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Cristina’s travels TAC 2015 Team Pushkin

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Solfrid Cristin
Winner TAC 2011 & 2012
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 Message 257 of 297
18 August 2015 at 7:28am | IP Logged 
Serpent wrote:
Just wanted to show you my pics from Vladimir and Suzdal,
10 years ago :)

Great pictures!
2 persons have voted this message useful

Solfrid Cristin
Winner TAC 2011 & 2012
Senior Member
Joined 3935 days ago

4143 posts - 8863 votes 
Speaks: Norwegian*, Spanish, Swedish, French, English, German, Italian
Studies: Russian

 Message 258 of 297
27 August 2015 at 3:14pm | IP Logged 

Back from Ivanovo and Suzdal I really missed my Swedish study buddy, Mark. I had gotten used to having
lunch with him, and I was really eager to hear how his last week end in Moscow had gone, and which one of
the two Russian beauties he had made dates with ended up being the lucky one. Plus I wanted to tell him
about my week end. After a few days we ended up having a phone call which ended at three o'clock in the
morning. I don't think I have ever had a conversation just like that one before, but we managed to get through
most of the details from our respective week ends and then some. I love friends that are easy going and
which you cannot offend unless you actually want to. One of the last days he offered me a piece of his cake.
Since I had already used my fork, I suggested he use his fork which was still unused, and cut off a part for
me, and put it on my plate. Nah, he said' Just consider that we made out already, and dig in'. I laughed until
tears came down my cheeks. I'll only be among friends who make me laugh from now on. I'm sure it will
make me live longer. :-)

Otherwise the last two weeks in Moscow sort of just passed by in a blur. I ate very little, slept less and had
up to 9 individual Russian lessons a day, and it made me fairly cranky. Fortunately I do not have PMS, but if I
had, I suspect this would have been like PMS x 15. If I did not show how cranky I was, it was purely due to a
good upbringing. I was a bit too greedy, in wanting to take as many lessons as I could manage, and if I ever
go back to Moscow for another study trip, I'll have a more manageable amount of hours, because this was
killing me. I had such wonderful teachers though, that I was ok. I had had several Russian teachers before
them, and although every single one of them had been a good teacher, they had all tended to stick to
traditional methods for teaching grammar, which does not work very well with me. I had therefore sent a long
letter to the school before I got there, specifying that I was a special case, that it took me a long time to learn
vocabulary, that I was unable to learn grammar through traditional methods, that I could not write in Russian,
and that I therefore needed a teacher who was super flexible, and who was willing to change methods
constantly and vary between old and new techniques, including methods more commonly used for children.   
And, oh miracle! I got what I asked for. My main teacher, Anna, was 24 years old, and she followed me in all
my weird suggestions and came up with a few of her own. So I have played cards with motion verbs, read
about icons and the places I was traveling to, had dictations and played games with the case endings. And in
the afternoon I had long conversations with Allona, about life, men, joys and suffering. Half my friends and
acquaintances seem to have either lost or broken up with their boy friends/ girl friends over the last few
months, so it has actually been nice to be single and not have to worry. Allona said she felt certain that I
would end up with a Russian man. I reminded her that nice Russian men my age tended to be either married
or dead. And neither category is particularly promising. For some curious reason I seem to be attracting men
between 25-30 here. I do not know whether it is just a peculiar Russian custom to make every woman feel
good by flirting with her, or whether I need to dress in a more age appropriate way. I mean, I love having
friends in that age group, they are a lot of fun, but they are not great dating material. I am more a 45-55 year
kind of girl. A few days ago a guy leaned over to me on the metro and said ' You look like a Snow Queen,
only in Summer'. With a white dress, a white jacket and long blonde hair I could see why that particular
image would spring to mind, but still. I don't think I have ever had anyone flirt with me on the metro before.
He followed up with other compliments, but must have thought I was very cold (hey, snow queen here,
remember!) because I was really focusing on the metro stops so that I would not miss my stop. He must
have been around 30, and flirting back with a 30 year old in Russian on a noisy metro was beyond both my
linguistic and auditive capabilities and my social skills. Plus I am horribly out of practice :-)

Anyhow, I could not be happier with my teachers. They are really good, very knowledgable and very nice.
The only slightly uncomfortable incident was with the school's only male teacher, Igor. He was talking to my
teacher and when I came in he started a discussion on Ukraine. Generally I dodge those, but he was so
insistent that I could not avoid it, and he was so pushy that I decided I'd be just as direct as he was. When he
asked me who in my opinion were the parties wedging war on each other, I answered that it was the
Ukrainian army on one side, and Ukrainian separatists with support by Russian soldiers and supplies on the
other side. He said no one in Russia had heard of Russian soldiers fighting in Ukraine, so I told him to read
some foreign newspapers because the whole rest of the world knew about it. He said that if they were at war,
dead soldiers would come back in body bags, I suggested that he'd get in touch with the Russian
organization for the mothers of soldiers, who could give him the exact numbers of dead Russian soldiers who
had come back in body bags. I am mad because of what happens in Ukraine, but I am equally mad that the
Russian people are being systematically lied to. They deserve so much better. And I had no problem with the
discussion as such, although I would have preferred that it had not taken place, but what made me
uncomfortable was that he was correcting my Russian all the time, and although getting mad loosens my
tongue, it unfortunately also make me break every grammar rule in the Russian language. And I am happy to
have a heated political discussion, and I am happy to have my Russian corrected, but both at the same time
is extremely uncomfortable. And then my teacher informed me that Igor was going to be my examiner at the
B1 exam, and I thought, 'Great going, Cristina, you have managed to alienate the one person at the school
who has an influence on your grades. Fantastic'.

I told my regular teacher, Anna, about the incident, and that I needed to focus more on cases, because even
though I was uncomfortable and I was in the middle of a heated discussion, I still registered that most of my
mistakes were case related. And I need to know them so well that I do not need to think for a whole minute
before I say a sentence. After a while we started speaking about a topic which I was very interested in, after
which Anna said that evidently it was a matter of emotions. When I am cool and collected, I can speak fairly
correct Russian at a basic level, but once my emotions are involved, or I get nervous, then all hell brakes
loose. Not good news for someone whose emotions are such a huge part of who I am.

Anyhow, the same afternoon I overheard a conversation between the student adviser and Igor, where she
said that she had to give me a different examiner, because I was scared of him. He protested that I was not
scared of him, and I just fled. That was one discussion I was not interested in being part in. The next day,
however, Igor asked to speak to me, and said that everyone at the school were saying that I was afraid of
him. I answered that I was of course not afraid of him, but he made me uncomfortable, and that I was
concerned that it would influence my chances to speak correctly at the exam. He said that on the contrary, I
had better chances with him than with anyone else, because he was a man, because I was a Scandinavian -
and he loved Scandinavians - and because I was Allona's pupil. He said the female examiners were much
more meticulous and severe. I just looked at him helplessly, and thought 'You love Scandinavians, but you
really do not understand the first thing about Scandinavians, do you'. I did not want preferential treatment
based on my gender, nationality or whose pupil I was. I just wanted a fair, neutral possibility to show my
Russian skills under the calmest, most comfortable conditions. I thought it through though, and figured that I
probably would not be so uncomfortable that I could not have him as my examiner, so I said ok.

Have you ever eaten a red banana? Well, neither have I. But I have now eaten a green swede (and that is
not a misprint for a Swede. I try to avoid eating those :-) A swede (or brassica napus) is a very traditional
vegetable in Norway. It is used for a number of traditional Norwegian dishes, particularly mashed, it is used
when you are dieting, and during the war they fried it. It is nick named 'The Nordic Orange', because it is
orange and has a fair amount of vitamin C. So the other day I was speaking about it with my Russian teacher,
and since I could not remember the name in English at the time, I said it in Norwegian. Kålrabi. She looked at
me all surprised, and said it was called the same thing in Russian. I then went to the supermarket and
discovered that they do indeed, only that their kohlrabi looks nothing like ours. Theirs is light green. I had to
try it of course, and although the texture was slightly crispier and lighter, it was undoubtedly a kålrabi. I
researched a little, and it turns out that the name comes from German, and when I looked at the pictures on
the Internet I saw that the most common German variant is like the Russian one. At home they will think that I
am balmy if I start talking about green swedes.

And I am still trying to figure out the Russian way to kiss (No, not THAT way, in my experience that is fairly
similar across nations - plus I do not need that insight quite yet) :-) I mean for greetings. Fair enough that the
traditional Russian way is three times, but more than once people seem to pause after one, and I am not
always quick enough to pause with them, which can become incredibly awkward. Also I am never sure how
well you need to know people before you kiss them. In Spain you do it when you are introduced to them, and
every time after that. In Norway we never kiss. In France, when you know them well. I have no idea where
Russians are on that scale, please enlighten me! Do you only kiss people you consider friends, would you
kiss a hostess at the end of a meal, somebody you were introduced to that same day? Are you as a woman
more likely to kiss a woman in an earlier stage of a friendship than a man? Sigh. I really wish they would just
hug. It makes life so much easier.

In my third week I had an excursion to Kreml. I had been to Kreml before, but it was three years ago, so I
wanted to see it again. I had asked for a guide in English, because I wanted to make sure that I understood
everything. We actually started out speaking Russian, and she asked me whether I wanted the guiding in
Russian or in English. I said that either slow, simple Russian or in normal English, whichever was most
comfortable for her. She chose English. She also complimented me on my Russian, and said that I sounded
like an immigrant. Not normally a status I would aim for, but in Russian anything above barely
comprehensible is a victory :-) I tried to learn as much as possible about icons. I had so far not been
particularly interested, but I asked to have a text on icons in class, we watched a film about them, and we
spent an hour in Kreml in the church, where she explained everything she knew. She had both been to a
guide course which must have been fairly comprehensive and she was Orthodox herself, so it was very
interesting. I am deeply aware of just having scratched the surface of knowledge about icons though, so I still
need to learn more. If I could have had a sabbatical, I think I would have done 6 months of studying Russian,
and then 6 months studying Russian history of art. That would have been incredibly interesting. I am still sad
that I had to turn down the scholarship I was offered to study Italian language and history of art in Florence
for three months, but you can't get everything in life.

One thing I learned was the famous Russian icon painter Rublei, actually got sainted because of all the
beautiful icons he had painted, and that he received the name Rublei because he, as one of very few artists
at the time, actually made a pretty decent living and received a lot of rubles for his effort.

I am still struggling to understand the deeper differences between the Orthodox Church and the Protestant
one, but I am starting to suspect that just as with the Catholic Church, the differences are minimal. We share
99.3% of the same faith, and then we quarrel about the remaining 0.7%. Humans really are quite strange

After Kreml I met up with Tania who took me to a huge park complex called VDNH. It did not sound
particularly promising, with lots of old buildings representing the ex-Soviet republics, but it was actually an
adorable place, that I so much want to go back to the next time I am in Moscow. As soon as we got there we
bought flower crowns for our hair which we wore for the rest of the day, taking lots of pictures with them. I
even wore it to school the next day. The advantage of being in a foreign country is that you can do things you
can't do at home, because they think you are a crazy foreigner anyway.

I was quite hungry, since I had not eaten since breakfast, and it was already 7 in the evening, so we started
out with a light dinner. I finally got to taste Okroshka - a cold soup with kvas - and I tried out meduvucha in
cake-form. Just as I prefer meduvucha to Kvas, I preferred the cake to the soup. I am generally not fond of
soups, and Okroshka I suspect was created by a housewife who on a hot summer's day got home late from
work, panicked because she did not have any dinner ready for her husband, and just chopped up everything
she happened to have in the fridge and threw a bottle of Kvas over it. Along with it I drank something which
translated to English was something in the vicinity of sea buckthorn. It was interesting:-)

Unfortunately, since we dined first, it was starting to get dark, so we hurried to take some pictures before all
the light disappeared. They had some absolutely spectacular fountains there, and the buildings, which were
very different in style, reflecting as they were the previous Soviet republics, were beautiful. And we laughed a
lot, taking lots of crazy pictures making funny faces. Moscow brings out my inner 17-year old. :-) I so must go
back to VDNH -and to Moscow. The fact that it was a marvelous summer's day of course also helped giving a
nice impression.

Two days later I met up with espejismo at the Sokolniki park, and I saw just how much light and warm
weather influences your impression. It was also getting dark, and it was quite chilly, so we did not walk
around as much. We tasted some of the local specialities, and talked to catch up. Espejismo is a truly
remarkable human being, and I am proud to call him my friend. Unfortunately it was not possible to meet his
grandmother this time either, but it will be at the top of my list for any future visit. And I will need to go back to
Sokolniki as well:-)

A few days later Serpent finally came back from Finland. If any of you others ever visit Moscow, make sure
you meet up with Serpent. She may sometimes come across as a little harsh when she writes, but in real life
Serpent is the sweetest, kindest most helpful person you are likely to come across. I don't think I have ever
met anyone with a more beautiful soul. There is one thing you need to know, though, and that is that she
operates on a Finnish time zone, even when she is in Russia, so make sure that wherever you arrange to
meet is somewhere you can sit down, and be sheltered from the elements:-). The first time we met I was
standing in the rain and wind. Not a great idea:-) This time we had arranged to meet at a book store where I
was looking for some films, and between me being half an hour late, and having to find the films, it was a
perfect timing.

After that we went to a little Greek restaurant, where we had a long girls's talk which was long overdue,
before we again met up with espejismo. And I am proud to say that we talked Russian almost half of the time
(after a while I was so tired that I begged for us to go into English) and Serpent and I also spoke quite a lot of
Spanish. We tried Italian, but my Italian is 80% Russian at the moment. When people speak Russian slowly
and choosing their words carefully, I can follow most topics, and of course both Serpent and espejismo are
good at that.

On the last day of my stay I had my Russian B1 exam, and the first 30 minutes, I almost freaked out. There
were so many words that I did not understand in the grammar/language part, that I had to remind myself that
I am good at exams, even when I do not understand. Some people are worse than they actually are, I am
generally better than I actually am. The listening part was tough, but when I did my A2 exam, it was my
strongest skill, so I am hoping for an encore. Writing a letter was a nightmare, of course, given that I cannot
write Russian, but I did my best, and will hope for a miracle. Some of the good karma for being a generally
kind person should come my way :-) And then,God help me, came the oral exam. And this is where things
really got crazy. Allona had said Igor had assured her that it would be a piece of cake, I would introduce
myself, talk a little about my family and my work, get a couple of topics that I would only have to speak about
for a couple of minutes, and it would all be over. Igor had come by while I was writing the letter and I had
indicated when I would be through. When I was ready, a very stern looking woman I had never seen before
turned up, and I though, "fine, no problem", though I wandered what had happened to Igor. Then another
woman came in saying Igor was nowhere to be found, so she would sit in instead. I introduced myself, the
stern looking woman turned out to be really nice, and everything was going well. Then Igor came charging in
the door, looking like a bull who has seen more red than what is healthy for him, the second woman almost
fled from the scene, and then my two examiners started playing good cop, bad cop with Igor as the bad cop. I
have no idea whether he thought that I had asked not to have him in the last minute, but he went for my
throat. Figuratively. Barking out questions, and looking mad as hell. I managed to get through it somehow,
and thought that if this was the treatment he gave to the Scandinavians because he liked them, I was very
happy not to be an American!

I felt like I had been through the war once the exam was over, but fortunately I had a last appointment with
Serpent so she could calm my nerves. At the restaurant I had asked for a fruit salad, and when I got to the
cash register and he asked me something, I assumed he was asking whether it was 100, or 200 grams, so I
said 100 grams, at which he started laughing. Serpent then explained that he had asked something else, and
that 100 grams is the common Russian expression for a glass of vodka, so it sounded like that what was I
was asking for!

In the taxi out to the airport I had a super nice driver, who after a while told me that he was taking his wife for
a week end to Paris. I asked which European languages he and his wife spoke, and that turned out to be
absolutely none at all. I just shook my head in disbelief, and thought 'You poor lamb, you will get eaten alive,
and will hate Paris for the rest of your lifetime'. Then I told him to give me a piece of paper, and a pen, wrote
down the 10 most necessary words in French, and proceeded to drill a very surprised, but fortunately very
enthusiastic and cooperative driver in French pronunciation for the next half hour. He shook my hand
vigorously and thanked me profusely when we got to the airport. I hope they survive the week end!

Edited by Solfrid Cristin on 27 August 2015 at 4:56pm

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 Message 259 of 297
27 August 2015 at 5:57pm | IP Logged 
in September:
Solfrid Cristin wrote:

When Serpent and I had finished with our shopping we met espejismo, and I spoke some Russian with them both, but between all the noise in the magazine and the stress of people running around in all directions it was a bit hard. Espejismo came straight from an English class, and spoke slowly so it was easy to understand, but as you know Serpent takes no prisoners, so there I was really struggling to keep up. :-)

:)))) I think your Russian has improved a lot, and you've got so used to both my and espejismo's speech that you can understand us talking to each other :) (maybe I've also adjusted, but not much)

Thank you for the great time we've spent together, all the support, Spanish practice and whatnot ❤

And thanks for the recommendation, haha. Do I really sound that harsh? I tend to think I'm generally much more helpful online, and mum agrees :DDD

I actually generally keep my phone on the Finnish/Belarusian timezone for sentimental reasons :D But I obviously remember that when setting the alarms and whatnot :D And since this year, in summer Moscow and Finland are on the same timezone :)

Edited by Serpent on 27 August 2015 at 6:03pm

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 Message 260 of 297
27 August 2015 at 6:24pm | IP Logged 
Great to read about your adventures as always! It's a shame we can't all meet up this time around - I'll only be coming back to Moscow in late September, and as of now I have no idea how long I'll be staying there.

Solfrid Cristin wrote:
A few days ago a guy leaned over to me on the metro and said ' You look like a Snow Queen, only in Summer'. With a white dress, a white jacket and long blonde hair I could see why that particular image would spring to mind, but still.
For some reason I got reminded of this scene from my current favourite anime (until 0:57; in case someone's planning to watch the series: minor spoilers beyond the three minutes mark). Although I take it you're not interested in dating Japanese schoolgirls either ;) Having recently visited the town where this anime is set I can affirm that the view from that mountain they're climbing is pretty good though, so if you're ever in the vicinity of Kyoto and find yourself with about an hour of free time during an excursion to the Byōdō-in temple, mount Daikichi is worth a quick hike.

Solfrid Cristin wrote:
There is one thing you need to know, though, and that is that she operates on a Finnish time zone, even when she is in Russia, so make sure that wherever you arrange to meet is somewhere you can sit down, and be sheltered from the elements:-).
Not sure if literal, or a subtle reference to the stereotype that Finns are slow :) (BTW do you have that stereotype in Norway, or is it just a Russian thing?)

As for the kisses thing, at least among my generation and social circle, the norm seems to be just one kiss, made only when the greeting is between two women or a woman and a man, and only if they're friends or relatives rather than just acquaintances or colleagues. Also, most women I know do it in a way that the lips don't actually touch the other person's cheek, so they're just sort of kissing the air next to it. The three kisses thing feels about as quaint as saying "How do you do?" in English, so I can only imagine it being done ironically (or semi-ironically if you haven't seen the person you're greeting in a very long time). Other Russians might feel differently though.

Edited by vonPeterhof on 27 August 2015 at 6:27pm

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Solfrid Cristin
Winner TAC 2011 & 2012
Senior Member
Joined 3935 days ago

4143 posts - 8863 votes 
Speaks: Norwegian*, Spanish, Swedish, French, English, German, Italian
Studies: Russian

 Message 261 of 297
27 August 2015 at 7:02pm | IP Logged 
@ Serpent: I am glad you think I have improved, I was very happy to see you again, and I am happy to have
confirmed that you operate on a Finnish time zone :-)

@vonPeterhof: Yes, it would have been great to meet up, but I hope we'll have another chance the next time
I come to Moscow - whenever that will be. The anime was really, really, beautiful, but no, I do not really
consider Japanese school girls a dating option either. :-) Male, single, heterosexual, roughly my age and a
non-psychopath would be more my point of departure. As just friends, I am however open to any age, gender
or orientation :-)

No, we do not have that stereotype about Finns (ours are more among the lines of non-communicative,
fighting, alcoholic womanizers, and Serpent is not slow - just - on a different time zone :-)

Ant thanks a million for clearing up the kissing situation for me. I'll probably still make a million faux-pas, but
at least I have some guidelines now!
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 Message 262 of 297
27 August 2015 at 7:13pm | IP Logged 
Also about okroshka, it's supposed to be a refreshing meal for a hot summer. I don't like it either but my impression is that it does its job :D And I guess before the "main" crops matured there used to be few options of what you can put in your soup if you don't want to waste your winter stocks on that. My impression is also that men tend to like it more than women, perhaps because kvas is almost like beer :D
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Solfrid Cristin
Winner TAC 2011 & 2012
Senior Member
Joined 3935 days ago

4143 posts - 8863 votes 
Speaks: Norwegian*, Spanish, Swedish, French, English, German, Italian
Studies: Russian

 Message 263 of 297
27 August 2015 at 7:19pm | IP Logged 
I think I prefer the gazpacho :-)
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Solfrid Cristin
Winner TAC 2011 & 2012
Senior Member
Joined 3935 days ago

4143 posts - 8863 votes 
Speaks: Norwegian*, Spanish, Swedish, French, English, German, Italian
Studies: Russian

 Message 264 of 297
30 August 2015 at 5:02am | IP Logged 

So packing for Siberia, I put all my summer clothes in the suit case I left in Moscow, packed all my warmest
clothes, including woollen leotards and left for Irkutsk. Where we had 31 degrees the day I came there. Now
who the hell gets a sunburn in Siberia? Me, evidently, because although I had packed suntan lotion, I had not
brought it to the excursion in Irkutsk, so my skin was burning after the day in Irkutsk. And what was the first
thing I saw when I arrived at the hotel? Two lovebirds doing it in the reception. And I mean actual birds. I was
surprised to see birds inside the hotel in the first place, but when I realised what they were up to, I just could
not help buckle over laughing. I would normally just discretely look away, but I had not slept for 23 hours, so
my normal filters were malfunctioning. I had taken an overnight flight from Moscow. One of those where you
get on the plane at midnight, arrive at 5 in the morning, on no sleep whatsoever, and it is already 10 in the
morning local time. Killing.

The airport was one of the weirder I have seen. To get to our luggage we first had to go out into the main hall
where everyone was waiting, and then stand in line to get into a big room close to the entrance. I was picked
up at the airport, and was taken to the car where there was a woman who was complaining and talking non
stop. She kept looking at me, and saying something to the representative from the tour agency, and after a
while I understood that she was complaining about the cost of the trip, and asked if she could get a refund if
she and I shared a room, given that we both travelled alone. Fortunately, she was on a different tour, so I was
saved by the bell. I have no doubt that I would have learned a lot of Russian from her, listening to Russian 18
hours a day will do that, but I would probably also have murdered her. I guess she is much like my ex-mother
in law. A kind soul, but unfortunately no off-button.

When I got to the hotel I had to chose between freshening up or having breakfast, and I can go on a tour of
the city in Russian only on no food, no water and no sleep, but no shower? No can do. Irkutsk was an
interesting city, and surprisingly western in outlook, for being that far east. The Decabristi, who revolted
against Nicolas the 1 in 1825 were exiled here, and bringing their families, there was even quite a social life.
There were several among them with the title of prince, and they taught each other foreign languages and
started schools. The parts I saw were quite pretty, and we were taken to a monastery which was absolutely

In the evening I was so tired that I just collapsed. I could not even eat. I fell asleep with my window open,
eager to get some fresh air, and when I woke up there must have been 100 miniature mosquitos in my room.
Fortunately, unlike their bigger brothers and sisters they were quite slow, and sat there patiently waiting for
me to squash them one after one. So the whole thing turned into a massacre. I was happy to say that I got
them all. Being eaten by mosquitos is never a pleasant experience.

Towards Olkhon Island

The trip to Olkhon Island - which is an island in the middle of the Lake Baykal was eventful. To put it very
mildly. A 7 hour ride in a mini-van on roads of very variable quality is in any event not my idea of a good
time, but I have never felt as utterly and completely helpless as I did on this trip. It did not start out badly. I
was picked up at the right time by the travel agency representative, and I asked to have some details of the
program and if she could write down the name of the hotel where I would be staying, for me. I had received
no contact details whatsoever from my tour agent back home. Only 'Baykal tour. Pick up at 10.00'. She gave
me some information, said the hotel was called (something with the word Baykal in it) and said I could think of
it as hotel Baykal, but I need not worry about it, because the driver knew where to take me. When I got on the
bus, the guy to my right ( who I were later to learn was called Ivan) smiled to his friend Nicolai in front of me
and said with a nod in the direction of the guy I had sat down next to: 'Lucky guy, our Sasha'. I just smiled,
and thought how much better your day is, when it starts out like that :-) The scenery was not much to look at,
so I just wrote on this blog until we got to the bar where we were supposed to stop for a bathroom break.
Being used to always use a bathroom when one is available, I headed over there, but stopped in my tracks
when I saw it. I can do an outdoor toilet, but I can't do a French toilet unless I must. And I absolutely can not
do the combination of those two unless I am really, really desperate. And I decided right there and then that I
was nowhere near that desperate, and that I would not drink another drop until I got to the island. I was
hoping that I would just sweat out whichever liquid I needed to dispose off, given that it was a hot day and
there was no air condition in the bus. Fortunately that little scheme worked like a charm. I spoke with a
German lady (in German - yay - I can still speak it when I have to, even if my Russian is interfering) - and she
said ' If you must, you must!' "Exactly", I thought, "and I must not".

An hour later our driver stopped to help another driver who was in trouble. I remember thinking that this was
really sweet of him, and little did I know how seriously this little act of kindness would screw up my day later
on. The driver drove like his pants were on fire, and in combination with the variable quality of the roads it felt
like we were sitting in the kitchen appliance known as a mix master. We were very shaken, not stirred :-) I
usually sit with my legs crossed, and so I did here, even balancing on just the front part of my right foot with
the other one in the air, and both hands on the iPad. Therefore I had nothing to counterbalance with, when
the driver made a sharp manoeuvre, which consequently sent me flying into the lap of Ivan. I was so
embarrassed I thought I'd die, but he just laughed, put his hands around my waist to steady me, and helped
me gently back into my own seat. He then said something in Russian which made his friends laugh, which I
figured it was probably just as well that I did not understand. It would probably have made me blush even
more, and I was making an impressive red carnation impersonation as it was.

After 4 and a half hours drive, we got to the ferry which would take us to Olkhon Island, everyone got out, and
I asked Sasha if we were supposed to bring our luggage. He said that we would just walk on to the ferry, and
the luggage would stay in the bus. So I got out, walked onto the ferry and enjoyed the 10 minute ride. It was
nice after many hours in a hot bus, and I was at the very end of the boat and felt the wind in my hair cool me
down. Lovely. I was one of the very last people off the boat, and started looking for my group and my bus.
Which was nowhere to be found.

I rushed from one side of the parking lot to the other, more and more frantic, until I had to face the facts. My
group was not there. The bus had left without me. I don't panic easily, but even a cool analysis of the situation
offered little hope. I was stranded, in just a summer dress and ballerina shoes and a handbag, and it was
about 15 degrees cooler on the island than in Irkutsk. I did not know the exact name or location of the hotel. I
did not have the number to the driver. I did not have any number or even the name of the local tour agency.
My Norwegian tour agency was closed, since it was Sunday. I tried calling anyway. I called the Moscow
office. I got a message in Russian which seemed to indicate that the number was out of service - whether
that was because it was Sunday or whether there was actually something wrong with the number, I have no
idea. I asked some women standing there waiting for the bus if they knew if the hotel Baykal was far away.
They suggested I'd ask the drivers of the other busses, to see if any of them could take me. They answered
that I had better wait for the bus to come back for me, as it eventually would when they realised I was left

A woman from the group of women I had first contacted, came over to help. She asked to see the papers the
travel agency had given me, perhaps there was a telephone number I could call that I had not noticed? I
opened my purse to look at the papers when the strong wind blew them right out of my hands, and I started
running after them to catch them before they hit the water. 'Girls, help out', the woman cried out, and before I
knew it half a dozen women were running around to catch my papers. I thought to myself that this really could
not get any crazier, and unfortunately she did not find more information on my voucher than I had. She
suggested I ask the boat crew for help, they must know the phone number of the hotel. I so did. They told me
to ask the bus drivers - which I already had. The queue of cars seemed many kilometres long, and I
understood that if my mini-van came back, it would be stuck there waiting for at least a couple of hours - the
ferry only had the capacity for a few cars, so I decided to walk towards it. Perhaps it was already back, and
could take me to the hotel in no time! So I walked for about 20 minutes to the end of the line. No mini-van. Or
at least not my mini-van. And my dainty little ballerina shoes which were absolutely perfect for sitting on a hot
bus, were so not appropriate for walking on dusty country roads, mainly made up of sand. When I came back
to the harbor I felt my temper rising to dangerous levels. I was not the least bit scared, but I was hungry,
thirsty, tired, cold and mad as a hatter. How could the mini-van just leave without me? How could Sasha and
Ivan and the German woman not notice that I was not there? How could my travel agency send me off
without a single number I could call in an emergency, and above all, how could I be so utterly stupid as to
accept that, and not demand more information? At this point an hour had passed, and as I sat there, two
women came over and asked me what was wrong, as they could see my distress, and I explained the
situation to them. They offered to find out which hotel I was supposed to be at, since there were two with the
name Baykal in it. They got my passport, so that they could ask the hotels which one I was staying at,
because then I could ask one of the local buses to get me there. Both hotels answered that they were not
expecting any guest with my name. Brilliant.

The women had to get on the ferry which had just come back, and people started flooding out of the ferry. I
started considering my options. At some point the bus had to come back, and if it didn't, if it was meant to
take us around for the rest of the stay, then I would just have to find somewhere to sleep for the night, and
call my travel agency in the morning. Of course the 6 hour time difference meant that I would not get hold of
them until 2 o clock in the afternoon local time, but it was the best I could do. And then just at that moment, I
looked in the direction of the people coming off the ferry, and saw somebody that looked vaguely familiar.
'Strange', I thought. 'I do not know anyone in Siberia'. And then it hit me that this was one of the passengers
in my mini-van. Then I saw the German woman, and Sasha, and Ivan and Nikolai, and realised that they had
not left me behind, I had left them behind! I had not noticed that our mini van had not made it on to the ferry.
(Helping that other driver out had delayed us). The others had waited for the bus and the next ferry, and by
the time they noticed I was gone, it was too late. I almost hugged Sasha, and said I thought they had
forgotten me! He patted my back and said, 'Hey, you are not the kind of woman you forget'. I had to laugh in
spite of everything. Trust a Russian man to find something to get you into a better mood :-) I do not think I
have been happier to see anyone in my entire life. I am still mad that both my local travel agency and the
Moscow agency sent me off with no emergency number to call. I will not ever again buy a single trip from
them without having the names of the hotels I am staying at, and a local emergency number. I have been
traveling alone for almost 40 years, so I simply got mad. Someone else with less experience traveling, and
less Russian knowledge might have freaked out completely. If I had just had the number to the local travel
agent, I could have called them, they could have called the driver, and called me back to tell me to wait, and
the whole matter would have been cleared up in 5 minutes.

The trip from the boat to the hotel took almost two hours. I understood why the other drivers had been
reluctant to take me. And the roads. Wow. I told Sasha I had never seen roads like this before, and Nikolai
turned around and smiled to me, and said 'Hey, they are one of our local tourist sights' :-) They were made
out of sand, and I understood why we were driven here by mini-vans. There is no way a regular buss could
have driven out here. Part of the road reminded me of Mongolia - and the ups and down felt like we were out
at sea on huge waves.

None of us knew exactly where we were going, and the driver just yelled something at each stop and pointed
to where we had to go. I had been to the front to ask him where I was supposed to stay, and he assured me
that he knew where I was going. When I got up to get out at my stop, I realised that I did not have my
handbag. I looked at the seats in front of me. No handbag. I looked at the seats behind me. No handbag.
The German lady helped me look under all the seats around me. No handbag. I thought that with the stress I
might have left it at the bench back at the the pier, and almost cried at the thought of two gruelling hours back
to the pier and another two gruelling hours back to the hotel again. But then the German woman said that she
had seen me with the handbag as I got on the bus, and since it was inconceivable that any of the passengers
would have stolen it, I figured it still had to be somewhere in the bus. So I went to the front of the bus - and
found it on the front seat, where I had presumably left it when I went to talk to the driver...

As we approached the hotel I looked around, and thought that there must be something wrong. The Lake
Baykal and in particular the. Olkhon Island is supposed to be one of the most beautiful places in Russia -
and this place was so - not. Think a cross between a shantytown and the old Wild West. Minus the whore
house. You know I always try to be positive about places I go to, but I have to be honest. This is probably the
ugliest place I have seen in my entire life. I thought perhaps it was just me, and that the trials of the day had
disturbed my aesthetic outlook, but the German woman just shook her head in disbelief and said that if there
was any beauty here, she just did not see it. The fact that the fires which have been raging around Lake
Baykal for a while has covered the area in fog/smoke/smog does not exactly help either. Everything is in
shades of grey. The sky is grey, the sea is grey. There is not even any point in taking pictures. No contrasts
whatsoever. The sun is so covered in smoke, that it looks like a moon. Only blood red. The earth is so dry
that it is like a semi desert. Not a green straw of grass in sight. And the architecture is beyond description. I
am sure I will at some point find some old beautiful building with the typical Russian carvings on, and the
hotel has some nice features, but all in all: Uglier than sin.

As soon as I got out of the bus I was told to hurry to the cafeteria as everyone else had already eaten. I went
to the cafeteria - closed. I tried to go through the main gate again. Closed. Fortunately someone came out
just a minute after, and it turned out that there was a lock on the inside which was reachable, but not visible
from the outside. If you knew where it was, it was a piece of cake. I asked where the correct entrance to the
cafeteria was, and was told to hurry back to the same entrance, where this time a woman opened the door
and yelled at me: You are late! No kidding... It took all my self restraint to just nod and sit down. It was not
her fault that this had turned into one of the shittiest days ever. And the food? The portion sizes and quality
was perfect. For someone who does not want to eat much. If I had been a guy used to eating normal
portions, I think I would have felt really cheated. After the 'lunch' (digested at 17.30) we had a walking
excursion to what is normally one of the most beautiful places on the island, but which right now was barely
visible because of the smoke. The guide also told us about some poles which were part of shamanism and
local buryat (the indigenous people) culture. She went full speed in Russian, so I doubt that I understood
more than about 5% of what she said, but I got that she said that in Soviet times they were not allowed to
pray here, and people would drive right up to it and throw garbage there. Now the shamans have erected a
fence, so that people have to walk to get there, and the buryats are again able to use it as a place of worship.
I talked a bit with the guide at the end, and explained to her that I did not understand much of what she said
when she went full speed, so it was important that when she gave us key information, like when and where to
meet and what to bring, that she repeated it slowly to me, so that she was sure that I had understood. I won't
ask them to do that with all the information, obviously, but I need to know where to go when.

After the guided tour, I went for a walk to the beach which is quite close, and discovered that they have small
mobile banyas right at the seafront, so that you can go straight from the banya and right into the waves of the
Lake Baykal. Perfect. I really wanted to bathe in it, but did not quite know how to cope with the cold water, but
if you have been heated up by a banya first, it should be ok.

During dinner I started feeling pretty miserable. The day had been awful, and nobody talked to me. On a trip
like this with Norwegians, we would normally make a round of introductions. In that way everyone is
introduced, and if somebody comes from your town or works with something similar, then you have a point of
reference. Everyone was chatting happily along in Russian, and I felt like an outcast, and worried for a
moment that nobody would speak to me through the whole trip. Why would they, when they would have to
struggle to talk to me, and they could talk to everyone else without effort? One of the members of the group
looked at me with a very stern look, like he could not decide whether to shoot me or to drown me, and I felt
very alone, and extremely far from home. Which I incidentally also was... Little did I know that he and his
girlfriend would be my guardian angels during the trip, and that he would make sure I had tea in the
restaurant when we sat a the same table , get me a blanket on the boat, a taste of real Siberian pelemeni
when there was the possibility, a hand when I needed it and all those things Russian men do for women they
take under their wings.

And then I told myself to get a grip. This is what I do. New kid on the block is my middle name. Time and time
again, ever since I was 11, I have been dropped among strangers, not knowing a single soul, sometimes not
knowing the language, and I always end up on my feet, making friends. I have admittedly never tried this in
Russian before, but I can do this. Like Scarlet O'Hara I reminded myself that tomorrow is another day, and it
would be better.

I went to the reception, to ask if they could help me to reserve a banya, and Irina the receptionist said that it
was a pleasure to help such a positive and smiling person as me, and of course she could reserve a banya. I
felt a lot better already. When I got to my room I opened a chocolate. It was meant as a souvenir for the
guide, but I figured I needed it more. Things are never so bad that a little Norwegian milk chocolate cannot
make it better, and after eating a little of it I felt quite content.

And then I got a phone call from a very, very distraught daughter.

Do you know what good friends are? Good friends are people you can call on a Sunday and say: "I need
help. I am in Siberia. Our cat has broken her tail and needs to be taken to the vet urgently. My ex husband
who is supposedly looking after our child (and the cat) has disappeared for four days, and I need you to find a
vet who is open on Sundays and take my kid and the cat there. And who just answers "I'm on the case.
Enjoy yourself in Siberia." I'll have to think of something extra nice I can get him from Russia.

"Не имей стo рублей, а имей сто друзей"

Edited by Solfrid Cristin on 01 September 2015 at 6:43am

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