Written by Katie Moore, a Clemson University Junior
On Sunday, February 27, 2011, Miles, Marie, Maxime, Katie McKee, Max and I ventured by train to see the famous Russian Orthodox monastery located in the town of Sergiyev Posad. We decided on Friday night that this was an excursion we must partake in since it's one of the most historical sights in Russia. Accordingly, we were extremely excited to embark on our expedition and were eager to wake up early and go.
Sergiyev Posad is roughly 1.5 hours outside of Moscow by train. I couldn't have been more thrilled to take a train because the traveling would allow me to see the countryside of Russia; a nice juxtaposition to the city we have been living
in. I cannot say that I was disappointed, because the further away we got from Moscow the more enchanting the scenery became. Russia is fraught with birch trees and snow, and so the setting created was picturesque and reminiscent of a Tolstoy novel. It took all I could muster not to jump out of the train and play in the woods. An interesting fact about trains: soliciting is not prohibited. It was entertaining because throughout the first thirty minutes of our train ride there were consecutive salesmen trying to sell anything from sunglasses to rulers. It was very different from the United States.
Once we arrived at our location, a short ten-minute walk brought us right up to the monastery. The monastery, The Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius, is the most important monastery in Russian and pinnacle of the Russian Orthodox Church. According to our pseudo-tour guide Max, the monastery is a prominent pilgrimage for Russian Orthodox members and is famous for it's inability to be overtaken during wars. I can see why, there were enormous perimeter walls encompassing the entire monastery. What stood out to me were the beautiful architecture and colors of the buildings. It seems that
Russians, in an effort to make up for the dreary weather of the winter, paint their building with elaborate colors because the vibrancy of the churches was stunning. However, there was a disparity in the color schemes of the buildings as some appeared bold and bright and others were cool and elegant. I joked that they seemed to mimic fire and ice and I think it's a pretty accurate statement.
It was definitely interesting to see the monks walking around in the snow. The men wore long black robes, a square hat and had full, long beards. All over the grounds, there were groups of people circling a single monk. It gave the impression that they were preaching or giving spiritual advice. It was interesting seeing the devotion the Russian Orthodox people had to their religion and traditions. Before entering the monastery, the people blessed themselves (performing the sign of the cross) multiple times, a practice that was repeated upon exiting a church as well. I enjoyed the trip as a whole, it gave insight into the religion of the Russian people as well as a visual treat with the magnificence and beauty of the location.
Also in this Issue...
- Just Point and Smile and Everything Will Be All Right by Marie Vogler
"We have actually managed to have entire conversations with one party speaking Russian, and our party speaking mostly English infused with a little Russian. Hooray for hand gestures, facial expressions, and drawings on napkins!"
- Gorbovo Dairy Tour by Karlie Tucker
"The Gorbovo dairy uses Holsteins crossed with a local Russian breed. This allows the animals to survive the harsh Russian winters, where temperatures commonly fall below zero degrees Fahrenheit, while still maintain high production levels."
- Month of Slush by Miles Atkinson
"The slippery black ice is disappearing from sidewalks, but being replaced by equally as slippery dirty snow-mush. We are seeing a transition from the omnipresent grey and white of winter to the solid brown of early spring."
Written by Marie Vogler, a Virginia Tech Senior enrolled at Clemson University for Spring 2011
I will admit, it's strange to be the foreigner. I'm accustomed to being the one discreetly staring at the group of people speaking in another language; the one slightly frustrated by the holdup at the front of the line because someone cannot explain something; the one who says the same thing louder in the hopes that they're deaf rather than not understanding. Well, the tables have been turned and now I find myself living in Moscow and being all of those things. I am the one who is attracting stares, because I'm bantering with my friends in English. I'm the one who is holding everyone up as I try to understand that the cashier is asking for exact change. I'm the one who gets the same things yelled at me because I didn't understand the first time. I have gained new respect for foreigners trying to get around at home. It is not easy to navigate a city where you speak little to none of the language.
In order to get around, without the help of any of our Russian guides, we Americans usually resort to our favorite phrases, "Ya ne gavaru po russki" (I don't speak Russian), "Ya nez nayu" (I don't know), or "Ya ne panimayo" (I don't understand). If this doesn't get the job done—either by cueing the Russians to start speaking English if they know it or to speak very slowly, or to walk away while they still can—than usually some strange form of sign language and a LOT of pointing will. We have actually managed to have entire conversations with one party speaking Russian, and our party speaking mostly English infused with a little Russian. Hooray for hand gestures, facial expressions, and drawings on napkins!
Some of the Russians are more patient with us than others. One of the grocery stores we frequently visit is notorious amongst our group for its rude cashiers. Without fail, they roll their eyes, yell at us if we do not give them exact change, and snatch our bags from us when they weigh our fruit. While I can understand their frustration with our inability to communicate, I find this level of rudeness unnecessary.
It is particularly difficult for our Russian guides because not only are we dependent upon them as our translators, they are responsible for us when we go out. A few of them have even been yelled at (mostly by older Russian female clerks, I’ve noticed) if they leave us. For example, Nadia (who was the only Russian speaker when we visited the Russian State Museum this week) stepped away from our group for a moment and the clerk asked us a question which we did not understand. When Nadia returned to translate, the clerk snapped at her for leaving us to try and mime our understanding. It must be frustrating for them because they have to take the heaviest burden when they’re with us anywhere. But they handle it with grace, which is a relief for us.
Being a foreigner in an unfamiliar city has its disadvantages in many ways but one that I had not accounted for was in buying goods from the vendors. There are vendors practically everywhere, particularly around metro stations, selling everything from perfume to lingerie to wool socks. Generally, the items are cheap knockoffs of name brands and are not very expensive. However, foreigners beware because if the vendors discover that you do not speak the native language (and it only takes them about two seconds to figure that out), they will charge outrageous prices for items that would not be nearly so expensive for our Russian counterparts. One vendor tried to sell me a cotton beanie for about $45 because I was a foreigner. This practice is technically banned by Russian law—but it happens all the time. If you cannot barter in Russian you will literally pay the price if you’re not careful.
On the whole, our experience here trying to communicate has been what I would call painless, if not pleasant, and our guides and most of the people we meet are patient with us as we attempt to navigate with our limited vocabulary. At the canteen near our hostel, the Russian ladies behind the counter always greet us with a cheerful, “It’s the American girls!” when we arrive. And they patiently wait while we play our favorite point-and-smile game with the food before us. They have even begun learning a little English to make things easier. Other clerks go out of their way to help us when we struggle to communicate, and they do it with a smile. I’m extremely grateful for those types of people because they encourage me that I am not a lost cause! Their patience and understanding incentivize me to learn Russian far more than yelling at me does—if only so that I can say, “Bolshoi spasibo!” for the practice in using the Russian language.