Well, I've been kind of slow in posting these last few weeks, and I'm sorry. I would like to catch up and post some other stories, and I probably will, but the fact of the matter is, a taxi is coming in about 2 hours to wisk us away to one of those terrible transatlantic flights that will take us back home. By way of Atlanta. For many hours.
In any case, I would like to recap our experiences here: We finally got rid of our terribly overpriced, awful apartment in Provo (Thanks STONE PROPERTIES, I hope you go bankrupt!), and spent a week of "homelessness" during which we only slept in our car once. We embarked with all of our belongings and needs packed into carry-ons, spent a day-ish in New York, and had a whirlwind tour of Ukraine where we got to see old friends, and Paige and I got to follow up on those people who we helped most.
Then came our arrival by train to Moscow, a terribly over-large city. Our landlady was amazing, reasonable (particularly by babushka standards), and cooked great. Classes were extremely slow to start and we were freaking out a little bit that they would just kind of forget we were here and we'd have 5 days out of the week of downtime. We supplemented our classes a bit, and carried on. Excursions were interesting if a little too elementary, and classes for a large part were dry and not stimulating at best and condescending and maddening at worst. However, the school provided us with a couple of local girls to show us around and they were the type of people that make you wonder if they really live in Moscow because they are so opposite of all of the other angry Moscvitches. Moscow was adventurous at first, but slowly destroyed our youthful love for discovery until we loathed sitting underground for an hour on a hot, crowded-with-angry-people, nausea-inducing (literally) metro to get anywhere because the city is just too bloody big. Also, in our search to find some decent paintings and other such art, we were appalled to discover that Moscow art sellers only sell tripe, kitsch, and kindergarten-stuff. We saw Star Trek, Up, and Harry Potter in Russian, and I got to give a talk in sacrament meeting.
Eventually we took a whirlwind 2-day trip to Saint Petersburg. Our tour guide was hilarious in that she was several cliches all rolled into one, and we were bummed that they had only planned 2 days for us, but the city... bloody hell, the city. It was gorgeous, artistic, inspiring, imperial, smaller, nicer, and so stepped in history while still feeling a bit more socially metropolitan than Moscow. It was amazing and we swore to return.
Returning to Moscow was an unfortunate necessity. Time and classes went on. Paige and I started our major Russian research papers. Paige and I also teamed up with a few others from our group and planned a trip to Istanbul. Those 4-days were another oasis. Istanbul, Turkey, a destination I had never considered visiting for a moment became one of my favorite places I have ever been. We saw amazing architecture, swam in interesting (and a bit dodgy) places, ate great food for pennies, lounged with international travelers in roof-top lounge bars bedecked with pillows while smelling the wafts of flavored hookah tobacco, and ate olives for breakfast.
Once again, returning to Moscow was an unfortunate necessity. More hot metros, more uninspiring classes, and added to this was that drama was brewing as one of BYU's study abroad people had come out to talk to us about the program, and got to listen to all of our complaints. This freaked our Moscow school out a bit because, despite several of us voicing concerns and being parlayed, they were unaware that, for example, no one liked any of the classes because our teachers were kind of lame.
However, we were able to escape the rapid exchanging of words back and forth as Paige and I hopped a train back to Saint Petersburg for 4 more days. Saint Petersburg is so incredibly different from Moscow it is weird. If anyone is planning a trip to Russia: Unless you REALLY REALLY want to see Red Square, skip Moscow and go to Saint Petersburg. And bring lots of money, because the art there is pretty good. Paige and I loaded up on culture: the Hermitage inside the Winter Palace for 5 hours, Catherine the Great's "Tsarskoe Selo" palace, Dostoevsky's final apartment, and the internationally famous European prospekt Nevskiy where we lounged in sidewalk cafes and sipped mojhitos and milk cocktails. We also bought a crap load of art and found a Carl's Jr where you get free refills and free ketchup.
And finally, it was back to Moscow for a joke of a final and plenty of last-minute maneuverings and plannings which brings us to here: the end.
Russia is, just as I knew it would be, an interesting place. It is a place like no other. It is a place that was so blocked off from interaction with the rest of the world that it evolved socially and culturally in an entirely different way than the rest of the western world. Moscow, in particular, is the largest city I have ever lived in, and to reference a post I made back in Kharkov, it doesn't know me. Cities have personalities, and Moscow doesn't care to know me. New York felt like a place I could've gotten to know: I could've found my oasises, carved out my niches, found some cool places, learned the streets and the areas, and I could've lived there. Eventually, the city would've accepted that. Moscow, however, never will. Moscow isn't that type of city. It's enormous, powerful, industrial, and functional. It has no style or flair. I submit an embodiment of my feelings of Moscow: The Ostankino TV Tower:
It's a television and wireless transmission tower that was built during Soviet times. I've lived within view of it for the entire time here in Moscow. It's 1772 feet tall, which is taller than the Empire State Building. Its primary purpose is function, it is ugly, it is utilitarian, it is falling apart. It has caught on fire several times and was heavily damaged due to poor evacuation and emergency response planning. It has a rotating restaurant and observation deck 3/4ths of the way to the top. It has been closed for repairs for many years, and despite rumors that it was set to open this summer, it hasn't, so I've never been up there. The analogy doesn't become clear until you look at the exact same structures, except as built by the west:
The CN Tower, Toronto.
The Space Needle, Seattle
It just feels better at home.
We'll catch you all back in Utah and Virginia and California, but in the meantime I have to finish packing. Don't go deleting this blog from your favorites or whatever; I still plan on posting some stuff that I missed, but until then, I'll sign off. Expect more photos to appear on flickr as well, particularly from our 2nd Saint Petersburg trip.