A New Year!

I think it’s time for an update, considering I haven’t posted since last year! (har dee har har)

MOSCOW

I had the opportunity to travel to Moscow at the beginning of December. The city was all dressed up in preparation for the holidays! The whole city was festive and shining.

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On the left is the biggest Christmas ornament in the world, and when you stand in the middle of it, you make a wish! 

SIGHTSEEING

I visited several museums, including the Pushkin museum (far right), the Tretyakov Gallery (the largest collection of Russian fine art in the world, middle), and of course the Red Square and St. Basil’s Cathedral (far left). St. Basil’s was built in the mid 1500s, during the reign of Ivan the Terrible, and it remains one of the most recognizable landmarks in Russia!

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FAMILY  

It was so nice to spend time visiting with my extended family on my father’s side. They were so warm and hospitable and took me to the theater no less than three times: an opera, a musical and a play, all within a week! 

Below is a picture of Тетя (Aunt) Lena and me (left), Тетя Lida and I making our wishes in the middle of the huge Christmas bauble (middle), and the wonderful meal that Тетя Lida made to welcome me. 

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Тетя Lida shared photos and family history with me, including this picture:

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The little girl in the front with the white hat is my grandmother on my father’s side! 

CONCERT

I sang in a gala concert presented by “Romansiada,” an organization/competition that promotes Russian folk and art song repertoire. We performed with the folk ensemble “Россия” (“Russia”), and it was the first time I performed with instruments like the balalaika, domra, and “гусли” (similar to a dulcimer)! The concert was held in the historic Колонный Зал Дома Союзов (roughly translated “Column Hall of the House of Unions”), a venue that has been used for concerts and state functions since the late 1770s. 

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Here are pictures of the performance, my fabulous teacher Maria Germanovna, and my wonderful family. I was so glad they were able to come see it!

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While I was in Moscow, the ruble fell drastically, with the exchange dipping as low as 86 rubles to the dollar. When I arrived in September, the exchange was 38 rubles per dollar. Prices rose overnight–I walked into the grocery store, and the apples that been 30 RUB/kg the night before were now 60 RUB/kg! This is so difficult for people on a fixed income, pensioners especially. The exchange has stabilized now at around 60 rubles per dollar. 

VISITOR

One of my favorite people came to visit over New Years! Jason and I have been best friends since college:

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It was fun to show him around my new habitat. We climbed St. Isaac’s Cathedral and saw the incredible views:

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The inside of the cathedral is just as spectacular:

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Of course I had to take my tenor friend to see an opera at the Mariinsky Theater. We saw The Tale of Tsar Saltan, by Rimsky-Korsakov, which is basically a compilation of the Cinderella story and Swan lake, complete with Russian folk tunes and incredible costumes. 

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NEW YEARS

We had a lovely New Year’s eve celebration with Nina Nikolaevna (my host for the year), Jason, and my Russian friend Zhenya. Nina Nikolaevna is an incredible cook, and I am trying to learn all her secrets while I am here. Our meal included traditional new year’s food like Salat Olivier, mandarin oranges, cabbage pie and herring under a fur coat (still learning to love this dish!). 

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After midnight, Jason, Zhenya and I went to the Palace Square to see some fireworks. The weather had just turned from rainy to freezing, so the sidewalks were covered in ice. We perfected the hunched-over-penguin-shuffle walk and got there in one piece!

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In Russia, firework regulations are lax to say the least, so on our walk we kept getting surprised by fireworks going off within a few feet of us!

VINTAGE HAIRSTYLES

In addition to purple hair for old ladies, some Russians enjoy resurrecting the 80’s with a pixie cut/mullet combination. My hairdresser, with the best of intentions, included me in this trend…I’m not including the actual photo of myself, because I’m too embarrassed, but this is an approximation of what I felt like:

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Jason, who has never cut hair before, used blunt office scissors to chop off the loose ends, and it was a great improvement…

CHRISTMAS

On Russian Christmas (January 7th, because Russian Orthodox celebrate according to the Julian calendar) I went to the midnight Christmas service at the Kazanski Sobor, the main cathedral of St. Petersburg. The service began at 11pm and went until approximately 2am, with camera crews filming the whole thing and broadcasting on tv. I had to get there early to stake out my spot, there was quite a crowd! 

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When I got home, I talked with my family at 5:30am my time, 9:30pm their time. We sent gifts to each other ahead of time, back in November, so we were able to open them together on Skype!

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Being far away on Christmas is hard, but thankfully I have found something MUCH more effective than Mickie D’s for when I need a taste of home:

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They even spelled my name right on the cup! 

happy

(^Caffeinated Fotina)