Friday, July 29, 2016

Welcome to a new era of Russian platzkart

As our overnight train to Volgograd approached the station we observed that it looked rather new. "Looks like a nice train - just for us!" I joked. Thankfully, I was right - it turned out to be a Platzkart trip like I've never had before.

The first thing I noticed when we entered was that it didn't stink. Most Russian trains have that special stench, but in this train the smell was completely neutral. As the train started to pull away from the station I realized that an air conditioner had been turned on. I could hardly believe it! It usually goes without saying that any 3rd class ride in the summer time will be a hot and sweaty one - not this tine! At the ends of the wagon there was not one, but two toilets equipped with toilet paper, seat covers, paper towels, and an air freshener spray. I kid you not!

Not bad Russia, not bad at all!

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Week in Ukraine

Yesterday we marched around Voronezh in the scorching heat, but enjoyed our day in the city none the less. More on that later! For now, impressions from my week in Ukraine.

Tuesday evening I arrived late, so we didn't do much except take a short walk and hang out at home. We were cat -sitting one of the strangest cats I have ever met and she took no time to get to know me by climbing right up on top of my head. Wednesday we had a full day walking around the city,visiting the America House, and meeting friends at a pub for live music before heading to the train station for our overnight train to Kharkov.

Extremely tired, but in good spirits we spent Thursday enjoying Kharkov, including riding several rides at Gorky Park. In the evening I went to meet my church friends a bit outside of the city for a fun evening of catching up after three years apart. Friday the weather wasn't great, but we made the most of our second day in Kharkov. It seems that in both Kharkov and Kiev scores of trendy, cute cafes and restaurants are popping up. Nastia especially enjoyed "Fresh Line", a subway-style sandwhich shop and "Франзуа" a bakery which advertiseres itself as a "French bakery with a Ukrainian soul". I can recommend the black&white croissants and bakery sandwiches.

After a cosy ride on the express train back to Kiev, sipping tea, eating German chocolates, and watching a movie, we were glad to sleep in our beds at home again. Saturday we had a quieter morning, but were full speed ahead from the evening on. We decided to have a "fancy evening", which consisted of dinner at a sushi restaurant and then a beautiful classical music concert  at the breath-taking cathedral "Костел". Tickets start at only 50 hryvnia and there is some sort of performance almost every evening.

Sunday I went to church in the morning before heading out to the village to visit Nastia's great grandmother for her 88th birthday. Even though we nearly fell asleep in the marshutka back to Kiev, we spent the evening in downtown Kiev soaking up the weekend city vibes.

On Monday we treated ourselves to manicures (for a discounted price since Nastia is the master of coupons) before picking Mario up from the bus station and heading out to the countryside for a shashlik party.  The 8 of us sat around speaking a mixture of Russian, English, and Spanish. It's so much more meaningful to visit a place and really connect with the people and be invited into their homes. We couldn't party too long though, since we had a busy last day in Kiev planned for Tuesday. We managed to fit in everything we had planned for Tuesday and even grab a quick last dinner at Puzata Xata before catching the bus to our next adventure in Russia.

To be honest I don't have any huge statement about the Ukraine I saw this week. Despite everything going on in the country, it's still, at the end of the day, the same Ukraine I fell in love with 5 years ago and I'm always glad to be back for a visit!

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

July in 13 Pictures

The absolutely wonderful ''all things Russian'' blogger Katherine over at ''8 Months in Ukraine'' recently shared 13 pictures that have defined her July thusfar, ending the post with the question, ''Meanwhile, what thirteen things have defined your July so far?''. 

So without further ado...

#1. Both band and choir have been keeping me busy.  Last Saturday alone the band played for two weddings and children's bible week.

#2. The European soccer championships had everyone excited.  And while Germany lost in the semi-finals against France, a good time was had by all.
#3. Collecting visas and booking tickets and accommodations for our trip.  A word of advice - if you want the Uzbek or Tajik embassies to process and send you back your visa, you're going to need to call them and be bothersome before they get anything done. 

#4. I've been down in Stockdorf with my host kiddo several days this month, taking advantage of the opportunity to spend some precious time with my little minion.  I love seeing her learn new things and become more and more independent.  On the 4th of July we baked a cake and she proudly proclaimed to everyone that it was ''America day''.

#5. Finally got in for a trim.  Probably shouldn't have told the hairdresser that the last time I got it cut was February ;)
#6. Got a spiffy new backpack for the summer travels
#7. In addition to packing my backpack, I've been packing up quite a bit of the apartment, as I'll be subletting it during our month of traveling. 

#8. I took the time to hop over to the cute little town of Esslingen for a day.
#9. I just love having fresh-baked cakes around the house for afternoon coffee or breakfast time.
#10. Fully taking advantage of all the summer time fresh things to eat.  As I am writing this I am eating a bowl of grapes for lunch. 
#11. Even though we have two full weeks of teacher time before the school year begins, I wanted to get some planning done ahead of time as well.

#12. I recently was gifted some Amazon gift cards, so I've been using them to order some small things for the apartment that I've been meaning to buy for a while. 

#13. Despite all that there is to do, I've been trying to spend as much time in nature as possible.  Thankfully, I live about 200 meters from the entrance to a beautiful forest area.

I couldn't be happier with my decision to take a considerable amount of time off before beginning my new teaching job in the fall.  So far my July has been exactly what I needed. And in just one week the real adventures begin!!!

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

A most beautiful goodbye

Saying goodbye can be an exceedingly emotional experience.  When something, someone, and somewhere because such an integral and meaningful part of your life, saying goodbye, no matter for what reason or under what kind of circumstances, can make the heart ache.  So was the case last Tuesday when my kindergarten class surprised me with the very sweetest thank you/going away party.  The past 1.5 years at this school were a roller coaster. We were plagued with staff changes, at both the classroom and administration level, whether it be pregnancy, moving away, unhappy or unfit for the position - you name it, we experienced it.  There were many frustrating days when I felt so under supported, under challenged, and undervalued. Weeks when I had no idea how I would make it to Friday.  More cases of strep, fever, or stomach bugs than I've ever had, resulting from the combination of constant exposure to sick children and an immune system weakened by stress. But even during the hardest of weeks there was something to keep me going.  Maybe it was a parent who stopped to look me in the eye and tell me how much they appreciate my work. Or a colleague bringing chocolates to the teachers' room.  Or a child beaming with pride as she finally built up the confidence to go swimming for the very first time in her life. Or the little boy wrapping his arms around me in the middle of the day and sincerely proclaiming, ''I love you!''  Those were the moments I lived for and will treasure for years to come.

So back to the party.

I was told by my co-teacher that I ''really needed to go to the bathroom'' *wink wink* and the class scurried off to the gym where I met them a few minutes later. They presented me with a ''Schuletüte'', the traditional gift which German children receive when they begin school. Upon being instructed to look inside, I discovered it was empty. They then told me that they would be filling it up with all of the things that I need to be a teacher in my new school next year.  As each child came forward with a gift, a flower, and a hug, tears quickly came to my eyes. The tears really started falling as my co-teacher shared the sweetest words and the parents presented me with a beautiful book, which included each child's picture and their families' wishes for me.

On my actual last day I had a quiet morning with only half of my class, as the other half was on a field trip. I brought them a special copy of ''Oh the Places You'll Go'' and we baked sugar cookies in the ''kids kitchen''.  I've already seen several of my colleagues since my last day, as they're all amazing people with whom I enjoy spending time outside of work.

And at the end of August it's on to new adventures in a new school with slightly older children. But until then...bring on the summer vacation!!!