petersburg
The first day on campus (last Monday) was just an orientation about school and how classes would work, etc. Then we took a soul-crushing Russian language placement test. It started out with a few questions we had to answer. Where do you live? Where do you go to school? What do you study? etc. There was also an oral part with two Russian teachers that asked pretty much the exact same questions. They could not get over that I was from Arizona and must have asked me at least three times if I was cold. My answer was always the same: “Yes. Very. I’m freezing!” Then there was the terrible part: a 140 question multiple choice section that got increasingly hard. I stopped taking it at about question 109, but really should have probably stopped at 80 or so, because I really just had no idea what was going on by that point and wasn’t recognizing ANY words. That’s rough!
The rest of the week, school-wise was pretty straightforward. Nothing much to report in that arena, aside from going to classes and doing work. Although, I already think that there is going to be more reading and homework than I was expecting so that’s kind of a bummer. I really need to make sure that I leave enough time to go on photo adventures…
On our first Saturday morning here (February 4th…yes, I’m a bit behind on the blogging!), CIEE took us on a guided tour of one of SPb’s biggest tourist attractions, the Эрмитаж (Hermitage). Hermitage is an art and cultural museum, and one of the largest museums in the world, with about 3 million items in its collection.
Items in the Hermitage’s collection include works from Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Michelangelo, Francisco Goya, Anthony van Dyck, Peter Paul Rubens, Rembrandt, Renoit, Monet, Gauguin, Matisse, Picasso and Wassily Kandinsky. Additionally, it includes paintings from two of my favorite artists, Vincent Van Gogh and Caspar David Friedrich (painter of the large painting I have in my room at home Wanderer above the Sea of Fog….unfortunately, that painting is in Hamburg, Germany, not here).
Some additional background on Hermitage: it was founded in 1764 by Catherine the Great and is housed in a complex on the Palace Embankment of the Neva River. One of these buildings includes the beautiful Winter Palace, which was formerly used by the imperial family as its official residence from 1732 to 1917.
I’ll let the pictures do the rest of the talking for the interiors of this magnificent museum!