Friday, May 31, 2013

Thursday, May 30

Today wasn’t much of a sight-seeing day, but because of that I got a lot done.  In the morning I headed out to buy a few things, including a plug-in to help keep the mosquitos away from my room at night when I move to the camp on Monday! Then, after lunch, I was basically at the school the rest of the day.  I observed a class, copied more supplementary materials (there won’t be a photocopier or printer at the camp), and did some lesson planning.  I figure the first week of camp will be a bit hectic, so the more lessons I can plan before I leave the city, the better.  I got to talk to a few more of the teachers today, which was nice. It can get lonely in a big city with limited social interaction.  Once I get to the camp I hope to make friends with the camp counselors who will be about the same age as me and I will be interacting with the kids all day long. J Pretty late at night, finally getting my modem and computer to cooperate, I had the treat of a skype call with Mario.  The video didn’t work, but it was nice to actually talk instead of just writing messages.   We talked for about an hour, and even though I’m trying to limit how much I use my modem, it was 100% worth it.  Around 2:30 I finally hit the sack, as they say, and day three in Peter was complete.  

Wednesday, May 29

Wednesday I slept in a little and then headed out for a free walking tour of St. Petersburg.  It was one of the less popular groups which offer free tours, so there were only three of us – me and a girl and a boy from Holland.  They were on an extended travel adventure which was finally nearing an end.  The tour covered a lot and it was nice to hear information about the different sites around the city.  Our guide himself was an interesting character.  He told us that he has already been jailed two different times for two weeks each time for participating in protests which the government didn’t approve of. He had some pretty strong words to say about Putin and friends.  After the walking tour I found something to eat and then went to the school for a while.  In the evening I bought a USB modem so that I will have a little internet this summer – yippee!! Then I dropped off my stuff at the apartment and went for a boat tour of the canals and the Neva. It’s a tourist must in St. Petersburg and it was nice to see everything in the evening light.  When I got home I was worn out from a long day and fell asleep much sooner than I had planned on sleeping.  I would definitely count today as a success!! I got to see a lot more of St. Petersburg and the weather is still amazing! 

Tuesday, May 28

It’s almost 11:30 PM and still not completely dark outside here in Petersburg, but I am all tired out.  I don’t have internet where I’m staying, so I’ll have to post this at some later date.  I was met at the airport last night and brought to my host for the week.  I honestly had no clue what my living situation would be, but the woman I’m staying with is extremely nice, the apartment is close to the school, and I have my own big, comfortable room.  Another girl also lives here who is studying in Saint Petersburg, but I haven’t seen her yet (and still haven’t when I am posting this on Friday haha). Today my day didn’t start particularly early, but I was at the main school around 10.  Thankfully I didn’t get lost on the way there and it felt good to be able to use my Russian to explain to the standard Russian door guard why I needed to enter the building, but didn’t have any sort of company ID.  In general, it just felt great to be using Russian again all day J At the school I met with the director of academics who showed me the main course books for the camp, gave me my schedule, and briefed me a bit on camp teacher life. I’m lucky to have two different long weekends between camp sessions, so hopefully I can fit a few more adventures into the summer. I then spent the next several hours looking through books of supplementary materials, while one of the women who works in reception kept worrying that I hadn’t gone to lunch yet.  A little before three I finally headed out for some fresh air, sunshine, and lunch.  I ended up at McDonalds, simply because I was desperate for free wifi.  I gave mom a call and made some contact with the outside world a little bit before heading back to the school to observe a class.  Then the real fun began as I had a chance to do my first tiny bit of city exploration! I wandered relatively aimlessly for about three hours, basking in the beautiful weather and everything that is Petersburg.  For sure it is much more bustling than either Kharkov or Munich and overall feels gigantic!

As usual when I arrive in a new place my appetite has been  all but nonexistent today, so after a rather pathetic excuse for a dinner I looked through some more materials, had a nice warm shower, and spent the rest of the evening relaxing.  I’m so thankful for this opportunity to see such a famous city and to teach for such a great company in a part of the world which holds a special place in my heart. 

Deutschland Update

I wrote this post the a few days before I left Germany, but then things got busy and I was traveling and without internet and blah blah blah, soooo better late than never??

I've been in Germany for about two and a half weeks now, so I suppose it's time for an update.  The first weekend was all about Mario's birthday and we spent it in Hilpoltstien.  On Thursday we took the train there, as it was a public holiday and no one had work or university, and had a delicious birthday lunch with his family.  After lunch we set off on a bike tour and ended up riding 60 km or about 40 miles. It was a bit more than I was expecting, so I was pretty tired out by the end of that adventure!! On the bright side, we had ice cream at the half-way point of the ride and I slept like a baby that night! On Friday we went on an IKEA adventure and explored Nuremberg a bit. Saturday night we found ourselves at a short film festival and by Sunday morning we were already on our way back to Munich.  Sunday evening we spent relaxing in the sauna because who doesn't love 15 minutes in 90 degree Celsius heat followed by a bucket of ice cold water being poured on your head? But really, it was very nice.
Monday morning I spent relaxing a bit before heading into the center to do a little shopping.  I bought a pair of jeans and a fun summer dress at H&M, although I was oh so tempted to buy all sorts of other cute stuff ;) That afternoon Markus just happened to be exploring Munich with a friend from Sweden, so I met Mario and then we met them to walk around for a bit.  The friend from Sweden, Rebecca, was super fun and cool and I'm glad that the four of us had that short afternoon together.
The rest of the week I spent my afternoons in Unterhaching after Leni came home from school and we had some happy afternoons and evenings together enjoying the nice weather and playing lots of piano.
Friday afternoon we were back on a train headed north for another weekend in Hilpolstein! After a lunch of Shnitzel Mario studied a bit while I read short stories and relaxed a bit.  In the evening it was cold and rainy, but we took the car out and went driving around a bit and, armed with a big umbrella, walked around a bit as well. I saw the school where Mario's mom teachers and also where he went for elementary school.
Saturday the weather was much better, so after lunch we headed out to enjoy the beautiful day! We went to to a fun little place with an alpine slide, mini golf, and a wild animal park.  After one go on the alpine slide we ate ice cream and played mini golf.  Going into the last hole it was tied, but Mario had the lucky shot and became the mini-golf champion! After that we decided we would do one more time on the alpine slide so that we could try out the other track - such fun! Our next stop was the lake, where we rented a paddle boat for half an hour and, naturally, paddled around the lake a bit. When we got home we took the old motor scooter they have out for a ride and enjoyed the countryside under the setting sun. An evening of watching Eurovision on the tv was in order with Denmark claiming the win.
Sunday we had a nice lunch out with Mario's parents and I wore my new dress.  The beautiful weather tricked us into going on an excursion, but even though the temperature dropped and the sunshine was replaced with some unwelcome rain and clouds, we made the best of our afternoon all the same. We explored a bit of Kelheim and took a boat on the Danube to and from a monastery complex. After checking out the Hall of Liberation back in Kelheim we were thankful to be back in the warm car and spent the evening keeping warm at home. There was much excitement later that night when Mario bought his plane tickets to the US!!! Officially counting down the days until September 8th!
Monday was another nice day in Hilpoltstein with an afternoon bike ride before our train back to Munich.  Waiting for me back in Munich was my dear childhood friend Erica!!! Her university's music groups are on a Europe tour and they had a free night in Munich!! I hadn't seen her in more than a year, so needless to say we were beyond excited for this reunion! I also got to see my high school choir director who is now working at the university and was completely surprised to also see a NSLI-Y friend, Max.  Mario stuck around for a bit, but I can't blame him for eventually deciding to head home, as all Erica and I were doing was non-stop girl talking ;) Many of the people from the university were going to a club downtown, so we went there as well, where we girl talked some more, had a few drinks, and eventually hit the dance floor.  We left a bit after 1 AM with ringing ears and big smiles on our faces.  Erica and Max took a taxi back to their hotel and I hopped on the metro. What an awesomely fun night! My social life the past year has been anything but normal, so a night with such a close friend was beyond perfect!
This past week I have spent my days in Unterhaching with the kiddos so that their mom can go to work without worrying about living them alone at home all day.  The weather was unpleasant the entire week and it was even hailing yesterday, but we had lots of fun indoors none the less.  There were lots of silly games to be played, many a cookie to be baked, and lots of piano time with my little Leni.
Friday night Mario had plans and reserved tickets to watch The Great Gatsby at a cinema which was showing it in English.  Well, after a completely stupid situation which I would rather not write about right now, we didn't end up seeing the movie. But life goes on and we ended up watching Groundhog's Day at home (well, most of it anyway. we both fell asleep before the end.)
Today and tomorrow are my last full days here in Munich before I fly out to St. Petersburg on Monday.  One week from Monday my job starts and I'm sure it will all just be a whirlwind from there!

Saturday, May 11, 2013

До встречи!

I didn't want my last day in Kharkov to be sad. I wanted it to be full of joy, so that I would leave with the happiest of memories and a feeling of joy. And I have to say, my expectations were certainly met! I woke up pretty early on Tuesday to perfect weather and beautiful sunshine. Jason came over in the morning to get some pictures from the semester and then I went over to Collegium to say my goodbyes to the teachers and give them some small gifts.  ''I didn't know you were leaving already!! We should have had a party!'' Tanya exclaimed.  But, a party just for my goodbye isn't really my style and our goodbyes at the school were sweet and perfect. As always, there were promises of ''I'll be back'' and ''Kharkov can't get rid ofme that easily!'' :) Then it was off to the center to meet up with some more Collegium students and students visiting from Sweden! We visited the Historical Museum and took a walking tour of the city.  It was really great and there was something very special in telling them all about Kharkov and showing it off as 'my city'. Evenetually I had to part ways with them to head back to my apartment, where I double-checked my itinerary and made sure everything was packed up. Sasha and Vova came over about an hour before my taxi was scheduled to arrive.  We drank tea and coffee together and recalled memories of the past year. They had a small gift for both Megan and me-so sweet! When my taxi arrived they helped me carry my bag down and we were off to the station.  Mila came to the station as well and gave me a beautiful necklace.  We stood on the platform chatting, laughing, and taking some pictures together until the conductor made the last call for everyone to board.  I gave bigt hugs all around and then hopped on the train and waved and smiled until they were out of site.  Was I sad to be leaving? Of course! But there was this incredible joy of a ctiy which had given me so many memories and such amazing friends, that in that moment, I was really all smiles.  And besides, I'll be back!!
So the train drove away into the night.  I chatted a bit with the grandmas and grandpas nearby and slept restlessly for a few hours.  Arriving in Kiev, I called a taxi to the airport and by early afternoon on Wednesday I was in Munich! And now, a couple of relaxing weeks in Germany before I'm off to Russia...and the adventures just keep a coming and a coming! :)))

Vova and Sasha - miss you so much already!!

At the train station

Monday, May 6, 2013

Христос Воскрес!

Easter greetings from Ukraine!

I woke up Sunday morning and met Mila at the metro because she wanted to come to church with me for Easter.  Normally on Easter Sunday I'm wearing a brightly colored dress, but today I was proudly wearing my beautiful vishivanka! Church was beautiful! The flowers, the music, the joyous atmosphere! Everything was wonderful! After church the brothers, feeling left out after the sisters gifted me the vishivanka last week, gave me a BEAUTIFUL book of pictures of Kharkov! I will definitely be showing that book off to everyone at home.  After church we had our usual time of sitting together and having coffee, tea, and treats, but this time with generous portions of Паска cake. Yummy!! As I was leaving I got teary-eyed saying my goodbyes to Pastor Victor and then to his wife and mom.  I'm going to miss them all so much at that little Ukrainian Lutheran Church!
Easter morning!

Easter cakes and decorations

Everyone was giggling as the water fell on them during the Easter blessings :)
Present from the brothers 

With Pastor and his wife - some of the most wonderful people I met here in Kharkov!

On the way back to the metro Mila and I took some pictures in Shevchenko park among the flowering trees.

In the evening Megan, Jordan, and I had soup together and then dyed Easter eggs together.

Megan and Jordan dying Easter eggs

Our make-shift egg-dying operation


Oh so blue!

More Paska!

I ended the evening with a Face Time call to my mama and a Skype chat with Mario.

What a wonderful first Easter in Ukraine! I am blessed beyond words!

Saturday, May 4th

On Saturday I woke up pretty early and spent the morning reading, drinking tea, packing, and baking two loaves of banana bread. That gas oven always gives me a bit of trouble, but both loaves actually came out quite well! In the afternoon I went to the orphanage for one last time before I have to leave Ukraine.  As usual  I brought my little artists sidewalk chalk and they got right to work on their little sidewalk masterpieces. One little boy, Denis, latched on to me right away when I got there.  Normally I try to play with a big group of kids, but Denis just wanted some personal attention, so we walked to a bench under some trees away from most of the kids and had a nice long chat.  He told me about his brother, who is too old to live in the children's home anymore, but still comes to visit almost every day and his sister, Nastia, who will still live there with him for a few more years. He told me that he wants to become a computer programmer, but that he still can't push all the buttons on the computer so fast (hehe) and then proceeded to wow me by beating every single level of a rather complicated game on my phone.  Eventually Denis had to run off for his group's time to eat dinner, so I went and hung with the the other kiddos for the rest of the time.  There were only three of us volunteers there that day and the kiddos were especially attention-hungry, so I was immediately grabbed up by a group of little ones and we spent rest of the time monkeying around on the jungle gym.  One of the volunteers gave me a nice picture and letter as we parted ways with promises to see each other again someday!

I had to hurry on home to meet Nadia and Mila, who were coming over for a goodbye hangout.  We chatted over tea and treats and then, as usual with these girlies, there was lots of singing! What fun!

Friday, May 3, 2013

Sviatohirsk Cave Monastery

All semester long we stared at (and had to take on and off the wall several times for the projector) an oversized picture of the Sviatohirsk Cave Monastery. Today we finally got the chance to see it in real life! We woke up rather early this morning and said goodbye to our groupmate Sasha.  It was pretty sad leaving him home to pack-up and head to the train station alone, but we weren't scheduled to return home until about two hours after his train from Kharkov.  With promises of "see you soon", we headed to our own train, or elektrichka to be exact. Wikipedia tells us that an electrichka "is a Soviet and Eastern bloc commuter (regional) mostly suburban electrical multiple unit passenger train", but I would argue that it is indeed something much more magical ;) Besides the fact that I was certain we had crashed into something every time it started itself moving, it was a pretty comfortable ride.  The seats were comfortable and wide with a lot of leg room, so we spent most of our elektrichka time napping.  Two and a half hours later we arrived in the town of Sviatorhirsk.  After getting off the train we used the best train station bathrooms ever (read, "ohmygoodness I hope I never must experience something so gut-wrenching again in all my life!!"). Since we had just missed the bus headed to the monastery from the train station, we squeezed the five of us plus the taxi driver into a tiny little car and were there in no time.  The sun didn't come out until a bit later, but when it did the blues and golds of the monastery looked quite nice under the sunshine.  We did a lot of adventuring around the grounds of the monastery, including a life-threatening descent down the most perilous of paths I ever did see - oh no, I'm not exaggerating one little bit! ;) I was the favorite treat of the mosquitoes that day and had about a dozen bites by the end of the day. Hopefully that's not any indication of what is awaiting me this summer.  Looks like I'm bringing lotssss of bug spray to camp with me! We also went down into a cave complex where a monk lived in solitude for the last 17 years of his life.  I'm not sure I would have lasted one night alone in that big, cold, dark place, but it was interesting to explore the inside of it none the less.  We had a little picnic lunch with the food we had brought while a small child stared at these English and Russian-speaking foreigners with big round eyes.  Before we left Megan and I had time to go into the main church on the territory to have a look around.  After a short bus ride and a few minutes of waiting at the train station we were on our elektrichka back to Kharkov.  We got back to our apartment around 21:00 and were actually able to get in! We've been having a little "babushka issue" because she just can't get it through her head that the second door really and truly is impossible to unlock from the outside when she turns the lock twice instead of just once. We wrote a note kindly asking her to lock it only once and promising to lock it twice when we got home from our trip.  Thankfully she obliged, but she took the note off the door, which means it was probably talk of the babushkas all day yesterday.  my goodness!
Hungry from a long day of adventuring I made myself some yummy dinner and then had a lovely and much-needed Skype chat with the Mario :)
Life is good!

It wasn't quite as pretty in the morning greyness

But once the sun came out we had quite a nice view!

One of the monastery buildings which the monks built by hand.

Looking out over the main part of the monastery complex

Inside the main part of the monastery
The main church

Sleepy kitty!

Sviatohirsk train station

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Shashlik Party!

May Day, International Workers' Day, Labor Day - No matter what you call it, it meant only one thing - fun with friends! Wednesday morning we all got up and went to the store together to get everything we needed and then headed out of town by taxi to the place of the picnic.  It was admittedly rather difficult to find, but it ended up being the perfect place for a day of picnic fun.  There were quite a few people there, most of whom we already knew, so it was a fun afternoon of catching up with friends and making a few new ones.  We were right along the river, so we could wade in up to our knees to cool off when the sun got too warm.  A whollle lotta meat was grilled and while it smelled delicious, I kindly declined as I'm currently entering week three of my no meat eating.  It wouldn't be a Slavic gathering without a guitar, harmonica, and accordion, so we listened to some of our friends play and sing.  We took long barefooted walks, chatting with friends, and came upon some cows happily munching on their grass.  A group of us went out to the field to play ultimate frisbee two different times in the evening when the sun wasn't quite so hot.  It felt good to be running around and breathing in all that clean, fresh air. When the sun went down and we all started to get a bit chilly we packed everything up and called taxis home. That day was exactly what I needed! Such a fun day with such wonderful people.
The only downside - on the way home a migraine came on fast and hard.  I went straight to my cool, dark room as soon as we go home and spent the rest of the night willing that nausea inducing, head-bounding monster away.  At least it started after the picnic!