Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Can’t leave Russia? Might as well travel to the border

Me and Vyborg
For the first time since I've received the glorious document known as an American passport, I am trapped in a country. Due to problems with visa regulations and corrupt border officials, I am not allowed allowed to leave Russia until May 16th. Well I can leave, I just wouldn’t be allowed to re-enter the country. In a way, the inner globe trekker in me is being tempted. St. Petersburg is within a 2 hour train ride of both Finland and Estonia, but alas I can visit these fascinating places. Obviously I have no room to complain since living in Russia for 4 months is a journey within itself, but every once in a while I need a break from all the Russianness. So my friends and I decided to escape to Vyborg for the day. This city, located on the Russian side of Russian-Finnish border, is certainly a mixture between the two cultures. This mix was readably visible in both the architecture and language in the city. All the signs in Vyborg were either in Finnish or Russian. Even the menu at quaint cafe Cова, was written in Finnish and Russian. 

Shooting a film in Vyborg
When arriving in Vyborg by elektrichka (small train), we most certainly entered the Russian side of the city first. The buildings were not exactly well kept. Identical sky-rises stood next to one another, stray dogs were wandering the street, and barbed-wire still surrounded many of the building complexes. Once we got off the train and headed off toward the touristy section of Vyborg, Finnish Russia appeared it all its glory. Cobblestone streets, well preserved buildings, and quaint little cafes selling pretzels all overlooked the navy blue waters of the Finnish Gulf.  The old town of the city simply screamed early 20th century European. Yet again, that might be because there was a camera crew there filming a scenes for a movie that used WWII style police cars as props.

Vyborg Castle
Even though I am a huge fan of cobblestone streets, my favorite aspect of Vyborg was the Swedish castle. Originally built in the late 13th century, this castle has passed between Swedish, Finnish, and Russian hands for centuries. Plus the castle’s tower had an amazing view of the city, the Russian coastline, and rugged forests for as far as the eye can see. Vyborg was an aspect of Russia that most people don’t get to see. It was definitely worth the short trip. Also, I’ve now become a pro at Russian train travel. 

So now I am back to St. Petersburg and 6 hours of classes each day. Good news though: today was a success! Sometimes I consider learning Russian to be the most frustrating experience of my life. This language was created specifically for people who enjoy delayed gratification. For weeks at a time, I feel like I haven't improved. I listen to at least 7 hours of Russian a day, I have headaches far more frequently than in America, and Russians seem extremely impatient when listening to my broken Russian. Well today the story was different. This weekend I lost my cell phone at a bar, so I had to go to the local telephone company to purchase a new sim card. Well the store clerk who speaks english was preoccupied so I tried handling the transaction in Russian. and let's just say I left the store with a working phone in hand. I successfully told the cashier what I wanted. He asked me questions about how often I make calls and texts, and if I travel outside of the city often. I understood everything he said and he understood me. Remarkable. I would have never been able to buy the correct sim card at the beginning of the semester and now I can. Thank you Russia. Apparently my language skills have improved. 

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