Новосибирск

I am utterly apologetic and sorrowful in reporting that nothing even potentially life-ending has happened to me recently. In fact, I am actually really enjoying my latest foray into Russian cities; this time it’s Novosibirsk. After my previous 4 months in Siberia (see earlier posts for Tyumeeen) I had expected Novosibirsk to be a slightly larger and more dangerous version of  my ‘Tyumen experience’; after all I am the furthest East and the deepest into Siberia I have been. It really has been quite the opposite. Spring has pretty much arrived here (although people say it is the worst Spring they can remember) and so I can’t even really complain about the weather too much. How boring.

The Novosibirsk Theatre of Opera and Ballet - the largest theatre in Russia.

The Novosibirsk Theatre of Opera and Ballet – the largest theatre in Europe. Plus, one of the ‘Countdown Clocks’ to Sochi 2014.

I am living with a 65 year old Russian couple here, Mikhail and Tatiana, and they are genuinely two of the nicest people one could ever hope to meet. Tatiana enjoys cooking a variety of soups, meat dishes and deserts which suits me brilliantly. I often have to refuse food to the point of being rude. Last night I commented on how much I enjoyed her Blini (Russian pancakes), so she then proceeded to cook me Blini until I refused to eat anymore. And by refusing I mean that I said I was full, she made me eat two more, then I stood up and said I was full whilst gesturing to my belly, and then I had to eat one final one. Life has been harder I must admit.

Mikhail and Tatiana

Mikhail and Tatiana

Mikhail on the other hand, is absolutely hilarious: absolutely nothing excites him more than the thought of some beer or mead, and a cigarette. When I first arrived here he’d often disappear for a quarter of an hour or so and I only recently discovered what for… (see picture below). On Fridays he buys himself a little bottle of beer, sits at the table and gleefully knocks it back. Even a mention or the thought of this weekly luxury is something to behold; the stupendously gleeful look on his face reminds me of a child’s expression after being given an ice-cream or sweetie (not something I do too often I’d like to add). Coincidently, he also has the same number of teeth as a child.

Mikhail's lttle ciggy chair- the entrance to the apartment.

Mikhail’s lttle ciggy chair- the entrance to the apartment.

During my free time here (i.e. when I’m not researching my Year Abroad essays on Youtube or ‘other’ websites) I meet up with Charlotte and Maria. Charlotte is another Bristol student and has already been here two months hence her account of Novosibirsk below. Maria is lovely in every possible way; she is training to become a teacher of Russian as a foreign language and so is great for forcing Walters and I to talk in Russian together.

The Novo-crew enjoying the one day of nice weather on Dyen Pobedy

The Novo-crew enjoying the one day of nice weather on Dyen Pobedy

To celebrate Easter I was told to invite some friends round for tea. Of course I invited the girls and Marc, a Parisian who studied with me (more about him later). Tatiana and Mikhail pulled out all of the stops, laying out an absolute feast of food and drink. It was the only time that I have ever seen Mikhail not topless indoors and he constantly muttered about the “absurd heat” during the dinner to himself. Us men all drank Cognac and toasted about various things; from friendship between our countries to, quite simply, Easter. After the meal Tatiana excitedly announced that she had a video to show us. Expecting to see some sort of classic Soviet film we were suitably intrigued. Well, the film we were shown was certainly classic. A two-hour long unedited home video about a women’s-only trip to Israel in inaudible Russian is, maybe somewhat unsurprisingly, not the blurb for a recent Oscar winner. After 40 minutes of riveted watching Marc had begun to play a strategy game on his iPhone (we were both thankfully sat behind Tatiana and so could continue to eat/ignore). Charlotte and Maria, however, were sat next to Tatiana and so had to watch (and enjoy) the highlights of Israel such as: ‘Three 60 year old woman go bathing’; ‘Three 60 year old women comment on beach’; ‘Three 60 year old woman sweating profusely’; and my two favourite scenes; ‘Thumb in front of screen for 2 minutes’ and ‘Wall’ (Wall is either an abstract symbol for the repression of the Palestinian people or a minute-long recording of a plain wall whilst on a bus- not too sure which). Either way, it was a lovely meal and I shall certainly remember it.

Easter Dinner with Marc, Maria, Tatiana and Rude-boi Mikhail

Easter Dinner with Marc, Maria, Tatiana and Rude-boi Mikhail

My quest for a Russian girlfriend sadly still remains just that. The slightly magical and unattainable connotations of the word quest suits my case perfectly. I am confident in saying that the girls here are some of the most stunning I have seen in Russia (which says a lot), if it wasn’t odd I’d take some pictures to prove it. Whilst in Tyumen I had the idea of making a ‘Babushkas vs. Babes’ Tumblr page; the contrast between the two is very evident here. I still have a few weeks left so who knows- it could be a great way to meet some 6ft models. Or get the shit kicked out of me by a fat babushka.

Marc, the Parisian, was great fun to have around although he lived up to a few stereotypes we have of the French; namely, he thought of himself as an utter romantic. He, so very kindly, let me know some of his secrets: Only ever drink one drink so you are always understandable; never face the girl, i.e. approach from the side and lean on the bar backwards; and to grow some stubble. I have tried out most of these (apart from the stubble- I still look like a goat when I try to grow a beard) and I can honestly say that there is only one reason why any of them would work- the French accent. With a French accent any compliment sounds like exactly that, a compliment. Whereas in an English accent, a compliment sounds either mocking or just vaguely perverted. Or maybe it’s just me…

No, no that can’t be it.

Advertisements

Братухи

As promised, here is the account of firstly my parents trip and then Harris and Sam’s trip.

Parents:

The parents trip went as expected; great food, fine wine and a nice hotel. All very pleasant and enjoyable and a good opportunity to recharge the batteries before Harris and Sam came. I would give a longer account of their trip but no one really likes reading about nice things. So…

Harris and Sam (censored):

They arrived late, looking lost and disorientated- the arrivals hall in Domodedovo airport, rammed full of Tajiki’s offering their taxi services very loudly in ones face and almost certainly invading ones private space, is always a slightly odd experience. I had assured them that their annual Easter trip was certainly going to be less forgettable than some of the others; their bemused and, in Harris’ case, gob-smacked faces certainly filled me with a sense of joyous evil. We began the week by going to one of the Moscow train stations to buy tickets to St.Petersburg- sadly there were no Platzkart tickets so we were forced to go in Coupe class (one up from Platzkart).

Even after 7 months in Russia, I had to admit that the first impressions of Moscow were not so good: the train station was a multi-ethnic mishmash of chaos and confusion, after finally finding the cashier the stupendously grumpy babushka selling the tickets would not accept credit cards, and what’s more, after trying to eat at a restaurant opposite the station (it was full) we saw a man run outside in a hurry and throw up on our way out. Needless to say, the boys were unimpressed.

Welcome to Moscow.

The Saturday night started as all Saturday nights in Russia should do; with copious amounts of Baltika 7. I can’t really remember what happened afterwards though.

Harris: I remember exactly what happened Tom. You tried speaking a mix of Russian, English, and Pokemon to the taxi driver on the way home and allowed us to experience the joys of a 60 pound taxi journey. Cheers!

The First Night

The First Night

The after effects of our first night (the first time together since Ibiza in July) were clear:

The Sunday, unsurprisingly, was pretty much a write off. We surfaced at 4, enjoyed a delicious Shepherds Pie (cooked by yours truly), and headed for our overnight train. A tad disappointingly the train was very peaceful and comfortable, that is if you don’t include the fact that Harris lay sleeping directly across from a classic Russian ogre who was less friendly than Shrek. Be that as it may, the team woke up refreshed and ready for St.Petersburg in all its glory.

Compared with the not-so-utopian-ideal I had shown them the day before (the area I lived in was comprised of endless concrete eyesores, one after another…) the beauty and all round pleasantness of St.P was particularly striking. Harris commented on the beauty of St.P; the nickname of ‘Venice of the North’ is certainly apt, especially in the glorious sunshine we had on the Monday. Even Sam, normally such a culture vulture, was vaguely impressed.

Yet, quite surprisingly for three such bloody huge lads, massive culture vultures we were. During the trip we ticked off most of the major sights of the two cities with ruthless efficiency: The Hermitage (Sam’s 2nd museum in his life), the Modern Art Museum, the Kremlin, the State Armoury, hundreds if not thousands of Churches, a plethora of exhibits and even a piano recital by a world famous pianist (more about that later). Sam was in his glory at the ‘dead fetus’ exhibit at one Museum, which perhaps lightened his mood after being unable to score ‘Krokodil’. Of course, this all meant that we fully deserved a well-earned beer or two at the end of the day…

Malevich's Black Square

After two solid days of sight-seeing in St.Petersburg we gave in to the inevitable and met up with the rest of the Bristol Uni contingency. Despite it being a Tuesday, they were out in force. A picture is worth a thousand words so:

2

Going…

Gone.

Going…

1

Gone.

Despite the picture evidence, I promise that there were other people apart from us and Prest during the night. We tried to make Prest leave us alone but he’s like a limpet when he starts drinking.

Wednesday morning we woke, mouths dry and utterly disorientated. We had been woken by a loud, sporadic banging on the door- we were half an hour late for our check-out. In a flash we were up, changed and checked-out, yet our train back to Moscow was not for another four hours, what were we to do? Harris was insisting upon going to the Russian Museum, but we knew better: the obvious answer was to pass out in the foyer. For almost three hours we lay sprawled on the couches and floor whilst the Hostel life carried on around us. If we weren’t so physically intimidating we would have been tossed out immediately. However, the sleep was so enjoyable that we almost missed the train back to Moscow.

We started Thursday feeling like new men; refreshed and ready to ‘do’ Moscow. After the seeing the main Moscow sights of the day, we decided to eat at a Czech restaurant (which had the perfect food quantity: beer price ratio) before going to ‘Propaganda’, a famous Moscow club. After finishing our average meal and a few beers we were , quite literally, stumbled upon by an unbelievably drunk old man. Ignoring the protestations of the waitresses, he sat down with us and began slurring his way through the Russian language.

With a mix of awe and wonder, I began to part-translate and part-converse with him (I pride myself on my drunk-Russian translating). Thankfully for Harris and Sam, before long a friend of his arrived who could speak some English. It turned out that blackout-drunk ‘Sergei’ and ‘Viktor’ were 60 years old and out drinking because… Well, they’re Russian. The fact that it was a Thursday, and the two gentleman had work the following morning seemed only a distant consideration. At one point, Sergei’s wife called – but fear not – for Sergei had a brilliant plan: tell her he was with ‘the Americans’. As he passed the phone to Harris, we let out a communal sigh; we told Sergei that none of us were American multiple times. Sergei was unphased. Sergei kept on very obviously hinting that Viktor was in the mafia. We all thought that he was joking until his amigo pulled out about £2000 worth of rubles to pay for the beers. Classic.

The Czech restaurant

The Czech restaurant

After our chance encounter with the Moscow Mafia we hit up ‘Propaganda’; a deep-house club popular amongst students and expats. The club was fun as always; I did my best to chat up anything that moved, whilst Harris and Sam tried to communicate to girls via the medium of expressive dance. The sad thing is that I was only marginally more successful.

Harris: Yes Tom, there is a first time for everything.

Propaganda

Propaganda. HK…

Hungover as always, on the Friday we decided to do something that we would realistically only ever do in Russia- see a ballet at the Bolshoi Theatre.

Well, almost. Tickets to the Bolshoi are notoriously expensive and difficult to get hold of. Plus, after three months of living in one of the most expensive cities in the world I didn’t feel much like parting with my last £30. Thus, I took the executive decision and booked 3 tickets (at £3 each) to see one of the worlds best pianists at the Moscow Conservatory’s Small Hall.

Within fifteen minutes of the concert starting we were all passing in and out of consciousness. It turns out that the amalgamation of a hangover, sleep depravation and piano music can only ever lead to one thing- napping. Worst still, we were sat on the front row and so our bobbing heads were completely visible to everyone in the auditorium. Yet despite this, Sam claims that he actually felt the music more in his sleep; the drool slowly dropping from his mouth must have been an abstract form of applause.

For our final night in Moscow we met up with Andrei, a Muscovite friend of ours from Bristol, and spent the evening smoking shisha and then eating some delicious, traditional Russian food at his grandmothers. A lovely (and highly-suprisingly peaceful) way to end a great boys trip and my time in Moscow.

Moscow

On a side note, since returning home, partly let my liver recover and partly to enjoy the home cooking, I have joined a gym. This action may seem utterly mundane and boring, however, as you know, for the last 7 months I have thrown myself wholeheartedly into ‘being a Russian’. This entails lots of socialising, drinking anything alcoholic, smoking like a chimney and eating ‘zakuski’ (often very salty Russian food which accompanies beer/lash session). It is all good fun, although after walking up a particularly long set of stairs in Moscow and feeling both out of breath and slightly dizzy, I thought it was time to get back in shape.

My first session didn’t go well. After being ‘out-jogged’ by a man older than my father, nearly throwing-up on the rowing machine and then practically passing out doing the plank, I left the building after 17 minutes. Nevertheless, do not worry ladies, I am sure that Tom ‘8-pack’ Reynolds will be back in no time at all.

I will next be posting from Novosibirsk as I have decided to do my last stint there. Yes that’s right, back to Siberia. For those of you who don’t count Russian city facts amongst your hobbies, Novosibirsk is the third largest city in Russia and 6000km from London. Given that Prest had offered to let me sleep on his bed in the relative comfort of St. Petersburg, I am either a true Russophile or, quite simply, a sado-masochist. Only time will tell.

Also, I’ll be making an appearance in Bristol this weekend, please message if you’re free and would like to meet up.

#YOLO

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.

—————————————————————-

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

Работа

After a little international ‘blip’… The blog is back in its full, uninhibited form.

GUM Department Store

To pick up on where I left off, Charlie and I have actually managed to find a more-than-decent looking apartment for a price that wasn’t completely out of our budget. How could this be possible we thought? With only three days left of our cosy communal living experience, we took the plunge, moved out from our snug little hostel and are now proud, fully flat-initiated Muscovites. Whatsmore, instead of just getting the usual dark, damp and dingy Year Abroad flat, we’ve gone for the more palatial approach. We even have a spare bedroom for visiting guests. Our bachelor pad, although admittedly a good half hour on the metro from the centre, is undoubtedly very nice. Ever the realist, it feels incredibly strange and unnatural for me to not have anything bad to say about it. So much so that both Charlie and I are waiting for an inevitable downturn- an axe-wielding landlady, poltergeist or Welsh neighbour surely?

Ladies... I present my bedroom.

Ladies… My bedroom.

Charlie is out of control

Charlie is out of control

As it was a Friday, we decided to go out and have a few quiet cocktails and sample some of the more salubrious (that’s right, more salubrious) destinations in the centre to celebrate our apartment victory, or ‘Victory of the Apartment Day’ as it shall come to be known. This conservative and sensible approach to a night out, after all, would suit our new ‘working lifestyle’. I even put on my tweed jacket, just to show the world that we really meant business.

We began our foray into the Moscow high-life with a decent cocktail bar, but we thought we could do better. After another Mohito for the road, we wandered around passing a number of bars before one caught my eye. Most of that day I had been perusing the ‘Moscow Nightlife’ sites, and this one had been mentioned a number of times. After a quick conversation with the suprisingly friendly bouncer, we entered.

My first impression was: ‘well this is alternative for Moscow’; lots of impressive facial hair, well-fitting jeans and even some flat caps. Most unusual for Russia indeed. Nevertheless, we settled by the bar and I let Charlie decide what to order. As he uttered the words ‘Two Rusty Nails please’ to the barman, I knew that our sensible night out was completely off (Charlie had ordered us cocktails comprising of one half whisky and one half gin. Oh bugger). About 10 seconds after this realisation, another realisation hit us like a limp, well-moisturised backhand across the face: we were in a gay bar. Men of all shapes and sizes were gyrating away all around us, interspersed with the odd girl here and there for good measure. And there we were, together. I was in my tweed jacket and Charlie had some questionable ginger facial hair. We fitted in like peas in a pod.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the current situation in Russian politics, the State Duma (Government) voted 388 to 1 for a bill that makes public events and the dissemination of information by the LGBT community to minors punishable by fines of up to £10,000 (a huge amount for the average Russian). After two more readings, the bill will have to be signed by President Vladimir Putin. Whats more, any protest against this bill is being met with a typically Russian iron-fist. ‘Kiss-ins’, a method of peaceful protest where people simply snog, have been occuring recently. These have been broken-up by militant pro-Church members who religiously beat-up the protesters. All the while, the Police stand by and watch.

The general population’s opinion of homosexuality is sadly still very archaic, according to opinion polls last year almost two-thirds of Russians find homosexuality ‘morally unacceptable and worth condemning’. A third thought homosexuality was the result of ‘a sickness or a psychological trauma’. So for Charlie and I to find the ONLY gay bar in central Moscow really was quite a feat.

I am very proud to say that this did not stop me from finding (the only?) two 24 year old heterosexual girls to talk to. One of them had a boyfriend with her, who was 47. Amazingly, he was Scottish. Not so amazingly, he was called ‘Ronny’, and he proceeded to get absolutely hammered. If there was ever a stereotype of a Scottish man, it was Ronny. To give a quick excerpt of the conversation we had with him: ‘Ayyyeee lads, let’s get ba’errrd!’ Translation: ‘Yes gents, let’s get drunk’.

Naturally, we left Ronny to do his own thing (stumble around aimlessly) whilst I got on with the whole ‘get a Russian girlfriend’ business and began to dazzle the girls with my stupendous idioms, flawless grammar and all-round knowledge of the Russian language.* Or so I tried. Ronny’s girlfriend very loudly and forcefully announced to my face that she spoke such good English I shouldn’t even bother speaking Russian. Twice. Just to reiterate to my gobsmacked face just how good she really was. Just when I thought I couldn’t dislike someone based on first impressions much more, she then sneeringly asked me:

‘If you are only 21, why on earth are you wearing a tweed jacket?!’

Game over. We left.

In terms of my work (Charlie has yet to begin), after two weeks of commuting I am bored of even the spectacular Moscow Metro. It is one of the most impressive metro systems in the world, has more passengers than the London and New York metro combined every day, and I dread it already. In the office I sit at my desk, in my own office; something that millions of people around the world are striving to achieve- a personal office in a magic-circle law firm. All I can say is God knows why, I crave human voices for 10 hours a day. Each time someone walks past my always-open door I look out longingly and wish for that quick, daily ‘kak dela’ conversation. Sat in my suit all day and commuting… Life after university seems foreboding close.

My office (the desk next to me is unoccupied)

On the plus side, the work is actually very useful for both my business knowledge and Russian as I mostly help with translating documents that I don’t even understand in English. If the 4th year exam is on Russian legal deals in the energy sector, I will utterly annihilate it. I have also finally branched out in the office and befriended people in the Banking Department, who are all very friendly and sociable.

Charlie begins his work in the Capital Markets department at Cushman and Wakefield on Monday. He has been so worried by the thought of starting work in such an intense environment that he is struggling to finish his food and even threw up my sumptuous Spaghetti Bolognese on Tuesday night. I had extras.

On Saturday 2nd we celebrated Charlie’s 22nd by dining at ‘Pushkin Cafe’, one of the most ostentatious and impressively ‘tsarist’ restaurants in Moscow. As such once again we thought that we had better dress up to be sure we fitted in. Begrudgingly forgoing the tweed jacket this time, we ‘tied-up’ and got ready to impress the Moscow socialites.

No one else wore ties.

Once again we had managed to overdress, yet far worse (purely in a sartorial sense) was to follow. After the lovely meal we had arranged to meet with Zhenya, a Muscovite friend of Rufus’ who works as a PR in a modelling firm and had kindly agreed to meet up with us and show us some proper bars. After rubbing shoulders with the unashamedly rich and fabulous in a couple of unbelievably exclusive bars we ended up in ‘Solyanka Club’; I would liken it to Dojos in Bristol, but only after everyone in Dojos had suddenly become incredibly wealthy. Despite Charlie and I sticking out like sore-thumbs (at about 3am the incredibly laid-back and chilled Zhenya just laughed, pointed at us and said ‘Your ties…’),we had a great time.

Cafe Pushkin

Cafe Pushkin

Club Solyanka

Club Solyanka

* What about Charlie you may ask? On a slightly more successful note, I can confirm to the masses that Charlie ‘Badass’ McCloy is a no longer a single and ready to mingle eligible bachelor…

Москва

The Last two weeks in Tyumen flew by in a blur of visiting the sights we had yet to see and saying our goodbyes. By the end, as ready as we were to go home, we were actually sad to leave. Especially Charlie…

Early morning wander Tobolsk

I spent the break from Russia… Eating to be honest. Returning for Christmas and then popping to France for a couple of weeks was the perfect way to gain some much-needed weight. After hundreds of Tartiflettes, Raclettes and Croutes before I knew it I was back in the Motherland. This time Charlie and I will be in Moscow for a few months. Thats right, only me and Charlie. Maybe it was after the ‘Banya incident’ or simply Tyumeny crazy things happened whist we were together but Iona and Rob will not be joining us here. They decided to take the soft, easy option of St. Petersburg whilst Charlie and I forge on in our intrepid Russian misadventure.

Before we arrived the only thing Charlie and I had to do was find an apartment to live in, and we had decided that we needed to do this about 4 months ago. Needless to say, we failed miserably. The cost of living in Moscow is widely regarded as the most expensive in the world. To give an example: A 1-bedroom apartment that was suggested for the both of us would have cost £900 a month. Each. Furthermore, it looked like a convent and was located so far from the centre that I reckon it would have been easier to get to St. Petersburg than Moscow each morning.

Until we find an apartment we are staying in the ‘Basilica Hostel’ in a very cosy twin bed room. It’s a 40 minute walk to work every morning, although it means I can enjoy the relative warmth of -8 here! In the hostel, the receptionist thinks I am gay, and Charlie hasn’t even arrived yet (he gets here tomorrow). When asked who will be sharing my room I bumbled my way through some slightly rusty Russian explaining that it was my friend from England. This attempt was met with very raised eyebrows and a classic Russian disapproving stare. Ah well, doing my bit for gay-rights in Russia.

Having semi-decent access to the centre of Moscow is actually quite important for our first couple of months as we are both working. Well, working for no money. Charlie is working at Cushman and Wakefield, a real-estate company, and I am working for Allen and Overy, a law-firm. I started my first day yesterday at 9am and didn’t leave the office till 6.30pm; quite a shock for someone who only got up before 10am during the Winter Break to ski some powder, and even that was a challenge. The work itself was translating and generally helping out, amazingly I haven’t been ask to make coffee or photocopy yet.

St. Basils

Despite my new working life the same ‘challenges’ for my Year abroad remain:

-Become fluent at Russian.

-Get a Russian girlfriend (to help with the above obviously.)

-Get a ‘manly amount’ of chest hair.

Over the course of the next 3 and a bit months I will try to update my progress on those three challenges, as well as anything else vaguely strange/cool/crazy happens of course.

Жизнь

Countryside

I am actually very happy to say that nothing vaguely fatal has happened recently. Instead, with only ten days left in Tyumen, I thought I’d devote my last post (rant) to our everyday lives here.

For the last three and a half months I have been living with an Azerbaijani, Charlie a Chechen, Rob a Tajik and Iona a Mongolian. The rooms we live in would be considered a very optimistic ‘cosy’ in England. In hindsight, combining a tight room (read: crap), drastically different cultures and such a long period of time was always going to cause some friction.

Our living conditions make Bristol’s Halls look like 5* Hotels and roomy; the rooms here are about 5x3m and we have to share a desk. What’s more, for the past month the Siberian winter has very much set in (reaching a ball-chatteringly cold -33 with wind chill so far) meaning that nipping to the (nonexistent) nearby pub to escape our roommates for a while is all but impossible.

I normally consider myself a fairly easy-going guy, admittedly I can be untidy from time to time (just ask my Uni house last year…), however I feel like some of my basic human rights have been taken away since living here.

Hussein is a Muslim, as such he has to pray 5 times a day. I don’t have a problem with that one bit, however, being woken up a 6:30am every morning for 3.5 months has definitely had a lasting effect. Despite his alarm being louder than a Boeing 747 landing next to my head, he can never wake up. Thus, as a fairly light sleeper I am bolt-upright and wide-awake every morning at 6:30 prompt; really great when Hussein has been on Skype till 4am anyway. In terms of the computer he is actually much better than Iona’s and Charlie’s roommates. Charlie’s regularly games till the early morning, whereas Iona’s sings to her boyfriend on Skype until 5am most nights. In Mongolian.

I have tried various ways of politely getting Hussein to wake up/turn off his bloody alarm for the first month or two but to no avail. Thus, I have recently been forced to adopt a tad more direct and loud method:

“OHHMYGODD HUSSEIN, TURN. OFF. YOUR. SODDING. PHONE.”

It seems to be working a bit better so far.

He then moodily and noisily gets up and puts the kettle on (for his aprеs-pray brew). Meanwhile I try and get back to sleep, this is often quite an optimistic goal as having the words ‘Allah Akbar’ shouted, sung and muttered half a metre away from my head frankly makes it impossible.

After he prays, he slurps his tea at a quite incredible volume, spits into the kitchen sink a few times then loudly calls his friends to organise what he’s doing today. And that is just the morning…

For 3 and a half months I have lain awake listening to this ritual, and I can confirm that it has slowly driven me mad. Each slurp or bit of phlegm that he spits into the sink really is a form of torture.

Hussein has also recently taken to making posters to tell what he wants me to do (I would like to add that the vast majority of the mess is his and not mine). The brilliant thing about them is that, for some reason, he writes them in English. With hilarious mistakes.

His first poster, which annoyingly I didn’t take a picture of, read:

YOU CLEAN TABLE!!! WE ARE NOT DIRTY PIG!!!

The second was placed at head-height above the bin:

The Poster Home for the last 3.5 months

… Thanks Hussein!

Ah well, only 10 days till home! I have already ordered several meals from Mother Reynolds- the first? Roast beef, Yorkshire Puddings, every vegetable available, lashings of gravy and finished off with a huge Sticky Toffee Pudding.

To conclude, my tour in Tyumen has been an experience that I will never forget. I have genuinely met some of the kindest and nicest people, and their generosity and hospitality has been amazing. A big thanks to Diana, Alex, Ksenia, Sasha and many more people who have really made us feel welcome. It has made me genuinely appreciate home and the UK; until you spend so long in a place so alien and unlike home I don’t think you can ever appreciate it. My 3 aims that I set out to fulfil before I left for Tyumen sadly didn’t all go quite as planned:

1) Become fluent at Russian:

Getting there but a long way to go yet…

2) Get a ‘manly-amount’ of chest hair:

Slight improvement. However, if -33 doesn’t put hairs on my chest then God help me.

3) Get a Russian girlfriend:

… No comment.

I would like to thank Charlie, Iona and Rob very much, I am utterly amazed none of us have punched each other.

I leave Tyumen on the 20th, and by 15th January I’ll be hitting up Moscow. It’s going to be very different. Thank you to anyone who has read my blog, it now has way over 2000 views which is pretty nuts, I hope you have enjoyed it… So far!

The Gang on Tour

Авария

I can gladly report that the levels of nudity between us guys has decreased immensely. Instead, fate had very different ideas for us this week…

Last Saturday we were invited to a concert at the Philharmonic hall celebrating ‘The Day of National Unity’. After sitting down in the auditorium, it became immediately apparent that this concert was a bad idea. Apart from us 3 English 21-year-old’s, the rest of the crowd comprised of about 2000 OAPs. The concert started with some traditional dancing, all fine, before moving onto the speeches from the local big shots. 30 minutes later I honestly thought I had been transported back into 1950’s Soviet Russia- ‘Comrades, Dear Friends, together we can make the country great! You are firstly citizens of Russia, then secondly citizens of the world! Etc etc…’ We sat squirming for a good hour whilst these ridiculously last century speeches indoctrinated everyone but us. Once the speeches had finished, unbelievably, it actually got worse. The concert was a 2 hour long mime-fest with some very questionable dancing.

That night we had been invited round to a friend’s house after we had offered to cook them some classic English food. Out of all the friends we have made in Tyumen, these are the ones that typify the ‘New Russians’- well-educated, friendly and well-travelled. We decided to cook them Shepherd’s Pie, fairly easy and tasty. However, upon arriving at the apartment, we discovered that there were only two pans. Miraculously, after about 2 hours of working away, everything went to plan and they all loved it.

Around Monday of last week we all had a sudden lull in enthusiasm for everything Russian and all became quite homesick. Luckily, before I took to drinking in true Russian fashion (vodka before midday), I received a receipt for a parcel. 7 weeks ago after hearing that I had lost some weight my worried parents send me a package of food, testing the postal system here. The Royal Mail optimistically estimated that it would take 4-5 days. LOL. Buoyed by the promise of some English produce I practically skipped to the Post Office. I pushed open the door and was greeted by the sight (and smell) of about 50 bored Babushkas; apparently it would have taken over two hours to collect my parcel. Plunged into a foul mood and muttering some of my finest Russian swear words I stormed back to the shithole that I call home and vowed to return at 8am the next day.

At 08:15 I sat down and enjoyed the sweet taste of victory. A jar of peanut butter and 2 chocolate bars that had traveled 2000 miles and taken an absurd amount of time had never tasted so good.

Things were on the up- my Russian was getting vaguely comprehensible and I was enjoying myself once again. On Thursday evening we had arranged to meet up with a friend. Yet, before this Iona and I went to a cafe. After sitting down she announced to me that ‘I’m not feeling too good.’ Boy oh boy was she right. I ordered myself a large sandwich, sat down and enjoyed myself whislt Iona had to keep running to the loo to throw-up. Food poisoning had finally struck one of us down.

Speaking of striking down… At approximately the same time, innocent, angelic Charlie McCloy was ambling back down the main street to meet us. Unbeknownst to him, a man from [Insert Country] had taken a disliking to him. Whilst standing on the traffic island in between lanes, said [Countryman] marched up to him, shouted something incomprehensible, then promptly twatted him square in the face.The man then ran off. Adding insult to injury, the stunned, shocked and utterly confused Charlie had to wait for a green light before even being able to nurse his injuries.

I am glad to report that, apart from his pride and an impressive black eye, he is absolutely fine once again.

On Thursday, Izzy Linacre, a friend from University, posted this link on my Facebook page with the comment ‘Weird, weird country you have decided to live in’:

Fate really is tempted easily… Last night we went out with a couple of friends for some beers, one of them was the designated driver so he didn’t touch a drop all night. The bar we went to closed at 12 and so we decided to get some more beers from a supermarket nearby. The seal had been fully broken, so en route we stopped off by a roundabout and all piled out to relieve ourselves. We walked about 20 metres from the car, and began our business. Mid-flow, there was an almighty bang from our car and a large cloud of smoke from nearby it. We ran back to discover that another car had spun off the roundabout and ploughed into the front, driver side of our car. The other car was halfway up a large bank of snow and in equally back condition.

The Police arrived miraculously quickly, especially considering that we are in Russia. The man who’s car had spun off slowly got out of his car and started giving it some lip. He was absolutely battered. There is an absolute no drink-driving law in Russia, so it was pretty obvious that this guy was in trouble. He at first seemed to be resigned to the fact that he had been caught and was in the shit.

However, as is always the case here, it didn’t end there.

Our friend who had been our driver decided to get a picture of the culprit. Of course, the culprit didn’t take it so well and so he started swinging for him. The Police rushed in to intervene and so instead of stopping, the drunk pillock started having a go at the Police as well. Bad idea. The Police officers, already renowned for brutality in Russia, got out there cattle prod-type taser and proceeded to electrocute, kick and rough-up the felon.

All the while Charlie, Rob and I stood part-gawping, part-reveling in the utter absurdity of the situation. Just another day in Tyumen…

Our car:

On the plus side, as you can see, we are loving the snow: