Одинокий

Firstly, apologies for not updating everyone to the events and mishaps going on in my life for a while. Sadly working life just doesn’t provide the opportunity for embarrassing myself or getting into utterly bizarre situations… much.

The biggest news to report is the break-up of Charlie and myself. A week and a half ago he uprooted sticks and flew back to England. The reason? Amazingly it isn’t due to spending too much time together (almost 6 months) but the magnetism of love is just too strong apparently. Charlie is returning to Tyumen for another few months to be with Anna, and to do some teaching. This demonstration of wonderfully optimistic young love is as touching as it is sickening. We started our Year Abroad in the same love-situation-boat, and he has excelled to such levels that ‘feelings’ now dictate it. Something which is still utterly alien for me. Nevertheless, I of course wish him and Anna all the best in their further adventure.

The McCloy Family kindly invited me to watch 'Turandot' (opera) at the Bolshoi Theatre. Aka I am supremely cultured now.

The McCloy Family kindly invited me to watch ‘Turandot’ (opera) at the Bolshoi Theatre. Aka I am supremely cultured now.

This, however, left me alone in big, scary Moscow. Luckily, a Russian colleague at work took pity and invited me to visit his extended family in the countryside to the North-East of Moscow (Vladimirskaya Oblast); I, of course, agreed. My underestimating of the size of Russia came into play once again- I was picked up at 5.30am on Saturday morning and we drove non-stop for 6 hours before arriving in a classic Russian village of about 50 wooden houses- the first of many stops.

What I hadn’t expected were these stops to entail drinking various alcoholic drinks on a Saturday morning. So, at 11.30am I sat down with ‘Ivan’, a man whose doppelgänger would quite simply be a walrus, and part-voluntarily drank 5 shots of cognac with him, all the while toasting to continued friendship/international relations/work etc. In the next four stops (all around an hour drive to each) I was given red wine, vodka, mead and then, thank god, a cup of very welcome tea. By 9pm the hangover was in full force and at 10.30 I was tucked up in bed feeling partly ill from some bad alcoholic mixing and partly happy to be once again outside of the mundane working life. The journey back was far more conventional and I arrived back to my dark, empty flat wondering what to do next…

The Hermitage

The Hermitage

There was only really ever one option. Nope, not the strip club but St. Petersburg!  I was going to visit The Hermitage, the Winter Palace and the beautiful boulevards that I have read so much about over years of Russian studies. Oh, and of course to visit the numerous friends from Bristol that have all now moved there for studies.

To try and keep the costs down, and for a true Russian experience, I booked overnight trains in the infamous ‘Platzkart’ class. Everyone who has been in Platzkart has different stories to tell, some good, some not so good… In Winter the windows are bolted shut (to keep the warmth in). This, however, obviously means that no smells or heat can get out. Given that in a Platzkart carriage there are 54 people and that the temperature in my train upon departure was above 30 degrees, the bolted windows didn’t seem quite so necessary. As a light-sleeper at the best of times, having 40 people seemingly all snoring just by my head and the temperature (and equally putrefying smells) slowly rising, I was never really going to get my solid 8 hours sleep.

The Platzkart carriage

The Platzkart carriage

Rufus and Harry had kindly let me sleep at their flat for the long weekend, or so they thought. On Thursday, the day of my triumphant arrival, their Landlord called to say that they were being evicted and had to be out of the flat by Friday. They were obviously incredulous as they had done nothing wrong, and yet on Friday (which I should add was Woman’s day in Russia, a National Holiday) said Landlord came round at 8pm and unceremoniously chucked us all out. Luckily, they had other friends who had offered to put us up; Rufus and I quickly dumped our stuff at Minnie’s room, a friend from Bristol, before going out to celebrate Women’s Day/Eviction Day. We all celebrated so well that I sadly wasn’t able to see any of St.Petersburg on Saturday.

Seeing the sights of St. Petersburg

Seeing the sights of St. Petersburg

On Saturday evening Rob (ex-Tyumenian who is now living the life in St.P) had organised a private Banya trip for 15 of us. For those of you who don’t remember the Banya in Tyumen, here is a re-cap: https://tyumenandbackagain.wordpress.com/2012/11/04/деревня/

As we were a group of both sexes we all wore swimming costumes. Unaware that we were going to the Banya, I didn’t bring my trunks with me to St.P. So Rob, ever the friend, lent me his Speedos from Tyumen. They had definitely shrunk since their last outing. So much so that I can’t put a detailed picture up else I’d have to make my blog restricted to over 16’s.

The building and the area of the Banya was reminiscent of most horror films- through a dark passageway and through a solid metal door. Prest took great pleasure in informing the girls that it looked like the start of The Human Centipede 3. The Banya itself could, and probably does, double as a brothel when it’s not booked out. Nevertheless, everyone had a great time.

The Banya

The Banya

Before I knew it, it was Monday and I still had yet to see a Museum. So, ignoring the blizzard conditions, Prest and I set out to find something cultural to look at. After 2 hours of walking and numerous attempts at getting into a Museum (anything cultural is apparently shut on Mondays) we gave up and went to the pub.

Prestige searching for a Museum

Prestige searching for a Museum

I returned to Moscow in much worse shape than when I left, both financially, physically and probably mentally.

The train

To turn to my love-life- surprise surprise, still no real girlfriend. Yet I do at least have some semi-decent excuses this time. As my working hours are from 9-6.30 here, and my commute is around an hour, by the time I am home and eaten all I want to do is sleep. It means that I can only really go out on Friday nights and drink enough (about 1.5 beers) to feel absolutely irresistible to everyone and everything.

Despite these setbacks, I finally met a Russian girl called Katya a few weeks ago and have since gone out on a few dates. It gives me a great chance to practice my Russian and she gets to laugh at me, so everyone is a winner.

On the second date we organised to meet after work for a few drinks. Very kindly, she gave me a chocolate bar as we met because she thought that I would be hungry. Thanking her I put it in my pocket and thought nothing more of it. A few hours and many drinks later we had moved from bar to bar to club, and the time had come to leave. Realising that I’d need some more money for a taxi I reached into my left trouser pocket for my wallet. I pulled out a disgustingly warm, and dark-chocolate-covered wallet which then smeared from my hands onto pretty much everything I was wearing. Katya laughed, probably partly from horror. Trying to act as nonchalantly as humanly possible, I laughed along too whilst internally swallowing the humiliation of looking like I’d had an ‘accident’ and working out how on earth to get chocolate out of suit trousers.

We then walked into the centre of the road to hail down a cab (me, for some unknown reason, still assuming she would be coming back for a ‘cup of tea’) then stood by and watched her hop into a cap whilst shouting ‘bye’. To conclude, I was left standing in the middle of a busy road all by myself, covered in dark chocolate.

Extraordinarily she was still keen to meet another couple of times. So before going to St Petersburg I thought I’d step it up a notch, I sent her a text saying ‘So are you going to miss me?’ with an outrageous smiley face.

She has yet to reply.

I’m taking it as a good sign.

The next post will be posted in a few weeks, as in that time both my parents and Harris and Sam will be visiting me. The juxtaposition of the two weeks should be amusing.

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SHAMELESS PLUG: If you have the time please have a look at my brothers charity collecting page for his attempt on the gigantic African beast of a mountain, Kilimanjaro. His attempt to raise money via his utter humiliation is particularly commendable (see Facebook for proof).

http://www.justgiving.com/Jack-Reynolds

Деревня

I thought that the blatant homosexuality of last week’s Speedo’s incident couldn’t be topped. I was wrong.

Last weekend we were kindly invited to a Dacha, a country house for you non-Russophiles, by a girl we met from University. Sadly Iona wasn’t able to come as she had to teach, thus it was just us three guys, and Alexandra of course.  We were meant to meet at midday, fresh and ready to board the train, however we naturally went out the night before… We decided to have a couple of pints and relax, as is always the case, the easy night out rapidly spiralled out of control. We found an Irish bar (in Siberia?!) and the rest is history. Rob and I arrived over an hour late, yet Charlie, in a feat greater than climbing Mount Elbrus, woke up 4 hours earlier than necessary to meet with an acquaintance.

We all managed to board the train and the journey to Piorniskii passed without incident, apart from Charlie dying mid-journey (see picture below).

After the two-and-a-half hour journey to the town, we then took a taxi to Pionirskii, a village 110 kilometres from Tyumen. Before this trip I genuinely thought that Tyumen was the middle of nowhere, a dot on the map of civilisation, however after seeing this place I can safely say that Tyumen is a beacon of the Western world in terms of modernisation. The village was also pretty damn scary. We arrived on the night when everyone was celebrating Halloween in Tyumen (not in the village of course- far too American) and it was a full moon. Likening the village to a cross between something out of The Chernobyl Diaries and The Hills Have Eyes is quite fair.

Saturday evening we went to the communal village Banya. A Banya is probably best described as a Sauna and a communal washing area combined; it is a big tradition here. The following guest passage is Rob’s account of out trip to the Banya:

Баня

‘We left the dacha and set out for an evening bathe down at the local bathhouse, or for all you Russophiles, the banya.  It was a full moon, and thanks to the absence of street lights, the stars were out in force. We walked through the village and a few mud roads later and there it was: the sacred banya. Not much to look at if I’m honest; a simple wooden hut, much in line with the rest of the village. As usual in Russia, there was no sign, or indication that this building was indeed a banya. There was only a poster, stuck to the side of the hut, reading “Beer Festival 2008”. Perhaps it was some cryptic message? Beer festival; beer; banya? 2008? Who knows? “See you in two and a half hours!”, our friend Sasha said, as she pushed us through the doorway. Two and a half hours? Just what did this wash entail exactly?

We found ourselves in a relatively empty room, painted a nice shade of lifeless green. On the right side of the room sat a babushka, behind a desk. She was busy sifting through some spreadsheets and didn’t notice us come in. Apparently business at the banya was doing well enough to warrant spreadsheets. On the left of the room there were two doors, one for men, the other for women. We turned our attention to the babushka, who was still yet to acknowledge us, when suddenly a loud guffaw erupted from the behind the male door, followed by shouting and general loud conversation. The room filled with sounds, all coming from behind the male door. We stood, staring blankly at the male door: the roar of Russian voices punching their way through its thick metal construction. A double tap of her pen, and we all turned around to be greeted by the stern stare of the babushka. Her spreadsheets all in order, she was now ready to receive us. 

Looking up from her desk, the babushka eyed each one of us up in turn. I ventured a smile, her face didn’t even twitch. She met my eyes with a cold stare, and grumbled out the price. We paid the woman; she handed us each a bouquet of tightly wrapped reeds. A complimentary selection of herbs, perhaps?

Bouquet in hand, we shuffled over to the bellowing male door. I caught sight of Tom, his face was pale, his eyes shone with bewilderment. Were we really going to go in here? Was this really happening? I grasped the handle, the door shook with the noise from inside. I pushed and the door creaked open. Silence. Pairs of eyes lay firmly fixed on us. A moment of hesitation, and we stepped further into the room and proceeded to undress. 

Meandering around the banya were around eight or nine old men: washing themselves, talking with each other and occasionally looking our way – all of them completely naked. Me, Charlie and Tom undressed down to our boxers. We exchanged glances, it was time. No words were spoken, but we knew what had to be done. We knew. We slid them off and there we stood. Naked. Our peripherals were full of other men’s penises, our minds were cloudy from the heat of the room, and yet one unceasing thought lay at the forefront of each of our minds, one perpetual anguish, a constant worry which flickered in each of our eyes. Do not get a hard-on.

Into the washroom we went. Now naked we seemed to have formed some sort of special pact with the Russian men, who now came across as friendly and helpful. One old man took an extra special liking to Charlie, and took him into the steam room directly. After some slight hesitation, me and Tom followed suit.

The sight that met our eyes was truly something to behold. Poor Charlie stood bent over before an old man, being whipped mercilessly with a bouquet of reeds. The old man’s enthusiasm was surprising. I mean he was really going for it. Gobsmacked, I took a front row seat next to Tom to watch the action. A look of concentration was spread over the old man’s face, drool spilling out of his mouth, he fervently whipped Charlie’s back. Charlie stood dead still, paralysed by the sheer abnormality of the situation. Well at least he was finally getting some action. Another old man, parked himself next to me and began whipping himself. Me still sitting down, he towered above me. His body was covered in black hair, and his penis was firmly at my eye level, only inches away. He began thrashing himself with reeds, groaning as he did so, his shrivelled genitals swaying menacingly. 

A few thrashings later and the two hours were already up. We got dressed and retired back to the dacha for a debriefing and pancakes (блинки). I myself felt strangely satisfied: a feeling I can only liken to the one experienced just after having sex. Sitting there on the sofa, listening to “Тёмная сторона луны” (Dark Side of the Moon) on vinyl (who’d of thought it?!), an aura of accomplishment hung over us. It had been an evening of bonding (read: bondage), both with each other, and with ourselves. As the last crackling sounds of the record faded out, we softly fell into a deep sleep. At ease with the world, and safe in the knowledge that the emotional scarring we had endured that evening would be with us for the rest of our lives.’

Robert Phillips (Intern at TyumenandbackagainCorp.)

The weekend in all was great fun; we tried lots of Russian food, experienced the beautiful countryside and felt recuperated for the week ahead.

This last week has been a combination of meeting up with Russians in various bars, lessons and James Bond. Oh yes, I have so far watched Skyfall (or Skiifauuill as it is pronounced here) twice, in Russian of course. I would definitely like to see it in English when I return just to be sure that I did actually understand it…Whatever the case may be, I know that Daniel Craig can rock the hell out of a suit. Check out the Russian trailer here:

Turning to the romantic side of things, or not so romantic as is so often the case. I have still not yet fully comprehended the carpet cleaning incident of last week; maybe it was a genuine mistake? Maybe she really did forget what time it was whilst she cleaned that damn carpet? Everyone knows how easy it is to do so… Not.

Nevertheless, over the last week I continued to chat via text and everything seemed to be back on track. I invited her out to the club on Friday- her answer? No can do I’m afraid, I have bought a kitten. We went out anyway without her, and tried to meet some new girls. The best response from a girl was to Rob; instead of even speaking to Rob, she simply held up her arms in a cross. I haven’t seen such a brutal put down for a long time.

The start of November we all agreed that this month was going to be a good one- back on track with the fluency drive, and back on track with the Russian girlfriend. I wasn’t going to let a carpet-cleaning, kitten-buying girl get in my way. This week we were invited to come and chat with some students of a different University- the University of Culture and Music, aka dancers (winky face). We went there with high expectations, and intending to come away with a plethora of girl’s numbers. The quality was distinctly average yet both Charlie and I spotted two girls who we liked. Charlie sidled up to his girl and started chatting about the accordion (she was an accordion player), all went well except he claimed he also played the accordion and then simply didn’t ask for her number.

I went for a more a direct approach, ‘Hi, Can I have your number?’. And her quick-as-a-flash retort? ‘Nyet.’

Short, sweet and crushing, my favourite type of rejection.

Пьяный

It has been quite a surreal week and half- full of ups and downs and a real spectrum of emotions. In this post I shall talk about the two most memorable parts of the week and a half (not sure as of yet if they’re highlights or lowlights though), ‘Nefteparty’ and ‘Iskra’.

‘Нефтипарты’ (Neftiparty) is a twice yearly student night organised by the University. Despite being told by numerous people that it wouldn’t be a good night, we decided to go.

We hadn’t been out properly in two weeks, the Hostel was rapidly becoming a prison and cabin fever was definitely starting to set in. Utterly bored of the same, tedious meals (think poor quality sausage, eggs and pasta in a variety of terrible combinations) and the same scenery, we all got far too excited and decided to buy a large bottle of vodka. We may have drank a little too much…

I woke up the next day and had absolutely no memory of the night.

Comparing the night to The Hangover is probably quite fair: Numerous people have since added me on V Kontakte (Russian Facebook), rang me and, far more embarrassingly, stopped me in the street and had a chat. Normal behaviour I agree, however, I have absolutely no idea who these people are. One guy asked me when we will go bungee jumping together. Another asked me when am I going to invite him to Manchester.

2pm the day after the party Rob woke me up, ‘What happened?!’, he had no idea either, nor did Charlie or Iona. I woke up to discover a number of strange things. Firstly, for some reason we had decided to cook a pan of tomatoes, yet we didn’t eat it. My coat had a large mud patch on the back, as did my jeans (still no idea how or why). At least I had my coat though… Charlie woke up without his coat and, of course, his memory of when he lost had it. In utter bits the next day he managed to call a taxi (ridiculously hard to do here) and go back to the club. Sadly there was no sign of a jacket and so the ‘mystery of Charlie’s jacket’ continues…

The picture which, for me, sums up the night is one of Charlie. Dishevelled, vodka stains on his T-shirt and yet utterly triumphant, for some reason he has forbidden me from putting this photo on here…

The second ‘highlight’ since the last post was ‘Iskra’, a youth club. What went on in the hour whilst we were there still hasn’t sunk in. To set the scene: It’s 7pm Friday night; tired, hungry and grumpy (I get very grumpy when I don’t eat), we arrived at a concrete monolith of Soviet Architecture. About 20 of us sat in a large circle, then a man started playing the guitar – desperately trying not to burst out laughing, I started to become worried that we had joined a Soviet youth movement. I wasn’t too far off the truth.

After introducing ourselves and after I, once again, had to play the bloody guitar, we had to talk about how we ‘share energy’. After understanding next to nothing, we had to play charades in groups (see video for Charlie being a hoover LOL). It was an utterly absurd, surreal experience, and I can safely say that I will never go back.

In other news I think that Charlie is soon going to be enlisted into the Chechen army after deep talks with a soldier from Chechnya. Iona has been ridiculously cultural – she saw two ballets in two days and Rob celebrated his 21st birthday last night – details of which to come in next week’s blog.

The most disgusting looking meal ever?:

And it snowed here too, winter is coming… It’s not normally as grim as this picture I promise.