Wednesday, June 29, 2016

What It's Like to Be a Foreigner in Russia

I was initially going to write a post about the performance the camp put on a few weeks ago, but I decided to go a different route. One thing that may shock foreigners is the Russian attitude towards them. I, of course, am writing this from the perspective of an American in a city much smaller than Moscow. Attitudes of individual people may differ as much as the cities themselves. Don't get me wrong I've had my fair share of rude people like that drunk guy who started yelling at me on the bus because he heard me speaking English. However, it was the help of a Russian girl who made sure I was okay after the ordeal.

When I first moved here I was overwhelmed with being a foreigner. It was like I had a giant sign telling everyone that I wasn't Russian. People were very kind to me, but after living here for almost a year, I'm starting get a more basic understanding of how Russians feel about foreigners. As an American the two questions you will get the most are, "How do you feel about Putin?" and "Do you like Obama?" This might turn you off but I can tell you that Russians are much more than there politics.

Russians are honestly some of the nicest, most appreciative people I have ever met. They treat foreigners like royalty especially those people who live outside of the city. I feel like a celebrity here sometimes and it's quite overwhelming because there is nothing special about me. When I presented at the international seminar in April people were asking to take pictures with me and Elizabeth. I just thought it was because we were presenting, but then when one of the Russian teachers gave a presentation no one asked for a picture afterwards. It was awkward. The other day my friend, Demetri, and I were sitting on a bench talking when one guy came up to us and said, "Americans! I'm from Moldova" and asked if he could take a picture with us. Demetri isn't even American...

The most overwhelming part of being a foreigner is being showered with gifts you feel like you don't deserve which brings me back to the summer camp and the pictures in this post. A few months ago Patrick, my roommate, went to a village a few hours outside of Ufa to give a presentation with our director. He came back with, I swear, 10 pounds of honey and a goose! The village had presented him with a goose for coming to visit. The other week Elizabeth and I were on the bus and several people started talking to us. A girl named Nastya asked Elizabeth to write her a letter and someone else offered us a baked good. 
Katherine and Irina were two Americans who were in Ufa with the Fulbright Program. They helped out where I work and at the summer camp. Although Irina couldn't stay for the talent show Katherine did. They presented her a beautiful scarf and a shirt with a ballerina someone drew on the back! When Anna Maria, an American working in Kazan, came to teach some classes and hold a professional development class she was given gifts as well as a performance for her work. I made a short video of the performance they put on for her. When she was speaking to the room she spoke for all of us when she said, "We are just normal people. We don't need all of this." I am so appreciative of what I am given, but sometimes I don't feel I deserve it, mostly because I don't.

Are you, or have you ever been, a foreigner living in another country? How were you treated by the local people?

Monday, June 27, 2016

Irkutsk, Pt. 4

Irkutsk, Irkutsk Oblast, Russia
Sunday, May 29, 2016
Our last day in Irkutsk went by way too fast. Dima picked us up early and took us to an abandoned sanatorium. The sanatorium was the biggest abandoned site I have been too. After we walked around Dima took us to some other places along the river. There were a lot of locals who were sunbathing and having cookouts. We were all getting hungry so Dima tried to think of a good local restaurant to eat at. After trying to find something for a little while we ended up eating at Позы.

We spent the rest of the afternoon and evening walking around the city so I could take pictures of some landmarks I didn't have a chance to take when we first arrived. We also tried to find places with graffiti and street art that we might have missed earlier. Finally, Dima took us to several stores because he wanted us to try local food and spices. Unfortunately, we couldn't find anything he wanted us to try.

Have you visited Lake Baikal? Which cities did you stop at? Irkutsk? Ulan-Ude?

Friday, June 24, 2016

Houses of Listvyanka

Listvyanka, Irkutsk Oblast, Russia, 664520

Lake Baikal gave me strong feelings of being in North Carolina, specifically that trip my family and I made to Lake Lure. Coincidentally, both lakes are famous. Lake Lure is known for being the filming location of several Hollywood movies, while Lake Baikal is known for being the deepest lake in the world. I already wrote about our day spent at the lake, but I decided to make a separate post for some of the houses we saw. I fell in love with these houses. I hope some day I will be rich enough to own my own little house or cabin on Baikal. Wishful thinking.

What do you think? Would you like to have a house on Lake Baikal?

Monday, June 20, 2016

Irkutsk, Pt. 3: Lake Baikal

Listvyanka, Irkutsk Oblast, Russia, 664520
Saturday, May 28, 2016
The weather started to clear up on Saturday, and it was finally getting warmer. It was the perfect day to go to Lake Baikal. Clear skies and cool weather meant you were in a good mood but not sweating in the sun.

Important Information
Before visiting to Baikal you should know that ticks are a major problem. You should get some tick coverage before going. It costs about 400 rubles. You should also know when to travel. Off season (May and September or October) is the best time to visit. If you visit the lake in the winter keep in mind busses stop running around 6 pm. Also, avoid weekends if possible during spring and summer because most local Russians like to visit their dachas around this time and it might be hard to get a bus to the lake. If you plan on hiking the Great Baikal Trail you will need a permit.

Getting to Baikal
Busses run every 20-30 minutes from Торговый Комплекс. Before you enter you will see vans waiting outside. Find the one that says "Listvyanka" or "Листвянка" in the window. That's the bus you will need. You will take the bus to the very end of the line. When returning to Irkutsk you can get on the bus that says "Irkutsk" in the same place where you were dropped off or you can catch bus 524 at any bus stop along the shore. You can also use 2Gis to help you out. The bus fare is only 120 rubles, but it might increase during peak travel months.

We made the mistake of taking our time in the morning. During breakfast our host told us we should get to the bus station soon because it might be difficult to get a bus. We managed to get the last two spots on the bus! It was a miracle. It takes about an hour to get to Listvyanka, but it felt a lot quicker. Maybe it was because I was sitting next to a man who spoke English so that occupied my time. I made the worst photographer mistake you can make. I haven't cleaned my lens since I got my camera five or six years ago. I didn't notice how bad the lens was until I uploaded my photos, so I'm sorry for the bad quality. You better believe I cleaned my lens the second I realized the garbage on my photos.

When we got to Listvyanka we started walking away from the city. The man I was sitting next to suggested that we walk that way. It was beautiful and I couldn't get over the scenery. I'm a sucker for mountains, and I was awe at the mountains in the distance. I was not expecting to see any mountains because in all the pictures I saw of the lake I don't remember seeing mountains even once. We walked for some time admiring the clear water. Growing up on Lake Erie I never knew a lake could look so clear. We followed a dirt path for some time, but decided to turn around as it got more narrow.

I read about a lookout near the town so we started to walk that way. About half way we turned down a street thinking the lookout would be there. When we realized we were in the wrong place we turned around and sat on a bench over looking the lake. Then a man came up to us asking for money so we took that as a sign that we should leave. We headed back in the direction we started in to get something to eat. We ended up eating at Шуры-Муры. The food was good, and they have English menus. They also have outdoor seating right on the lake, but it was too cold for me to go out there.

After lunch we stopped to get some ice cream and then walked towards the lookout again. It was about a 30 minute walk to the main area of Listvyanka. Unfortunately, we never found the chairlift or lookout. We found a park near Дендропарк Байкальского Музея that we walked through. I think you need to pay to get in but it wasn't clear so we sort of just walked in. There were really nice walking paths and views of the lake. I'm really out of shape, though, so I struggled walking up.

There were a few other points of interest we wanted to see before we left. The first was a monument for А.В. Вампилову. It wasn't that exciting. Then, we were tried to find the Shaman Stone. The Shaman Stone is a local legend. Today, you can only see the very top of the stone since the Hydroelectric Power Station Irkutsk was built raising the water level of the Angara River.

We went back to Irkutsk around 5 pm, and got some dinner since we were both hungry. We went back to Traveler's Cafe for coffee and macarons because that is our favorite place to go, even in Ufa. Finally, we finished the evening by walking down Karl Marx so I could take a picture with a Lenin Statue. I wish we had time to go back to Karl Marx because the buildings were so colorful and fun! I was too lazy and tired to take pictures that night. I guess that means I'll have to go back!
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