Miss Russia yet?

A month has already passed since our arrival back in the States. We’re caught up in papers, making plans for the summer, and 35 degrees fahrenheit is starting to feel cold again. But every once in a while, we find ourselves at peace, daydreaming ourselves back to Russia.

In the golden ring, just north of Rostov, there’s a town called Yaroslavl. It was one of our first trips. It’s an old, old, town- a little over a thousand years old. Even Moscow is younger. Even so, every part of Yaroslavl is still alive. There are bits and pieces of each century scattered throughout town: aristocratic theaters next to Soviet monuments, a folklore themed hotel (complete with sarafan-ed waitresses and valenki-fied wall displays) across from a 12th century Kremlin. The world was alive there. Friends greeted each other in the street. Parents chased snow-suited children through lamppost forests in a park. Of all the time we spent in Russia, nothing felt so much like home.

Sometimes the sun will hit the snow between the academic buildings in just the right way that I can almost feel the cold warmth again, the same buzz of contentment crowding the air. I’ll close my eyes and see the Yaroslavl street where I stood for only a few minutes once or twice, amidst lovers arm in arm and friends deep in discussion, and I’ll wonder if I’ll ever open my eyes again.



A Night at the Opera

A little over a week ago, we were all still in Moscow. It’s a little hard to believe now, at the end of the first week of classes, but a week ago it was equally hard to believe that soon we’d be starting the semester.
In classes this morning, 203 read a poem by Andrei Bely and 303 read a poem by Boris Pasternak, and after classes, we had tea with our professors and received our certificates of completion for our courses at RSHU. We had sandwiches and pirozhki and then returned to the dorms to get ready for the main event of the day.
We met in the lobby and set out into the night. After a short metro ride and a trek through the labyrinthine and snowy streets of the theater district, we arrived at the Gelikon Opera. (The main image for this post is a mosaic wall-fountain in the opera house.) We handed over our coats and many of us switched out our snow and salt-crusted boots for fancy shoes we’d brought with us.
We made our way upstairs and we, along with a number of other theater-goers, got an impromptu tour of a set of three rooms just off the main lobby. The really interesting thing about the tour is that none of us are quite sure if the man leading it was an employee of the opera house or not. He was certainly familiar with the building and the uniformed workers seemed familiar with him, but he was not dressed to match the others and we saw him later in the audience. Life is full of small mysteries.
The opera was Evgeny Onegin, based on Pushkin’s novel in verse. It was quite good; all of the performers were excellent singers, and the chorus numbers were quite impressive. We all agreed that the best moment was the aria sung by Prince Gremin (the rank of prince in 19th century Russia didn’t mean the son of a ruler, but it was the highest of the noble ranks) in the third act. As I said at the time, he did not so much steal the show as take it by the hands and elope with it.
All in all, an excellent night, though I think we were all very aware that tomorrow would be our last in Moscow. For this trip, at least!

Guided Bus City Tour of Moscow and Novodevichii Monastery

On January 9, our first day back in Moscow after traveling the Golden Ring, our guide, Aleksandar, gave us a bus tour of Moscow. We saw several monuments to Russian leaders and artists as well as important buildings such as members of the seven sisters, building constructed by Stalin and prime examples of soviet architecture, as well as the Cathedral of Christ the Savior which is the tallest Orthodox Christian church in the world and is the site of the original premier of Tchaikovksy’s 1812 overture. ( This is the overture where Tchaikovsky employed cannons as instruments #thuglife).

We also had the opportunity to walk in the Red Square today where we were overwhelmed with the sheer size of the Kremlin and the beauty of GUM the mall across from it. We are confident that that might be the most beautiful shopping center any of us had ever been in.


GUM all decorated for the holiday season. This is an example of Soviet style decor that includes fruit, cards, and candy since people were very poor in Soviet Russia and did not have ornaments.

We could not help but mutter “Лепота” (Beautiful-old Russian) under our breaths as we looked upon the famous St. Basil’s cathedral. I believe there are no photos that could truly capture its beauty but this one will have to do.

St. Basil's Church

St. Basil’s Cathedral

At the end of the day we all looked forward to returning to the square to explore the armory, Kremlin, and ice cream at GUM, of course. 🙂

After, this we had a tour of Novodevichii monastery where Peter the Great sent his sister Sofia so she would not undermine his rule. The incredibly beautiful monastery is also the site of the Swan Lake, the inspiration for Tchaikovsky’s ballet, Swan Lake. Unfortunately, swans no longer come this lake. We also had a tour of the Novodevichii cemetery where many famous Russians have been laid to rest including Anton Chekhov, Mikhail Gorbachev’s wife, Boris Yeltsin, Stanislavsky and so on. Unfortunately, I cannot remember them all because it was so cold that I thought my feet were literally going to fall off. I am sure I was not the only one and I hope someday we might all be able to return in the summer time, hopefully.

Jan 20

On Wednesday I learned that wearing a jacket indoors is unacceptable and even offensive. With only 20 minutes left for lunch, I got in the cafeteria line in my winter coat. A middle-aged man got in line behind me. “Do you see the coat hanger over there?” he said. “Why are you wearing your jacket here? It’s not allowed. “A little caught off guard, I responded, “Well it’s a little cold. I’ll leave it there after I get lunch.” “You shouldn’t be wearing it here!” “Do you understand me? I’m a professor!” Eventually I pointed out the men in line, in jackets. He attempted to start an argument with them, but promptly gave up and I continued in the lunch line.

After classes I attempted to visit the New Tretyakov Gallery. I say attempted because I did not make it through the two-hour line in the freezing wind. I decided that I value my toes more than art. Others persevered. Here’s an article of photo and video evidence of this line (http://varlamov.ru/1575630.html). Though I never made it so close to the doors, it turns out the excited crowd broke the door in. Those who made it in were so cold that they washed their feet with warm water in the bathroom sinks.

In the evening, we went to an amazing restaurant on the 21st floor. It was the tallest building in the area and had a view of Moscow in all directions. The way to the restaurant was in a glass elevator. Unfortunately I couldn’t get a good photo of the view but I did manage to document one of the best desserts that I’ve ever had.view.JPG



The Last Day in Moscow

We’re all back in America now, but our last day in Moscow was a memorable one! The day started with a little over half of us waking up at 6:30 am to head over to the Bolshoi Theatre to attempt to get student tickets for the ballet “The Taming of the Shrew.” It was a lovely snowy morning, but when we arrived we did not see anyone with the list for student tickets, so we walked to a nearby coffee shop and had breakfast before trying again. There was still no one there when we walked back, and we had to get back to the university for class, so we started our own list and alligator-clipped it to the door.

When we returned, we went to our final day of classes. First was Russian Songs, and then the 203 class had their media class, and the 303 class had our practical class. The professor brought in russian pancakes and honey for us, which was a delicious way to end classes!

After classes, many of us returned to the Bolshoi Theatre to see if they had been successful in getting student tickets. While our list was gone and hadn’t worked, they were able to get on the right list for student tickets and everyone managed to get a seat. The students who did go to the ballet reported that it was amazing.

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Those of us who did not go to the Bolshoi Theatre spent the evening in various ways: napping, packing, or visiting with a Russian friend. I went out for a lovely final dinner with Женя at one of the restaurants that had been our favorite during our time in Moscow.

After the ballet, most students met up at the Bolshoi and we went out for the last time. When we returned, we all packed, with very few of us getting any sleep, and left for the airport at 3:30 am.

Jan 19

I started my day with breakfast in my room. My favorite “breakfast”food in Russia is a “glazirovanyj sirok,” meaning a delicious chocolate-covered cheesecake that I’ve turned into breakfast food by calling it “sweet cottage cheese”.

I then proceeded to sprint to class. We had conversational Russian followed by literature. In the 300-level group, we discussed our very busy weekends, including going to a flea market to buy souvenirs, and seeing a play and the Battle of Borodino panorama. We also discussed life at an all women’s college and our reasons for choosing it. In literature, we read “The Stranger” by Alexander Blok, which lead to a discussion of his philosophical idealism and the cult of the beautiful lady. This was particularly interesting to discuss in light of feminist thought, as a follow up to our Wellesley theme in conversational Russian.

After class we had free time. I decided to go to the new Tretyakovskaya gallery. I was deterred by the two-hour line outside. After waiting for half an hour in what I would call a blizzard (here, average Russian weather), I decided that art is not worth this suffering and gave up. The elderly women I chatted with in line stayed. They were more resilient than I can ever hope to be.

Instead I went to the Mikhail Bulgakov museum, in a communal apartment in which he lived in the 1920s. It was a fascinating look at his life and at life in Soviet communal apartments. Since his room was right across from the kitchen, he could hear daily arguments between neighbors over kitchen space. Occasionally, the police had to be called, when neighbors got into particularly heated arguments.

Bellow is a list of rules and standards for communal living, dispute resolution, and cleanliness standards in communal apartments. rulesThe sign on this chair in the museum reads “before you sit on this chair, think of the eternal.”


On the way to the museum, I also stopped by these outdoor swings. If you look closely, there are shoe dirt imprints on the ceiling above the swings. Unfortunately my legs weren’t long enough to leave my foot imprint on a Moscow ceiling.



Glinka Museum of Musical Culture

Last Friday we began the day with classes with our Russian songs class, which both groups have together. We learned the Russian folk songs “Ой, Мороз-мороз” (Oh, Frost-Frost) and “Ой, да не вечер” (Oh, It’s not yet Night), and then moved on to children’s songs. The first was “Antoshka, Antoshka” and the second was “Два весёлых гуся” (Two Silly Geese). Both of these songs have adorable cartoons to go along with them. After Russian songs, the 303 class went to their practical class, and the 203 class went to their language of mass media class.

After classes, we went to the Glinka Museum of Musical Culture, which has a large collection of instruments from around the world. When we arrived, we received fancy audio guides to listen to as we walked around the museum at our leisure. The museum had many display cases of different types of instruments. Through the audio guides, we could listen to information about these instruments, listen to samples of music played on the instruments, and watch videos of people playing the instruments. The first room we entered had many Russian folk instruments, and then there were also rooms dedicated to European instruments, instruments of the Americas, Asia and Africa, and electronic instruments. One of the people working at the museum showed us their theremin, which is always an interesting instrument. The weirdest instrument to me was a Ukrainian instrument which required two people to play, and looked like a barrel with some hair sticking out. One person would hit the barrel part, and another would grease their hands and slide them up the horse hair.

After the museum, some of the group went shopping, and others went out to eat. The group I went out to eat with ended up walking around places nearby campus, until we found what looked like a good restaurant. It ended up being a central-Asian themed restaurant, with quite the extraordinary decor. We ordered multiple courses of lamb shashlik and then had dessert, before returning to the dorm to relax and retire.

History and MXAT

Saturday, January 16

I started the day with breakfast in the little bakery near our dorm. They have the best French croissants! Then back to the dorm to work on homework. (Yes, there is homework.)

A number of students headed for Izmaylovsky Market, known for having wonderful Russian souvenirs at good prices. (Although with the current exchange rate, almost anything is a good price!)


Lenin’s Tomb

Some of us headed to Red Square, to check out Lenin’s Tomb and the State History Museum. Lenin’s Tomb is very dark; no pictures are allowed; and there are lots of very serious guards. A number of important Russians are buried along the path leading to and away from the tomb.

The State History Museum had lots of archeological finds dating back to the Stone Age and every era thereafter. I enjoyed seeing Peter the Great’s sleigh. (Not all that big given how important and tall (6’7″) he was.) Rooms representing more recent centuries included in the showcases a few manakins wearing clothes of the period.


Peter the Great’s sleigh

Saturday night four of us attended a student production of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, a play written by Tom Stoppard which is tied loosely to Hamlet. The play was performed in Russian in a small arena (70-80 seats) in the theatre district. Since I am not the most fluent Russian student, I was glad I read the play in English before we went. A lot of the humor in the play did not require full understanding of every word spoken, however!


Moscow Theater District

We enjoyed dinner in the theatre district before returning to the dorm. Even at that hour, the Metro trains were still running every two minutes!

Женя (Jeanne Palleiko)

One Week Ago Today…

Last week, on January 11, the Wellesley Muscovites had our first day of classes. By now, the shock of 4 hours of class in Russian (and usually fast Russian) has passed, but the language barrier still exists. As we become more and more comfortable with our skills and environment, it seems that the words we can’t quite recall in times of need hamper us more than ever.

We’re starting to feel a little bit at home here – riding the metro without a map, striking up conversations with the cashier at the grocery store, greeting the dorm security guard we know so well. So it hits us hard when in the middle of a sentence the words stop coming and the conversation speeds to a halt. We forget that we’re students. We struggle, we stumble, we accidentally order strange food items or mispronounce a word so severely that the cashier feels the need to correct you (and then repeat the word until you get it right). But if anything, these small disappointments are a mark of our progress: we’re getting there. We are finally good enough to sometimes forget ourselves, comfortable enough to take a chance on something we don’t really understand. As the 303 students learned in class, we’ve become путишественники, adventurous travelers, willing to seek out unexplored territory for the sake of understanding.

One week ago we saw the Moscow Kremlin: huge buildings, giant bells, and an armory with every type of jewel, crown, gown, and carriage you. We gawked at the Royal and historic, but one week later, we’ve got a taste for daily life.

Bolshoi Theater Tour and Pushkin Cafe

Today was a long but fruitful day. The second (and final!) week of classes started with a bang as Russian 203 took survival (КРА) and mass media Russian (ЯСМИ) and Russian 303 took academic Russian (АТ) and ЯСМИ. Afterward it was revealed that our group would visit two exciting sites: the world-famous Bolshoi Theater (Большой Театр) and Cafe Pushkin (Кафе Пушкинь). 

We first visited the Bolshoi Theater, a world-famous building in which some of the best ballets and operas are performed.

We listen to the tour in Russian at the Bolshoi Theater.

We listen to the tour in Russian at the Bolshoi Theater.

The building was designed by Joseph Bove and opened to eager audiences in 1825. The building is in Teatralnaya Square in the Tverskoy District of Moscow and is near a bustling theater district that holds the Pushkin Cafe. Notably, the Bolshoi Theater underwent a 21 billion ruble ($888 million) renovation in 2011, which at least partially accounts for the luster and acoustics of the place.


Although we saw no performances tonight, we were given an excellent tour in Russian and were able to visit various levels of the very tall building. We were able to sit on the first and seventh floors and watch the stage as lighting and stage crews collaborated in setting up equipment. We even saw the light levels of the stage and surrounding chandeliers adjusted. We also visited another smaller stage on the tenth floor and below ground level where actors, dancers, and musicians can practice. All in all, it was an enchanting experience!

We next took the opportunity to assuage our sweet teeth and grumbling stomachs when we visited the Pushkin Cafe.

We take a well-earned break at the Pushkin Cafe.

We take a well-earned break at the Pushkin Cafe.

We walked through the theater district to get there as the sky grew dark and the lights started flickering. In Russia it is still the holidays as the Russian Orthodox celebrate their holy days. Christmas (Рождество) was on January 7th and we still see many lit Christmas trees and lights on the street, which adds quite a nice affect to the snow accumulating outside. At the Pushkin Cafe is a vast assortment of desserts that would make any food lover’s mouth water.

The famously delicious Austrian cake Sachertorte (захер)

The famously delicious Austrian cake Sachertorte (захер).

The cafe’s hot chocolate tastes like molten dark chocolate and the macaroons are colorful and savory looking.

The aforementioned fabulous macaroons.

The aforementioned fabulous macaroons.

Desserts come from places in Europe ranging from Austria to France.

Prague Cake (Пражский Торт) is actually a Russian dish found far more often in Russia than Prague.

Prague Cake (Пражский Торт) is actually a Russian dish found far more often in Russia than Prague.

While the desserts are a bit pricey depending on what you order, they truly are a special experience and the atmosphere is wonderful.