Thursday, January 21, 2010

Day 7 - 9: Sochi!

Well, I'm back in Moscow, but earlier this week Marc and I finished out our trip in Sochi.  Sorry to be so behind, but the hotel we were at did not have internet access.

On Sunday, the 10th (a week ago) we boarded a train in the evening for a 14 hour train ride to Moscow, had just enough time to get breakfast with Beth in the morning, and then rushed to the airport to fly to Sochi.  In a period of 24 hours we went from -10 degrees Fahrenheit to 55 degrees in Sochi.

A couple photos from the train:

Once we were in Sochi we looked completely out of place, and the weather was fantastic.  The first afternoon/evening we barely made it to the hotel before dark, so we didn't really have a chance to do anything.  But things really turned out well for the next day and a half.

As many of you know, Sochi is the location of the 2014 Winter Olympics--the reason why we were working on a video project there.  Upon first arrival to the city, you might wonder why it would be selected as a site for the *Winter* Olympics--the temperatures in mid-Januray were between 50-60 degrees and there was almost a tropical sort of feel to it.

You can see that Sochi is right on the shore of the Black Sea, but to the right of Sochi are the Caucus Mountains--where the Olympic games will be held I'm assuming (I don't really think snow's going to be anywhere else).

The second day we were able to go to Sochi, and were a little nervous.  All night it had been pouring, and it didn't look like it was stopping anytime soon.  We took a bus to get to downtown Sochi, and the rain was still falling.  Both of us had managed to forget our umbrellas (being in Petrozavodsk where the precipitation  was snow and therefore a delight really helped us forget that we even needed an umbrella), but fortunately the rain stopped after about an hour.  The sun came out, and provided for some very beautiful scenery.

We spent the rest of that day wandering around downtown and taking in the beautiful sights of the city.  Seeing palm and banana trees, it did not feel like the Russia I had come to know and love.  But it was a gorgeous change of scenery.

The second day we were able to meet with a  pastor, Sasha (someone we got in touch with the day before), and were able to speak with him about Sochi and his thoughts on the Olympic games taking place there.  Although Sochi has been called the most underdeveloped city (as far as preparedness goes) to be selected, there was obviously a great deal of construction taking place, and it looks like they are on their way to being ready.

All in all we had a blast (albeit stressful and tiring blast at times), and I'm so appreciative that I was able to join Marc on his project, and hope to join him possibly in future trips!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Petrozavodsk: Day 5 and 6

Well we've reached our last day in the capital of Karelia.  The time has flown by, but we're definitely worn out from all the activity.

Yesterday much of the day was spent getting necessary footage.  We were able to walk around town, see parts of the city one last time and try to capture those really great moments:  kids sledding, people ice skating, parents walking through the snow with their children, and so on.  We especially wanted to get shots of people in the normal day-to-day routine.  We stopped by a well near our hotel where people get clean water (for a great post on that, check out Marc's blog post) for the daily necessities.  Despite being a sizable city, many people still do not have running water in their homes.

This morning we went to the church we were able to find back on Thursday.  A sign on the front door posted a service was supposed to be held at 10:30.  We got there a little early, but 10:30 came around and still the church remained locked and empty.   It was pretty disappointing.  We're not exactly sure why this was the case--both times we tried to visit the church when a service time was posted (6 p.m. Friday night and 10:30 today) there was nobody present.  The optimist in us wants to think it's because of the holidays-- maybe because Christmas was just a few days earlier.  But we don't have a clue.

Right now we're in our hotel room, finishing things up and getting ready to pack up for our train scheduled to leave at 7 tonight.  We're going to get in to Moscow around 9 tomorrow and rush to the airport to catch a 1:30 flight to Sochi.  Our adventure is not over yet!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Petrozavodsk: Day 4 - Ice Fishing

Another cold, snowy day in Petrozavodsk.  I told Marc earlier that although there's knee-deep snow everywhere, I still love it when more falls.

So we were out around lunchtime to do some stand-up shots for the upcoming Engage Russia: Karelians video series. We walked out to the lakeshore and decided to do something Marc and I had never attempted previously:  walk on water.

Don't worry, we're not trying to sound holier than thou.  Walking on water is entirely possible when it's frozen and two feet thick.  Pack two more feet of snow on top of that and you're going to be okay.  Marc and I spotted some ice fishers about 200 yards out on Lake Onega, the second largest lake in Europe (Petrozavodsk being the largest settlement on that lake).  We walked out and met Vladimir, and struck up a conversation with him.  He was incredibly friendly and let us watch as he fished (and caught a few!).

After our time with Vladimir, we quickly did a few more stand-ups and hurried back to the hotel.  Although temperatures were okay when we first left the comfort of our hotel room at noon (around 14 degrees Fahrenheit), the temperature eventually dropped to 5.  We did some relaxing in our room and then took a taxi to attend a service being held at the church I found yesterday.  Sadly, when we arrived  we found the lights out and doors locked.  We just hope it won't be that way when we return on Sunday morning.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Petrozavodsk: Day 3 - The Search

С Рождеством! Merry Christmas!

Today was a rather adventurous day for both Marc and myself.  Marc was able to grab a spot on a helicopter taking people out to Kizhi Island and got great information and footage of some beautiful Orthodox architecture.  While he was on the tour, it was my personal mission to find a particular church here that we're trying to connect with.

Marc and I had been given both an address and a number to a pastor and church here in Petrozavodsk.  Unfortunately the number didn't work out, so it was my job to find this elusive church.  After scouring our map we were able to locate the church.  I decided to head out in the morning on foot.  It was much further than I thought, but found it.  The church was a mile or so outside of the main city, where apartment complexes and grocery stores are nowhere to be found.  It was a complete change of scenery where small cottages were in abundance.  And there among the wooden fences and water pumps, was the light blue cottage of a church--it didn't stand out or look any different from what I had seen on that particular street.  Here are some photos of the walk there--you'll notice the distinct change:

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Petrozavodsk: Day 2

**Just imagine you're reading this yesterday**

What a second day in Petrozavodsk!  While we did sleep in a little (granted, sunrise here is around 10ish), we were off to wandering the streets and lakeshore of Petrozavodsk, looking for museums and anything that would aide us in our research and media project.

The town itself, although small (a mere 260,000 compared to the behemoth Moscow and it’s 15 million inhabitants), bustles with life in a city where the season can be pretty depressing.   Part of that may be because of the holidays—it’s Christmas Eve today (as Orthodox traditions operate on a different calendar than our own), and most Russians have been enjoying some time off since New Years and won’t be resuming their normal work schedule until the 11th of January.  Despite the frigid cold (days here have been hovering around 0-10 F, but it’s usually colder than that around this time) and the scarcity of sunlight, Petrozavodsk seems like a vibrant, cheery town.

Our job here while visiting Petrozavodsk is to learn more about the native Karelians who live here.  Most research we have scoured shows us that there are around 130,000 native Karelians living in the Republic of Karelia—about 10% of the total population.  And that number has been on a steady decline for over 50 years.  Most Karelians it seems have assimilated with Russian culture, while a small number who live in the villages outside of town still live as they have been for the last hundred years.

We will stay in Petrozavodsk until the 10th, so we still have much planned.  Marc is going to the island of Кижи (Kizhi) tomorrow  (by helicopter!), where many beautiful wooden churches are located.  I’ll be in town getting photos and information from anywhere I can find.

Tonight at 11 we are going to head to an Orthodox service here in the city.  It’s not the Christmas Eve/Christmas that you probably imagine.  During Communism the government secularized the holiday as much as possible, making the larger celebration on New Years.  Although many acknowledge and celebrate Christmas, there is little fanfare.  It seems that New Years and Christmas here are a split of our secular and Christian aspects of Christmas -- New Years is the more secular (celebrating with Santa Claus-esque figure Father Frost who delivers presents, etc.), with the Christian and almost entirely religious holiday of Christmas.

Anyways-- here we go.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Engage Russia - Karelian Adventure!

I have forgotten to mention in previous posts, but for the next 9 days I will be outside of Moscow helping a good friend and co-worker with an Engage Russia video series.  We will spend now through the 10th of January in the city of Petrozavodsk and then head to Sochi on the 11th and stay until the night of the 13th.  Needless to say I'm pretty excited.

We got into Petrozavodsk today after a 15-hour overnight train ride from Moscow.  It was already mostly dark but we still were able to explore part of the town.  We were able to walk up and down Leninsky Prospekt (basically main street), and found out that our hotel is conveniently situated right on the lake!

We look forward to daylight tomorrow and where our adventure will go.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

С Новым Годом! (Part 1)

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Sorry it's been a while--the last couple weeks have been pretty action-packed.  This Christmas season has been a great one.  Despite being away from home and friends and family, these holidays have felt more like home than I would have ever expected.

On Wednesday, Dec. 23rd, Beth and I had our last English Kids Club of the year, and we tried to teach a little about Christmas.  In the end, we probably taught a few words (Christmas tree, ornament, present, etc.), but overall it was a fun but stressful hour.