It’s hard to believe that an entire year has passed since I began my study abroad in Moscow, but it’s a reality not lost on me.

Exactly a year ago today, we had just begun our nearly three-month visit to Russia when an unthinkable tragedy rocked the Moscow metro killing 40 and injuring 100 more. The dual suicide bombings at the Lubyanka and Park Kultury metro stations shut down parts of the city’s numerous metro lines, choking transportation in the frenzied aftermath.

Only a few days into our trip, I had already become fairly used to my commute. I knew the route. I knew roughly how long it took to get from my apartment building at Belyayeva to our school at Shabolovskaya. I would leave my apartment around 9 a.m., spend about 20 minutes on the metro, then walk the remaining mile or so to school.

This morning was no different. The explosions hit Lubyanka at 7:56 and Park Kultury at 8:40, about 20 minutes before I usually left for class. I remember the commute that morning being wholly unremarkable. There might have been an extra officer here or there, but no one was panicked, nothing seemed out of place, everything seemed just as it was the week before.

My first knowledge of the attacks came when I arrived at school. Later in the quarter, we would wait for each other to arrive at the metro station then walk to school together, but as it was still early and our routines were not yet second nature. I walked on my own that day.

When I reached the top of the stairs, standing in the doorway with a few of my classmates was one of the Russian teachers, Marina. She soberly explained to us what she knew about the explosions, pointed us to a computer, and directed us all to email our loved ones to let them know we were safe.

Once we had a chance to digest the news, our hearts sank at the possibility of being called home only five days into our trip. Though the state department issued travel warnings following the blasts, we were allowed to stay in Moscow.

It’s a tragedy we will always share with the Russian people. We experienced the fear and the paranoia. We shared the pain, if not the loss. A year has passed since the tragedy, but we will never forget it, and neither will the Russian people.

I hope you’ll take a minute to look at this photo essay and think of the lives lost needlessly to terrorist elements.

Wistful thinking…and updates

September 29, 2010

To anyone who is still reading this,

I was paging through my earliest posts on this blog a few days ago, now safely returned to the routine of Casa Nueva and life at Ohio University, when it hit me that I am really glad that I kept this blog during my time abroad. If this experience has taught me anything, it’s that memory is far too fleeting for my comfort. Keeping this blog was not only fun for me, but the blog also served as a detailed account of my fondest experiences in Russia that’s always available for me to visit and reminisce about.

I’ve now been stateside for about four months, and I’m realizing that there is plenty of minutiae from my trip that has already been pushed to the corners of my mind. Sure, I remember the highlights, but it’s the small things I’m reminded of when looking at my pictures and reading old entries that bring back the most vivid feelings I had when I was actually there shooting and posting.

In the interests of not letting a single more small detail slip my increasingly crowded mind, I’m working at present to make sure–for my own sake–that the small details of my tale make it onto this blog before I lose them. If anyone is still reading, I hope you’ll share these updates with me. Thanks for all your support throughout.

Ваш,
Кевин

Дорогие Друзья!

Welcome to the first of my retroactive updates. I am safely back in the states and currently blogging to you from Athens.

Back to the matter at hand; Petersburg. After settling into the hotel and cleaning ourselves up a bit, we piled into the bus and set out for Петропавловская Крепость (Petropavlovskaya Krepost, or Peter and Paul Fortress, the original fortress and Kremlin of Peter the Great). The fortress was built between 1706 and 1710, and was the base of operations for the garrison of soldiers stationed there to protect the city, as well as a prison.

This is the fortress cathedral and final resting place of Peter the Great, Catherine the Great and the entire Romanov family.

After wandering around the grounds for a bit, we went inside to see all the famous dead people. To be honest, we kind of found the inside of the place a little tacky. There was a lot of turquoise and salmon color going on, but hey, it’s still a pretty important place.

Inside the cathedral.

The plaque says, "Петр 1 Великий," which means Peter 1, the Great. The bust in the background is also Peter the Great.

There is another room in the cathedral that wasn’t added until very recently, and it happens to be the room which holds the remains of the entire Romanov family, perhaps one of the most famous Russian royal families.

There are many more updates coming, and I’m sorry that the updates have been so slow. At the moment I am working and living in Washington, D.C. and I do not have internet at my house. I will keep you guys in the loop, so check back often!

Ваш,

Кевин

Update about updates

June 5, 2010

Дорогие Друзья,

I know the updates have been few and far between as of late, and for that I apologize. Right now I’m in JFK on my way home, so unfortunately my travels have come to an end for the moment. However, I’ve decided that there is still much that I need to tell you about my last few weeks in Russia, so the updates will still be coming, although I’ll be stateside.

I decided that it made more sense for me to actually be living my last few weeks in Moscow to the fullest, as opposed to sitting in front of my computer simply blogging about it. I hope you’ll continue to pay attention to the blog and follow my updates, and thanks for all your support and readership over the course of this crazy thing.

With that, I’ll leave you with some silly pictures of us at our “commencement” ceremony for completing our studies at Школа Китайгородской (Kitaigorodskoi School).

Ben and Adam in their cool new hats. Each of the guys got a пилотка (pilotka) as a gift for graduation.

They wined and dined us as a reward for our efforts.

Jordan, Andrea and Steve excited to be drinking champagne in Vera's presence.

Our lovely staff and our group, exchanging toasts.

Well, that’s it for now because I’m soon to be boarding my final flight back to Columbus. I’m excited to see all of you, and I hope you’ll still check for updates every now and then, even though you’ll have me back.

Thanks everyone,

Ваш,

Кевин

Друзья! (Friends),

I know you have been on the edge of your seats, eagerly awaiting the first update post-Petersburg, and I’m sorry it has taken me this long.

Naturally, the trip started out with a marathon overnight train ride, and like the Russians on the train with us, we resolved to get super drunk in order to be able to sleep on the train. I’d like to tell you more about the trip, but in the interests of time and you actually getting to see some of what we did, this post will be more of a photo essay than anything.

This is how it started, we all met up at Komsomolskaya to get on the train to Petersburg

Darcy on the train in the morning. Don't be fooled by how refreshed she might look, this is after about 8 hours on the train.

We put a liter and a half of vodka to rest between a number of us. Exhibit A, empty bottle of Green Mark Vodka (Зелёная Марка Водка), and Exhibit B a blurry Jordan.

Adam sleeping like a baby.

Not exactly a lot of privacy on this train. I'm not sure this would go over well in America, but if you want to travel cheap in Russia, it's just a fact of life.

Tre and Tiana after a long night of booze-fueled revelry and not a lot of sleep, also our new friend Masha (Маша) back left.

Jordan, Andrea, Rachel and Masha after a relatively sleepless ride to Petersburg

New friends on the train, Masha (Маша) on the left and Koctya (Костя) on the right.

Sleepless crew finally arrives in Petersburg after about a 9 hour, stifling hot, feet-smelling train ride.

Bust of Peter the Great, welcoming you to Saint Petersburg (Санкт Петербург)

We arrived at Moscow Train Station (Московский Вокзал) around 10 a.m.

As soon as we arrived, it was time to head out on a bus tour of Petersburg, the photos of which did not come out so great. The excursion wasn’t too long, and as soon as we were done, we headed to the hotel. Hotel Vyborgskaya (Выборгская) was to become our home base for the next two days.

The hotel was nicer than it looked from the street.

Mine and Trevor's room, It was comfortable, and we really didn't spend much time at all there.

This is just my favorite graffiti, it literally says "Hey!" There should be more graffiti that simply says hello to you.

I haven’t even gotten started on the numerous excursions we had during our time in Petersburg, so I hope you’ll stay tuned for those. Though this is all for now, I can tell you with absolute certainty that there is much more to come. Check back often!

Ваш,

Кевин

Hey everyone,

I just finished uploading over 50 pictures to my WordPress account from just two days of our time in Petersburg. I don’t have time to update right now, and it has been a massive undertaking going through and resizing and picking photos to put up, so please bear with me! Update tomorrow most likely. Also, tomorrow starts my last full week of class and we only have about 12 days left in Moscow, which is pretty hard to believe.

Stay tuned!

Ваш,
Кевин

St. Petersburg

May 15, 2010

Дорогие Друзья! (Dear Friends!),

I am going to be making my way back to Moscow in about an hour, which after this weekend I find very unfortunate. Санкт-Петербург (St. Petersburg) is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful and interesting cities in the world, and feels like a much younger and more European center than Moscow. It’s a shame we couldn’t have spent more time in Petersburg, but we made the most of what we had and had an incredible time nonetheless.

Feet in the Neva (Нева) River.

Updates forthcoming.

Ваш,
Кевин

С Днём Победы, Товарищи (Happy Victory Day, Comrades),

Celebrating the allied victory over the Nazis is an enormous undertaking in Russia. Absolutely everywhere you look in the city, beginning a month in advance, you can see banners that say “Happy Victory Day,” banners with veterans on them, or simply bearing the word “Спасибо” (thank you).  As I mentioned in my last post, 20th century Russian history isn’t exactly overflowing with points of pride, which makes Victory Day a much-revered occurrence. The celebration is also huge because of the incredible loss of life that devastated Russia during the period. The Russian body count stands somewhere around 22 to 24 million, which means that nearly every single Russian lost at least one family member for the cause.

Every year there is an enormous parade replete with tanks and artillery, soldiers and police of all kinds, as well as international guests, which this year included a group of American soldiers.

Trevor and I watched the parade on television, because it is pretty near impossible to get near the center, and we wanted to actually be able to see some of the parade. We also witnessed the dry run about a week earlier, so it didn’t feel like we were missing out by watching the Russian broadcast of it. We had intended to head to Park Pobedy after and see all the veterans, but instead we were distracted by the option of taking a little cruise down the Moscow River.

Despite the fact that Moscow is a huge place, it’s still not much of a tourist destination because it is so inaccessible to outsiders. If you can’t speak Russian at at least the level we speak it, you absolutely need to have a translator, or you will be completely lost and frustrated (and no one will help you because they don’t speak English).

The water taxi service that operates as part of the Moscow Rapid Transit System has no information on the outside of the ticket office except for the numbers of two boats (In our case, Москва-99 and Москва-29) and the times of departure, which was every hour. It would be one thing if it said “ship numbers,” or “boats your ticket gets you onto,” but the side of the building just cryptically said “Москва-99 and Москва-29” and the times (12:00, 13:00, 14:00, 15:00, etc., Russians use military time for the most part) with absolutely no designation or explanation.

Using some grade-A Russian, I conversed with the guy in front of us in line and we figured out what the price was and where we were going. After waiting for a little over an hour, we finally got aboard the ship and started down the Moscow River.

This is Kiev Train Station, the dock was right outside.

This is the kind of ship we were on, I overheard one of the crew members say there is room for about 140 people.

Looking back down the river from our departure area.

Drinking some Жигули (Zhiguli) beer on our way down the river.

Moscow State in the distance and Sparrow Hills in front of it. During the Soviet times, they were called Lenin Hills.

More Жигули, more sight-seeing.

1980 Olympic Games Complex.

Had some Жигули myself. Photo credit Trevor D.

Gorki Park.

Cathedral of Jesus Christ the Savior.

The Cathedral of Jesus Christ the Savior was actually destroyed by Stalin in 1931 and was to be the location of a sort of shrine to Soviet leadership called the “Palace of Soviets.” It was to be a huge building with a staircase flanked by Soviet leaders, leading up to an enormous statue of Lenin. The project was delayed due to funding issues, flooding from the river and poor soil on site, and the outbreak of WWII. Under Khrushchev the site became the world’s largest open air swimming pool, and eventually the Cathedral was rebuilt during the 90s and reopened in 2000.

View of the Kremlin from the Moscow River.

Red Square and St. Basil's Cathedral from the river.

One of the День Победы banners that are all over the city. This one must be at least one football field in length. Photo credit Trevor.

I don't remember what I was taking a picture of here, but I inadvertently captured this woman's epic mullet. I can't stress enough how normal, and even cool, mullets are in Moscow.

After spending about two hours leisurely floating down the Moscow River, we met up with Adam and his host sister Ira (pronounced like EAR-uh, once again, it’s short for Irina) and continued to celebrate Victory Day. We also had a chance to meet with some of Ira’s friends, who all turned out to be really cool people.

Left to right, Stas, Aleesa, Ira, and Vitalec.

Ilya, Stas, and Aleesa. We'd met Ilya before and he makes us laugh.

Ira.

Apparently I'm not the only one with a camera.

After hanging out in the park for a little while, some wicked clouds started gathering and we decided to get to a metro station to keep dry. We were also going to be heading closer to the city center to watch the fireworks display, which in Russia is just called “Salute” (Салют).

The picture taking continued underground.

Fireworks are kind of hard to shoot, but the display was great, trust me.

In Russia, there are no distance requirements on fireworks displays, so this definitely the closest I’ve been to such powerful fireworks. Afterwards, we actually saw a police officer retrieving a half-exploded one that had landed somewhere on the street.

Immediately following the salute, there was a mad dash to the metro station, and a crowd began to gather outside. At first it was just a couple of guys and a few girls in Soviet pilot outfits singing songs from the war period, but it quickly grew to about a hundred people, all of whom knew the words.

The crowd had not fully grown at this point. Note the Soviet red flag flying.

I think in the end, it was more about getting together with people whose families went through the same loss and suffering as yours, and less about reveling in memories of Stalin’s time.

We drank a little more on the street, and then called it a night not long after.

Ira and Vitalec one more time.

May 9th is kind of a bizarre day to be an American in Russia, but it’s well worth seeing. We got to spend it with our new friends, and I’m sure it’s a day that we will well remember from this trip years down the road.

Stay tuned for more updates, the next one won’t be so epically long, I promise.

Ваш,

Кевин

Привет Друзья (Hello friends),

What a week it was. Our weekly excursion was moved from its usual Wednesday time slot to Thursday, because the Victory Museum in Парк Победы (Park Pobedy) doesn’t operate on Wednesdays. The excursion was also set for late afternoon, giving us an opportunity to celebrate Cinco De Mayo on Wednesday.

Despite the fact that we are in Moscow, and in the midst of the week of WWII remembrance, a week during which most Russians don’t work at all (May 1 – May 11 is generally considered a holiday), we decided to celebrate the minor Mexican victory over the French all those years ago. One of the most popular and ubiquitous beers in Moscow also conveniently offers a refreshing beer infused with lime, Сибирская Корона Лайм (Sibirskaya Corona Lime). It’s only slightly better than Bud Light Lime, but hell, it was Cinco de Mayo, and we made the most of what was available to us.

The next day, it was time to forget about Cinco de Mayo and head to Park Pobedy to focus on WWII. I’ve posted pictures of the park itself before, and I hope you all remember how vast and breathtaking the park really is. Though I’ve visited the park several times, this was my first chance to actually go inside the museum that dominates the grounds.

Just a little side note before I move on with the story. While I was outside, I took a few pictures of our group, and one in particular had a funny surprise embedded in it.

I'll let you try and find it first. When you give up, keep reading.

Nothing special, just a picture of Steve, Hannah and Graham on our excursion to Park Pobedy, right? Immediately after I took the picture, Adam turns to me and asks “Were you taking a picture of those girls making out?” Completely unbeknownst to me, I did in fact capture a couple of girls just over Hannah’s right shoulder making out. They didn’t seem to mind though.

On a more serious note, this museum is pretty unreal. Even though the museum was built in 1995, the ambiance of the place is that of post-war Moscow circa 1945. Hammers and Sickles, Soviet banners and war propaganda; it’s all there. It’s truly bizarre to see all the Soviet era paraphernalia displayed not just as history, but as living items that still play a tremendous role in the current Russian zeitgeist. The communist hangover is still very strongly felt in all corners of Russian society, and, like any hangover, it makes the events preceding it fuzzy and out of focus. Intelligent Russians remember the hardship, misery, suffering and millions murdered, but for many, it’s too easy to think that because times aren’t great now, they were somehow better then.

Anyhow, before I get too tangential, back to the museum itself.

One of the aforementioned Soviet banners.

This one features the “great” Lenin and says “За Нашу Советскую Родину,” which means, “For our Soviet Motherland.” These types of banners line the main hall, and though this one is legitimately from the period, others that were clearly made long after the war are also proudly on display.

There was another interesting caveat to the trip, the U.S. Ambassador to Russia, John Beyrle, was in the building for a reception taking place on the main floor. It was a gala for the opening of a new exhibit about his father who had served during the war for both Russia and the U.S. The Marine Corps. Band was also at the gala, and it was kind of funny to hear the Notre Dame Fight Song in this context.

Notre Dame fight song under the Hammer and Sickle.

In Russia, the military is still a huge employer, and kids as early as adolescence are preparing for a life of service in some branch or another.

These kids are going to be in the Russian Navy one day. They love having their picture taken.

Moving on from the gala, we headed into the Hall of Heroes, which is located in the enormous dome that is visible from nearly all corners of the park. Partly because I am a novice photographer, and partly because the place is absolutely enormous, I had a really hard time capturing the true enormity of the Hall of Heroes.

This is the statue in the center of the hall. I'd say it's between 50 and 60 feet tall.

On the walls surrounding the statue are the names of some of the cities most affected by the war, and beneath them the names of the soldiers who died there.

The cities at the top are Smolensk, Tula, and Stalingrad (Volgograd), and between the columns of names it says "Heroes of the Soviet Union."

I decided to go macro since getting a picture of the whole place was out of the question.

After the Hall of Heroes, we moved downstairs to see some of the dioramas of scenes from the war.

This is one from Leningrad (St. Petersburg), which was under seige for something like 900 days.

The final room we saw was the Hall of Glory and Suffering. There are thousands of strands of copper with crystals on the ends hanging from the ceiling. They are designed to emulate rain, and it was my favorite part of the museum.

Entering the Hall of Glory and Suffering.

The ceiling of this place is really impressive.

There is something very comforting to me about this statue. This was the most tranquil part of the museum; no hammers and sickles, no communist slogans.

It’s really interesting to see the Russian perspective on the war, especially three days before День Победы (Den Pobedy, Victory Day.) Russians don’t have a lot to be proud of from the 20th century, which is why Victory Day is so huge here. It’s a complicated thing for Russians, because they can’t be proud of the victory over the Nazis without being at least a little bit proud of the Soviet Regime.

I have some more updates already in the works, so I hope you will stay tuned. Also, all the pictures on my blog can be greatly enlarged just by clicking on them, and I encourage you to take a closer look at some of the pictures from the museum. There is a lot of detail in each of the pictures that you’ll miss if you don’t enlarge them. That’s all for now, but check back often.

Ваш,

Кевин

Дорогие Товарищи (Dear Comrades)

This is the last update I have planned about the past weekend, and I hope you aren’t sick of me yet. You’ll be happy to know that this update will be mostly pictures, and far less of my absent-minded musings about Russia.

On Sunday, we travelled to Ясная Поляна (Yasnaya Polyana) to take a little break from the grind of life in Moscow, and to see where Лев Николайвич Толстой (Lev Nikolaivich Tolstoy) spent most of his life.

The anti-Moscow.

It’s about a two and a half hour bus ride from Moscow, but it was well worth it. The gardens are sprawling and picturesque, and we spent the day exploring them. Our tour guide, Маша (Masha) knew about all there is to know about Tolstoy, and although she only spoke in Russian, I was able to understand nearly everything she said.

On the bus.

Trevor, Graham and Steve outside the gate.

Tolstoy's guest house.

The stone says "Here stood the house in which L. N. Tolstoy was born."

Tolstoy's crib.

Before you can go into Tolstoy's house, you have to put on these sweet leather booties.

Hanging out on Tolstoy's porch. Left to right, Darcy, Ben, Rachel, Jordan and Trevor. Unfortunately, there were no pictures allowed inside.

Group photo outside of Tolstoy's house. Left to right, Adam, Graham, Steve, Trevor, Ben, Katie, Hannah, Darcy, our tour guide Masha, Jordan, Tiana, Andrea, Vera, Rachel, myself, and our liaison Valyery (Валери)

Tostoy's final resting place. He's actually three meters under the grass sarcophagus looking thing.

It's a pretty beautiful place to spend eternity if you ask me.

Vera, Rachel and Masha. Masha kind of looks like the Russian version of Pam from the Office, no?

Aside from being absolutely beautiful and refreshing, it was also a pretty unique experience to stand in the room in which Tolstoy wrote Anna Karenina, War and Peace and essentially most of his work. The house is kept just as it was when he lived there, and all of the things inside, from the dining room table to the ink well still sitting on his desk, were all legitimately Tolstoy’s belongings.

Well, I think that that is quite enough blog updating for one day. I hope you’ve enjoyed all the updates, and I will try to keep them coming.

Ваш,

Кевин