Monday, March 11, 2013

Weekend Wonders

It's Monday and MASLENITSA (Butter Week) is officially underway here in Moscow! We're abounding in holidays in this part of the world. I've been especially looking forward to this one, since watching the classic "Barber in Siberia." Dancing bears drinking vodka, bliny (Russian pancakes) everywhere, and pleas for forgiveness following riotous behavior. Sign. Me. UP!

Most of the planned festivities will be this weekend, so while I'm faithfully looking forward to Friday, I figured I'd do a little reflection on the past weekend as well.

Many of you may have already seen this brilliant video. I am not as social media savvy as I ought to be, so I get a bit behind the times. Luckily I have friends who contribute to my education and on Saturday my life was changed. Now yours can be to.

The best part about this video??? It's TRUTH! The following picture was a scene I witnessed while wending my way home on Sunday night. My marshrutka sagas constitute half of my blogging material at this point, but for those of you who don't know, this vehicle is a communal taxi. This specific vehicle happens to be missing a door. Not a big deal. We'll just pop it back on, right?!

The best part? Despite having a completely unattached door, passengers kept climbing in without giving it a second glance. I mean, what's the big deal? It's just a door, right? I opted to watch the scene for about 10 minutes and then took the bus instead.

The one thing about my weekend that would have gotten to any Russian? Exhibit A:

Peanut Butter-Oatmeal-Chocolate Chip Cookie (super-sized), topped with ice cream, whipped cream, and chocolate sauce. For me? Basically pure bliss. (Although post several cookies, this did contribute to the first dessert OD I've experienced in awhile. Worth it!) While this mound of sweetness may have produced a slight sugar coma on me, I'm pretty certain it would have sent any Russian into complete shock. "Sweet" carries a slightly different definition in this country of potatoes, cabbage, and beets and I am quite confident that this pure goodness would produce the fazing powers that even a meteor couldn't. Take note, should you ever find yourself in need of some shock factor!

All in all, it was a wonderful weekend! With the perfect blend of holiday, work, and relaxation. I hope yours was equally so!!!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

March 8th: Girl Time!

March 8th is a day that has come and gone several times in my life...28 to be relative calm and ordinariness. But that was pre-Moscow life. As it turns out, March 8th is International Women's Day and, while it may be an internationally declared holiday, here it is seriously celebrated!

Friday was an officially observed holiday and, while my love of the Moscow metro is growing thin, on Thursday night it was breathtaking. Flowers play a large part in Russian culture, and it seemed that no one in the swarms of commuters was without a bouquet. The men dutifully carried their deliveries, and the women happily basked in their colorful holiday carnage. Even the babushkas seemed to be smiling.

On the actual holiday, I experienced the bliss of an empty metro and clear streets on my commute in to work. And was pleasantly surprised with tulips (the flower of choice for 3/8) and a lovely chashka with accompanying herbal tea. Flowers and doesn't get more Russian than that! 
At the end of the day, March 8th felt like a cross between our western Mother's Day and Valentine's Day. But it's beautiful in that rather than celebrating simply love or simply mothers, it's a recognition of womanhood. I have been blessed with some fabulous women in my life---mother, sisters, aunts, teachers, soul sisters, and friends---and I'm truly grateful for the role they play not only in my life, but in society at large. And I'm grateful for a day that honors every one of them. So whether you celebrated in your country or not, HAPPY INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S DAY!!!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Moscow Mondays: МГУ, Povarskaya Street, and More!

When Monday's roll around, it's typically back to work , and watching the clock as the first day of the week grinds on interminably . And throw in a yawn there somewhere as well. Or 3 of them, just for good measure.

But my Mondays? My "free" day! What this means in Moscow translation: 6 hours of Russian class and I'm free by 2 pm! The schedule here is such that when that 2 pm target arrives, really all I want to do is go home. Cook a homemade meal in my half-kitchen. Clean my apartment. And NAP! Some Mondays, said itinerary wins out. But I've made it a goal to fight said instincts in an effort to actually see my city and share some of its highlights with you! Here are some of the February highlights:

МГУ: Moscow State University
MGU holds a special place in my heart. When I first visited Moscow a little over 2 years ago this is where my Russian family took me on my first day in town. As in, just stepped off the plane in a jet-lagged delirium. And it's easy to see why. Not only is this Stalinst architecture at its finest, but it comes with a view in the other direction as well!

 Post-university and my first falls on the ice of the season---2 times within approximately 15 minutes. Never get cocky my friends. That very morning I'd been congratulating myself on the fact that I'd made it through the winter without a fall---it was time to head indoors for reprieve from the cold and nourishment. And we found....Texas?!
I have to be honest. Even in my 3 years in Texas, I never happened across such a large tribute to Bud. This is a 4-story mall, for frame of reference.

Earlier in the month (on a day when my only intent was to go to the bank and then directly home to sleep), I got distracted by the scenery and ended up wandering for a couple hours. Here's what I found:

The Greater Church of the Ascension. Otherwise known as the church where Alexander Pushkin (Russia's most beloved poet) married his Natalia. The statue in front commemorates the occasion.

This statue clearly commemorates more important things. Such as a girl wishing she could fly away from this horrific instrument and never practice again. Or maybe the keyboard is wishing it could fly away and never be played by her again. Regardless, it may be one of my Moscow favorites.
 Not far from the Greater Church of the Ascension is Povarskaya Street. In the days of Ivan Grozny, it was allotted as an area for the upper class and, despite losing it's prestige at one point in history, was reinstated as such in the late 1800's. Now it's mansions house several embassies, the Supreme Court, Gnessin State Musical College, and the World Literature Museum.

History aside, it has a great atmosphere. Albeit that you're located off of one of the busiest streets in Moscow (Novy Arbat), it's quiet, calm, and a lovely place to do a little wandering. Those qualities can be difficult to happen across in this city, so it's always a pleasant find!

Supreme Court
 Norwegian Embassy
 Embassy of Cyprus
 Church of St. Simeon Stylites
I love this view. The contrast between the two structures is quintessential Moscow.

In the daily life of city grind, it's easy to become numb to the eclectic beauty that Moscow offers. I sometimes get stuck on the commute, the swarms of people in the metro, the expense, the politics, the weather, and the cultural contrasts. But every time I take a step back and really look at the city, I fall in love all over again. And thankfully I have Moscow Mondays to do so!!!

Friday, March 1, 2013

Spring in Moscow: Day 1

I couldn't help but laugh when I stepped outside today to officially greet the first day of "Spring."
Happy March!

Fast-Forward February

I never believe that February is the shortest month of the year until it's over. And this year has been no exception. The 28 days of this month seem to move at the speed of a hibernating bear. If I could fast-forward February every year, perhaps pausing only for a little mid-month lovin', I would. Who's with me?

But why exactly? It's hard to pin down. I would say that by this point in winter, it's been a little to cold for a little too long. Spring still seems to be only a twinkle in Mother Nature's eye...or maybe in Father Time's?...and we'd all prefer some action to the twinkling! Christmas joys are long past and the only reminder of the holiday season is the extra bit of weight that unfortunately was not shed as quickly as the New Year's resolutions. And somewhere in the midst of grey, you're expected to be a functional, stable, hard-working individual, when your soul is pleading with you to hemisphere-hop for some sunshine and joy.

But this year, just when I was convinced that February might get the best of me, Russia handed me a surprise. It's March 1st. And in this country, that's called SPRING!!!!!

I had to do a quick google search to confirm, but it's official: Russians are OPTIMISTS! It might be buried deep, deep, down on a day-to-day basis, but when it comes to important matters, such as declaring Spring (20 days earlier than expected!) and in turn joy to mankind, they're ON it! I knew I loved this country for a reason.

Now, despite my rantings against February, this month has had it's ups along with the downs:

  • Moscow Mondays! 3 out of the 4 Mondays this month, I actually made it out and did some Moscow sight-seeing. While an official Moscow Monday update is in order, here's a snapshot from this week's: 

  • Fun with food: This may have been my month of eating happiness. I ventured out to a couple new restaurants (and returned to some old favorites!) and often did so just for the dessert! This cafe, visited once previously, is a favorite. It might be one of the few places in Moscow that has a true non-smoking section and it comes with enough color and greenery to fend off any February feelings.

  • SUNSHINE!!! This girl is Vitamin D dependent as it turns out. And after forgetting when I last saw sun and sky, I was overjoyed when they made a few February outings! Not only that, but the days are once again lengthening, and hints of daylight are occasionally evident before I make it inside for the day!

  • Running: It's happening again my friends. While it's been 5K's on the treadmill most of the month...I really can't bring myself to do anything longer on those awful machines!...I ran my first 10K of the year this week in the beautiful outdoors! It was exhilarating. With sunshine, breathable temperatures, and fabulous company, not even the ice and sea-sized puddles could remind me that it was February. 
  •  St. Petersburg, Valentine's Day, my first public speaking in the Russian language (aside from my opera classes), the start of the new semester...when the month feels like an eternity, might as well fit in an equal amount of activity!
  • And last, but not least: I WON!!! Alright...not really. But I'm #51! Despite my poor advertising, Stephanie Says still made the list of the "Top 100 International Exchange and Experience Blogs" which you can verify here! For the record, I did not provide the brilliant description of "American girl in Russia." Thank you to all who took the time to vote!
February was full. And I suppose in fast-forwarding it, I would have missed a lot of the fulfilling ups that made the downs doable. But regardless...I'm beyond thrilled to move on. It's SPRING in Moscow after all!

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