02 April 2007

10 Days: Russia--Finland--Sweden--Estonia--Russia

Day 1: Moscow, Russia
Today, we were supposed to meet at Jadyn's apartment no later than 10:30 PM. We were going to the metro to get to the train station. We are taking a midnight train from Moscow to St. Petersburg. After teaching (I got out around 8 PM), I go to Jadyn's for a few minutes, and then go home for a while, where I eat dinner and drink my last mug of Karkade for ten days. My family asks me what I will do without it. (It's now what I am known for in this family.) My host father decides he will take me to Jadyn's. I gather my single backpack and purse/bag. (He comments that this is too much, I should only have one bag...but I have the least luggage of anyone in our group, nearly.) He drops me off in front of Jadyn's apartment building. I meet McKenze's family and their luggage at the metro. They are already there when I arrive with Jadyn and her mom, who is also here to go on vacation with our group. What a sight on the metro in Moscow! A loud American family with 8 people, and enough luggage for an entire nation, I think.

Day 2: St. Petersburg

Surprise! A day in St. Petersburg. Gulya failed to mention that we would have time in this city. I sleep surprising well on the train. It's an open compartment, but there are beds. It is my first time sleeping on the train. In St. Petersburg, we store our luggage at the train station and set off sightseeing for the day. We leave the train station and walk down Nevsky Prospekt. We see Kazan cathedral, then the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood. Some of us go inside. I am one who pays to see the incredibly colorful and prolific murals on the interior. On the outside, it looks like St. Basil's in Moscow. I get separated from the group and wander around for some time, looking at a small open-air souvenir market. I am relieved to meet up with Jadyn and her mother when they exit the cathedral. They tell me where the group is meeting (I forgot), and we go there. We run into the missionaries on Nevsky Prospekt. We wait for McKenze's family there while the rest of the group goes ahead to St. Isaac's cathedral. I again separate with the group when we reach St. Isaac's and go to the colonnade, climbing hundreds of stairs to a panoramic view of the city from all directions. A pair of Russian ladies ask me to take a picture for them. I can not figure out where the zoom on the digital camera they give me is, and I don't possess the words to ask, so the picture is very bad. I escape hurriedly after clicking the photo. We see a statue to Peter the Great in a huge park and head to the Palace Square. We see the Hermitage. We meet more elders who are serving there. It is so large that I could spend days in there. I look around with Travis and Andy from Moscow 3. We fall asleep on a bench. We are so tired. We then eat at Yolki Polki, a Russian traditional restaurant. We stay there for a long time. Then we return to the train station to retrieve our luggage and wait for the bus. I am homesick for my host family. It is a strange feeling.

St. Petersburg is the most European city I have seen in Russia. Peter the Great may be satisfied to know that it has remained this way, the way he built it. People say Moscow is westernized, but when I go to St. Petersburg, I don't believe them. I am impressed by the amount of restaurants and bookstores they have here, as well as younger people.

Day 3: Helsinki, Finland

We passed the border in a large tour bus. I feel like we are refugees fleeing from Russia as we pass through long lines to go through customs in the middle of the night. All in all, there are 43 people in our tour group. All of the ILP teachers in Moscow and a bunch of Russians, too. We arrive in Finland rather early on Sunday morning. The town seems abandoned. We do a sightseeing tour from the bus. We stop at a park with a monument to the composer Sibelius, a Finnish composer. Then we have free time. We see the city slowly come to life as the day progresses, but it still seems abnormally quiet. It is rather small. We eat in a mall and I get Chinese food. We walk around the city and look around at some stores, the ones that are open. I buy sunglasses for one euro at a small 'euro' store. The Finnish man who clerks the store gives Andy advice about healing the scab on her cheek in perfect English. We get on the bus again and drive to Turku. We stop at the Turku Cathedral there. Then we make our way to the terminal where our ferry will come. The boat is huge. It is like a cruise. We go to the top deck and see the boat leave the shore. We are heading to Sweden. We explore the boat and eat dinner at a buffet on the boat. I eat from the others' plates and do not buy anything. We watch the sunset on the water from the windows in the restaurant. We buy huge Toblerones, one dark chocolate and one milk chocolate, from the Tax Free Shop on the ship and we play Scum. Our cabin is as small as the compartment on the train, but it has a door.

Day 4, 5, 6: Stockholm, Sweden

We arrive in Sweden and get on the bus to get into Stockholm. We sightsee by bus and make some stops in the city. We see the changing of the guard at the Royal Palace. It is not very impressive. Maya, the tour guide, takes us to a restaurant where the food is very expensive. There are about 7 Swedish kroons to one dollar, and the lunch was 120 kroons. We walk down the street and find a few restaurants. I stop in an Italian deli and buy lasagna. I don't know until I start eating it that it is fish lasagna. I like fish, and I like lasagna, but not together. I don't want to throw it away but I don't eat any more. We go to the hotel and I carry it with me there. The hotel is quite nice. The first night we stay there, we have a movie night in our room. We watch John Tucker Must Die, The Sentinel, The Devil Wears Prada, and The Lakehouse. (None of them all the way through. They are all stupid movies, I think, but it is fun to watch them.) I fall asleep during The Sentinel. The others turn off the TV as they leave. The next day, we go to Skansen. It is an open-air museum, somewhere in between zoo and amusement park and museum. It is too early in the season for much to be open, but we walk around and see some Scandinavian animals and glassblowing, which is cool. Some go to a city called Uppsalla, but it is too expensive and I go with some others and wander around Stockholm. We wander the streets all day and get to know the city a bit. We meet the missionaries in Stockholm. Emily and I get our hair cut at a small salon on a street corner. We figure it is safe because they speak English. Everyone in Scandinavia knows English. This is very different from Moscow. The girl that cuts my hair gives me a trim and cuts off several inches from my hair. In the evening, we go back to the hotel and try to go to Ikea for Swedish meatballs. It is closed. We go back to the hotel and I go to bed. The next morning, we go to the temple. We go into the temple cafeteria and the temple president speaks to us about temples in English. A few of the Russians that are with us are not members. "Yet," he says, and we all laugh. There is some confusion about whether we can stay, but we can. I don't change my clothes and I enter the temple to the baptistery in jeans. There is a man and his son there, too. He baptizes in Russian. They are from St. Petersburg but now live in Finland. I am baptized in English by Katie's dad (another family member who came to Moscow for our vacation). I am glad for this opportunity. In the afternoon, we walk around Stockholm again, shopping and sightseeing. That night we take the ferry back to Turku. This ferry is older. Some people go to the discotheque until the wee hours of the morning, but I don't even explore this ship. I change my clothes and go to sleep.

Day 7: Helsinki to Tallin

We are back in Helsinki but we do not have much time here. In the morning, we see a stone church. Most of the day is spent organizing the ferry to Estonia. Katie's dad is leaving from Helsinki tonight and she struggles with the separation. The tour doesn't include Estonia. Those who are going to Estonia break with the rest of the group. We catch a ferry boat in the late afternoon. It doesn't take very long. When we arrive in Tallin, we find our hostile. We exchange money and eat dinner at McDonald's. Many speak English here, as well. I am starting to hear Russian again. It is weird to be able to understand some of the foreign words that people are speaking, but almost more frustrating than not understanding anything because I don't understand all. The hostile is dorm style. I am staying here with Katie, Dan, and Christine, also teachers in Moscow 1. There is a computer in a lobby here and we use it to e-mail. We meet some Americans while we are in this hostile. Two are in the navy, stationed in Italy. When we ask them what there is to see in Tallin, they tell us about bars, mostly.

Day 8, 9: Tallin

Tallin is a medieval city. We see a historical museum which mostly includes things about Estonia under Soviet rule and gaining independence, etc. We get the idea that the Russians weren't very kind to their Soviet territories. We try to take a tour of Old Town. It says to meet a specific street corner in the free guide book we picked up at the boat terminal. When we go to this corner, there is no one here. An elderly lady with a name tag finds us and begins speaking to us. She says she doesn't know about the tour we are talking about but offers to give us a tour of the secret passages underground. She quickly becomes one of our favorite people. She gives tours in four languages and speaks English well. We eat at a nice Italian restaurant in Tallin. I try lasagna again and am familiar with what I get, so I am satisfied. We go shopping and enter a store called Metro. Katie and Christine go to the hostile to get something and drop the leftover pizza from the restaurant off. Dan and I stay in the store a long time. I buy a jacket. Finally, we head back to the hostile. I hope to meet Katie and Christine on the way but we don't see them. When we get back, I tell Dan that I am staying. He leaves and I lay on the bed and read a book for a while. McKenze's family comes. I go with them--they go shopping and then I see their apartment. It is very nice and feels American. There is a room with a TV in couches. I go back to the hostile by myself and get lost for a while. It is our last night in Tallin. In the morning I go by myself to get money. I find a grocery store and buy fruit for breakfast. Then Katie and I go to the beach with a couple of teachers from Moscow 3. We come back and go souvenir shopping. We also go inside the Nigulste church. We see part of the original of "Dance Macabre" by Bernt Notke in this church. This city is very old. There is a clock from the 14th century. Katie takes a picture of me standing in front of it. The streets are cobblestone everywhere in Old Town and the buildings, all different colors. At 4, we go to the train station. The driver of the van that takes us is like a Muscovite driver. The train leaves at 5:10. We wait at the train station and board. There are no beds on this train.

Day 10: We arrive back in Moscow at 9:30 in the morning. It is Sunday again. General Conference has begun in the states. I am not sure what to expect when I go back to my host family's. I think they have forgotten me by now. I left my plug adapter with the fish lasagna in Sweden so I have to steal one from Jadyn's apartment. I am hoping for mail and am partially satisfied. My new ATM card has finally arrived. It is a relief to be able to get money in Russia when I need it. Luckily in the other countries, I could use my credit card when I needed to. It is warm in Moscow and drier than when we left. I walk home and get to my host family's around 11 AM. They greet me happily, but it feels like they didn't miss me. I can tell they have not been speaking English while I was gone. My host mother tells me that they have been drinking kakarde without me, though.

I am not sure how to feel about being back in Moscow. In some ways, I wish I could go back to America. My time here is dictated and slightly more than halfway over. Sweden, Finland, and even Estonia felt more western. Moscow is a rather unfriendly city for Americans and rather unnavigable to those who do not speak Russian. 2 months feels like a long time. In other ways, this place feels like home. The place that I am is at least familiar. At my host father's suggestion, I shower and take a nap. The bed is not soft, but it is familiar. I come home and resume my old habits.

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