This weekend was great, did some sightseeing in and around Red Square on Saturday. Randomly ran into one of the American guys (1 of only 2) in the Diplomatic Academy program. He was meeting a friend of his to do some sightseeing, so we invited them to come along with us. His friend turned out to be a girl who was a former student of my Aunt Val (a Russian professor at Georgetown University), and Val was her thesis adviser, so they had a closer relationship than just that of student-professor. Apparently its a small world here if you've ever studied or worked in Russia, since not that many Americans do, so you usually know someone here, which is great because then you have someone to meet up with once you get here.
After sightseeing, we met up with 3 guys from the program and all went to an outdoor cafe and watched the outrageous Russians go by. It seems like there is no color off limits that can be applied to hair, and I mean none - I've seen bright orange hair, purple hair, fire engine red hair...and its everywhere! These women love to dye their hair crazy colors, never mind looking natural!
We saw a guy in this suit that had neon yellow and navy blue vertical stripes, but the pants cut off around the shins like capris - it was verrry interesting. And the Russians are a lot freer with their bodies than Americans. In the metro underground tunnels there are these really small shops with glass walls so you can see what they're selling, and one day we walked by one that happened to be selling bras, and lo and behold there were women in the shop TRYING THEM ON!! No shame whatsoever! Not that its a bad thing, just realllly different and a little shocking to my American sensibilities!
Sunday we (me and some lovely girls from the program) went on a boat cruise on the Moskva River, it was the perfect beautiful day for it. Saw a bunch of churches from the river, the Kremlin walls, a music hall that looked like a space ship, lots of park land that I'm surprised hasn't been developed into apartments yet. Then we found some lunch at...T.G.I. Fridays. Not a typo, don't laugh, we were desperate. Too much walking + restaurants that the guidebook recommends that end up being closed for summer holiday + no one wanted to eat McDonalds = first decent place we came to we ate at, and it happened to be Fridays. Service was typical Russian, i.e. slow and not customer-oriented.
Then we went our separate ways - I had a "date" with the Bozek's, friends of my aunt and uncle who work and live at the American Embassy. After some confusion and a little adventure on the metro, I found them waiting for me, and they took me back to their house at the compound for dinner. You never know how great simple lasagna and salad and garlic bread is until you've eaten a week's worth of Russian food covered in cream, dill, oil, and cheese (though not necessarily all those at once). Which is what we get for breakfast and lunch at the academy, and we're usually worn out by dinner time that we just eat frozen pizzas (and cut them with my scissors!) or bread and jam or this fantastic sweet bread for dinner.
Anyway, dinner at the Bozek's was great, nice people...they're the ones that really got my suitcase back. Lesson #1 in traveling to a very foreign country: know people at your embassy, they can get you stuff. Like a cell phone! I'm renting one from the embassy! Its ridiculous to try and use the public phones here, the guidebooks make it sound easy, maybe if you actually speak and understand the language and the need for 3 different cards in order to place one call to the US! So being at the Bozeks' was a nice break from the Moscow craziness.
Then back to reality to study. Classes are getting harder, but its still basically stuff I just have to relearn from my semester of Russian two years ago. I'm hoping we actually advance past that point, otherwise this will just turn out to be a refresher. I feel bad for the people in the beginner classes that are completely new to Russian, since it is a completely different script from English. It's not exactly the easiest language to learn, it's not like you can learn it just by hearing it for 3 hours a day and automatically pick it up.
Tomorrow we have tickets to see "The Nutcracker" ballet. Not something I would normally do, but when you're in a place that is famous for ballet, its almost a requirement! Tomorrow we're also going on an excursion to Kuskovo, an estate outside of the city that was built by one of the noble ruling families back in the day, kind of like a Russian Versailles, so it should be cool to see how the high-and-mighties lived Russian-style. Then this weekend we head up to St. Petersburg, night train up, hotel one night, night train back, so I'm sure when we get back we'll be absolutely smashed. Not to mention the fact that vodka is available for like $2 a bottle, and the plan is to take full advantage of this fact on the night train up. :) Give us an excuse and we'll drink the store dry... I kid. We're all very responsible adults. Studying to be diplomats.