Sunday, January 29, 2012

Munchkins and Moskva!

Saturday was a very exciting day for all sorts of reasons.  To begin with, Chris and I taught our second Russian class and goodness were those kids energetic.  They are super adorable though and most of them have had at least some exposure to Russian and are in general really smart kids.  Alina and Grace are the two girls in the class and latched on to me right away.  When I asked everyone to come sit in a circle to play a game, Alina exclaimed, "I'm sitting by you!" and proceeded to plop herself down into my lap.  "Hey! I'm sitting by her too!" Grace called out after seeing that Alina was occupying my lap and scooted Alina over to make room for the two of them to both sit on my lap.  It was super cute, but we needed space to play the game, so I told them "Okay girls, let's sit in our own spots in the circle" and they reluctantly moved to either side of me.  The kids chose to show their affection for Chris by making him the object of their "tug of war" game, which ended in them tackling him to the ground.  I think they would be happy to play that game all day long, but it doesn't look like that one is going to be showing up in any lessons plans for the good of everyone involved ;)
Saturday afternoon I got a phone call from mom saying that she had my bureau assignments in her hand because they were sent to the house.  I didn't want to wait to know my assignment, so I had her open the letter and read it to me.  I was pleasantly surprised to hear that my tentative assignment (if I get moved from alternate to permanent position) is in Moscow! Now I definitely want the internship sooo much more than ever!  Ten weeks in Moscow, home for no more than a couple weeks, and then back on a plane to St. Petersburg - that would be so incredibly exciting and would mean that I would spend almost an entire calender year abroad! Even if I do not end up being selected for the full assignment, going through the process of applying and having security clearance done is a good resume builder.  For now, I just keep on keeping on.
Всего хорошего!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

До встречи!

This morning we were up and checked out of the hostel by 7am.  We walked to the London Bridge station just a few minutes from the hostel and Mario saw me off.  We had a little extra time, so we got to sit together for a bit in the station before we really had to say our goodbyes.  Saying goodbye is, of course, never easy, especially since we had had such an amazing vacation together.  Not to mention that we had waited so terribly long to see each other and that every minute we get to spend together is extremely precious to both of us.  It was a very teary goodbye for both of us, with promises to write each other as soon as we made it home and that we would never ever forget this amazing winter holiday together.  As always though, it wasn't goodbye, but До встречи (literally "until meeting", but having a meaning more like "see you soon"), which we say because there WILL (God-willing) be a next meeting and the sooner the better.  Eventually I had no choice but to go through the gate and give a final wave and smile goodbye before turning the corner.  As soon as I turned to corner I burst out crying even harder and had to stop for a second to take some deep breaths and head off to find my train.  I made it to the airport without any trouble and the trip in general was really smooth. I had an amusing and slightly embarrassing run-in with a woman working for British airline security which brought some much-needed laughter.  I had a very relaxing flight from London to North Carolina because the person who was supposed to sit next to me (the plane was 2-4-2 and I was assigned the aisle of the left 2) either didn't show up or that ticket was never sold.  I therefore had the luxury of stretching out and was able to sleep for a few hours of the trip.  By the time I got to Indianapolis I was really excited to see my Mom and sister at the airport and enjoyed a nice dinner with them before heading back to Lafayette.  After being stolen away by Erica and Jasmyn for a bit I was one EXTREMELY sleep-deprived girl.
The entire Paris and London trip was, if you haven't gathered from my other posts, AMAZING! I am so blessed to have had the opportunity to not only see some more of this beautiful world, but to spend the trip with one of my most favorite people.  Looking back on it, parts of the trip really felt like a dream, but one that I will never ever forget and will always look back on with a happy heart and beautiful memories!

Day 8 (Thursday, January 5, 2012)

Today our journeys took us to Oxford! It's an adorable university town and we spent all day walking around and enjoying a day of mostly nice weather.  When we stopped in a supermarket to buy sandwiches for lunch I'm pretty sure the woman working thought that we were students because she was asking us how our Christmas break was and such.  It was cute and she was really friendly.  Today was such a joy-filled day that I had to try hard not to think about it being our last full day together.  The whole journey home from Oxford we chatted about life in general again. It's great having someone who is so easy to talk to and in Russian even! At the beginning of the train trip Mario started speaking English randomly just for fun, but a few sentences later Russian words kept popping up unintentionally.  I was even having a hard time speaking my own native language, so after no more than a few minutes it was back to Russian.  I realized how long it had been since I had any sort of meaningful conversation in English besides "Where's the underground station?" or "I'd like to buy a ticket.". When we got back to the hostel we had a relaxing last evening in London.  I think we were both a bit burnt out from the entire trip with so much walking, so many late nights, and often not quite enough sleep.  We had planned to go down to the bar or out somewhere in the city for a bit, but as we were chilling on my bunk we both ended up falling asleep.  At one point I woke up and looked at my clock, slightly terrified that we had overslept our flights, but was relieved to see that it was only about 1:30am.  At that point we decided to just change into pjs and call it a night for the few hours before our early Friday morning alarm.

Day 7 (Wednesday, January 4, 2012)

Today we went to Stonehenge! Such a fun day! We set out by train from London and it was about an hour and a half trip to Salisbury where we met up with a tour bus to Stonehenge and Old Sarum.  The bus only to Stonehenge was going to cost 11 pounds, but for just four pounds more we could go to both, plus admission at both and an audioguide at Stonehenge was included. Obviously we chose the latter. Old Sarum is the sight of the remains of a large castle structure and although there is little left now, we had a nice time walking around the territory.  We were laughing sooo hard trying to take a "sad" picture at Old Sarum because we (especially Mario) could not keep a straight face.  Everyone else probably thought we were absolutely crazy, speaking Russian and laughing uncontrollably! We also took a picture with the horrible path leading up to the sight of Old Sarum.  By the time we left Old Sarum for Stonehenge we were quite cold, but definitely in a good mood from all of our silliness at Old Sarum.  At Stonehenge Mario grabbed a quick snack for his rumbling tummy while I waited to get our audioguide headsets (in Russian, of course!!).  While in line a girl in front of me complimented my scarf and then I asked her if she was from the states (I could tell by her accent). She answered that she was and was quite surprised when I responded that I was too.  She had just heard Mario and me speaking Russian so assumed we were Russian. :) Once we got our headsets we set out to see Stonehenge! It was really neat to just see with my own eyes something I had only ever seen pictures of and read about. We took some pictures and listened to the extent of our audio guide before ducking out of the cold for a few minutes in the gift shop.  I bought some hot chocolate before we left Stonehenge and then we waited for the bus back to Salisbury.  I dozed off on the train ride back to London in between short conversations with Mario. At the beginning of the train ride we had a bit of a laugh intentionally making funny faces when we noticed that a man at the other end of the train was taking a picture of the inside of the train.  Back in London we relaxed at the hostel for a bit, mostly just chatting about life.  We then headed down to the hostel bar for a few drinks and the amusement of watching/dancing/singing along with karaoke night.  We called it an "early" night a little before 2am.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Day 6 (Tuesday, January 3, 2012)

     Last night we opted not to set an alarm which resulted in us sleeping in until about noon.  We definitely needed it though after our late night last night and it was nice to be well rested before hitting the city for another full day.  We decided to have Fish and Chips again today for lunch.  Since the weather was so nice again we decided to set out to see some more outdoor London things.  Our first stop was a big cathedral we had seen the night before from the London Eye, but there wasn't much more to see in that section of town so we headed to one of the last must do sights of London- London Tower and Tower Bridge.  Memories of sophomore year Academic Team and that mischievous British royalty.  Tower Bridge was also super impressive with a beautiful view of the river.  As we walked across the bridge the wind was crazy, my hair was flying every which way and Mario and I just laughed and smiled the whole time! Every memory I write just brings a big smile to my face and a great happy feeling in my heart! We just had such an amazingly good time together in Europe!! After London Tower and Tower Bridge we went to my part of town - CHELSEA! I really wanted to go there and Mario was so awesome and just as excited as me to see the region with my name))) I took a bunch of pictures with "Chelsea" signs and just walked around.  After Chelsea we went to the London Docklands, the old port region of London, which is now a business district.  There were really nice places to walk along the river though so it ended up being a really nice way to spend the evening.  By the time we got back on the underground, however, we were pretty frozen! We stopped back at the hostel to rest a little and WARM-UP before changing into our clubbing clothes.  We wanted to go to a "real English pub" so we asked the staff at the hostel and they recommended a couple of places that were the first pubs on the street, which was the first High street in London.  After the pub it still wasn't super late so we went back to the hostel bar for a few minutes before heading out for club night number two.  Tuesdays aren't a very busy club night, but we managed to find a fairly crowded club and stayed until 3am again.  I think the music was only about 85% as good as the music the first night, but we still had a good time (and there was no broken glass on the floor this night!) The promoter who invited us to his club spoke Russian, so it was just another addition to our constant game of finding any and all things Russian. :)

Day 5 (Monday, January 2, 2012)

    Today we walked A LOT (even by our standards) and accidentally woke up at 7:30 instead of 8:30.  We saw a changing of the guard ceremony and parade at Buckingham palace and walked around that park area for a bit.  The fact that we saw the parade at all was a bit of an accident because we just so happened to show up at Buckingham Palace and see that everyone was obviously waiting for something and decided to wait with them and see what was going on.  After that we spent quite a bit of time walking around in Hyde Park and enjoy the beautifully sunshiney (albeit a little cold) day. Hyde Park is a massive park and by the time we had walked through a good majority of it we were both getting hungry.  And what could be more perfect than Russian food for our hungry little tummies?!?! We had read in my guidebook that there was a Russian restaurant in London, so we couldn't pass that up.  I ordered borshch and pelmeni and Mario ordered a chicken soup and pelmeni and I felt just like I was back in Ukraine eating Maria's cooking :) Perfect for a cold day and two very hungry travelers. With full tummies we headed to the London Eye and saw many beautiful night views of the city during that adventure. Back at the hostel we had a few drinks and enjoyed some amusing karaoke before changing our clothes and hitting the club.  Monday nights are "student nights" at most London clubs, so we were able to find a fun club with a young crowd and dance until 3am (most of the clubs in London are only licensed until 3am on weekdays unfortunately.  Finding the way home was a bit of an adventure again without the Metro, but we were able to find a bus that got us a little closer to the hostel, so the walk wasn't too bad. I was so happy to have finally hit the club and had a fun fun night dancing with my boy! :) 

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Days 3 and 4 (Saturday, December 31, 2011 and Sunday, January 1, 2012)

     Days 3 and 4 get to go together because one day just kind of led into the next with little sleep in between.

     The last day of 2011 had us awake again at about 8:00, getting ready and heading down to breakfast.  Our first stop of the morning was the Centre Pompidou.  We had a little bit of time before we could get in, however, so we did a little walking around/souvenir browsing before heading into the museum.  Admission was free for students from the European Union, so I was going to pay.  After Mario showed his ID and got his free ticket, I told the man that I was not a student in the EU and needed to buy a ticket.  He smiles and says, "Today, just for you, it is free!" I smiled and thanked him...what a nice guy! The museum truly had one of the best views of Paris.l  It was more centrally located than some of the other high points and as Mario said, "You can see the Eiffel Tower from here. You can't see the Eiffel Tower from the Eiffel Tower." haha
Inside of the museum we found some awesome modern art including some really average white Christmas lights, a giant mushroom, and some sort of black and pink incomprehensible monstrosity.  Overall, really a great museum and it would have been worth it even if I would have had to pay for my admission.  The museum was in a really cute area of town so we walked around for a bit before stopping in a cafe to have lunch and avoid the rain.  For the rest of the afternoon we mostly just wanted to walk around the city and see a few other less touristy areas.  We went back to the hostel to rest up for a little less than 2 hours because we knew we had a big night ahead of us.  We headed to the Eiffel Tower area and got there about 8:30/9:00.  There weren't a ton of people there when we first arrived, but it go really crowded really quickly.  We ate yummer Doners and Mario even helped me order by myself in French! :)  We found  great spot a bit back from the tower in the lawn in front of the tower with a perfect view and surrounded by nice people.  And then the waiting began! At 12:00 as the lights flashed, people cheered, fireworks burst, and bottles popped, Mario wrapped me up in a big hug and we shared a New Year's kiss by the light of the Eiffel Tower.  It felt like something perfect out of a romantic movie and my heart was so happy it could burst! I don't think I can all my life possibly forget ringing in 2012! There was another main street, Champs-Elysees were people were ringing in the New Year, so we headed there to take in the atmosphere of the evening.  We walked around Paris without any aim, just following the crowds of people until a little after 2am, when we returned to the hostel to drink the Ukrainian champagne Mario had brought to Paris.  Since it had been shaken up in his suitcase on the journey there, popping the cork was a pretty humorous experience.  Mario popped it out the window, but the cork shot out, hit a window on the building across the street, and flew to who knows where after that.  We had a good laugh about that.  The champagne was really quite good and we chatted and finished the bottle until about 4:30 when some of our fellow hostel mates returned and we finally decided to settle in for the first few hours of sleep of 2012, falling asleep with very happy hearts.
    Just a few hours later Mario's alarm clock told us that it was time to get up and get ready for the day in order to check out of the hostel by 11:00am.  After checking out we went to find somewhere to eat breakfast and ended up eating yummy omelets.  We walked around a bit in a part of the city near that hostel that we hadn't walked in yet just to pass some more time and stretch our legs before the train to London.  We went back to the hostel to get our luggage (and the book I had left in the room) and I called Mom to wish her Happy New Year.  It was only 7am there and we only talked for a minute or two, but I was glad that I got to wish her a Happy New Year by phone and not just via text.  We stopped briefly to say goodbye to Mario's shopkeeper friend who he met when he was in London in May and headed to our train.  The trip to London was only about 2 hours on a fast train.  Some people have asked me how the Chunnel was and my answer is always the same-dark! haha I had a funny embarrassing moment when I several times attempted to manually close the automatically closing door before I looked up to see a man about halfway down the train looking at me and shaking his head and pointer finger disapprovingly.  It was rather amusing. Once we got to London (YAYAYAY!) we found an ATM to get pounds and bought metro tickets.  The directions I had printed were perfect and we found the hostel really easily.  We checked in and left our bags in the room and decided that we really wanted dinner, specifically Fish and Chips.  It seemed like the perfect meal for our first night in London.  On New Year's Day, however, when most everything is closed, finding Fish and Chips in London is an unnecessarily difficult task.  After walking several miles we finally happened upon a little fast-food like place, but it was just what we wanted because Fish and Chips was on the menu! The traditional English way to eat fish and chips is with vinegar and it was really quite delicious! We spent the rest of the night walking and actually saw a good bit of London, including Westminster Abby, Big Ben, Trafalgar Square, and a busy night life street.  We didn't realize that the underground only runs until about midnight(a bit surprising in such a big city!) and ended up finding our way home by bus and a whole lot of walking! By the time we found our way back to the hostel we were sleepy and cold, but definitely had a fun first night in London.  Just being in England for the first time for both me and Mario was a really exciting feeling!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Day 2 (Friday, December 30, 2011)

     This morning we woke up at 8:00 (well, Mario woke up at 8.  I somehow didn't hear his alarm and ended up waking up when he got back to the room from his shower) and had breakfast at the hostel after we got ready for the day.  We went to see Notre Dame to begin the day before heading to the Eiffel Tower!! The line to go into the tower was really long and we waited about 2 hours from the time we got in line until the time we were on the lift headed up to the top.  It was 100% worth it though! We opted to go to the very highest level.  Even though it was cold and a little overcast, the view from the top was still really great and we took pictures together at the top.  I can now officially cross being kissed on top of the Eiffel Tower off my bucket list ;) The Eiffel Tower excursion took up a big chunk of our day, but we still had some time to kill before 6pm when admission to the Louvre was free.  We went to a newer and more business district-like area of Paris and found another good view of the city, some unusual modern art, and a nice park beautifully lit with lights.  We had to wait in line a little bit to get into the Louvre, but it was nothing compared to our waiting time at the Eiffel Tower.  Once inside we tried to see as much as possible and of course saw the Mona Lisa!!! The Louvre is so expansive that to see everything (and in detail at that) could take the better part of a lifetime (haha!) so we decided the best plan was to just walk around until we felt that we had at least gotten a good impression of each section of the museum.  After the Louvre we wanted something simple to eat so we ate some delicious crepes near Gare du Nord and not far from our hostel.  We did some more walking near our hostel before settling in at the hostel a bit after midnight for some well-deserved sleep!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Day 1 (Thursday, Dec 29, 2011)

For those of you following my blog, I apologize that long overdue Europe adventure stories haven't made there way here yet.  Since there is a so much to tell, I'm going to write about the trip from the beginning as I find the time.  Hopefully within the next few days many stories will be shared on this blog and I can give anyone who is interested a quick glimpse into what fun and exciting things I was up to during the last part of winter break!

When I last posted I was eagerly awaiting Mario's arrival at the hostel.  Not long after I finished posting he arrived and before he could even get his suitcase all the way in the door he had me wrapped up in a big hug and we were both shedding a few tears.  Neither of us could talk for a few moments, so we just stood there embracing and filled with an unreal sense of joy at being reunited, 147 days after the tearful goodbye at the Kontraktova Ploscha metro station in Kiev, Ukraine.  Amidst the joy of being reunited we wasted no time setting out on our Paris sightseeing.  Mario had been to Paris two other times, so he was a great guide during our time in Paris.  Our first adventure was within the Montmartre neighborhood of Paris where our hostel was located.  We went up to the Basilica du Sacre Coeur to not only see the beautiful church, but also an amazing view of Paris from one of the city's highest natural points.  Our walking Thursday included a walk down the famous avenue Champs-Elysees through the festive Christmas market to the Arc de Triomphe. We opted not to go to the top of the Arc because the line was extremely long and we thought that our time was better spent seeing more of Paris and finding even better views of the city. After the sun had gone down we decided that it was time for me to get my first good view of the Eiffel Tower, but first we made a quick dinner stop and ate Chinese food.  Mario didn't want me to look at the Tower until we had a good view so that my first sight of the Eiffel Tower lit up at night would be amazing...And it was! The tower is a million times more beautiful at night and every hour the lights flash and dance for about five minutes, creating a truly awesome scene. After the Eiffel Tower we walked around some more in the area around the Tower before finally making our way to the Louvre.  Although it was closed, we wanted to see the pyramids lit up at night.  A bit after midnight we were sufficiently worn out from walking (and I was especially worn out from over 30 hours without proper sleep) and returned to the hostel to check-in and call it a night. When we were settling in at the hostel we exchanged gifts that we had brought for each other.  I gave Mario and IU tshirt and a blue felt ornament (red and blue his favorite colors!) and he super loved the gifts.  He especially loved the IU shirt and wore it twice during our trip! I love giving people gifts that they like))) He brought me chocolate from Germany and Ukrainian champagne for New Year's Eve since Ukraine is where we met and therefor something special between us!
I was really pleased with how clean and comfortable the hostel was.  Lying down in that warm comfortable bed after a hot shower was a great ending to a fantastic first day in Paris!

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