From Russia with Love

So I haven’t blogged for quite a while now, apologies. But I’ve been busy! They don’t have an exam season here, you just have them at various points in various different courses, so I’ve had my first tastes of the Finnish exam system already. It’s all rather confusing. And the exams are very very long, both of mine have been 4 hours with no breaks. The first was an open book exam, which was a strange concept for me, and I spend lots of it rifling through all the papers and lecture notes rather than writing my essays, but I got all 3 done in the time so I guess that’s the main thing. I really don’t know what they’re looking for here, but without being too cocky I think that as a native speaker I’m probably not going to fail…

The second was a book exam, so you read books, turn up, write an essay, again, a new experience for me. But I guess that’s partly why I’m here right, to get an experience of a new system? I also had my first essay deadline and my first proper presentation here yesterday; studying? on erasmus? what?

I quite like the fact that the deadlines and exams are spread out, as it means you can concentrate on one subject at a time, but it does mean they creep up on you a bit, suddenly you have an exam the next week and you haven’t read anything. I find it a bit problematic that you get masters, undergraduate, native speakers and people with quite basic english all shoved in the one group-the standards really vary a lot, and it’s difficult to know how much they’re expecting from you when it comes to grades. Time will tell…

Enough academic nonsense, now for the fun stuff! There’s been plenty of that too.

Did I post since I did my bungee jump? Maybe not?! Well, I did one! Just a mini one from a bridge a little north of Helsinki, about 25ms or so, but still, I was kind of grateful for the rope. I just answered an email on one of the lists about going on a jump, not expecting to get a place, and then I bloody well got a reply and had to do it. I stood around with some nice Finns in the pouring rain trying not to think about what happens if you fall, and then suddenly I was all harnessed up and yks kaks kolm, sailing through the air like a clock pendulum. Because it wasn’t as high up as some jumps are you didn’t bounce but just swung around a bit, screaming, if you’re me, and then someone threw you a rope and you came back down.

There have been more rubbishy ESN parties, which I keep going to because everyone I know goes, and then arrive and remember that the music is crap, and the places tacky, (and the drinks not even cheap!) and I’ve already had the same conversations with the same erasmus students at the other seven ESN parties.

I had a visitor from Edinburgh who was doing a big Sweden-Estonia-Finland-Russia-Denmark round trip, and did some wandering around the city and went to some nice bars, it was nice to see someone from uni again. Oh and we went to this place called squirrel island, Seurasaari, which is very strange but quite funny. It’s kind of an open-air museum, with very small versions of windmills and barns and things built out of logs-why very small, I really have no idea-but with lots and lots of squirrels. They’re crazy little critters, if you look like you might have some peanuts somewhere about your person they’ll quite happily climb all over you, it’s very bizarre.

shoe? peanuts?

Oh and I had my first concert in Finland, I went to see Muse with a Finnish friend, and got to see the Finns worshipping at the altar of Matt Belamy at co, which was a lot of fun. The gig was actually really awesome, even though it was in a big arena the staging and sound and all that stuff worked really well.

We’ve been doing international food evenings with some friends, where each one of us cooks food from our country, which has been really lovely. So far we’ve had Aussie brunch (I’ve never been so happy to see vegemite, at this point the all-important package from home hadn’t arrived. now I have marmite and life is good again) and a Polish dinner, and this week it’s Dutch. At some point me and the other English girl, Laura, are going to do something English, maybe a cream tea with scones and all that jazz, or maybe a proper dinner. I’m feeling the pressure though, we have to prove all those people who take the piss out of English cuisine wrong. Or at least convince them that we do have SOME nice food.

Oh AND, most recently and most excitingly, I went to St Petersburg over the reading week! We shunned one of the organised trips and did it on our own instead, with two of my flatmates and two other girls we know. It probably worked out about the same price, but we got to spend lots more time there, and got to see what we wanted without annoying tour guides everywhere. St Petesburg is beautiful! Beautiful beautiful beautiful.Very grand, lots of dramatic architecture, old churches, all that sort of thing, not at all grim and soviet. We stayed in a very cool hostel right near the Kazan cathedral and the Church of the Spilled Blood (that one that looks like it’s made of sweeties that you see on all the postcards) so really central. I’m trying to convince everyone I know to stay there, it was so cheap, only 10/15E a night, really cosy, with a kitchen, bed linen and washing included, and tea (I’m English, these things are important) plus the staff were so sweet, they gave us lots of advice, and we ended up having breakfast with one of them on one of the days. So if you go, and you should, stay in the Cuba Hostel. And eat at Zoom Cafe. And Botanika. In fact, just invite me and I’ll do the same trip all over again. It really was that good.

Church of the Spilled Blood

To get to Russia was kind of a hassle, my visa took 5 days and because I only decided to go quite last-minute, it was leaving it right up to the wire. I got it in time though, thank the good lords at the Russian Embassy, although it meant being without any kind of ID in a foreign country for 5 days, which felt a bit strange. Also, apparently the Russian government aren’t big fans of the UK; my visa was 85E, where my Belgian friends’ was only 45E. Bloody Russians.  We had our passports and visas checked four times at the border, which was very strange, to begin with the scowly guards with their big furry hats were quite novel and entertaining, but by the fourth time, I’d really had enough. We made it though, our night bus carried us on our merry way and dropped us in cold cold St Petersburg about 6am. Seeing the city waking up was very cool, although it did mean we hadn’t really had any sleep and our first day was spent in a bit of a blur.

What did we do, I hear you ask? What didn’t we do? We had five days, and by the end of it I still felt like there was more to see. We managed: The Hermitage, which would take about a week to do properly, Swan Lake at the Marinsky Ballet-amazing, although I kept falling asleep (shame on me, I know),  the Kazan Cathedral, the Church of the Saviour on the Spilled Blood-bright, beautiful, mosaic-y, St Isaacs Cathedral, drinks at a very cool undergroundy bar, the Peter and Paul Fortress, the Russian Museum, a kind of modern art-space-thing with a couple of exhibitions that smelled very strange but had a nice cafe. Plus lots of wandering around the city, looking at beautiful things and complaining about the cold. I knew St Petersburg would be very old and historical and artsy and all that stuff, but I hadn’t realised that it’s also a very young, alternativey, cool kind of place, a la Berlin or Paris, which was a very nice surprise.

It was also cheap! I mean, I live in Helsinki, so anywhere is cheap, but food and drink really were good value-I don’t think we ever paid 10E for a whole meal with a drink, and in some places it was much much less. We found a proper Russian canteen-type place with good hearty food-porridge, pancakes, things with cabbage and meat in them, all good Russian stuff, where you could have a big meal for about 2-3E. Anyone who knows me knows I love cheap.

I was sad to leave St Petersburg, although ready to sleep and not do quite so much walking, and it was lovely to arrive back in Helsinki and feel at home. After two months, it isn’t the strange new place any more, it’s become the place I come back to. A nice moment. I took lots of photos, which probably don’t do the city justice, but I’ll put them up here when I get chance.

I might have to head off and get ready to go to uni now, and then tonight we have a Sitsit, which is some kind of strange Finnish custom involving lots of singing and drinking and formal attire, and lots of rules and penalties and things. I don’t totally know what I’m letting myself in for, but I’m going to look at it as a cultural experience, and report back. I also have no idea what Sitsit means but it gives plenty of scope for repeating everything twice, which I’m sure will get annoying pretty soon.

Byebye for nownow.

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