Monday, October 31, 2016

Russian Urban Legends

When I was a kid I would never have nightmares. I do remember having them from time to time, but then I made a dream catcher and from that time until a few years ago I never had a nightmare. I never liked scary movies, but I loved telling ghost stories. I was a fan of Haunted Ohio and Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, both of which used to reside in my grandma's basement. So, I guess you can say I've always been fascinated with a good unsolved mystery. Unfortunately, I have too many nightmares nowadays so I have to be careful. Nonetheless, for Halloween I thought I'd put together a "spooky" post I've been considering for several months now. A post on Russian Urban Legends fit for the Grim Reaper himself.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Holy Bushes Monastery

Can you believe I've been living in Russia for over a year and have never been outside of the large cities? Well, technically I've been to Lake Baikal, but I don't really consider it the countryside because it's too touristy. This weekend my friend, Lyaysan, and her parents invited me to go to Assumption St. George Monastery "Holy Bushes." It's about an hour drive north of Ufa near the start of the Ural Mountains. After waking up late and miraculously making it to the north of the city in just about 20 minutes we were on our way. 
Assumption St. George Monastery was founded in 1905 by two women as a women's monastery. It lasted until 1927 when religion was banned in the Soviet Union and the property was completely destroyed. Worshiping began at the site in the late 1990s, and the land became a men's monastery in 2002. The graves of the two founders are still on the property and can be viewed just behind the main cathedral.

Google Translate and Anton still left me confused on why the name "Holy Bushes" was given to the monastery. Apparently, three birch trees and two willows were intertwined in a high level of land where the monastery now resides. Unfortunately, I don't know how this was a miracle.

When we arrived we took a few minutes to take pictures outside since it's forbidden to take photos inside the walls of the monastery. Then, we wrapped our waists and heads with the fabric that was provided because women are not allowed to wear pants or have their heads uncovered. Then we walked around the grounds. Lyaysan and I went into the church where she bought some candles and gave me one so I could light it and leave it in front of one of many idols in the cathedral. Having grown up Roman Catholic the Orthodox church is so fascinating to me. I really need to do some research on why there is such a big difference between the churches.

We sat on a bench for a few minutes, then we met her parents and walked down to the holy water. Lyaysan told me that the last time they went to the monastery the entrance we walked through and the path with the pool of water weren't there. In Russia's attempt to become more conservative it seems the Orthodox church is reaping the benefits.
Before we left the monastery we stopped into the dining hall which can be found to the left when you first walk in and is labeled "Хлеб" meaning bread. There you can enjoy a free cup of tea and coffee, as well as some cookies. They even had loaves of bread that visitors were free to take. Of course, they ask for a donation, which I happily gave because the bread smelled so good! We enjoyed some shawarma and donuts that we brought with us from Ufa then headed out.

Since I haven't been outside of Ufa, Lyaysan's parents were nice enough to stop at different places so we could get out to take pictures. In the picture below, you'll notice that the water is extremely blue/green. I asked Lyaysan why it looked that way and she told me that's what it looks like when it's in it's purest state. Make me wonder what's in the Ufa and White rivers which flow around the city.

Our next stop was to the hydropower plant. I'm pretty sure it's the first dam I've ever seen in person and I never realized how big they are! It was scary looking over the sides. Unfortunately, you aren't allowed to take pictures of it, but we stopped a little bit away to take pictures of the river and surrounding land. 
Our final stop on the way back to Ufa was this little pond with trees in it that caught Lyaysan's attention earlier that day. I think that's why we are friends, we both like weird (maybe, ugly) things. After we took pictures of the trees her dad pulled out a thermos of tea and we stood there in the middle of a field to drink it. Despite shivering from the cold, it was actually really nice to enjoy a cup of tea without anyone else around.
I was very nostalgic the whole trip. I really felt like I was back in the United States. The scenery was so beautiful and my photos don't do it justice. There was so much yellow with pops of dark green which made me feel like I was in a painting. I was reminded of books I read when I was a kid (Brian's Winter or Bridge to Terabithia , anyone?). This only fueled the nostalgia. Fall is absolutely my favorite season, and I am so thankful to Lyaysan and her parents for taking me outside of the city!

What do you think? Is this how you pictured Russia?

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Making Russian Blini

One of my favorite Russian foods is blini, or pancakes. Russians call them pancakes, but they are really just crepes. I didn't even know blini was a popular staple here! Now, I try to eat them as much as possible along with my other favorite: borscht.

Lyaysan and I wanted to get together and I suggested that we cook something because it's cheaper than eating out and it's fun cooking with other people. She asked me what I wanted too cook and I just said, "Something Russian." I'm a horrible decision maker. I really want to learn how to cook Russian foods because I like them and it's a lot harder to find ingredients for the things I can make in the USA. She suggested that we make blini. I agreed because I love blini and I've also been pretty intimidated to try to cook them myself.
When Katherine and I were in Irkutsk the woman who ran our hostel made us blini every day for breakfast. She made it look easy because she'd been making them for years, but I just kept thinking, "How do they not burn?" Honestly, it's just a think layer of batter on a flame. As I watched Lyaysan make the blini I realized that it's actually kind of hard to burn it, and even if you do they don't really taste burnt.

I would provide a recipe here, but I'm not going to pretend I know how to make blini. Watching her cook I realized that you, honestly, just have to try it out and adapt to your liking. She used about 8 eggs, 8 cups of milk, a pinch of salt, a few tablespoons of sugar, some flour to make it thick (but it was still watery), and she added some oil so she didn't need to oil the pan. She made the first one and then we tried it and adjusted to our liking. This recipe made a ton of blini. You cook it like a normal pancake but with less time on each side.
With our blini we used sweetened condensed milk and chocolate spread to make it taste sweet. What I like about blini is that you can basically eat it with anything. Sometimes I'll order it sweet with bananas and chocolate, other times I'll order it with sour cream and chicken. You can even eat it plain which is common too. When we were in Irkutsk we spread jam on them. So, as you can see there is no right way to eat blini.
Have you ever eaten blini? What's your favorite way to eat it?

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

That Time We Flew Business Class

A few months ago, on our second trip to Moscow, something amazing happened. We sat in business class. Let me back up a few hours though.

Does anyone else feel this way on vacation? You're on your last day of your trip and you're just exhausted, tired, and cranky? It always happens to me, so, by the time we arrived to the airport, I just wanted to be back in Ufa. We spent the day trying to find something to do and nothing worked out. Museums were closed. I ripped my tights and it made a huge hole. I couldn't go get another pair because we already brought our bags to the train station. If you've ever been to Russia you'll notice that all the women dress impeccably. I felt so trashy walking around and I wasn't making A's day any better by stressing out. So, instead of going to see some buildings we ended up wasting time by going to the mall so I could buy replacement tights.
Just a glimpse at the amount of seat room we had!
Basically, we just wanted to be back in Ufa. By the time we got to the airport we learned that our flight had been delayed two hours and they weren't telling us where to go to check in. A walked around to find a place to charge his phone and do some work. Eventually, we went to a cafe so we could eat and he could work. Almost 10 minutes before the gates were to close we still couldn't figure out where we were going. A just went to the airline counter (which wasn't very clear) and asked about our flight. The woman gave him an attitude and told him, "150 already figured it out. Why couldn't you?" Well, she said something like that, it was all in Russian but that's what he said.

After dealing with her we went through security. Our gate had been changed three times since we got through security. When we got to the last gate our whole flight was waiting about 45 minutes in line to board. So, the counter lady could have lost the attitude because 10 minutes before closing was a joke. Domodedovo airport is always busy, so there wasn't anywhere to sit. We stood in line for that amount of time because we just kept thinking, "It can't be much longer." It was. I had noticed that we were in seats 2, but I didn't think it was going to be anything spectacular because I've been on airplanes before that were all economy seats and that boarded from the back.
Finally, about 3 hours after we were supposed to leave we finally boarded the plane, and we saw it. Two seats in business class had the same seat number as our ticket. We weren't sure if we were actually supposed to sit there. We sat with our stuff on our laps, looking around to see if someone was going to tell us to move. A father and daughter sat next to us and both had the reaction, "OH MY GOSH! We are here?!" At that point I knew that we were where we were supposed to be. The people in front of us, too, were shocked that they were sitting in the same area.

We didn't get any special treatment (unfortunately, it's wasn't first class), but it was just so cool that we sat in business class. The seats were much bigger and there were a bunch of extra gadgets, like a table that came out of the armrest. We asked the people next to us to take our picture and they asked us to do the same. I managed to sleep in the flight because all the extra room allowed me to sleep in a ball. A and I always say to each other, "Remember the time we flew business class? That was so cool!"

Have you ever had a bad day turn into a good day?

Sorry for the horrible quality. All pictures are from my iPhone.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Design Market Ufa

Living abroad is cool, but unfortunately life becomes routine and boring after a while. Unlike big international cities, like Paris or London, Ufa isn't all that exciting. A while ago I came across a market that was similar to the Cleveland Flea. I love craft shows and flea markets, so I asked my roommate's girlfriend, Julia, for information. She told me about the market, and I knew I wanted to go at some point because I love this kind of thing.

The event is called Design Market, and it happens every few months. I still haven't figured out the exact schedule, but I think it might happen every two months. It was one of the coolest events I've been to in a while, in both the USA and Russia. It was a market for designers so people were selling anything from art to jewelry to clothes to food. I wanted to buy everything and if I didn't think I'd have to leave Russia I probably would have. I even sort of wished I had children just so I had an excuse to buy some of the things they offered.

I met my friend, Lyaysan, and her friend, Marina, there. Unfortunately, we didn't stay too long, which is why I'm dying for the next event. I didn't get a chance to try any of the food, and I love food. I also didn't take too many pictures because I still feel weird about taking pictures in places like this. I hate drawing attention to myself. Although, I did attract some attention by speaking English. It still blows my mind how excited people get when they hear someone speaking English. I really should work on my Russian.

The above two pictures are of Julia and her table. She is super talented and I recommend checking out her Instagram if you are interested in handmade jewelry. She is also an AMAZING artist. She made this for Katherine before Katherine left to move back to the USA. I bought a bracelet from her, and I bought a pair of earrings for my sister (hopefully she doesn't read this!) from Krasotulya. There were some many other things I wanted to purchase for myself and for gifts, but I think it was a good things we didn't spend too much time there or else I would have run out of money.

What are your favorite types of events to attend?

All opinions are my own, and I was not reimbursed in any way for this post. I just like sharing things I actually like from talented people. :)
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