Saturday, May 10, 2014

Friends and Family

Right now I am watching the Eurovision finale on TV with Karel. I also watched the two semi finales earlier this week. They were amazing, although my three favorite songs did not make it to the finale. Next year I will have to watch Eurovision online.

The results of the second semi finale were delayed because there was a petition with 15,000 signatures from Russia to remove Austria from the list because the singer was a transvestite.

Anyway, Eurovision is so much fun to watch. I voted in the first semi finale for Moldova.

Now back to older news. Two weeks after St. Petersburg was the District Conference for 1420 on Soumenlinna, an island just of the coast of Finland near Helsinki. We, the Estonian exchangers, traveled to Helsinki with Anett, the single Estonia Rotex, instead of with Raivo.

It was very cold out on the island, but that didn't make it any less fun to be there. We attended the conference and spoke in our respective languages to the attending mass of old people. We also got to meet the Outbounds and impart our collective wisdom to them.

Since then I have been attending school, exploring town, and hanging out with friends. Brittney showed me a restaurant bar place that had been built in an old gun powder storage. Clara showed us the pictures her fellow YFU exchangers had made that were displayed in part of the University.

Last Monday was orienteering day at MHG. Everyone went out to Ihaste at their classes' time and followed a map to teachers with stamps in the woods around town. The goal was to see how many you could get in an hour out of the sixteen. I was partnered with Rauno and we got nine of them.

With my host family I have gone to several events. We went to have dinner with a neighbor last week and they made very good Asian food complete with delicious spring rolls. I spent most of the visit playing with Karel and the neighbor's daughter.

Yesterday we went next door to celebrate someone's birthday. Thankfully there were lots of kids so I could stay and talk with the adults. The men had a lot of interesting things to talk about so it was very fun.

Today is Mothers' Day, which is why I forced myself to type these up, so I went with Valter and Karel to his grandmother's house in the countryside. I met his grandparents, aunt, uncle, and cousin. The three of us ran around outside in the rain for a while, then came in to eat lunch. His grandmother is really a very sweet old lady.

We came back around five and then waited for Eurovision to come on.

St. Petersburg Tour

In my last post, I was on my way to St. Petersburg for the weekend. I have to say, it was so much more fu than I thought it would be. The newbies from the Southern Hemisphere were there and I made friends with some Australians, a South African, and a New Zealander.

Most of our trip was driving around in the bus to see the city, and stopping in particular places to take pictures. The first full day that we were there, we went to the Hermitage Museum. The majority of the museum is the Winter Palace and the inside is filled with magnificent paintings and sculptures and absolutely covered in gold. One of the first things our guide said was that, in Russia, everything that looks like gold is gold. The Winter Palace was huge and every room was draped in gold.

The Hermitage museum is home to an enormous collection of art, including two paintings of Madonna by Leonardo Da Vinci and a sculpture by Michelangelo. There was also a hallway that was decorated with a painted version of the bible.

We had lunch at a restaurant underground and met some Russian exchange students. After lunch we went to another museum. This one had an astronomy tower filled with old instruments used for astronomy and a big room filled with the preserved bodies of animals and babies with physical deformities. There were things like a calf with two heads, a puppy with two bodies and one head, a kitten with two faces, and a baby with an unusual number of limbs. It was very interesting and kind of creepy since, not only were they all real, but that a past Russian monarch had wanted to have such a collection.

That night we went to see a ballet in a fancy theatre. I liked it a lot, but I also thought it was way too long. The best part was that there was no talking at all, which would have been Russian if there was any. Apparently the lead female dancer is a very famous ballet dancer.

The next day we drove around St. Petersburg, stopping at different statues and scenic views to take pictures and purchase souvenirs.

Before I came to Russia, I never really thought it was in any way similar to other Asian countries. But it really does have some similarities. For instance, Russian has a distinct lack of chocolate, anything 'chocolate' like a milkshake is made with hot chocolate powder. Also, there are the street vendors. Like in China, there are people with tables of souvenirs set up in tourist hotspots. They sell magnets, pins, hats, and various other things.

By the time we finished the tour and got off the bus to do our wandering around to buy things and have lunch in small groups of friends, at least half the bus had the fuzzy Russian hats. I went with Brittney, and my new friends from the Southern Hemisphere to a random restaurant where most of us got these things like giant dumplings for lunch. We did a lot of walking and shopping and got back to the bus on time.

Then we went to a beautiful church and took pictures outside and then went in to look around in silence because it was still in use.

That night we went to see a folk show with dancing and singing. That was the best part of the whole trip. It seems that courting is a big part of Russian dancing. The singers and dancers were simply amazing.

The next day we left St. Petersburg and headed for the border. We had to go through more checkpoints to leave Russia then to enter, but both ways it still took forever with all the checking and rechecking of passports and visas and the thorough search of the bus for stowaways, then driving a little way and having passports checked again.

Anyway, the trip back to Helsinki from St. Petersburg was much shorter than the one back from Lapland.

The three of us Estonians got back home with only one minor screw up, again, unlike Lapland. My ferry ticket on the way there said my name was Dykstra, Molly Anderson and when Brittney went to get the tickets the woman at the desk was confused because it didn't match my passport and Brittney had to explain that Dykstra was Erick's last name and whoever had ordered the tickets had mixed up our names.