Friday, April 29, 2016

Forest Museum

I'm making it a new tradition to go to a place I've never been on my birthday and take pictures. If you remember, last year, while I was still living in the USA, I with to Lake View Cemetery, and I had a blast walking around by myself. This year Anton and I went to the Forest Museum. It actually had a really good review from an English speaker and three days earlier a student recommended it, so I was really interested in seeing it.

Monday, April 25, 2016

My Twenty-Seventh Birthday

I had a great 27th birthday here in Russia. I am so thankful for so many great friends who celebrated with me. I started my day by meeting my friend, Alesya, for lunch at Эврен. She only had an hour break so we just met for a little bit, but I was so grateful she took the time to meet with me. Russians are seriously the best with birthday wishes. I was surprised but how long their birthday wishes were. I'm used to the American, "Happy birthday," and that's it. Hopefully, some of the Russian well-wishes will rub off on me so that I can make holiday wishes more sincere.

Afterwards, I met Anton and we took a bus to Лесопарк лесоводов Башкирии (Bashkortostan Forester's Park) because I really wanted to go to the Forest Museum, which I will write about in a later post. After we saw the museum we walked to the park because they have animals there. I don't like seeing animals caged up like this, so I asked whether these animals were here to be cared for. I'm told SOME are, but it is unclear whether it's the case for all of them. We went to this museum in the winter but all the bears were hibernating, so I'm glad they were out and about. It's been so beautiful and warm here lately! I wasn't expecting it, but there were four bear cubs! They were so stinking cute! They were barking and walking on their hind legs and even trying to climb the fence. The animal keeper came to bring them to another building and the first two ran right up to him. The second two were giving him such a hard time, and the last one refused to come out. They were so cute. I almost died from cuteness overload.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Russian Fast Food

I think the question that I get most from family and friends back home is, "Have you been to 'so and so fast food restaurant'." Starbucks, McDonalds, KFC, it doesn't matter, people want to know what it's like abroad. While I heard places like Hawaii (yeah, I know it's not abroad) or Japan have interesting items on the menu, Russia really isn't like that, at least for McDonalds.

I haven't eaten many places, but, overall, the food tastes just as good or slightly better. I eat at McDonalds a LOT. I don't really like to cook because it's so hard to find random things like cream of chicken soup or broccoli in the grocery stores. Not to go off topic, but if you have any good, simple recipes please send them to me! Going back to McDonalds, I ate it a lot in the USA so the food is pretty comparable, but it's everything else that's different. Any fast food restaurant you go to everything is al a carte even the kids meals. It's kind of annoying when you are really want a lot of food for a bundled price. However, it's good because you can pick and choose what you want.

KFC was different for me too. The food was good but its more similar to McDonalds and Wendy's than the KFC I remember. I haven't been to KFC in forever but I remember it having fried chicken, biscuits, and lots of side dishes. The KFC in Russia has chicken burgers and fries. I constantly call KFC Wendy's and people look at me weird because they don't know what Wendy's is. Subway is the same, but Russians put ketchup on everything so ketchup on a sub is kind of gross, but I ate it.

Unfortunately, there aren't many other American fast food places in Ufa. There are a lot in Moscow, like Dunkin Donuts which I'm dying to go to. There is a Burger King, too but I haven't been there. One thing I miss about American fast food is being able to buy a salad. Russian "salads" are anything mixed with mayo. Sometimes I just crave a bowl of lettuce with vinaigrette dressing, but lettuce is really hard to come buy even in the grocery stores. You can find salads some places but they are usually really small and expensive.

Another big difference are drinks. I drink so much pop because you just can't drink the water here. If you want water you have to order a bottle which is pretty expensive for bottled water. I usually end up getting Coke. Free refills aren't a thing either (except at KFC). I'm one of those people who will drink three glasses of water at a restaurant, but I can't do that here because I can't get water or free refills. It's probably why I feel so dehydrated all the time. Also, I HATE that you cannot get a good cup of coffee. I will have random cravings for just a cup of coffee, but the only thing you can find here and in Europe are specialty drinks like espresso, cappuccino, or a latte. Even the Americanos are gross. I miss just having a cup of coffee with cream.

All the opinions in the post are my own and do not reflect the views of the companies mentioned. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Traveling with Hannah Tan to Invercargill

Hannah is a blogger I met through a blogging Facebook group. She is also in a small, Christian blogging group I joined which is how I got to know her better. She runs a youth ministry blog called Tansquared Youth Ministry where she provides resources for youth group leaders. Today, she is talking about her hometown of Invercargill, New Zealand!
Invercargill, NZ - Travel Guide
Hello from New Zealand! I’m Hannah, and I live at the bottom of this little country at the ends of the earth. I’m a full time mama, blogger, and Youth Leader along with my husband Charles who also works full time as a nurse. Today I’m sharing with you our little corner of the world. So, welcome to Invercargill, the southernmost city in New Zealand! I hope you enjoy this tour.

Invercargill is located in the Southland region of NZ and is a small city of around 50,000 residents. I am a Southlander born and bred and have lived in Invercargill itself for almost 5 years in total. This area will always have a special place in my heart.

In general, Invercargill is quite relaxed and easygoing. It’s not bustling, and people aren’t too busy to stop for a chat. And it’s one of the most affordable places in New Zealand to live. With the dairy industry being the backbone of the region and more and more dairy workers coming from overseas, Southland and Invercargill are becoming more culturally diverse.
Places of Interest 
Queens Park - the city gardens are gorgeous in the summer, and perfect for a relaxing stroll all year round. Right now it’s mid-way through autumn and we’re just getting the golden colours coming through. In Queens Park you’ll find the rose gardens, indoor gardens, band rotunda, bird aviary, playgrounds, duck ponds, golf course, and stumpery, to name a few.

Southland Museum and Art Gallery - in one corner of Queens Park you’ll find the museum {which is also the information center}. The museum is home to our famous Henry the Tuatara! Tuataras are an endangered species and here you’ll find an enclosure where they are being raised. Today I only saw 1 tuatara, but if you’re lucky you’ll see as many as 10!

Oreti beach - home to the world’s fastest Indian! This is our wee claim to fame. Oreti beach also hosts the annual Burt Munro Challenge, the largest motorcycle rally in the country. Oreti beach is probably my favourite thing about Invercargill. It’s a huge flat expanse of sand, with wild dunes to the east and wild ocean to the west. I especially love a grey day, when the moody cloud is reflected in this wild ocean.. It’s just stunning.

Bluff - a small town about 20 minutes drive from Invercargill is popular with tourists to see the signpost and the lookout at Bluff Hill. It’s also where you’ll catch the ferry over to Stewart Island.
Tuatara from Southland Museum
Local Cafes 
Invercargill is home to the world’s southernmost Starbucks! If Starbucks isn’t your jam, grab a coffee at one of our favourite local cafes instead: Zookeepers, The Batch, or The Grille. Zookeepers is on the quirky side, is one of the only cafes in town open after 6pm, and has amazing iced chocolates. The Batch is a busy Scandinavian-style cafe, and The Grille is new to town and located in the transport museum.
Day trips 
The Catlins - stunning scenery only an hour drive from Invercargill. Here you’ll find Slope Point {the southernmost point of the South Island}, the Cathedral Caves {tide dependant}, and the Petrified Forest. If you’re lucky you may also see a few penguins or seals!

Riverton and the South Coast - we love just popping out to Riverton for a day! From Invercargill, you can do a day trip along the South Coast via Riverton. During the summer the beaches to stop at are the Riverton Rocks, Monkey Island, and Gemstone Beach. The locals say that Gemstone Beach after a storm is the best time to go hunting for precious stones.

Fiordland - to me this is like a second home. All my childhood summers were spent on the lake in Te Anau or tramping in the mountains. Te Anau is home to Lake Te Anau, the Kepler Track {and the Kepler Challenge}, glow worm caves, some great camping and fishing spots {so my Grandpa says!} and it’s the gateway to Milford Sound. Te Anau is a 2.5 hour drive from Invercargill and is just stunning. You can do a day trip here, but you’d definitely want to stay a week.

Queenstown - if you’re keen on skiing, Queenstown is where you want to be. Doing a day trip from Invercargill is perfect for this as you can leave at 6am and be up the mountain at the Remarks and ready to ski before 9am. We have done this many times and it definitely beats Queenstown’s pricy accommodation and early morning traffic jams.


Must-have Apps
Instagram - check out the hashtags #invercargill and #mysouthland for the locals favourite places.

A weather app - essential as the weather can be rather unpredictable in these parts! It’s also handy to know when tides are changing for when you visit places like the cathedral caves.

Geocaching - if you’re keen on adventure.. There’s plenty of gorgeous spots around here with geocaches hidden!

BURP - another app I’ve used occasionally. It’s designed for breastfeeding mamas so you know where the breastfeeding-friendly cafes are in town.
Direct flights only from Christchurch or Wellington so it’s expensive to fly in to Invercargill. I recommend a road trip from Dunedin or Christchurch instead. Our little country is so diverse and a road trip is a great way to take it all in and stop wherever you like!

Always bring warm clothes, even in summer. We are known for experiencing 4 seasons in a day! Invercargill often has a cold breeze, so even if it’s sunny outside it may be a little on the cool side. That’s all from me for now. I hope you enjoyed this tour of my hometown!"

- Hannah
Thank you for sharing, Hannah! Also, don't forget to check out her blog for great youth ministry tips. 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, April 18, 2016

What is the Real Russia?

I was talking to my friend, Jimmy, recently about how I've been struggling to come up with blog posts. In the past I've basically talked about my trips because that's the easiest thing to write about. He made a comment to me that really made me think of what I SHOULD be writing about. He told me that he was really interested in every day things I've mentioned in some posts, like the fact that Russians like to walk in parks. It made me realize that those kinds of things are that I should be sharing. I think the USA tends to focus on the political part of Russia too much, and I want to show you the other side.
I've been intentionally trying to bring my camera with me more often. Partially because half the time I say to Anton "I REALLY wish I had my camera right now," and partially because I want to remember more than just the beautiful building I saw. Although, if you follow me on Instagram, you'll notice I love my colorful buildings.
What kind of photos or posts about Russia would you like to see?

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

My 27th Year

I can't believe I am 27 today. Where did my 20s go? I already had the day off (and they are letting me skip the 3 pm meeting), so my day will consist of taking photos and meeting up with friends. I hope your day was as good as mine!

This also means I only have three years to finish my 30 Before 30 list!

Monday, April 11, 2016

9 Must-Have Apps for Russia

Have you ever just one day decided that you want to move to another country without really thinking about the decision? Me too. The first time I ever stepped foot in Russia was six months ago when I came with the intention of staying for a 1-2 years. I don't know if it was because I flew directly to Ufa (I didn't even stop in Moscow or St. Petersburg) but I felt completely overwhelmed. I didn't know the language and few people spoke English. Since being here I have found several apps that will make your trip to Russia so much easier! Here are my pick of the nine best apps for Russian travel. The best thing about these apps is that they are all free!

Language Learning
Even if you have no intention of learning the language you should learn the alphabet. Of the entire Russian language the easiest thing to learn is the alphabet. It took me a while to learn how to correctly pronounce some letters, but just having the basic knowledge was so helpful when I needed to read street names. Plus, when you can begin to read English words written in Cyrillic letters you'll think your fluent. Also, many of these apps are written in Russian, and even if you set them to English some of the words are still in Russian.

Duolingo: If you haven't heard of Duolingo yet, you must check it out! I use it to learn Russian and to review Spanish. The Russian version actually wasn't even out when I first came so I was using Babbel. It was helpful, but I just didn't like it all that much. I found it hard to use and you have to pay for more courses.

Memrise: This was the best app for learning the alphabet. It gives you the letter and ways to visualize it in your head.

SpeakEasy Russian*: This app gives you basic Russian phrases for free. You can pay money for more, but I just used it to learn how to say phrases like, "I don't speak Russian" and "Hello." One thing I like about this is that there is a recording that you can listen to for pronunciation, and they even have an option for listening to the recording slowly.


Yandex.Translate*: Unlike Google Translate, this translator can be used offline as long as you download it ahead of time. It is also made by a Russian company so I trust the translations a little more than Google Translate. The only downside is that you can't take pictures of text like you can with Google Translate.


2Gis*: If you have to download one app make it this one! It was a lifesaver, and the best part? It can be used offline! This app will tell you how to get from point A to point B. You can use "my location" and your destination and it will tell you what bus, tram, or metro to take! The cities are written in Russian and the bus stops will come up in Russian as well but if you know how to sound out words you'll be fine. Also, if you type in a destination using Latin letters it will recognize it, but the destination will be written in Russian. You can also follow your location on the app (even when you are offline) to make sure you get off at the right place!

Rutaxi: Unfortunately, you need to have a Russian phone number for this app, but if you do or can get one you should get this app. It gives you taxi rates at a much lower price. Plus, it tells you right then how much your fare will be so you don't need to haggle with the driver. There is an option to let the drivers know you don't speak Russian and the confirmation text and phone call will be in English. Sometimes the drivers ignore the note that you don't speak Russian and will call you. I just tell them I don't speak Russian.

Умный транспорт: This app is great. It tells you exactly where the trams and buses are. Not all buses are shown, but it's still helpful. You need internet for the app, but it might be helpful if you are in your hostel or a cafe to pull it out and see when you need to leave.


Viber/Whatsapp: Both of these messengers are great because they allow you to keep up with friends and family abroad. You'll be able to send messages and pictures to friends and family even without a data phone. As long as you have wifi you can connect! Phone plans in Europe don't come with unlimited texting like they do in the States, so most people you meet will have one or the other. Both apps also give you the option to make free calls to other users. It's great if you meet someone while traveling that is willing to show you around (Russians are amazing when it comes to showing you their cities). I used these apps in Mexico, Southeast Asia, Russia, and Spain to stayed connected and keep loved ones from worrying! :)

Instagram: This is my all-time favorite app. I'm a little biased though because I like to take pictures. However, it's the perfect opportunity to show off your trip. Also, Instagram is probably the second most popular app in Russia behind VKontakte (Russia's Facebook). The only problem with using it in Russia is that you'll start to have a lot of businesses follow you. I tend to block these accounts because I don't like them, but maybe that won't be a problem for you.

I hope that you find these apps useful on your trip to Russia. Please feel let me know how they worked for you!
How to install a Russian keyboard on your phone:
iOS: Settings > General > Keyboard > Keyboards > Add New Keyboard... > Select 'Russian'
Android: Settings > Languages & input > Google Keyboard > Languages > Select 'Russian'

*Available offline
All apps are available in Google Play and Apple App stores.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

The Hardest Part About Living Abroad

Cleveland Skyline from Chapin Forest Park
The other day I was listening to one of my favorite songs, Skyline Drive by Mae. Whenever I listen to it I imagine summer nights and driving around the suburbs of Cleveland with my windows down. I imagine that summer night smell when you are just sitting outside and staring up at the stars. It put me in a melancholy mood. While I living in Russia can't drive a car to drive around and I can't sit on my parents' back porch. It really got me thinking about the hardest part about living in another country. For me, it's nostalgia. Yes, coming to a country where you aren't familiar with the language or the customs is hard, but that can all be learned. You can learn to speak the language and you can learn to adapt to the culture. It may take some time, but it will eventually happen. Unless, you're me and you can't seem to grasp the Russian language.

For me nostalgia is hard to deal with. You can't learn it, you can only try to deal with it. I am one of those people who lives in the past. I revere the past. I put it on a pedestal. I often forget that my darkest days of depression are now in my past. Maybe my idolization of the past is why I love history so much.

I deal with homesickness a lot especially around the holidays. I get nostalgic for Christmas with my family. The other day I was walking around IKEA and it reminded me of decorating former apartments and bedrooms. It thought about the time I went to IKEA with my friend Haley and having a craft date afterwards. For the next week I was really homesick. I was convinced I couldn't stay in Russia anymore.

In a way, I guess, you can learn to deal with the homesickness if you are willing. On the other hand, I also think nostalgia and homesickness are different. They are related but different. There are things that you can do to deal with being homesick. You can talk to family and find things to do. Nostalgia, though, comes out of no where and hits you like a ton of bricks. You can't fix nostalgia because it lives in the past. Unless you have a time machine, you'll never really be able to fill that desire for the past.

I don't necessarily think this feeling is explicitly linked to living abroad. This happened to me in college, after college, and I'm sure I will one day be nostalgic for Russia. I still don't know how to accurately deal with it, but I usually try to tell myself that I'm not thinking clearly or I'm too emotional at the moment. As I get older I fear nostalgia will become more protrusive because I will have had more of the past to remember, but maybe it will get easier because I'll become wiser as I age. At least that's what I imagine will happen to me.

Do you get nostalgic? How do you deal with it?

Monday, April 4, 2016

The International Seminar

On Friday my director, in coordination with my work, the Ministry of Education of Bashkortostan, and the English Office of the USA Embassy in Moscow just to name a few, organized a large seminar for English teachers in the republic I live in. When my director first told me about it I was not excited. We have to do 90 minute presentations every so often, and I dread them. I am NOT a public speaker, and I'm not entertaining to watch. This conference was a little different than the rest because it was an all-day event instead of just a few hours. Also, I was able to team up with Elizabeth, another native speaker, to do a presentation together. We also only had to present for 45 minutes, which was AMAZING! The day actually turned out so much better than I expected, and I had a lot of fun!

The day started off kind of rocky. I could not find the building. I accidentally walked into a random building my GPS told me to go to and quickly realized it wasn't right. I walked to my school which was nearby only to find that no one was there. Eventually, I called my director and was able to find the place. At 10 am we started with introductions and the three presenters from other areas of Russia (Moscow, Kazan, and Yekaterinburg) gave presentations which really really interesting. Then we had a 30 minute coffee break. While everyone else went to the university cafeteria we went into a back room where we were greeted with tons of pastries and candy.
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