What a busy week! We’ve been welcomed in to Tomsk by endless cafe outings and museum trips, although I can’t say I am any the wiser about Tomsk history.
Monday – We didn’t have a lesson today but instead headed straight over the to Tomsk State Museum at 9am (the fact we were jet lagged didn’t seem to cross their minds). On the way, we walked up one of the oldest streets in Tomsk which happens to have an open sewer running below it. The smell was horrific. My gag reflex was working over time. At the top of this street there is a beautiful Catholic church which was built after the collapse of the Soviet Union for Tomsk’s 1000 Catholic inhabitants. We also got to see the founding stone of Tomsk which was put there in the 1600s as Tomsk is one of the oldest towns in Russia.
On this bright and sunny day I was wearing a maxi skirt as I didn’t pack for hot weather and my legs are far too pasty to allow anyone to see; they may get blinded by the reflection of the sun. So after struggling to decide on an outfit to wear that’s suitable for the weather and being quite pleased with my choice, my dear friend Alex turned to me and said, “You look a bit like a Tartar today”…. That was exactly the look I was going for.
Tuesday – We had our first lesson today which went back to basics so that was a nice way to ease us in. Bit of a waste of time though. Was ridiculously tired today after sleeping on the armchair in the living room to escape the mosquito in my room that had decided to eat me during the night. I’ve also decided that Natasha (the niece who is looking after me whilst the mum and daughters are away) is the cutest and sweetest person I’ve ever met. She’s like a little mouse! We also met some Russian girls who I ended up speaking in French to without realising which was a bit embarrassing! Our excursion today was to the university Botanical Gardens which was oh so dull. I never knew there was so much you could say about different leaves and pot plants.
Wednesday – It was 28 degrees today! I am so pink right now from the sun and mosquito bites. Our excursion was to the University Museum which was actually quite interesting! The highlight of my day however had to be buying a Masha & the Bear notebook to write my Russian grammar down in. It makes me smile every time I look at it.
Thursday – Such a good day today! Well, apart from the trip to the Regional Museum. Even the Russian class we went with found it dull so when I couldn’t understand what the guide was talking about there was no chance that I was going to stay focussed. The class we went with were first years and they were so excited to meet us which was sweet and we went out for lunch with 2 of them afterwards. Rachel and I got chatting to a really interesting guy who is German by nationality but doesn’t speak German as his parents and grandparents had to try and pretend they were Russian during the war so didn’t speak in their mother tongue. Quite remarkable that they managed to pull it off!
When I got home in the evening I was just getting into my jimjams and in waltzes Sasha (my Russian dad) with a bottle of wine and chocolate for us to drink. Of course, we couldn’t just have a glass, we had to drink the entire bottle. We had a very intellectual conversation about the Soviet Union and other periods in Russian history and kept saying cheers to numerous things including “To the Soviet Union!”. I wondered what would come next, “To Stalin!” ? Thankfully not. I also had to endure a very awkward moment when we toasted to my trip and linked arms to drink (the second glass of wine I had to down) and then after we had downed our glasses he puckered up! OH GOD. What do I do?! It was so so awkward. Am I about to get myself a русский муж? Luckily no, I have not acquired a hubby. That gesture is very much the norm over here. Another strange thing I’ll have to get used to. Although I’d rather not if I’m honest.
Friday – The start of a very busy weekend!!! We went to a cafe with a group of girls who were really lovely and friendly. I’m getting the feeling that we are only being introduced to the good students here as none of them seem to go out very much. It was Friday night, we were in a cafe and we had one drink each. I thought they were meant to be big drinkers over here!
I should also note that after a week of being here I am still finding the town so interesting. Walking around it’s so fascinating to see the contrast in styles of building. New, grey concrete builds stand next to ornate, rather grand looking buildings and communist style flat blocks are side by side with old wooden houses that Tomsk is famous for.
Saturday – Finally time for a lie in before heading over to someone’s flat to spend the afternoon with a different Russian class. It was such a fun afternoon! We turned up and they’d put on a massive spread for us with pancakes, biscuits, a fruit platter, salami etc. We played the Mafia game (a murder mystery game) which was great fun as it didn’t require any words! We then played Russian Articulate! Rachel, Alex and I were team leaders so we were the lucky ones whose job it was to describe each word we had on our cards which proved to be quite embarrassing when I had to pass 6 cards in a row.
I also met the mum and 2 daughters this evening as they came back from Italy. It was slightly awkward when the girls walked in and looked at me as if to say “What the hell are you doing here?” Nice, warm welcome! During a conversation with Olga (my Russian mama) she told me that I look Russian and speak with a very weak English accent. I’ve decided to take the looking Russian comment as a compliment and hoping she meant I looked similar to the tall skinny blondes you see rather than the rather more frumpy looking alternative.
Today is Lena’s birthday so all the family came round for lunch. Well, I was told it was lunch. It started at 3 and lasted until 10. I was smashed. At first I was being so controlled and was sipping my wine with every cheers and speech that was made but after an hour sitting next to the great aunt who was necking back vodka I thought, “What the hell?! I may as well embrace the Russian lifestyle!” So vodka it was. I should probably explain that Russians say cheers approximately every 10 minutes, hence the reason I was absolutely loving life. I therefore became a natural at speaking Russian and got myself invited round 2 other family members’ houses. I even got a kiss from my Russian great aunt! After being told by everyone around the table that I look Russian and not English (parents, do you have something you wish to confess?) and having a little boogie to Abba I then popped out to go bowling with some Russian students. Yes, I was the only one that was drunk but this did not cross my mind at the time. However, the fact I was a bit squiffy could have only improved the evening as I turned up at the bowling alley to find that there was a rap battle going on at the bar. I was loving it.
My favourite moment this week: When Alex came into the lesson announcing he had been served noodles with milk for breakfast. I lost control a little bit.