Selasa, 30 Maret 2010

Moscow is grieving

Yesterday morning two bombs were set off on the metro at Lubyanka and Park Kultury stations killing 39 people and injuring over 70.

It happened early in the morning, way before me and my friends would have been taking the metro so we are all fine. Fortunately my friend texted me to tell me about it so I managed to text my family and put on facebook that I was ok before my friends and family saw the news. I can’t imagine the panic that went through my family and friends’ minds before they saw on facebook that I was ok. I was overwhelmed by the amount of texts I got from people checking I was ok, it’s lovely to know you’re all thinking about me.

Yesterday the embassy advised us not to get the metro so I was forced to stay in my house all day. This meant that the situation didn’t really hit me. I didn’t really think about what had happened because I think I’ve always seen Moscow as quite a dangerous city and I don’t think I was very surprised that this had happened.

But as I watched the news and saw images of the metro stations it really brought it home that this had happened in MY Moscow. Even though I sometimes find it hard living here Moscow is one of ‘my cities’ now. Huddersfield, Birmingham and Moscow – that’s where I live! I regularly go through Lubyanka and Park Kultury and seeing images of the explosions made me feel so protective of MY city!

As you all know I am way too politically ignorant to understand who did these attacks and why (one of my major downfalls that I really should address!). At the moment it appears officials are blaming the attacks on militants from the North Caucasus. Anabelle explained to me today that these attacks are significant because Russia felt like they were getting out of a time of terrorist attacks in Moscow (the last attack happened in 2004), but now people are having to question whether they are over or whether they are an ongoing threat.

Today I took the metro to meet Anabelle and I have to say, I was really scared. I’ve never felt unsafe on the metro before but today I really was worried. I noticed that others around me were also acting differently. No-one was listening to music or reading, everyone seemed a lot more alert. Announcements regularly came through speakers reminding everyone to stay alert and the words ‘Moscow is grieving’ were on screens on every station. My train had to go through Lubyanka and when we stopped on the platform everyone went silent. It was incredibly eerie, but felt like an apt sign of respect.

Anabelle and I went for lunch and a bit of a walk but were both quite tired so decided to go home after a couple of hours. We both had to pass through Lubyanka so we decided to get off to go and see the flowers that had been laid there (and I think we both silently wanted to go and somehow show our respects to what had happened there). We got onto the platform and even though it was full of people it was almost silent, apart from the sound of people sobbing. The platform is already filling with flowers and candles. I got quite emotional, especially as it really hit me that this had happened in MY Moscow, not in the scary/comedy Moscow that I describe in my blog but in the city that I live in.

The metro may have felt different today but I’m sure in time it will feel normal again. Moscow has not stopped and neither will the people who live here.

Today is a day of mourning, so let’s remember the 39 innocent people who will never return home and the 70 who were injured.

Selasa, 23 Maret 2010

Birthday wishes: An embarrassing ordeal.

Yesterday was my 21st birthday. I celebrated in England back in February with my family and friends so I didn’t really do much yesterday. But it did offer me a little insight into a Russian birthday.

Observation number 1: ‘Happy Birthday’ is not enough. In Russian there is a phrase for Happy Birthday but after it has been said it is normal for your friends to ‘wish you’ lots of things. For example, ‘Happy Birthday Sarah, I wish you happiness, I wish you love, I wish you success, I wish you health, I wish you to have money and I wish you friendship. It’s very nice for people to ‘wish me’ these things but it gets a little embarrassing when I have to stand there for 5 minutes continually saying Spasiba (thank you). A simple Happy Birthday will do for me.

Observation number 2: If you’re a woman, you will get an abundance of flowers. It’s common for women to receive flowers on their birthday, something that I had forgotten about until yesterday. Now I have a small garden on my desk. I love being given flowers though! They’re pretty, they smell nice and they look beautiful… what’s not to like? Oh and in Russia if you go to a restaurant and you have flowers they put them in a vase for you on the table. I was VERY excited that I finally got a chance to do this on my birthday lunch!

But alas my birthday is over and it’s just dawned on me that I am officially in my 20s. I had expected by this stage in my life that my career as a popstar would have really taken off. Britney Spears had released 3 albums by the time she was my age… I must catch up.

Kamis, 18 Maret 2010

The Change Issue.

I’ve just realised I have not blogged about one of the most fascinating points of Russian life. This is (drum roll please)…. Giving the correct change in shops.

This was first brought to my attention 2 years ago when I studied in Petrozavodsk. Back then I spoke little Russian and so whenever I went to pay for something in the supermarket I could not comprehend why exactly they were shouting ‘2 ROUBLES’ at me. After spending 6 months in Moscow I have finally learnt: Paying with incorrect change is a crime punishable by death. Almost.

A few days ago I tried to pay for something that cost 250 roubles (£5) with a 1000 rouble (£20) note. The cashier looked at me like I had just eaten her child and just said a long, harsh ‘No.’ Why? Because she had no change.

Shops appear to take the change out of their tills as soon as they receive it. No idea why, that’s just the way it seems to work. But this means that every time I need to pay for something with a dreaded 1000 rouble (£20) note I must make sure I have all the little bits of change they will need to willingly hand over the change I am owed. For example if I buy something that costs 217 roubles I MUST give 1017 roubles, or there is no way I am going to be able to pay.

At first this was just another ‘hilarious’ Russian thing, it then turned into a massive hassle every time I went food shopping. I’ve now taken to carrying 2 purses… one for notes and one for change, which has led to my new favourite game: paying for everything in coins. Today I spent 50 roubles on some food and handed over ten 5 rouble coins to the cashier. She looked at me like she wanted to kill, but could not tell me off as I was paying with the correct change. HA. Take that stupid Russian change system.

Minggu, 14 Maret 2010

Nothing interesting happened this week. But I saw some nice photos.

The longer I live in Moscow the harder it is to blog. I feel that just retelling my day to day activities would be extremely dull for you all to read. Since I’ve been back I’ve basically… been to lessons and hung out with my friends. Not an epic difference to life in England. Although yesterday I was at a cafĂ© near Red Square and Lenin and Stalin walked past the window. That made me LOL.

My lessons have got more interesting this term. Although I enjoyed my lessons last term I felt a bit put out that the higher groups got to study history, literature and the media, but this term I think my group have finally proved that we have moved on from nursery standard Russian and we are allowed to study the grown up subjects! Yay! But more subjects = more teachers = more homework. Boo.

My mission of getting the most I can out of Moscow in these few last months is ongoing. I went with Toby (my friend from Birmingham who has just moved to Moscow) to see the Picasso exhibition at the Pushkin Arts Museum last week. This year many exhibitions and concerts are taking place throughout Russia to celebrate ‘The Year of France in Russia’. I thought the exhibition would just be a couple of pictures, nothing special, but it was huge! Apparently it’s the biggest collection of Picasso’s work in Russia in over 50 years… no wonder it took us 2 hours to get round it all! We couldn’t take photos so I’ve found you a nice picture of the Presidents wife having a look…

Today Anabelle, Sinead (another Birmingham friend who has just moved to Moscow) and me went to see another exhibition in a clearly VERY cool art warehouse/gallery type place (Birmingham peeps – imagine The Custard Factory. Only cooler.). The exhibition was a collection of photos from a competition called ‘The Best of Russia’. The competition ran for a year in 2008 and Russian photographers (both professional and non professional) entered photos of the image that best described Russia to them. Here’s a few of the winners:

It was interesting to see Russian peoples’ interpretation of their country. A lot of the time I felt the photos (although very good pictures) could be from any country and weren’t particularly “Russian”, but then... I am English, so cannot judge. I wonder what photo I would take if I wanted to show my view of Russia? Probably the guys who dress up as Stalin and Lenin sitting on the metro… holding Russian dolls, soup and pancakes.

And on a different note, I have started my fundraising to be able to do some work with Love Russia in the summer. Being in Moscow is making it a lot harder as having cake sales are pretty impossible… and being sponsored to speak Russian for a day is a bit… pointless! SO this year my theme is Dress Me For Charity!
On this blog: - you will find pictures of every single item of clothing I have in Moscow with a number and a description.
From this you can build me an outfit and then sponsor me to wear it for a day!
The sponsor form is at - so when you donate money just write your clothes selection in the comments box.
You can check on the blog or the facebook group (!/group.php?gid=393784670624) to see pictures of me wearing the outfits.
This is probably the craziest idea I’ve had to raise money so please get involved!

Jumat, 05 Maret 2010

We didn’t go to the cat theatre.

I’m sorry it’s been so long since I last wrote. What with all my travelling and then settling back into Moscow I appear to have abandoned my blog.. but never fear! I am back… and to make up for my disappearance I have written you all an essay… (I promise the next one will be shorter!)…

Well Simon’s Russian adventure is over and even though we never actually got around to visiting the cat theatre (we opted for the Bolshoy instead) I think he had fun.

Here are a few highlights from our trip:

First we flew out to Moscow and I had lots of fun showing Simon around my ‘hud. It was great to be in Moscow with someone who had never been before because I could relive that ‘oh wow… I’m in Moscow!’ feeling. We also did lots of touristy things that I’d never done before like visit the Tretyakov gallery, the Kremlin and the Armoury museum. We watched an opera at the Bolshoy (in Italian with Russian subtitles. Potentially, Simon could not enjoy this as much as me.) As well as being super cultured we tried to fool the Muscovites into thinking we were one of them… i.e. we went ice skating at Gorky Park (I don’t think we fooled them. Our wobbly skating and typical English laughter has no-one convinced).

Clearly tourists.

Simon's excitement at RED SQUARE!!!

My happiness at being reuinted with SUSHI.

From Moscow we got a fourteen hour train to Petrozavodsk, a city in the north of Russia where I studied for a month last summer. The train ride was a lot better than last time and the ‘top bunk debacle’, Simon was the man and took the top bunk so no arguments with scary Russian men was necessary.

Last time I was in Petrozavodsk it was boiling hot and it never got dark (the white nights of the summer). This time it was -30 and very dark. Love the Russian winter. Not. It was however lovely to be back and especially to see the people I stayed with last year – Lyudmila and her daughter Olga. It was so nice to actually be able to properly communicate with them in Russian! Last year my Russian was so bad we normally resorted to drawing pictures of what we were trying to say to each other but now we could finally properly have a conversation. Phew. So glad I have actually progressed in the last year and a half.

From Petrozavodsk we took another overnight train to St Petersburg and Simon proved that he did learn something from his dissertation on chivalry because he once again took the top bunk.

In St Petersburg we were mega tourists. Day 1 was spent at the Peter and Paul Fortress where Simon spent much of the day enlightening me on Russian history. Day 2 was spent in one of my favourite places in Russia – The Hermitage. There’s so much to see there that it’s been said it will take you 9 years just to glance at everything! As I’ve been before I let Simon choose where we went, although I did make sure we went to see one of my favourite pieces. Picasso’s Violin and Guitar, which I based my GCSE art project on

The final part of our trip took us out of Russia and into Finland. We took a 6 hour train ride from St Petersburg to Helsinki, which at first I thought was a ridiculous amount of time to be sat on a seat for… until my mum pointed out that it’s actually just the same as travelling from Huddersfield to Cornwall. And we amused ourselves by continuing our epic Uno tournament (which I won. Just so you all know.)

We spent 3 days in Helsinki which is probably one of my favourite places in the world. After being used to the busyness of Moscow and St Petersburg we both felt like we’d entered a ghost town when we got there. There was just no-one on the streets. I loved it! The highlight of Helsinki (apart from the obvious BREAKFAST BUFFET… my two favourite words) was visiting Suomenlinna fortress. The fortress is on a beautiful island that’s just a 15 minute boat ride from Helsinki harbour. It was one of those places that just took my breath away with its beauty. As it was winter the island was covered in snow and even the sea was frozen. Climbing through the snow as high as we could go was so much fun!

But all good things have to come to an end and after Helsinki I had to go back to Moscow and Simon flew back to England. I thought having a friend visit at the beginning of term was a good idea because it gave me an incentive to go back… and I was right, I was really excited about our trip… I just forgot to think about the end of it. Flying back to Moscow on my own was NOT FUN. All I could think about was how my holidays were over, how I had to return to a place where everything was just that little bit more difficult than in the UK and how it was going to be 4 months until I could eat hummus again.

In the spirit of this being an honest blog, I’m not gonna lie – the first week back was awful. Everyday I woke up, realised I was in Moscow and attempted to go back to the dream I had been having in England. Going back to school meant returning to reality, returning to being exhausted after non stop concentration and returning to HOMEWORK. Eurgh. I missed my friends as soon as I got here unlike last time when I was too excited to think about home too much. So basically, I was sad. Very sad.


Now the first week hurdle is over. And I feel better. Missing my friends is still a big issue, but one which I feel I’m not going to solve. I just need to keep busy, and that’s exactly what I’m going to do. I have four months left to live in this city and I want to get everything out of it that I can.

So Moscow Part II. Bring it.