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.


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).