I’ve been living in Russia for just over 50 days now – which means I’m officially halfway through, can you believe it?! Time has gone ridiculously fast and with just under 2 months left I am determined to make every last second count. So, this is what I’ve been up to in Voronezh this October…. get reading!
It’s been a pretty grey month, hence the title of this post (there’s no erotic undertones though, don’t get excited) but I don’t mean in terms of the weather. The weather’s wonderful actually, but that’s coming from someone whose favourite season is winter. The air is crisp and fresh and it’s frosty on the ground and sunny in the sky – you know what I mean, right? The grey mainly refers to colour of the aura that surrounds Voronezh and the citizens that plod around day to day like they’d rather be anywhere else in the world but Russia. There’s definitely been moments when I’ve felt like giving up – negativity can consume you sometimes, but despite the lacklustre vibes that Voronezh emits sometimes, there have also been some serious high points! So here’s a few bullet points about the ups and downs I’ve experienced since the last time I wrote:
– The international students club took us to the ‘Russian countryside’ for a day. It wasn’t really the countryside; it was more of a park where horse shows are held. I’ve decided that this is the last event I will go to organised by this club because, quite frankly, their idea of fun is painful. These are the same people that gave us a pen and paper at the welcome ‘party’ last month…. so I’m sure you can imagine the situation. Of course they had arranged plenty more ‘organised fun’ for us and to make matters worse, the place itself was horrible. Now, I’m not obsessed with animals by any means but I do like them a lot and I can’t stand seeing them cooped up in tiny cages or being mistreated. For some reason, this place was packed with animals and I was so unimpressed because there was just no need. Huge, great big, majestic brown bears were locked away in a cage just a few metres wide. There were camels and wolves and pigs all kept in terrible conditions, even the horse stables were grim. A lot of people didn’t really seem to care that much, especially the Russians who appear to think that this is totally normal, but I found it very difficult to accept that I’d paid money to endorse this place. I also decided not to ride the horses because the ‘horse ride’ was actually just a few laps around a small fenced off circle and you could see that the horses would have rather been doing ANYTHING but that. One even tried to escape countless times… We decided to take a walk to escape from the depressing prison that we’d been brought to and ended up taking some fun pictures on a truck and chatting to some Russian guys in uniform. The day wasn’t so bad in the end thanks to endless good vibes from my estonian gal pals and Jenny – thanks girls! It just would have been better without people trying to shove vodka down my throat every 3 seconds and the animal cruelty, of course. But hey, that’s Russia for you.
– Me and Jenny decided to go and explore the forest one day. There was a real ‘autumn’ vibe in the air, in fact I think that was one of the first really cold days in Voronezh (we’d been having 20 degree weather prior to that!) and all the orange leaves were falling from the trees – perfect for photos. After some negotiating with a man with a leaf blower, we managed to secure 2 bikes for an hour and we were off on our way. The bikes were quite old and had no brakes, but we didn’t mind too much. That was until I completely lost control when Jenny swerved suddenly in front of me and I fell off; permanently bruising my bum forevermore. Perhaps, my bike riding skills still have a way to go! After lying on the floor for 20 minutes in sheer pain, we realised how deep into the forest we were and how quickly we needed to cycle back – not a great thing for my aching bones. It all worked out OK in the end though, despite the fact that I still have a dent in my derrière and I couldn’t sit down for about a week afterwards! Although this may seem like a dreadful experience, it was actually quite the opposite. Instead it was a brilliant day, topped off with a shopping spree at the mall, which balanced it all out. Plus, you’ve gotta learn to laugh at yourself!
– We watched a local football match and the home team, Fakel, just so happens to be one of the worst in the world… Still, despite all odds, they managed to score themselves a win (1-0 to a team that I think was called Dinamo). It wasn’t an exciting match by any means, and it was a chilly evening so sitting still for 90 minutes wasn’t the best thing for our extremities but I’m glad we went. Some people left half-way through (to go and drink at a bar – surprise, surprise) but we paid good money for these tickets (£1.50…) and I would rather watch a crappy football match than watch other people drink, so a few of us stayed and had fun chanting ‘F*** You’ instead of Fakel because number 1) it sounded exactly the same and number 2) no-one here speaks English so they wouldn’t have a clue that it was rude. Yay for profanity!
– Me and Jenny have started walking home from university. Taking the bus would cost us just 20p a journey and the walk takes us over an hour, but we do it because we really need the exercise. We do NOTHING here and when all we eat is carbs, it can start to have an effect pretty quickly! Plus, it’s the best way to squeeze in some girly time, enjoy the fresh air, people watch and listen to music before going back to our host families and being fed 3278347932 more plates of food.
– Leading on from that point, I have decided to set myself a few goals whilst I’m here. The first one is obviously to work hard and improve my Russian. The second is to stop biting my nails – I’ve ‘given up’ this habit so many times now but it never lasts longer than a few weeks, so I really want to give it up for good! The final goal is to stay fit. Even if it means going for jogs and dealing with horrified stares from Russian onlookers or dancing around my room – I don’t care! I don’t want to go back to the UK completely unrecognisable because I’ve single handedly eaten ALLLLL of the potatoes in Russia and done no exercise to balance it out. Let’s see how I fare at these challenges, I’ll report back at Christmas!
– I have a job with International House, a worldwide language organisation….. wahooo! There have been quite a few job opportunities to teach English here and some of them pay really well, but seeing as I only have a short time in Russia, I don’t want to spend ALL of my free time doing something I’ve done so many times before, regardless of how much money I could earn. Plus, I’m not sure speaking in English will contribute much to the goal of improving my Russian so I’ve decided to just do a small amount of work for now and maybe in November I will do a bit more. It’s not just a boring old english class though; it’s a club for kids and boy, do we have fun! I have a group of 15 kids to myself and I’ve really enjoyed getting to know them. We’ve been designing our own civilisations: creating food, dressing up, drawing maps, making secret handshakes – not sure I could think of a more innovative way to get kids to learn a language!
– Our university organised a one-day trip for us to a place called Divnogorye. We slept for 2 hours on a bumpy bus ride there, got off the bus, walked up some stairs, went inside a chalk church, walked up some more stairs, looked at the view of the river Don and came home. I’m not even trying to make this sound boring – it kind of just was. I think it was mainly down to the tour itself because the place was truly beautiful, I just don’t think we got to see enough of it and instead we were just standing around listening to a script-like speech containing 101 dull facts that we didn’t really need to know. The only remotely interesting story I have is that we were given candles in the church and ushered through the tiniest set of tunnels filled with bugs and frogs. I’m a little scared of fire, so the fact that there was so many open flames around so many winter scarves, coats and long hair in such a small space freaked me out. Despite that, I definitely appreciated the views outside it was nice to be surrounded by nature again and we had a day off from lessons, so that instantly made everything better!
– It was our Russian friend’s birthday the other day, so to celebrate we decided to rent a log cabin in a place called Maklok for the night. There was a mix of English and Estonian students but mainly it was a group of Russian boys, and let me tell you something I learnt that weekend: Russian boys cannot handle their alcohol. Yep, despite all of these beliefs that Russian’s drink vodka like it’s water I’m still yet to see it in real life. So, between about 12 of us we had 20 bottles of vodka, 2 bottles of samagon (home made vodka) and various bottles of beer, wine and champagne. I had 2 shots in total and there was another guy who didn’t drink at all, so goodness knows how much alcohol that left for everyone else to share! By the end of the night there were broken doors, people passed out in minus freezing temperatures outside with just a t-shirt on, spillages/food EVERYWHERE and a room full of aggressive, overly sexual, rude, annoying males. Safe to say the 4 of us girls stuck together, danced the night away before snuggling in bed together and it was actually such a fun night (if we ignore the part when all the boys started causing drama). Girls rule.
We’re off to St. Petersburg tomorrow, which I’m ridiculously excited about! It’s been a month since Moscow and, as you know, I suffered some serious withdrawal symptoms when I arrived back in Voronezh so it’ll be great to snap out of routine again and enjoy a change of scenery. Plus, I can finally put the Moscow vs. St. Petersburg debate to rest… I wonder which city will win? Stay tuned to find out!