This week’s events can be summed up in one image:
…obviously, we went to see some churches and then went to a ballet!
During one lesson at the beginning of the week, with all the preparation and organisation of most Russian activities, an unknown woman who we assumed worked for the university came in and asked if we wanted to go on an excursion. So we decided to see what it was, since it was free and who doesn’t love an adventure into the unknown…
We arrived early on Thursday morning and after being distributed our meaty morning pastries (no thank you) we all hopped onto a coach and sped off to a monastery. After stopping at the Church of All Religions (which we had already visited independently) we arrived at the Raifa Monastery of the Mother of God. Some of the others had in fact been here independently as well, which was useful since we couldn’t always hear our eager but softly spoken tour guide. We walked past some ‘Reformatory Dormitories for Naughty Boys’ (as Katrina so eloquently explained) and stopping to gaze over a serene lake (perhaps so serene, since according to legend the monks of the monastery had prayed that the frogs living there would stop croaking all the time). However when we actually reached the churches I had forgotten that women need to cover their hair inside Orthodox churches, and had to elegantly wrap my jumped over my head. We were treated to a solo sung performance by just one of the monks there, who then proudly held his MP3 player aloft so we could hear what the choir sounded like when they actually all sang together. (Like ‘Say Anything’, but with more floor length black robes and beards)
Sharing this spiritual experience was only enriched by him reminding us that we could buy CDs of the monks music. We then went to a more richly decorated church afterwards, but unfortunately couldn’t take photos inside.
Before bundling back on the bus we made the most of the luscious café (cups of tea and dodgy looking pastries) and made friends with one of the many cats living on site (ignoring my allergies and the tears that followed were totally worth it).
Over the weekend we finally had the opportunity to attend a ballet, which is simply a must-see in Russia! We got some tickets for ‘Coppélia’, a comic ballet. After dolling ourselves up we rushed to the theatre and staked out the luxurious settings over a glass of 100 rouble (£1.20) champagne and some caviar. Dubious and delicious.
This was my first time at a ballet and I didn’t quite know what to expect. We sat down in our seats and waited for the lights to dim. The ballet itself was hugely entertaining and so beautiful; the dancers were obviously incredible and the scale of the production was impressive. For example, there were a huge number of intricate costumes and the stage was always busy with something to catch your attention.
However, Sunday was slightly less glamorous. I had been invited to a birthday party, but it wasn’t what you might imagine from a ‘Russian Party’ as described by Robbie Williams recently. I was taught how to play a Japanese boardgame called ‘Go’ (which is complex enough, let alone in Russian!) and feasted on cake and juice. Although my Russian wasn’t always very understandable, especially after the brain energy expended on playing the game and listening to Russian for four hours), it was great getting to meet some more people.