Vladimir, Souzdal, and the 34 km March – Parents consider yourselves warned

Where do I begin. Let’s just say that last weekend (this was written some time in Feb or March) was an experience and a half. A colleague and I decided to make it out to Souzdal last weekend, which is a little town outside Vladimir, which is one of the golden ring cities encircling Moscow. We met at the train station very early Friday morning to buy train tickets, then were sent to catch our train at another train station and waited for 2 hours. I got to see Turkish toilets for very first time! Yukky.

Anyway, after a 3 hour train ride we got to Vladimir. We found our way into the center of town by walking through tiny dirty roads, random back alleys and stairways, up the hill towards the church. Once you go around the church and walk through the forest, you’re at the center of town. We had asked someone on the way, how to get to the center and they said “go towards the church, you will come across the ‘three men’, and then walk through the forest.”

We did that, despite not seeing the three men. Then we explored down the main road and walked towards the door to the city in the middle of a roundabout, which we found out is a UNESCO heritage site (image below).

Then we went to use Wifi at a Russian kind of McDonald’s and the people had we asked directions from earlier, had magically appeared. (This was the beginning of my first experience of kind-of / sort-of / not sure-of / being taken advantage of, for being a Westerner. My Swiss colleague said he was Canadian. So, we talked, we went to the liquor store with them, they bought us a cheap 200 ruble ($6) bottle of Russian champagne. They told us they would take us to a hostel and then we would go to a club. So we got in a cab, and we went to a cheap $15 night hostel, which was pretty decent, and then we went to meet their friends and to a Karaoke bar. They previously bought us stuff like cheap $1 beers, and we agreed to pay their cover at the club. So, they took us to a Karakoe bar with no cover. But the drinks were expensive. The first round cost us $30 and we were taken aback. We had this weird feeling they might take advantage of us. Then the girl kept ordering us all stuff we didn’t want, without even asking us. We refused to pay because we didn’t want the stuff they were ordering. The bouncer came, and we were at a standstill for about 20 mins, so I paid and got the heck out of there.

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One of the three men standing in front of the wall.

The next morning my buddy and I felt really sick. We walked through Vladimir to the bus station and finally saw the three men. You can see one of them in this picture to the left. Apparently he was giving me the finger, lol. We bought two tickets to Souzdal for the equivalent of $5.  We got there, and it was cold. I felt like, hm..let’s call it cow manure…and we walked by the market, saw lots of horse carriages, decided to walk to the end of a street which looked like there was a field at the end of it. We saw a little pedestrian bridge crossing a river so we crossed it. My friend lit a cigarette and asked if it bothered me, to which I responded by vomiting. I felt so much better afterwards. Our mission was to find a place to stay and we were rather surprised to find a fancy automatic door hotel. It was quite the contrast to the unmaintained houses and churches in the area. We then decided to walk down the main street in the opposite direction to see the other side of the town, which was really fun, because there were lots of little paths and gated areas with tiny entrances, and ruins. We even found a knife sharpener in the back of an old truck. 148956_3371222842869_1099784741_nWe climbed up a tower and went walking on the river. Then as we walked back to the bus station, our last bus passed right in front of our eyes. The cashier who was leaving the bus terminal, told us we could flag a car on the highway that we were next to. It’s common to flag cars in Russia.

Anyway for some reason, we decided to walk back to Vladimir, not realizing how far the distance was. We stopped at  a few places on the way to stretch and warm up. After 6 hours of walking next to a highway we were tired and in pain. I was carrying about 25lbs in my backpack and the ache in my left shoulder went away after my right leg started to give out. We were walking so slowly by the end. What made it dangerous was that as it got dark, the headlights from the oncoming traffic was blinding us, so we couldn’t see, and we started to get drowsy. Even more dangerous, was that, we were walking on the left-hand shoulder, and cars in the right lane were coming into the left lane to pass cars, right next to us. It happened at least ten times. I counted. So every time we saw light coming behind us we stopped to watch for cars, and when cars came at us in the opposite direction we stopped because we couldn’t see anything. So we constantly and to start and stop. We were sending txt messages to a friend in Moscow every 30 minutes or so just to make sure someone knew what we were doing and that we were ok. Needless to say, that person stayed up all night until we returned to Moscow and greeted me with quite the lecture. I digress. While on the highway from Souzdal to Vladimir, we had finally flagged a taxi to stop and pick us up. It was only another 5 minutes by car to Vladimir but walking, at our speed, would have taken another two hours. Then it would probably have been another 4 hours through Vladimir to the train station for a grand total of 12 hours of walking since we left. We had originally started walking at 8pm and arrived at the train station in Vladimir at 3am (7 hours of walking!!). We caught the train leaving at 3:20 AM and arrived in Moscow at 6:45AM. My leg is still a bit sore but my limp is barely noticeable.

I know this all sounds scary, and yes it was scary (we told eachother our wills, in case one of us were to die even) but the entire weekend was full of laughter and adventure. I will never forget the night I walked from Souzdal to Vladimir in the Russian countryside under the very same stars I see back home, in Canada.

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Dogs know how to ride the metro

So one day I was riding the metro, and one of the many stray dogs that exist in Moscow got on at one of the stops. He walked up and down the cart probably looking for someone to feed him. Perhaps his owner died. Then it would sit at the door patiently while passengers got on and off. 

So I was telling my roommate this and she said that I confirmed a myth that Muscovite dogs know how to ride the metro. She had heard that they knew how to ride the metro, but had never witnessed it. Well, now we all know, you and I both. 

St. Paddy’s day in Moscow

So, people here do celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. Not to the same riotty extent as in Ottawa or Toronto but I did see a few people wearing big green hats and clovers on their cheeks. A few packed pubs too. My friends and I went to see an Irish movie in English with Russian subtitles. Also walked up Tverskaya Ulitsa away from the Red Square and decided to do one of my favourite things. Go to a really fancy place for a coffee. A cheap way to enjoy luxury. It came with tons of croissants and cookies and jams too. Well at least now I can say I’ve been to the Carleton-Ritz in Moscow. Cheers!

St. Petersburg Part 2

So Saturday we strolled around town near the hotel and went to the Vodka museum. Then at night we went to a nightclub. I led the group to the club using our map and my navigation skills but it turns out our club had been shut down years ago. So we asked people on the street where we could find a good nightclub. They wanted to take a group picture of us. This is what happens when your a Westerner in Russia sometimes. So we went to a pretty cool club, did the VIP thing by buying expensive stuff, got kicked out because one of us fell asleep at the table, and ended up cramming all five of us in a cab again. After we got out of the cab, a friend tried to lift me up and carry me home but he fell and I fell on him. I was lying flat on my back in front of the Isaac Cathedral laughing in the dead of winter and all four 4 guys (being the token female in a group seems to be the never ending saga in my life) carried me to the hotel and I was chanting that I was the Queen of St. Petersburg. What a night.

The next day we went to Peterhoff -pronounced Petergoff. The “h” is pronounced with “g” in Russian. Ex: Harry Potter is pronounced Garry Potter. Peterhoff is where the Tsars used to live. So we went inside the palace which is now a museum. We also walked in the garden leading to the Baltic Sea. Aside from the fact that all the statues were boarded up for winter, the main statue at the top of the locks leading up to the palace was beautiful. It’s a golden statue of Peter the Great opening a lion’s mouth. We walked on the frozen parts of the Baltic, so I can technically say that I’ve walked on the Baltic.

The train ride back to Moscow the following day, was interesting. It was more family oriented than the train to St. Pete’s. We once again attracted quite the crowd such as old ladies trying to marry their daughters and granddaughters off, and couples, and teenagers etc… I let some of them write in my black notebook. We were really impressed with their English skills. My Russian was seriously put to the test. It was fun.

St. Pete’s

So, last Monday a few colleagues and I got together after school to look at hotels. We booked a four bed room for $60 for 3 nights.  The day we left to St. Pete’s was hectic but so fun at the same time. There was a bit of drama, as I got a txt message while I was in class saying that one of us decided not to go and found a replacement. So, what did I decide to do? I cancelled my commitments after class to go see that person and convince them come. Luckily it worked. Then, because we were now 5 people and not 4, we went to the train station to buy the fifth person’s ticket which was way cheaper than ours and it was the overnight train, whereas we were on an earlier one. Our school was having a party that night, so me and my colleague decided to buy new tickets and hop on the overnight train with the 5th guy, to give us time to go back home, pack and check out the school party. Our two other colleagues took the 8:55 train and we met the next day. The overnight train was a blast! We got to the train station, bought some beers for the ride, I met a bunch of people on the train and we talked a lot. Because I was with two Swiss colleagues who don’t speak English, we were speaking French and one guy on the train kept wanting to show me he could speak French. Kinda funny. The next morning when we woke up, we had a bunch of fans coming by our beds/seats, to hang out. When we got off the train, we had Champagne at the train station for breakfast. It was women’s day which is a big celebration here in Russia where they take the day off to celebrate it. So we gave some Champagne to the train attendant. She enjoyed it. It was cool. Then, after two hours of trying to find our other colleagues who were on an earlier train, we realized that we were at two different train stations. We found eachother eventually at the hotel.

Last night we went wandering about to find a place to eat. Then we got lost kind of trying to find our way back. There’s lots of Canals with many bridges in St. Pete’s so we eventually found a set of stairs to the canal and walked on it a little bit, but they’re not maintained for skating or walking so it was slightly dangerous. Then we decided to catch a cab home and we crammed all 5 us in the the cab. I was in the front on my friend’s lap and three squished in the back. In Russia, you can flag down cars and you negotiate the price. Anyway, will keep y’all posted.

Canadians are special

So I’ve been thinking about what to write and I think if there is anything I have to say, other than the fact that I’m having a blast with my international colleagues, is that Canadians are special. Yes, we are very rare, and people treat us as though we’re some diamond in the rough. It makes sense. We are only 30 million people. When people hear me speak in English on my phone,  I sometimes get asked for my number, or people smile and stare at me, which is flattering, but also really awkward for me.

I love the fact that I’m French Canadian too, because it has allowed me to form a bond with French speaking Europeans here, and they help me with my French! I’m really going to miss it here. I have the best setup, being so close to school, with a piano in my room, and my colleauges/friends who live just a few blocks away. These international experiences are great. The only downside, is you meet people and then you all go back to where you came from (or off to other places) and probably will not see eachother again. Therefore, it’s all about the memories you create. I feel like I’m living a wonderful dream that I will wake up from in the not too distant future. I love it here! I have a month of school left, and I’m dreading the end! 😦 I don’t want it to end!!!!

The mother of the girls I babysit wants to me to work for her full time after school is done at the end of March. It would be a good summer job, and I’m interested in doing it so that I can stay, and the pay is great. I just don’t want to give up my amazing huge bedroom, and proximity to the friends I’ve made. Alas, things always evolve. And if they don’t, life is boring. My American roommate left yesterday in the early morning. I helped bring her luggage down and saw her off. She was homesick from day one. She was awesome though, but, again, things evolve.

Party tonight!!!!! One of my former US Navy, American colleagues, and his roommates (Swiss and Japanese) are throwing a party just a few blocks from here. They’re really nice, good guys.  The American has forgiven me for being Canadian hahahaha.

Have a great day.

Marielle