Monday, February 29, 2016

Kazan Pt. 1

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Last week was the Russian holiday Defender of the Fatherland Day, or better known as Men's Day so I had Tuesday off. For a few days the school couldn't decide if they were going to give us that Monday off too, and so A and I started making plans to visit Kazan. Unfortunately, they decided to make Monday a work day, but, luckily, another teacher said she would cover my Monday night class for me (Thanks, Elizabeth!). So that gave me four days off. We left Ufa at 6 am on Saturday and took a bus to Kazan. It didn't feel long going there because it was so early and we gained two hours.

I wasn't able to fall asleep on the bus because I have trouble sleeping in any position other than my stomach. We stayed at Crystal Hotel, and while I'm all about traveling cheap and staying at hostels we thought it best that we stay in a hotel because A still had to work. I was really nervous about staying here because the reviews weren't that great. Plus, it was really cheap for a hotel, and usually cheap hotels = crappy motels. Surprisingly, our room looked almost brand new. I was most surprised by how modern the bathroom looked. We also had a nice view of the train station, and despite our location on the busy rode with the train station right across we didn't hear any outside noise.

We were both really hungry when we arrived so after we dropped our stuff off and sat for a second we walked across the street to Добрая Столовая. Honestly, if it were up to me I wouldn't have even looked twice at this place, but we tried it. Boy, were we blown away. It looks like a hole in the wall but it was SO cheap and the food was good. It was so good that we visited it SIX times our four days in Kazan. Before I went to Mexico I remember reading about the street food and one blogger mentioned that you know the food won't make you sick if you see businessmen going because they can't afford to get sick. At this cafe all types of people came, and no matter what time we went it was always packed. We both got meat and potatoes (a very generous helping), soup, and a drink for about $4 for the entire meal! It was more food for one meal than you'd get for $4 in the USA. There were so many different food options too. I doubt anyone would speak English, but you can always do what I do and point to what you want, say спасибо (spasiba), and hope they don't ask you anymore questions. Okay, I'll stop talking about this cafe now.
After we ate we walked to the Kazan Kremlin which was closer to our hotel than we were expecting. We took in some of the sites from far away. It's amazing how the wall of the old city is still standing. I always try to imagine what it would be like living in such a time where you lived inside a city wall. Might be real sooner or later though if Trump is elected President, but I digress...
We first walked to кул шариф (Qolşärif Mosque). It is an amazing mosque and just the site alone is worth the walk into the Kazan Kremlin. After we admired the outside we went inside. Obviously in these mosques you need to have a head covering, and I was surprised that they let us use our hats as long as we covered all our hair. The inside was just as magnificent as the outside. I'm always amazed my the architecture of the mosques. Even the ceilings are amazing. We walked up to the balcony to admire the area where the worshipping is held then we went and bought tickets to see the Museum of Islamic Culture. Most of the information was in Russian, so I got kind of bored, but there is a giant electronic Quran in the center that you can view in English. Also, there was a video that showed how the area changed in the last couple centuries. We sat there for about 10 minutes watching the video over and over because we were so fascinated by it.
Afterwards, we walked a little ways and ended up at the Annunciation Cathedral. I was in a few Orthodox Cathedrals in St. Petersburg, but it was the first time I went with someone who is Russian Orthodox. In St. Petersburg I thought the churches were just free of seats and benches because they were more for tourists to look at then for worship, but then I realized how wrong I was. Growing up Roman Catholic I knew the Russian Orthodox Church was different, but I thought it was just a difference in the way the churches were built and maybe a few things about the mass. The Orthodox Church is so different from the church down to the fact that you have to have your head covered when you go in. Now, I haven't been to any of the older churches in Europe, so maybe they are more similar than in the United States, but I was just so amazed at how their worship.
We then walked a little bit more. It started getting cold as the sun went down, but the moon was really amazing. The Kazan Kremlin is worth the stop because the architecture and views of the city alone are breath-taking. Unless you go to the museums everything is free to go into and look at.
Finally, we finished the night by walking down Bauman Street. This is the most famous tourist street in the city. As we were walking A spotted a Museum of Illusions that we decided to go in. I will talk about it more in my next post. We then walked to the end of the street. I was really tired and exhausted from waking up early and the long bus ride that we decided to take a bus back to our hotel around 7. We stopped at the store to get some dessert and juice. I stayed up a little longer, but I was so tired that as soon as my head hit the pillow I was out like a light. I don't think I ever fell asleep so quickly in my life!

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Traveling with Mackenzie Elrod to Istanbul

I'm excited to start a new weekly column called "Traveling With..." where you share your awesome travel destinations. It was sort of a New Year's Resolution slash I came up with the idea in the middle of January to blog a lot more often. I'm hoping this column will give me the push I need to blog more. Plus, who doesn't love reading about people's travel stories? Just me? Okay...

I excited to start the series with my real-life friend, Mackenzie Elrod, who blogs over at Elrod's: Sending Love from the West.

"From the moment I landed in Istanbul I felt transported. Italy and Spain were amazing but Istanbul made me feel like I was truly somewhere special. The calls to prayer, the spire shapes, the texture and depth of pattern infused in everything made the ordinary feel romantic."
Sipping small glasses of tea with sugar cubes plopped in while sitting in a chair surrounded by a myriad of other spindly chairs soaking in the sun. You hear snippets of other languages and plop in more sugar cubes.
The spice market is teeming with color, fragrance, intrigue. The sheer amount of teas and spices is overwhelming and soaks up a large chunk of time if you let yourself just be curious. Spilling onto the street you can buy fresh roasted chestnuts from street vendors and happen upon parks that seem to manicured for the surrounding areas but beautiful nonetheless.
Getting fresh squeezed pomegranate juice at 10pm while you wander over to the blue mosque feels washed in a bit of magic. At the mosque you don a headscarf, remove your shoes, and step onto the most lavish handmade wool carpet that stretch across the whole expanse of space. The texture and pattern inside span every surface and below hangs a 16' chandelier that rests just above head height and is full of flickering candles. You're allowed to just lay there, soak it in.
I think I'll always romanticize my trip to Istanbul, it was the first place I went out of the US, but I think if I went back I'd still feel the same. Something about it just reaches inside you and fills you with wonder."

Thank you for sharing, Mackenzie! If you would like to share your city or travel destination please send me an e-mail at From there I will send you more information on requirements for posting.

Monday, February 15, 2016

An American Tries Russian Food

Two weeks ago in my adult intermediate English class I showed the Buzzfeed video "Americans Try Bizarre Russian Foods for the First Time." After the video they asked me if I had tried any of the foods because they wanted to know what I thought about it. I told them that I had actually never tried any of the food in the video. I have eaten Russian foods like borscht, blini and solyanka but that's about. One woman told me that she and her sister wanted to take me to try the foods. On Friday, after class, they took me to Ёлки-Палки (Yolki-Palki) so I could sample Russian food.

I've never been a picky person when it comes to food. There are three things I will not eat: milk, bacon, and raisins. I can have milk and bacon if they are in things, but I can't eat them alone, especially milk. Raisins are the one thing I will not eat, but I love craisins. Makes sense. So, I guess it isn't a huge feat for me to try these Russian foods since I am so open to trying new things.
The first dish is just herring with potatoes and onions. If you like fish you will like it. I love fish and seafood, so I thought it was pretty tasty.The second dish is Сало (Salo). This is basically just animal fat. It didn't taste bad it was just really hard to chew. I need jaw surgery to align my jaw correctly, so for me it was even harder to tear the food. I didn't feel so bad though because Zilya couldn't even cut through it with a knife. I was most intrigued to try this next dish. It was actually the first one I tried of the night. It is called Холодец (Kholodets) and it is jellied meat. Yes, jellied meat. In the video everyone thought that this was the most disgusting dish because of the texture. I was so nervous to try it, but I just went for it and to be honest it was actually good. They give you a SUPER hot mustard to put on it that makes your nose feel like it's on fire if you add too much, but I would recommend it.
The last one I tried was сельдь под шубой (sel'd' pod shuboy) also known as Dressed Herring or Herring Under a Fur Coat. It is a layered salad with diced salted herring covered with beets, chopped onions, and mayonnaise. This was actually my favorite dish. It sounds unappetizing, and most people who aren't Russian probably think it's disgusting, but I couldn't stop eating it. I'm pretty sure I could have eaten five plates of it.

They told me that they want to take me to other restaurants to try more national food. You get to look forward to more food posts. Now tell me, have you tried any of these dishes before? Would you try any of them?

Friday, February 12, 2016

Mulled Wine

In December I met my friend Alesya for dinner. She asked if I ever had глинтвейн. Of course I had never heard of it because my Russian is horrible and then she translated it and I still had no idea what it was. She ordered them for us and I was in Heaven.

Fast forward to my St. Petersburg trip with Katherine and I suggest that we order them. We've been obsessed ever since. Any time we go to a restaurant that has mulled wine we text the other person to let them know. We decided that we would try to make our own to save some money and I'm glad we did. It was our first attempt and it turned out GREAT!
What you need:
  • 1 (750 mL) bottle of dry red wine
  • 1/4 cup Cognac (We used Cranberry Cognac, but you can also use rum or brandy)
  • 1/4 cup of honey (or 1/3 cup of honey and 2 Tbs of sugar)
  • 1 large orange (half for mix and half for garnish)
  • 1 large apple (half for mix and half for garnish)
  • 2 Tbs of cinnamon or 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 8 whole cloves
  1. Combine all the ingredients, including (except of the half fruits that will be used as garnish) into a non-aluminum pot. Cook on low bring the mixture to a simmer but not letting it boil. I have a gas stove so it heats up mixtures really quick. If you have an electric stove I would suggest setting it to medium-high until it starts to simmer and then setting it to low. 
  2. Let simmer for 30 minutes-2 hours. I stirred often until the honey was complete dissolved.
  3. Strain the mixture, and serve warm. Add additional fruit and cinnamon sticks to your glass for garnish. You can also eat the boozy fruits later. 

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Tyulkin House Museum

I have been doing a HORRIBLE job of posting of more than just my trips. I wish I was a travel blogger but sadly I am not. I am trying to make more of an effort to post just every day things. I think the biggest reason I stopped was because I never had my DSLR camera with me, but I'm trying to get more intentional with my iPhone. Sorry if the pictures aren't that great. I'm kind of annoyed with my iPhone lately. I'm never satisfied with the pictures anymore. Maybe I dropped my phone one too many times. ;)

On Thursday (February 4) our director invited us (the native English teachers) to a gathering at the Tyulkin House Museum, which also included some Fulbright members. They invited some musicians to come and sing for us and the director of the museum gave us a brief history of the museum. The overview was given in Russian so thank goodness people could translate for me. I'm still struggling to learn the language. Afterwards, everyone (except me because I can't sing) sang Jingle Bells and Russian songs while we drank tea and ate a ton of cookies.
I took a few photos of the interior of the house. It is very small, but it includes art from Aleksander Tyulkin. His artwork is definitely worth looking at and if you can find someone to translate for you then you should definitely listen to some of the history of the art pieces. I couldn't help but take a picture of the outside of the home. I mean look at that color! I was in love. It is kind of hard to find the house because it looks like it is in the middle of no where and there really is no sign to indicate you are at a museum. Luckily, one of the secretaries from the school I work at was walking behind me so I was able to find the place!
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