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Cristina’s travels TAC 2015 Team Pushkin

 Language Learning Forum : Language Learning Log Post Reply
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Senior Member
United Kingdom
rdearman.orgRegistered users can see my Skype Name
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 Message 81 of 297
09 September 2014 at 5:01pm | IP Logged 
A M A Z I N G!
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Senior Member
Virgin Islands
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 Message 82 of 297
09 September 2014 at 5:26pm | IP Logged 
Congratulations, Cristina. You continue to be such an inspiration to me and the forum.
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Senior Member
Russian Federation
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 Message 83 of 297
09 September 2014 at 7:07pm | IP Logged 
tarvos wrote:
По-моему - это начало независимости.
От чего?
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Super Polyglot
Winner TAC 2012
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 Message 84 of 297
09 September 2014 at 7:16pm | IP Logged 
материалов для начинающих. Самостоятельность, может быть, вместе независимость. И вообще
- не надо придираться.

Edited by tarvos on 09 September 2014 at 7:21pm

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Solfrid Cristin
Winner TAC 2011 & 2012
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Speaks: Norwegian*, Spanish, Swedish, French, English, German, Italian
Studies: Russian

 Message 85 of 297
15 September 2014 at 11:48pm | IP Logged 
Thank you Josquin, Tarvos, fabriziocarraro, rdearman and iguanamon :-) I really appreciate your
congratulations and your comments!


I was at the Russian embassy a few days ago, for the unlikeliest of task. Garbage inspection. Now that is so
not one of my daily tasks, and had it been anywhere but there, I would not have considered it. However, I will
not let any chance whatsoever to interact with native speakers pass me by, so off I went :-) I had been in
contact with the embassy for months, as they had complained that my company had left garbage outside
their property, and that we needed to remove it. Twice my colleagues had reported back to me that it was
done, twice the embassy had told them that it was not.

One of my colleagues suggested that we'd offer to remove our garbage from their property as soon as they
had removed their garbage from Ukraine, but I just looked at him sternly, and called the embassy.

Since this had been going on since March I decided to look at it myself, and made an appointment. To make
sure they did not think I was just a regular garbage collector I had dressed to kill, with high heeled boots,
curled hair, fancy bag and scarf and gloves. Me. Gloves and high heeled boots.

My intention was to come off all suave and sophisticated and elegant, which worked like a charm for the first
30 seconds until they asked for my ID, at which point I had to dive into my bag where I had my passport. And
diving into my handbag is not something you can do in an elegant fashion. I sometimes complain that my
handbag has the weight of half a hippopotamus, and my daughter regularly answers 'But mom, that is
because you carry you entire room in that handbag". After having looked for the #%€£ passport for two full
minutes, I felt like just putting the whole thing upside down and shake out all its content, but since I had a
large green lunch box with Disney motif in it plus a vivid recollection of the last time I lost my open handbag
on the street, I refrained from doing that. That was just a few weeks ago, in Ukraine, and on the stairs to a
restaurant out flew my books, a shower of coins, metro card, pencils, lipstick, tampons and the toilet paper I
always have with me when I am in a foreign country. Embarrassing does not even begin to cover it.

Thankfully I did find it in the end, but then I started worrying that between the umpteen visas and stamps from
Russia, Ukraine, Mongolia, China, Turkey, Egypt, Mauritius, Jordan and Israel and my Ukraine bracelet, they
would think I was some sort of Mata Hari. And then trying to lock my handbag I managed to loose both my
gloves on the floor, and almost knocked out my contact as we both bowed down to get them. My consolation
was that they would hardly think someone that clumsy and disorganized would be a spy, plus spying on the
garbage outside their property was hardly worth anyone's while.

We quickly passed into Russian (yeah!) and within 2 minutes all illusions of sophistication had gone while I
was telling them that I danced around to Russian music every morning. At least I managed to shut up about
my Russian loving cat, which I otherwise tend to happily share with every Russian speaker I meet. The
garbage turned out to be a disappointment. Not that I had thought it would be particularly exciting, but the
thing is that there were just a few tiny branches, plus one bigger log. Not something a railway man would
even begin to think of as a problem. The whole lot would have fitted in the trunk of my car. I promised them
that I would talk to my colleagues about it, but told them that the chances of them actually doing something
about it were fairly slim. I did however push my colleagues as hard as I could, playing the 'We don't want to
get a phone call from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, now do we' card. And it worked! He promised to fix it this
week end. I just hope that this time it will be to the embassy's satisfaction.

My contact was really nice, probably in her late 20ies, early 30ies. I assume that they would get suspicious if I
tried to befriend her, so I did not (first Russian I have met in Norway so far that I have not tried to befriend). I
assume that in that line of work you are bound to be a tad paranoid. I did however mention in an e-mail that I
was very interested in Russian culture if she knew of any cultural events that might suit me, so I really hope
she does that.

Oh, and as I mentioned in another thread, I got a full blown linguistic panic attack today, hyperventilating and
almost fainting. I have promised to interpret at a meeting with the Immigration Directorate tomorrow. This
would be ill advised in one of my stronger languages, as this means you need to be a qualified interpreter,
something I am not, but you will understand the insanity of this when I tell you that the language I am
supposed to interpret to and from is Russian. The fate of one 7 month pregnant woman, who is risking being
sent back to Eastern Ukraine, may be depending on my very wobbly B1 Russian. I am hoping that a) They
will have a professional interpreter there, and just have not told her yet, or b) they will postpone the meeting
and find a proper interpreter. And I am already stressed out tomorrow since I am flying to Amsterdam for a
meeting, and I hate flying.

Ugh. Right now I wish I were monolingual.
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Senior Member
Czech Republic
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 Message 86 of 297
16 September 2014 at 8:48pm | IP Logged 
Congratulations, Cristina! Such progress! B1 is certainly nothing to be ashamed of, it is already a useful level and one proving lots of dedication. And all those experiences! I totally love reading your log.

By the way, a friend of mine was recently in Norway. Well, everything was expensive, compared to rest of Europe (except for oil) but he was totally excited about the nature and people. He told me various exemples of how nice the norwegians were and how pretty were the women. :-) (Yeah, he and my boyfriend agreed about the scandinavian blond thin girls and I was just sitting there, brown haired, dark eyed and with five kgs more than the ideal. :-D )

Edited by Cavesa on 16 September 2014 at 8:49pm

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Solfrid Cristin
Winner TAC 2011 & 2012
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Studies: Russian

 Message 87 of 297
17 September 2014 at 12:09pm | IP Logged 
@ Cavesa: Thanks, and I would be very happy indeed if all I had to worry about were 5 extra kg. I am into the
double digits :-) And you can tell your friends that the Scandinavian girls may be pretty, but after a taste of
their demands for absolute gender equality, most foreigners find that they are happier with their own girls :-)


My ex-father in law, for whom I have a lot of love and respect, has a saying of which I was reminded today:
"Make sure you do all the worrying today, because if you wait until tomorrow, you may not have reason to".
(This is usually directed at my mother-in-law who is a world class worrier). It turned out that there was a very
good reason why my Ukrainian friend did not get a professional interpreter. And the reason was that she did
not have an appointment. She thought she could just go and ask for a conversation. In reality you have to call
them, wait for anywhere between 30 minutes and two hours to get to speak to them, and then get the
message that there is nothing they can do for you.

As it turned out, my Russian was more than sufficient. My friends explained to me in Russian what their
challenges were, I managed to sweet talk the guy in the reception of the Immigration Directorate into
bringing a hand written note directly to one of the people who work the actual cases, had him help me write a
power of attorney (is it called that when you are not an attorney?) so that I could speak on their behalf, and
got the immigration authorities to call me. I then spoke with them in Norwegian, and then called my friend
and explained everything to her in Russian.

Unfortunately the result was not very positive, as she most probably will have to leave Norway, but at least
that will not be due to my inadequate Russian.

I am at the frustrating stage where my Russian is still not very good, but where it is nevertheless pushing
away my other languages. Even when I am about to say something in English or Spanish I notice that my
brain start constructing the sentences in Russian first, until I actually start talking. I really fear for my other

I also still, after two weeks at home, struggle to hand write certain Latin letters (r, n and i). There is no logic in
that this should happen, except for the fact that I have handwritten very little in either of my other languages
over the last years, since everything I do is on the computer or iPad or phone, and since I struggled so much
to learn the Russian alphabet I guess my brain is overwhelmed.

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Solfrid Cristin
Winner TAC 2011 & 2012
Senior Member
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4143 posts - 8863 votes 
Speaks: Norwegian*, Spanish, Swedish, French, English, German, Italian
Studies: Russian

 Message 88 of 297
30 September 2014 at 9:14am | IP Logged 

I had a few days off, and was debating with myself wether to go to the USA, Kazakhstan or Spain, but since it
was really too short a time period for the first two, as I needed to make my own trip two days shorter than my
daughters's trip, and I am going to Spain anyway next month, for a business trip which I will prolong for a
couple of days, I decided to go to - Moscow!

I have a wonderful Russian colleague who helped me with lots of useful suggestions as to what to see and
where to go, so I have put together a program which should be memorable.

The day before I left was chaos though. My girls were leaving for London, on a trip which they had talked me
into allowing them to go alone on, by claiming it would make them independent by fixing everything
themselves. In the end I had to order the plain tickets and the London passes, but I told them to reserve the
hotel room, which should be an easy enough task, given that they had been to that particular hotel before.
Naturally they procrastinated for a couple of months, they booked somewhere else and I realized only the
day before they left that this was by no means an ordinary hotel. It was a sort of a hostel where they would
receive the address only on the day of departure, and they would have to be met by someone who had the
keys. To make a very long story very short, we did not get the address until they were in the air, it was in the
middle of nowhere, and they had to wait for 35 minutes in the dark for someone to meet them, in a not very
reputable neighborhood. The thought of three young, gorgeous girls waiting alone in the dark in what my
youngest daughter described as 'a ghetto' drove me almost crazy. I swear that 98% of my grey hairs came
yesterday. It will take YEARS before I'll let them go anywhere without having made all reservations myself
again. At one point I was so worried that it was all a scam, that I ordered them a second room, just to be sure
they would have somewhere to sleep that night. That money was lost of course, but I did not care. I would
gladly eat oat meal porridge for a full month not to have to go through that sort of worry again.

Anyhow, I got to Moscow, and prepared myself mentally to speak the local language with the driver from the
airport to the hotel as I always do when I go to Paris for instance. Unfortunately this guy was the strong silent
type. Very silent type. I asked 5 questions, he answered by 5 very short sentences. And that was that
conversation. I did not take it personally, particularly after I heard his conversation with his girlfriend which
consisted of 1 minute of her talking, and him answering :'I am driving', and hanging up on her. I'd love to hear
his answer to 'And how was your day, dear'? But at least he spoke Russian to me.

When I asked for directions in the street, we started out in Russian, and then they asked if I spoke English,
and continued in that language. I think I'll just have to pretend my English is really bad, and ask them to
speak Russian. When I am in Oslo and am harassed by street vendors I alway answer them in Russian, it
gets them off by back every time. Here I'll just have to play the dumb blonde, and pretend to only speak

At the hotel the staff and I spoke a mix of Russian and English. The exact same thing happened as what has
been the norm in Paris lately. I speak to them in Russian, they answer in Russian, I speak to them again in
Russian, they answer in Russian that they need my passport. I hand over the passport, and the moment they
see my name they switch to English. Immediately. While I still speak Russian. I'll be damned if I'll switch to
English as long as I have the vocabulary to say what I want to say in Russian. So the next two minutes they
switched between English and Russian, while I kept speaking Russian. When this happens in France I get
furious, because I am fluent in French with just a hint of an accent. That is so not the case of Russian, so I
did not get upset, but I told them I was here to practice my Russian, and asked them to please be so kind as
to speak Russian with me. We'll see how it goes tomorrow.

They are very friendly and helpful though, and one thing I do not miss is the floor lady. For those of you who
have not been to Russia or Ukraine, you may not know what a floor lady is (and there probably is a better
term for it), but they are women who are placed one on each floor of a hotel, who keep your keys and
generally look after the floor and the clients staying there. And they were not hired based on their
congeniality... When I was in Kiev four years ago, I stayed at the hotel Ukraine for two weeks, and made it my
personal mission to make my floor lady smile back at me when I greeted her and smiled at her. I am sorry to
say that two weeks were not enough, but at least I got the ladies in the breakfast room and the reception to
smile back after a week or so :-)

When I was last in Moscow with my sister, it was still the Soviet Union, and I was young, so I do not think I
even dared to smile to our floor lady. She was incredibly scary, and she and my sister, who did not appreciate
the system, got into a huge fight over our keys.

So I really appreciate the fact that this is just like any other hotel in the world. It is cosy and warm, spotlessly
clean, and has a perfect location 5 minutes from the Bolshoi theatre, so if the breakfast is nice I'll stay here
again the next time I come to Moscow.

I cannot wrap my head around how much the country has changed. When I was last here with my sister,
people were lining up in never ending queues, and even if the stores had something to sell you had to do
three queues. One to say what you wanted, one to pay, and one to actually get it. I went to GUM (a huge
department store on the Red Square) and was shocked to see that in the month of February with -18 degrees
all they had to sell in the clothes departments were summer clothes. People literally offered to buy the clothes
off our backs, and you were constantly asked whether you wanted to change money illegally on the streets. I
wanted to buy a record of Shostakovich, but there was another client who wanted the same record, and they
only had one in the store, so I let him have it. He looked so miserable at the prospect of not getting it, that
even though I had asked for it first, I did not have the heart to take it. People were either scared to talk to us,
or were unfriendly. We had to walk in a group most of the time, and some of the people in the group realized
that there were people following them around the few times we were let alone. My sister and I did not notice
anyone, either because we did not pay attention, or most probably because there was a limit to what KGB
were willing to spend resources on.

This evening I went to TSUM (another huge department store next to the Bolshoi theatre) and I have never
felt so much like a poor peasant girl in my life. You had Gucci, Prada, Armani, Chanel and every luxury brand
known to man. It was almost empty though, whether that is because most sensible Russian have better
things to do on a Sunday night than hang around a department store or because it is too expensive for most
Russians too, I do not know. Everyone I have talked to have been friendly and helpful ( and smiled back to
me). It is like another world. And I suppose looking at the architecture it is abundantly clear that the present
state of prosperity (for some at least) is the more normal state for Russia than the bleakness of the Soviet
period. They have so many absolutely amazing churches and palaces here that as a Norwegian you cannot
help feeling like a poor cousin from the country. We have nothing but a beautiful nature and clean air and
water to boast of.

One thing has not changed though :-) Every time I cross the street I get a work out. The cars may be far
away, but as soon as I step into the zebra crossing they seem to step on the accelerator, and I end up
running for my life. It is really good exercise, but for a Scandinavian used to cars slowing down, it takes some
getting used to. Fortunately they have the system of a counter to show how many seconds you have left on
many zebra crossings, so I just have to learn to be patient, and not try to cross when there are just a few
seconds left. Russians are the sweetest people ever, but they show no mercy behind the wheel of a car.


I had made a preliminary program for myself which of course derailed immediately as I overslept and it was
too late to go to the Komsomolskoe park that I had planned to see this morning, before my lunch appointment
with vonPeterhof. However it turned out that it was closed on Mondays, so I guess it was just as well. I
managed to get a ticket to a play by Nabokov on Wednesday, and beamed like the sun itself when the ticket
saleswoman complimented my Russian. I started out saying that my Russian was not very good, and asked
whether she spoke English. I admit it was a ruse to increase her patience with my wobbly Russian, but it is
one that always works. Like I suspected she did not want to speak English and assured me that she
understood everything I said, and that my Russian was great. I also managed to get the metro tickets I
wanted, and could not help but notice what huge price differences there are for different things. Metro tickets
are really good value, for the price of two metro tickets in Oslo I got 20 metro rides here. Cinemas (or at least
the cinema I bought tickets to) are incredibly expensive. Triple the Oslo price, and we already think they are
expensive. Also they have the same system as in London that they have different prizes according to where
you sit, and since I am near sighted, I had to buy the most expensive tickets. I hesitated between films,
because most of the films were American ones, including an action film with Pierce Brosnan (and I am always
in for a good Pierce Brosnan film:-) but in the end I opted for a Russian film called Korporativ. I figured if I was
here I might as well go all in, and that is most certainly nothing I could see at home :-)

At the Red Square I wanted to visit the Lenin mausoleum, but it was sadly also closed on Mondays. Next to
me were some Frenchmen who were trying to figure out what the sign (in Russian only) said, and were failing
spectacularly. I heard one of the women trying to nudge her husband into asking me what the sign said, and
whether it was closed, so I decided to put them out of their misery and told them in French that it was closed,
since it was Monday. I know we often say on the forum that we should not just talk to people in their native
language, because they might want to practice another language, but every single time I have done this to
French, Spanish or Italian tourists, they look like they want to kiss me. They confirmed that they felt
absolutely incommunicado, and helpless for not speaking any Russian. And they thought I was French, bless
their souls :-)

I then went to the big department store GUM, which thankfully was directed slightly more towards normal
people than TSUM, even though it is also luxurious. Fountain, chandeliers, absolutely beautiful. I bought
some water melon juice, which I had never tried before, and which was delicious. Outside the men's room I
came across a Japanese man who was in absolutely shock because there was a lady who had walked into
the men's room. He was actually gasping for air, eyes full of horror, pointing at the door in distress and only
calmed down a little bit when the lady came out again, evidently realizing her gaffe . I considered telling him
that two years ago in St. Petersburg I messed up with the triangles and went to the men's room for a full week
before I realized my mistake, but I literally do not think he would have survived that. I cannot help wondering
what kind of sheltered life you have led, if a simple mistake like that is enough to tip you out of balance,

When I in turn went to the ladies room, I first opened the door to what we call a French toilet, and the French
call a Turkish toilet, but to my relief they also had what the Chinese call a handicap toilet or a pedestal toilet,
or what we call a normal one :-) I am really impressed by those who can gracefully use a French one.

I was lucky enough to meet von Peterhof for lunch today. I love meeting people from the forum in real life,
and particularly since we had had a Skype session in Russian/Norwegian it was really nice meeting up. It was
a bit short, just a little over half an hour, but we got to visit the old Soviet-style cafeteria at GUM (my choice).
One of my Russian teachers who lived in Moscow for a while had recommended it, and they were both
efficient, inexpensive, typically Russian and had tasty food, so you can not really get it much better than that.
My daughters are horrified that I meet up with people that I only know through the Internet, but I doubt that ax
murderers bother to frequent the HTLAL and I have only had positive experiences. Most of the time my
daughters are really happy with me, but I know they sometimes would have wanted me to be a slightly more
conventional mother. Since I had a mother who hitch hiked all the way to Valencia at my age, did background
checks on my sister's boyfriend worthy of the KGB, sent the police to my door after a party at my dorm, and
tried to get Interpol to find us when my sister and I aged 30 and 24 respectively, went on a holiday which she
suspected was not where we had said it was, I do not think they have the least reason for complaints. And
when they try I remind them that they were the only kids in Norway who got to go to the Vampire Diaries
convention in Barcelona two years ago, courtesy of their unconventional mother.

One thing the Russians are incredibly good at, is logistics. The combination of subterranean passages under
the largest, busiest roads, and the aforementioned time counters on the streets makes for very efficient
driving patterns. I must check with my railway colleagues if they have the same results, because if the
planning is half as good in the railways as it is on the roads, they should be absolutely amazing. They even
have numbered the sections at the department store, GUM, so it is easy to find your way, and at the first floor
they had little cards noting the specialties and the exact location of each of their restaurants. Absolutely

One thing I have a hard time figuring out are the greeting customs with people you are friendly with here.
When I asked my Russian teacher she said they either hugged or kissed, no rules for how many kisses,
which is not particularly helpful. Today I tried the Spanish way, two kisses, which evidently was one to many.
I sooo wish that the number of kisses was standardized across Europe, or that they'd simply give you a good
hug the way we do in Norway. I go mental trying to figure out how many times I should kiss people when I
meet them at international meetings.

This afternoon I went on a trip on the river. Really practical to rest sore tourist feet, and very enjoyable. The
Kreml, the Peter the Great statue, and the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour all looked magnificent from the
river. In spite of it being quite chilly today, I decided to sit outside, I mean, hey, I'm Norwegian, and being cold
is part of the Moscow experience, right? After being the last man on deck (as everyone else had gone inside)
I decided that pneumonia was hardly part of the Moscow experience, so I went downstairs to get some lovely
warm tea. I absolutely love Black Russian tea.

And the film. Боже мой. I do not think there was a Russian stereotype known to man which was not included.
I have often wondered that American film makers are so willing to show off the worst sides of their society,
but I see that the Russians outdo them. It was a comedy, and you had the lazy workers, the drunks, the
womanizer, the incompetent police and the women of questionable morals. Plus an incredibly shy, infatuated,
clumsy but honest hero, of the most unlikely kind you could imagine. My Russian fell miserably short, and not
only because the worst word I know in Russian is 'durak'. My daughters know more foul language in Russian
than I do, and without that, I suspect I lost out on 20% of the vocabulary. I caught a sentence here and there,
though:-)   I still had several good laughs, as part of the humor was more slap stick. I had decided to watch a
movie in stead of just watching TV, because I wanted the full shared movie experience. It is always nice to
know where others think you should laugh, and I was interested in seeing a live Russian audience. Well that
did not go entirely according to the plan, as the entire audience consisted of one person. Me. I am glad I
went anyway, it was unlike anything I have ever seen before, and a genre that I would not have watched in a
million years in Norway, but still made me laugh more than any film I have seen the last 10 years. The
cinema was by the way totally different from anything I have ever seen. Just 4 rows, and huge soft sofas, and
small tables with a menu on it from which you could order food and every liquor under the sun. It struck me
as the perfect place to do anything but watching the movie. Being from a country where the strongest you can
buy is a cinema is Coca Cola, the alcohol part was unexpected, but that is why it is interesting to go abroad.
In Spain they also had liquor in the movies, and in England people stood up and sang 'God save the Queen'
after the theater performance, which surprised me more than the alcohol.

Curiously enough I have not seen a single intoxicated individual since I got here, so they are most certainly
not living up to that particular stereotype. In fact the only stereotype I have observed, is that they are very
courteous to women, always letting me go in the door first, or holds it open for me. Love that :-) . Whenever I
came back to Norway from Spain, I would inevitably get the door in my face, or bump into men going in the
door, being used to Spanish men, who would always let me go first. Most Norwegian men sadly do not have
a chivalrous bone in their body, but I guess that this is our own fault. Gender equality and chivalry are hard to
mix. I just had a chat with my friend from Singapore who gets all the 'Oh, I am so through with Norwegian
women and all this equality nonsense'- conversations from Norwegian men. She assures me that they just
pretend that they want equality, when what they really want is a woman who cooks and cleans and doesn't
talk back. And end up with a huge surprise when they discover that this is not the dream scenario for most
non-Norwegian women either.

Oh, and the breakfast turned out to be just fine. Fruit vegetables, hot and cold dishes, oat meal porridge -
everything a girl could want. They have a wonderful dark bread with raisins and walnuts, and I have been
eating lots of salmon and herring, which I do not normally do at home, but it was so tasty here. They really
know how to prepare their fish. Cauliflower with curry was an unexpected but tasty dish for breakfast, which I
will have again.

I ventured into the metro system yesterday, and what can I say. It is staggeringly beautiful (not a lot of things I
agree with Stalin on, but making the metro into a series of palaces was a fantastic idea) it is utterly confusing,
but very efficient. A couple of times I have been unable to figure out through the signs where I was supposed
to go, but everyone is super helpful, so at times I just take a leap of faith and follow the instructions even if
they are not backed up by any signs, and so far I have arrived spot on.

But the most amazing thing so far is how comfortable and at home I feel here. Sometimes when I go abroad I
feel like an alien, but here I feel great. I do not know whether it is the fact that by now I am really used to
hearing Russian around me, due to my stay in Ukraine, that I understand more of what is written or have
gotten used to the culture, but anyhow it is a good feeling. I am also unsure of whether the entire Russian
population have gone from being unfriendly to really friendly in a generation, or whether it is the fact that I
make every effort to speak Russian, but where the first time I was here the few encounters I had with the
locals were conflicted, now I meet nothing but smiles and eagerness to help. I realize that the visit is way too
short for what I want to see, but the silver lining on that one, is that I will have to come back soon :-)

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