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Cristina’s travels TAC 2015 Team Pushkin

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Solfrid Cristin
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 Message 241 of 297
04 August 2015 at 4:48pm | IP Logged 
Dragon27 wrote:
Being from Tatarstan myself, I can't help wondering: which cities are you going to visit?

Sadly I only had two days, so I could only see Kasan. I loved it though, and will most definitely go back and
see more of Tatarstan :-)
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 Message 242 of 297
04 August 2015 at 8:30pm | IP Logged 
Aww that's interesting. I have a couple of friends who really love Aeroflot. Some years ago the company didn't get much respect, for example they had a slogan "летайте самолётами аэрофлот" and people added "их осталось мало" (while there are some left :D) It seems like they've worked hard on improving their reputation.

You need a snack before or along with a drink because you get drunk much faster if you drink on an empty stomach :DDD I would say закуска has two meanings - 1) a snack 2) whatever you eat with your alcohol. Not all foods can be a snack, so in some cases it may be assumed that you're getting alcohol as well.

Oh yeah, for some mysterious reason they think the water supply system needs prophylactic time off every summer. It's like that in Belarus too, for three weeks. Used to be 4 weeks, in the USSR and even 10+ years ago. People used to boil water all the time and likely go to the баня to have a proper shower, even in my childhood. Nowadays most have water heaters installed, which means the hot water is boiling hot for that week, and it might not get heated fast enough during a really long shower. If the price of your flat was attractive, that's probably because of this ;) I'm sorry I didn't point out you should make sure there's hot water XD

Actually I've just told my mum and she didn't realize it's not done like that in most of the world XDDD I know in Belarus I once read an article pointing out that this is not a worldwide phenomenon and that it's not even necessary. And our water isn't even particularly good. (I love being able to drink tap water in Finland!)
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Solfrid Cristin
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 Message 243 of 297
04 August 2015 at 9:13pm | IP Logged 
A Polish friend told me that it used to be like this in Warsaw too, many years ago.

Edited by Solfrid Cristin on 04 August 2015 at 9:13pm

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 Message 244 of 297
06 August 2015 at 3:38am | IP Logged 
Interesting to read about your travels, as ever, Cristina. How does the
Russian school compare with Nova Mova? And was it not difficult to get
Russian sim card? I was under the impressian foreigners weren't allowed
to buy them.
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Solfrid Cristin
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 Message 245 of 297
11 August 2015 at 11:58pm | IP Logged 
Stelingo: They are both amazing schools, but the teachers here are younger, and perhaps a tad more flexible
in methods. Buying a SIM- card is no problem, but you need to bring your passport.


On my first week end here I went to Kazan, in Tatarstan. I actually had not even heard of Kazan until last
year when I first came to Moscow, but it kept turning up in place names, and names of churches and
madonnas, so in the end I was curious enough to read up on it. Turns out that Kazan is Russia's third largest
city, and it is the capital of the Russian republic of Tatarstan, and as such has a double cultural heritage from
both Moslem Tatars and Orthodox Christians. When I placed a picture of myself, all veiled and in traditional
Tatar outfit on Facebook, one of my friends said: "I have now googled Tatarstan. I had not heard of it, and I
have not heard of any of its neighbours. You do go to strange places!"

And when seen from afar it may seem both exotic and scary. A tad exotic it may be, but scary? Not in the
very least. Since I have varied experiences as to traveling alone as a blonde woman in Southern Europe, and
in Moslem countries, I had asked my colleague for advice, and he assured me that I would be as safe as in
any European country, and as it turned out I felt even more safe than in any other country I have been in,
Norway included. Tatarstan is a place I intend to go back to with my daughters, and my only regret is that I
had such a short time.

I had discussed proper clothing for the trip with my teacher, and decided that since I was going to visit both a
Mosque and several Orthodox Churches, I needed a long skirt and a long sleeved jacket to cover my arms.
On my hunt for those, I first came to a shop where I explained that I needed a long skirt to wear to church,
and she came with a skirt in violet, red and yellow. In my younger days I would have loved it, but I did not find
it appropriate for an Orthodox Church, I was more looking for a discrete black one. Next I saw the word
"manufaktura" on a shop sign, which in Norwegian is the old word for clothing, so I charged into the shop,
stopping in total confusion and bewilderment as I realised that I was actually at a fish monger's, and saw
when I came out that I had overlooked the vital word 'ribnaya' in front of manufaktura. No chances of finding
my black skirt there :-)

I browsed through a few more shops, but either the skirts were too heavy, too many colours, too many frills,
or too long! Russian women must be very tall ( or they must be expected to wear insanely high heels)
because a lot of the skirts I found must have been intended for women who were 1.80, and only when putting
the waist right under my breast was it possible to wear them without them sweeping the ground. With my
1.68, that is usually not a problem, but here it definitely is. I found the perfect skirt and the perfect jacket in
the end, discrete black skirt with no frills, and discrete long sleeved jacket. I got a bit mad at the saleswoman
though. One of the things I like about Russia is that they have the exact right level of attention in shops. They
ask if you need help, and when they see that you just want to browse they leave you alone until you ask for
help. Perfect. This particular shop assistant probably had a non Russian background and she kept hovering
over me, to the point where I almost left the shop. I absolutely loathe sales people who will not leave you
alone. Once I was in the fitting room, she suddenly appeared and kept staring at me, grinning at me the
whole time. I held my tongue, even though I really disliked that, but when she did it again a couple of minutes
later, this time leaving the curtain half open so that I was visible to half the shop, I just looked impatiently at
her and said 'Please'! As a former practicing nudist, it does not bother me to show a bit of skin, but I prefer to
have total control of when and where and to whom, and standing in just my underwear being visible to half a
shop of strangers was way outside my comfort zone. Of course I then felt felt horrible for being uncourteous
to her, so I made a point of being really nice to her afterwards.

The train for Kazan left quite late, and hanging around a railway station late in the evening in any country is
generally a bad idea, but I had timed it to get there 45 minutes before, when it was possible to board the train.
I was asked for my passport before boarding. I did not register whether the others had to show their
documents too, or if that was just me as a foreigner, but since I am anyway obliged as a foreigner to always
cary my passport, with visa, immigration papers and permit to stay in Russia, that was fine. I think the only
other place where they have demanded a passport for boarding a train is in China, but I guess every country
have their own procedures.

I had asked my travel agent to get me a train ticket to 3rd class to Kazan, and to 2nd class back. I had tried
1st class when I went on the Transsiberian, and I was curious to try out the different alternatives. It looks
incredibly cool with wagons with lots of people in the same wagon. They did not have 3rd class, so I took 2nd
and 1st -still determined to try the different variants. As I approached my wagon and understood that it would
be a mixed compartment with both men and women, and saw all the different people who were getting on the
train, I started to regret my choice, but I was super lucky and got two really nice girls in their early thirties, Alla
and Katia, both mothers of one, and Sasha the husband of one of them who got me coke and brandy to make
sure I would sleep well. They all shook hands and introduced themselves and had asked where I was from,
before they even sat down. Love Russians :-)

After a couple of drinks Sasha wanted to know what was said about Russia in Norway, but since I did not
really have the vocabulary to give the sensitive subject the attention it needed, I dodged it. He was very
frustrated that a local Kalashnikov factory which represented a lot of jobs had recently been hit by sanctions,
and could not understand why. There was not really much I could say to that. In principle an arms factory is
not on the top of my list of things I feel sympathy for, but for the individual Russian factory worker or
Norwegian fisherman who looses their job because of the sanctions, it is a catastrophe. Sanctions are bad.
War is worse.

After some more drinks he told me that I was a very beautiful woman, and asked me if I was 35 years old. He
immediately became my new best friend :-), and since it was in front of his wife,I figured it was all right, so I
gave him a big smile and thanked him for the compliment. I learned the Russian word for "drunk" - "piani" -
and if that is how Russian men become when they get drunk, I can live with that. His wife kept trying to deter
him from touching on controversial topics, and I tried to put her at ease. He could ask me anything he
wanted. He was not in the very least unpleasant, just genuinely curious, and I am fine with that. We
discussed gender roles in Norway and Russia. I told them that Norwegian men did most household chores
including taking care of the children, and were generally marvellous when it came to equality of genders, and
were the most amazing friends ever, but that as a general rule they do not carry heavy bags for you, they do
not pay for you, they do not give you compliments and they do not offer you their seat on public transport.
Even when I was 9 months pregnant there was not a single man who got up and offered me his seat on the
bus or the metro. That shocked them. He said Russian men did nothing at home, and that women did
everything. His wife said that in his dreams that was true, but in real life he did the dishes as well. And he
went to pick up glasses and tea for all four of us, and was very attentive and made sure I was included all the
time. Russian railways have the most beautiful teacups or rather tea mugs, I have seen anywhere. They look
like something that could have belonged on the Orient express. Tall and slender, with what looked like a
silver setting, with RJD engraved. My teacher later told me that it was possible to buy them as souvenirs, but
I did not see that, unfortunately. I bought a little bear with RZD on it, but sadly I did not see any mugs.

Sasha even excused himself for talking about work, but said that he and his wife had not seen Alla for two
years, so they had a lot to catch up. In Norway they would not even have thought of excusing themselves, so
I told him that of course I did not mind. And Katia and Alla patiently corrected my Russian and helped me
with words when I needed them. I was offered the lower bed in stead of the upper, which I was supposed to
have. I accepted with gratitude. I hate upper beds. They told me about stereotypes about Norwegians who
was that they had long beards, drunk a lot, and did not talk. None of which applies to me :-) . They also said
that I looked according to the stereotype of Norwegian women - long blonde hair, long skirt. They should
have known that the only reason I was wearing a long skirt was because I expected to go to orthodox
churches and to mosques. That I fit the stereotype of Norwegian women the one day I was wearing Russian
clothes, bought for a Russian purpose and which I would probably not have worn at home, speaks volumes
about stereotypes. My teacher had hoped that I would get pleasant traveling mates - I could not have wished
for sweeter ones.

With the exception of the Transsiberian trip I had not been in a sleeping wagon for years, but these wagons
were brand new, two "floors" - we were on the first floor, and I was really happy with the quality. The bed was
comfortable, the linen clean, there were three bathrooms so we did not have to wait, and there was hot water
and all the soap and paper of different kinds we needed, and hooks so you could hang up your clothes and
bag for toiletries. All in all, excellent. The next morning on my way to the bathroom, I introduced myself to the
woman in charge of the wagon, said I worked for the Norwegian railways and that I thought she did a great
job and that I was very impressed with the wagon. She lit up like a Christmas tree, and gave the bathroom an
extra swipe for me before she let me in. I am guessing that not many people take the time to compliment her
for her work.

The next morning I was offered tea, pancakes with cottage cheese, cucumbers and musli porridge from my
traveling mates, but since I had already had a protein bar I declined. I thought it was very sweet of them to
offer, though. One of the great things about traveling is that it sets your own culture into perspective. As a
Norwegian, living in a country which is orderly, and with clean air, clean water, a true democracy, fabulous
nature, no corruption and which routinely is voted as the best country in the world to live in, it is easy to get
smug. And when I talk about Norwegian politicians, and that our main asset is not oil, but the honesty,
goodness and lack of corruption across the political spectrum from the far right to the far left, they think it
sounds like a fairy tale. Like a story which should start with "Once upon a time, in a country far, far away...".
But exactly encounters like these, reminds me of how much we can learn from other countries. I have
received so much interest and warmth from other people when I have been traveling abroad, that I am
embarrassed at the reserve and shyness so typical of my own countrymen, and which must make it very
boring to come as a tourist to Norway. My Spanish friends who just visited me claimed that Norwegians were
super sweet and helpful - I hope they did not say it just to be polite. Three years ago, I saw a couple of
Russian bikers in distress in Western Norway. They looked fairly scary, with huge bikes and tattoos and
everything, but since I am drawn to Russians like a moth to the light, I asked them what the problem was. It
turned out that they could not continue on the road they wanted to follow, as it was barred, and to pass it you
needed Norwegian coins, and they were super relieved to meet someone who spoke a little Russian, since
they did not speak much English, and certainly no Norwegian. I gave them the money, it was not a huge sum,
about 15 dollars, but by the look of shock on their face, I imagine that they had not received much help so far.
Russian bikers with tattoos, or actually any bikers with tattoos, are unlikely to raise much sympathy among
your standard Western Norwegian. I have however, like Blanche DuBois so many times depended on the
kindness of strangers, that I was just happy to pay it forward. In particular to Russians :-)

My traveling agent had given me the number to my guide in Kazan with the words: "I hope he is hot". I was
hoping he was very ugly and very married, since developing a crush on a man in Tatarstan would have been
too inconvenient for words, even by my standards. Some time ago my girls and I decided we needed to stop
casting our eyes on foreign men, since we had a crush on guys from not just three different countries, but
three different continents. Not particularly convenient. It would make for interesting family reunions though :-)

Anyhow, Marcel turned out to be very competent, very nice and married, so no worries :-). My traveling agent
had ordered an English speaking guide, but I decided to jump into it and asked him to speak Russian to me.
And we ended up speaking Russian the whole time except for a few sentences and stray words in English.

And boy, what a city Kazan was! The Kremlin was beautiful, and contained the biggest most beautiful
Mosque I have ever seen. I was wearing my waist to ankles black skirt, a long sleeved jacket, and had
covered my hair with a head scarf, but apparently the woman at the gate was not satisfied with the fact that
there was a few stray locks of hair visible, so she made a sort of a knot of my head scarf to make sure no hair
was visible. There was also a big really beautiful church, as well as a tower which was trying to turn into the
leaning tower of Pisa. According to the legend, Ivan the Terrible wanted to marry the Tatar queen. She
refused, but he came with a full army and conquered the city so she had to accept to marry him, but did so on
the condition that he constructed the tallest tower in Tatarstan in just 7 days. He so did, she married him,
asked for permission to go to the top of the tower, and from there she threw herself on the rocks, to avoid
leaving her beloved city and live with Ivan the Terrible.

It is a captivating legend, but just a legend. Apparently she married someone else and lived happily to the
end of her days, and Ivan the Terrible was in this case not as terrible as he was made out to be :-) I also
visited the church next to where a very important icon was found, and kissed an icon for the first time in my
life. I have actually never thought of doing that before, we do not have that tradition, and being slightly
germophope I have not kissed a saint since I kissed the black Madonna of Montserrat in the late 60ies.
However standing in the queue in front of the icon to see it better, I saw that most of the others kissed the
icon, and as on request just as it was my turn, a woman came and cleaned the window. And suddenly it just
felt right, and I crossed myself and kissed my first icon. The church was beautiful, and I have now been to
enough Orthodox churches that the scent there feels familiar and very soothing. The guide was from
Tatarstan himself, so in addition to being able to tell me about all the official things about Kazan, he could add
a few touches of daily life, and he took me to the most commonly used mosque, explaining that some felt a
bit uneasy getting married etc. in the huge beautiful mosque in Kremlin, since there were so many tourists
there, so they preferred the old mosque. We also saw a lot of beautiful Tatar houses which had been
painstakingly restored, and the guide told me that one of the main differences between Tatar and Russian
architectural decorations, was that where the Russians used wood carvings, the Tatars used paint. It was not
uncommon for Tatar houses to be painted in green, blue, red and yellow. The same house. Particularly green
and blue. I do not know whether this has to do with oriental tastes, because a lot of the stations along the
Trans Siberian line, were also painted in bright green and blue, colours which are fairly unusual house
colours for us.

Otherwise, what was most striking to me, was that the architecture in general looked more French and Italian
than Russian. Marcel also told me that in Tatar families it was customary to give their children Italian or
French names, and that his sister was called Romina and his grandmother Lucia. In the centre we saw the
big university, one of the oldest in Russia, where Tolstoy and Lenin had both studied. There was also a
statue of Lenin as a young man, apparently the only such statue in Russia. He looked a lot like Leonardo di
Caprio actually :-)

It was then time for lunch, and I was taken to a traditional Tatar restaurant. After the customary salad, I had a
special consommé which was served with a sort of bun with meat and onions inside. The next course was
chicken breast with carrots julienne and cheese - very juicy and tasty, and mashed potatoes served within a
sort of a stiff blini. Very unexpected and very good. I asked Marcel about it later, and he said that this was a
traditional way of serving it, and that he had seen his grandmother prepare this.

The desert was the famous chac-chac, which is made out of a sort of dough from flour and eggs, carved up,
deep fried and mixed with honey. And the meal ended with a cup of tea. Again I could not help wondering if
the Russian love for tea came from the oriental influence. After lunch I saw a Tatar 'village' in the centre - a
sort of a food court where they had made brand new houses in a traditional style, and also the dolls theatre
(is that even the way you say it in English?) It looked like something out of a fairy tale.

In the evening I decided to face one of my last fears - to go out and have dinner alone in a restaurant - but
there was a wedding there, so I dropped it. I will have to deal with that particular phobia at some later time.

The next morning there was a huge breakfast buffet, where I to my intense surprise found something I have
never eaten outside mine or my mother's kitchen. Semolina porridge. It was my favourite dish as a child, but
my husband hated it with a vengeance, so the kids and I would have it as a special treat when he was not
home. I must admit Tatarstan was the last place on earth where I would have expected to find it. There were
also other traditional dishes with meat and vegetables, and I decided that the Tatar kitchen was definitely to
my liking.

On Sunday I went to the "Kazan Arbat", Bauman street - a pedestrian area with a gazillion restaurants and
souvenir shops. I started out with the Soviet period museum. It consisted of lots and lots of objects from that
period. Books, cassettes, posters, clothes - you name it, they have got it. Unfortunately there was not much in
the way of explanation, and I was sad that I did not have anyone with me who had memories from that period
which they could have shared with me and which would have made the whole thing come alive.

I was not going to buy any souvenirs, I rarely do. If anything I buy things I can use. But I am afraid I got
sidetracked in Kazan, and before the day was over I had bought new shoes, two pairs of new slippers, an
Orthodox scarf, a Moslem head scarf, some Tatar head wear with pearls on it, a traditional Russian dress
with its corresponding head wear (in fact my head has never been as well covered as after this trip) and the
'shoes' which go with the dress which look insanely uncomfortable but which I find the exact equivalence of in
pictures in the Tretyakovskaya Gallery from the 19th century. There are also supposed to be some stockings
to match which I have not found yet. And six boxes of chac-chac:-) I also found the cutest boots - valenki -
which I really wanted to get, but they were a size too small. Valenki are traditional Russian felt boots which
keep your feet warm down to minus 40, and most of them are grey and not particularly fancy looking, but
these were white with extra decorations, and with matching galoshes, so they would have been perfect.

I also had my picture taken in traditional Tatar clothes. I do not normally do that sort of thing, too touristy for
me, but I actually had a lot of fun, the woman letting out the dresses seemed to enjoy the challenge of
turning a Viking woman into the perfect version of a traditional Tatar woman, and put on me all of her most
beautiful clothing. I new she had been successful when some of the bypasses stopped to follow the process
and taking pictures of their own. I felt a bit guilty for taking up so much of her time - since I was alone I had to
ask her to take my pictures - but by the time we were finished there was a line of new people wanting to rent
the costumes, so I think she was satisfied too.

The train back was absolutely fantastic. This time I had taken the highest level of comfort, and the beds were
made, the compartment was just for women, no need for climbing as both beds were individual, and had no
beds on top, and you got served a lovely hot meal. In Norway where political correctness is going wild, we
are getting more and more places which do not serve porc. In Tatarstan they had two options, chicken for
those who preferred that, porc for those who did not have any dietary restrictions. Tatarstan could indeed
have been a model for having two cultures in the same place. Both cultures are respected, no one imposes
their world view on anyone else. It most probably was not like that in the past, but it is like that now.

I shared my compartment with a beautiful Tatar woman who looked like she was 35, so when she told me
she had a 4 year old grandson, I was really surprised. She turned out to be 41, and when I asked her how
she was ready to be a grandma at the age of 37, she just laughed and said that she was not, but no one had
asked her :-) We had a long conversation about men, about life, about suffering and about having a new life. I
take my hat off for her. And this is precisely why I learn more languages than English. Because I can sit and
have a deep, meaningful conversation with a Tatar woman, in what from a Euro centric position is in the
middle of nowhere, and understand almost everything she says. And once again realise that the female
condition is pretty much the same all over the globe. The next morning she asked that we exchange
addresses, and said that the next time I came to Kazan, she would like me to come as a guest to her home,
and to show me around, since Tatarstan had a beautiful nature and was so much more than just Kazan. And
she looked at me with a serious and slightly sad expression, and said: "It is good to meat someone who does
not hate Russia". My heart went out for her. It must be horrible to feel that everyone hates you. The time
was too short for me to tell her that even Russia's most ardent critics do not hate Russia or Russians, they
are just scared of the current political situation, but I was in any event happy that she understood that they
certainly have no enemy in me. I am probably considerable more positive towards Russian culture than most
Westerners right now, but most of the animosity I have heard has actually been expressed from Russians.
Many have said to me that they dislike America - usually without having been there- I cannot recall any
Americans who have said they disliked Russia, although they most certainly have their strong political views
about the current political situation. Anyhow, my roommate was so friendly and helpful, and my guide
contacted me the day after I left, suggested that we stay in touch, and said that he would be most happy to
assist me with anything I needed the next time I came to Kasan. Based on what he said about his
grandmother, I would like to stay with her for a few days and learn traditional Tatar cooking. I just need to get
up to speed in Russian and learn some Turkish ( which has a lot in common with Tatar) first, so that I can
communicate with her. I love Tatarstan. They have the sweetest, most open and honest people ever. And I
say that based on an extremely limited selection, but still :-)

Week two

I have tried to follow Russian TV. I probably do not understand more than about 20-30 %, but that still feels
like a victory. I watched a show with Russia's youngest grandmother. She was 29, though she looked about
my age. She and her husband lived on 45 square meters with 5 kids, and a grandchild to be. Sweet Jesus. If
you can do that without killing either of them, you are a super heroine in my book.

It is of course very young to give birth (14 years old, 8th grade), but it is in no way special to Russia. One of
my friends at school got pregnant when she was 14, but she now lives a happy life with her husband and 4
kids, in a very nice house and she has a career. Teen age pregnancies are extremely rare in Norway, but
they do happen. And there was an article about a Norwegian family a few years ago, where they had given
birth exactly at 15, for four consecutive generations, so we saw 5 generations in one picture . Newborn child,
mother of 15, grandmother of 30, great grandmother of 45 and great great grandmother of 60. The newborn
child was a girl, and they welcomed the journalist back in 15 years for another article.,,

I have just found out where I will go if I were in Moscow in a romantic setting. In fact I have found out where I
will go if I were in Moscow in any setting: The Gorkij park. I LOVE the Gorkij park. Not only is an absolutely
amazingly beautiful park, but they have lots of huge cushions you can sit on, great ice cream, lots of nice
places to eat and a lot of activities.

We watched traditional dancing - not Russian but 18th century French - we ate corn on the cob, which
apparently is traditional, and we rented a water bike (is it even called that?) and had a great ride on the lake.
It was stunning: amazing weather, sunset, truly beautiful. They even had a really nice rose garden where I
recognised some of the roses.   I also wanted to rent one of the bike-vehicles - not quite sure how to describe
them - and drive around, but we did not have time, as we prioritised having dinner at a nice Italian restaurant.
Tania said she could notice progress even in the 10 days which had passed (yay!!!) and we spoke Russian
most of the time (double yay!!!)

Marc has gone back to Sweden, but I got an update from his last hot date in Moscow, after which he said he
could now strike "Making out on the Red Square" from his to-do list. I laughed for a full minute, and made a
mental note of putting that particular item on mine :-)

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 Message 246 of 297
12 August 2015 at 1:31pm | IP Logged 
Actually one reason that Ivan became 'terrible' (which actually isn' a very good translation of his nickname) was that he suspected that some of the bojars had murdered his 'Russian' wife, and I remember from a TV program that this suspicion has been tested by chemical forensic methods and confirmed - somebody DID poison his queen.

But if the legend is correct it was himself who murdered the crown prince by hitting him hard in the head with a heavy staff. Well, still better than Peter I, who flogged his son to death ...

Edited by Iversen on 12 August 2015 at 1:32pm

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 Message 247 of 297
12 August 2015 at 10:12pm | IP Logged 
Yeah, something like Fierce would be better but it sounds too positive in English :)
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Studies: Mandarin, Georgian, Russian

 Message 248 of 297
14 August 2015 at 10:13pm | IP Logged 
This post on Tatarstan alone is worth keeping attached to this forum here. I hadn't heard about Tatarstan or Kazan yet, only about the Tatar language, and when I saw Cristina's picture in Kazan some weeks ago I already got intriguided and googled for the beautiful pictures of the city.

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