It’s been a fast month of traveling, not sleeping,and thoroughly beating my liver into a messy pulp. Now I am finally back in Ukhta, and I don’t even know how to begin describing where I went, what I saw, and what I did. So what is to follow is going to be a messy hodge podge of pictures and descriptions.
It had been a year and a half since I was last there, and I was long overdue for a trip. After taking the most painfully boring train trip of my life (almost 40 hours with a grumpy grandpa who snored like an elephant in heat), I was ready to take the city by storm and gorge myself on museums and beautiful architecture. Highlights of the trip included accidentally running into my American buds (they’re on the Flagship program) on Nevsky Prospekt, going to the Mariinskii theater, celebrating New Years twice, and saving a drunk woman from dying.
I’ll elaborate on the last point a little more.
As I’m walking back home from the traditional New Year’s walk along Nevsky, I come across a huddled mass, who turned out to be a very, very drunk woman. Two men were trying to figure out what to do with her, because she had imbibed herself into such a stupor that she couldn’t stand up and had taken to shouting nonsense instead. When they tried dragging her by the arm, that’s when host mom and I intervened, because the two men intended to drag her across the asphalt. In short, we called the ambulance and then waited more than an hour with this stranger, because all the ambulances were busy trying to save other drunks. Russian New Years — a hot, drunken mess.
From St. Petersburg, I made my way down south to meet up with David. He had originally wanted to go to Russia, but getting a Russian visa is a hassle and a half, not to mention expensive. Graduate student salaries don’t really allow for more than eating and dissertation writing. Since Ukraine has wised up and no longer demands expensive tourist visas, we decided to get some sun in the South.
The best parts of the Crimean trip were the ancient Greek ruins in Sevastopol’, extreme off-roading in Bakchisirai, and hopping around palaces in Yalta.
I have never been off-roading in my life, and I didn’t think that I was going to have my first extreme, slightly dangerous jeep experience in the Crimea. But Ilya, a friend of a friend, generously took a day off, (roughly) shoved us into the back of his jeep, and took us on a tour of Bakchisirai. Ilya drives like a typical Russian man — hell-bent on getting from point A to point B in the fastest, most swerving manner possible. And in place of seat belts, he happened to have a metal cage, which basically means that any fender bender automatically ends in a bloody, face-crushing death. We saw a church, the Genghis Khan palace, and then Old city, whose population fled in the 1500’s (at least, that’s what I understood). Getting to Old City involved going over muddy hills and a lot of unnecessary screaming on my part. Just our luck, the gates leading into Old City happened to be locked, and the only way to get inside would have been to climb down some steep, jagged rocks. However, we did find some Mormon missionaries, which was amusing, considering that we were literally in the middle of nowhere. No idea who they were going to convert.
A cultural difference that I feel like I need to touch upon — Russian generosity VS American generosity. Russians are very giving and hospitable, and I don’t argue with that. But I’m going to go ahead and take the liberty of labeling their altruism as “Brutal, Aggressive generosity.”
Case in point: At the end of our off-roading adventure, we stopped to get some unfiltered beer at some factory that just happened to be on the way back. Ilya suggested that I get some beer, and I tried to politely decline. However, Ilya would not take “no” for an answer. The exchange went down as so:
Ilya: You need to try this beer. IT’S DELICIOUS.
Me: No thanks, I’m not really in the mood for a beer.
Ilya: FUCK, but you have never TRIED UNFILTERED BEER BEFORE. DRINK IT, it’s GOOD, FUCK.
Me: Thanks, but I’m really–
Ilya: FUCK (turns to the cashier) Get this girl a beer. (To me) It’s 30 grivnyas.
For reference, the conversation was in Russian, so this rough translation doesn’t completely capture the extent of the shouting and cursing. This is also an extreme example, but I’ve noticed that in Russia, people demand that you try something, while in America, you ask. I understand where Ilya came from, because he just wanted me to try this beer (side note: it tasted like keystone). However, this way of demanding is a bit jarring to my American sense of manners.
From the Crimea, I hopped on a train to Moscow. During the 24-hour ride, my train mates treated me to home-made vodka and pig fat (salo), and I was accidentally drunk for a good part of the ride. Up next on the blog: Vladimir, Suzdal, Moscow, and Kazan’!