Baring It All

Apologies for the radio silence, these past three weeks have been a bit tough. The reality of the Year Abroad is settling in: the tensions of sharing one bedroom between four, the feeling that my Russian isn’t improving at all, the lack of decent cheese…it all got a bit on top of me. Settling into a more normal pattern of life has also left me feeling that I wasn’t doing anything ‘exciting’ and has left me at a loss when thinking of a blog post. But collecting all my memories over these weeks today has made me realise that there is still lots to write about and it’s useful for me to reflect on things. And so, prepare for a three-week-whirlwind post…

Oct. 13: Ice Hockey Again!
We made a grand return to the stadium, this time fully kitting ourselves out in Ak-Bars merchandise (although we decided against the Ak-Bars lingerie set…). However, a group of 20-something English-speaking Ak-Bars devotees was bound to attract attention. The host who ‘entertains’ the crowd between thirds came over to us for an interview; we were thrilled to finally get our faces on the big screen! But the ordeal wasn’t over yet; they requested that one of us take part in the halftime action. Bravely, Harrison went up for a briefing and ten minutes later we saw him slowly picking his way across the icy pitch with another fan about the same age. Despite being confronted by a terrifying barrage of Russian and then partaking in a ‘race’ across the ice in an inflatable wheel, our yobbish cheering spurred him on. The match was again won by the Ak-Bars (вперёд!), and a goal was scored by my favourite player; the extremely Russian-sounding Justin Azevedo (Дажстин💜).

Oct. 20th: The Coat
The weather took a sudden turn over that week, and I realised that my flimsy autumnal coat would not hold out much longer against the freezing winds of Kazan. Bracing myself with advice from Russian friends and recruiting Issy as my personal stylist, we set out for the purchase of a lifetime. The coat I ended up buying is one of the most expensive items of clothing I own, but being unaccustomed to ‘real winter’ it seemed worth investing in a coat that wouldn’t fall apart in a months time or not actually be warm enough in the middle of a light snowstorm on the way to class. Also, I love having a fancy furry hood!

Oct. 23rd: The Banya
We had planned to have a ‘treat-yo-self’ kind of Sunday, and deciding that it would be too ambitious to stagger around more monasteries, we opted to try out a Russian pursuit. A Banya is a traditional Russian bathhouse where you sit in saunas, take cold showers and beat each other silly with birch branches. The obvious way to relax on our free Sunday. After pulling ourselves out of bed at the crack of 11am we set out and walked through an amazing outdoor market, which had some rather dubious fresh fish laid out across bare tables on the side of the road.

Having purchased our own birch branches from a stall outside (like the pros we are) went inside. We made it into the changing rooms with some suspicious glances from the receptionists, who were probably surprised to see five young English girls venturing into an intimate part of Russian culture.  In the changing rooms we got into our swimming costumes, only to swiftly realise that everyone else was completely naked; we knew that this was the norm, but found ourselves being embarrassed that we were covering up (a reversal of that common nightmare trope!). On the spot, we decided to join them and, trying not to slip over, carefully picked our way towards the main room where you could take cold showers and fill up basins to wash yourself with. We first went into the sauna, and after sweating as much as we could, we moved to another ‘sauna’ type room opposite which was slightly less hot. This was the room where you lightly hit each other with birch branches, which was amusing and oddly soothing (and I mean in a ‘relaxation sense’, rather than as an opportunity to vent the aforementioned roommate frustrations!). The cold shower afterwards was definitely a shock to the system! We repeated this process again, and struck up some conversations with some equally naked babushkas in the sauna, which was a surreal experience.


Oct. 27th: Museums and Music
Having taking a little break from ‘tourist’ activities we decided it was high time to throw ourselves back into the swing of things with a visit to The National Museum of Tatarstan (which sounds grander than it was…apologies). Nonetheless, it gave a good overview of the history of the Tatar Region.

That evening we planned to try out a university choir, which was located in a lecture hall in the Law Faculty (which isn’t too bizarre, considering most of our classrooms in the Philology Faculty are all equipped with out of tune fortepianos). It was great to get back into something musical after a dry period at Cambridge, and trying to sight sing in Russian was certainly…interesting.

Oct. 30th: Snow-body expected this / A Chilling Tale
As Halloween is soon approaching, the last thing we expected was for our first snowfall! The weather has suddenly got incredibly nippy and the locals keep telling us that this winter is going to be much colder than usual…brilliant. Of course, this weather was not enough to deter the Russians from insisting that we ‘go for walks’. In the morning I had a bracing stroll through the streets of Kazan with Amir and in the evening we met up with some choir girls who took us for an even colder walk around Park Gorkii before we retreated to a McDonalds for a cheap cup of tea.


So there you have a ‘quick’ round-up of the more interesting elements of my past few weeks. Russian is hard. Living in Russia is arguably harder. But I’m now half-way through, and found myself for the first time thinking ‘I don’t want to leave in 7 weeks’ rather than ‘Only 7 weeks to go!’.


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