31 July 2013

Munich, pt. 2

On our second day, we took a two hour train to the German alps to see Neuschwanstein Castle in Fussen. 

It's difficult to describe how unbearably magical the castle is, nestled up there in the mountains. But it's truly surreal, like something you'd seen in a book when you were small. The quiet coolness of the mountain castle is only emphasized by the dozens of hangliders drifting through the sky. The whole place is a world apart. 

I've been living in Moscow too long; I wore heels to climb up the German alps. Whooops.

As usual, pictures don't even do this amazing countryside justice. It's just one of those things you have to see for yourself. 


lovers's bridge.

Getting home was the real adventure. Assuming trains came all the time to Fussen to take us back to Munich, we missed our 6:00 only to find that was the last one. So there we were, stranded in rural Germany, talking to a bunch of guys who were from the same area of Chicago I was from. We called our host, Marcus, and he was able to give us directions and connections to lead us back into Munich. It took quite a bit more time, but twelve hours after we had left the city, we were back in it, sunburnt and hungry. But it was an amazing day-I mean, how often do you go into the alps to find a beautiful castle?

And I've got one more day for you! Check back tomorrow for our last days in Munich!

29 July 2013

Munich, pt. 1

Oh, Munich. Let me count the ways I love thee. 

I don't even know where to start. Munich was amazing. Absolutely, amazing. Probably one of the coolest places I've ever been. The city is bright and clean and vibrant. The city is comprised of those perfect European buildings and their unique architecture that is so fun to stumble around, gazing up at. The people are all healthy and happy--everyone was riding bikes and talking and drinking and hanging out with their partners, their kids. The food was delicious and everything was so inexpensive. It was magical. Ben and I spent the entire four days, talking, holding hands, drinking, eating, riding bikes, and exploring. We were so happy and relaxed, we just kept looking at each other and bursting out into smiles. 

I didn't even realize how badly we needed a vacation. Moscow is always going to be my first love, but it's a very expensive, dirty, and a lot of times kind of a scary city. Right before we got on the plane I was pushing gypsies off of me and when we arrived in Munich, people were pulling over their bikes to ask if we needed help to get where we were going. It was great just to have some time together: no MCAT, no work. Just the two of us, and our chatty minds, sitting at street cafes with nowhere to go but wherever we wanted to. 

Such a rare and amazing feeling, isn't it? Well, here are some of the pictures from our first day (more like our second-Ben took the MCAT in the morning which he felt went pretty well)...

We found this beautiful apartment through airbnb. Our host, Marcus was absolutely wonderful and we had some great conversations about our countries, politics, and culture.

The New Town Hall

Bavarian cheese plate

We heard some music and followed it through the streets until we found this beer garden tucked away behind some old churches. We sat down at the end of a long, sticky table and filled our stomachs with German sausages and liters of beer.

We were actually so impressed and so happy, we've started talking about trying to move to Germany possibly after our contract ends here in Russia. Ever since Ben and I got together, we've talked about living abroad, and everywhere we've gone together, we've looked at it through a "could-we-stay-here-forever" lens. Ben is quite obsessed and spent every free moment we had teaching himself German (on our first night, I went to the bathroom and when I came back, Ben proudly announced he'd just learned to count to 100 in German). It's just talk right now, but we were definitely smitten with Munich and I really can't wait until we go back. I highly recommend it. 

Check back for Munich, pt. 2 tomorrow...

23 July 2013

We're Going on Holiday!

Doesn't "holiday" sound so much more darling than "vacation"? These little British-isms are having a hard time staying out of my vocabulary now that I teach them all day.

Well, it's time!

Our long-planned trip to Munich, Germany is one effing day away! I'm so excited. So, so excited. The suitcase is out in the living room, outfits are being assembled, MCAT books are being studied... it's so close! 

In the last month or so, Ben has truly become a studying machine. He wakes up early and studies every chance he gets throughout the day. For hours. He called me into "his den" (our living room) the other day to show me some of the work he's been doing: he goes through and takes 50 question practice tests and then marks not only the questions he gets wrong, but also the questions he got right, but wasn't 100% sure about. Then he goes through and reviews everything again. I'm so proud of him and how well he's been able to balance studying, work, and us. 

Ugh, but Germany is so close I can just taste it//beer. On Wednesday- Ben's birthday- it will be kind of odd because we'll be arriving, checking out where the testing center is, and then just hitting the hay. It'll be tempting to want to run around Munich right away, but that will have to wait until Thursday afternoon. And then c e l e b r a t i o n s  are in order, for sure. 

This is also our first time out of Russia in, gosh, seven months? Yikes. I can't wait to smell the sweet Bavarian air and not walk down the street with my fists clenched and my face hardened. Many of my students travel to Germany frequently as the cars and clothes are much cheaper, and so many people had great suggestions for Munich. What I'm most excited for though is the shopping. Moscow is one of the most expensive cities in the world (next to Tokyo) and man, does it feel expensive. It'll be nice to go shopping and not have to shrink meals because of it. 

So, blogworld: think good thoughts for Ben on Thursday morning (or Wednesday night, for you Americans!) and I'll be positing pictures on my instagram for the next few days. 


17 July 2013

Teenage Dirtbaggin'

We're not over it yet.

Note: Turn off the volume. 

16 July 2013

Watch: Russia Sh*t

So, whenever anyone asks me what Russia is like, I struggle to find an accurate way to describe the place I live.

Yeah, it's um... well, it can be really... but then, ya know... it's just. I don't know. It's just like...I don't man, it's just the Motherland. I don't know. 

But after another day of blistering hot heat (and random freezing ran falling out of bright blue skies), followed by a near miss with a syringe, I was reminded of one of my all time favorite movies and just thought, "Yes! That is what Russia is like!"

So I now present you with one of my underground favorites (and I attribute it's lack of success with the title, but it's great, great, great): Wristcutters: A Love Story

"Who the hell likes to be stuck in a place where you can't even smile?"

It's about this purgatory-like afterworld for people who have committed suicide, where "everything is the same, just a little bit worse." But, as the characters in the movie discover, you make your own happiness, and there's good to be found everywhere, which is how I feel about Russia in the simplest terms. Also! There's a great performance by the ever-amazing Tom Waits and you should really just watch it for that. 

Moving on...

I have another video from the geniuses over at Vice about a Russian oligarch. While the wealth portrayed is vastly different from the extravagant wealth we see in America, it's interesting to witness the way it's handled in Russia. 

I also gotta say, this man seems like every other Russian man I have met- it doesn't seem like money changes much. 

Aaaaand I want to drink vodka with him and shoot at some wild boars out of a window. I do. 

And finally, here's a song Ben and I listened to (and sang at the top of our lungs) ten million times last summer while we were getting ready to go out. 
"I got two tickets to Iron Maiden, baaaaaaby..."

Hope ya enjoy these. Haaaaappy Tuesday

12 July 2013


1. I walked past our kitchen the other day and it just looked so simple and lovely. I adore our little two-person table and the roses (a gift from a group of students) looked so subtle and romantic. 
2. The baker boy made a strawberry cake the other morning with fresh strawberries from the market. 
3. Eating.
4. Zucchini bread and egg breakfast. 
5. My feet have mysterious bug bites on them. 
6. Ben and I bought this small watercolor on Arbat Street last week. We liked the little people walking down the street; it's kind of like a watercolor we bought in Old Montreal last summer. 

1. This flat really feels like a home, especially since we've decided to sign another contract and stay another year. Once the MCAT is over, Ben and I are going to IKEA and we have a list of things we'd like to get. Nothing too expensive, as this place isn't permanent, but things to make us feel a bit more comfortable. It's nice to know this apartment in the way we do now: everything feels familiar and welcoming. 
2. Germany is less than two weeks away! I'm so excited, but I have to keep it in a bit because Ben's mind is focused on the MCAT. Ben and I have saved about 30,000 rubles (almost $1,000 usd) which we're very excited to spend. It'll be a good time. 
3. I'm teaching at Central School full-time now. It's been a nice change of scenery and I love getting to know my co-workers better. We go out for drinks after work every Thursday and it's been a lot of fun.
4. I think I mentioned awhile ago that Ben and I had decided against moving abroad (for the time being), but were still hoping for some dream jobs here in Moscow. 

Well, those jobs did end up coming through, but they weren't as dreamlike as we had thought they'd be. They did pay double what we make now, but we would be working double the time we do now and wouldn't be teaching, but assisting. They also came off as very unprofessional and we didn't get a good vibe from the administrations that ended up hiring us (they had us originally interview at a beautiful campus, but sort of sold us off to totally random schools in different parts of Moscow). 

There were a lot of other factors that played into our decision to ultimately turn them down, but it came to the fact that we really love our jobs and our small school at Orexovo (Ah-ree-ha-vah) and our administrator there. Our lives are simple and good with low-stress jobs and loads of free time. We felt like we had our whole lives to wake up at 6 a.m. and work until 5, but we weren't ready for that yet. I'm happy with our choice... it definitely weighed heavy on us for quite awhile. Currently, we have enough money for everything we need: to go out to lunch or dinner a couple times a week, to go out with friends on the weekend, to buy the occasional extra, and to save for future trips. What more does one need than that?

07 July 2013

Her & I: A Cult Story

I suppose this is an odd story to be telling on a blog, but it's one that has been with me for awhile and just recently gained some closure. 

My best friend in college joined a cult and it really sucked. 
I met this hippie chick named Liz* at our campus bar about two weeks after I transferred to Beloit. That night her house had been having an "Animals in Formal Wear" party and she was wearing a sequined frock with bunny ears and a bow tie. We sat at a sticky wooden table drinking New Glarus beers and talking all night. The next week I discovered she was in my creative writing class, and we began hanging out regularly.

Liz was unlike anyone I had ever met; she felt like something out of a Sofia Coppola film. 

I was drawn in by how untouched by the world she was without lacking worldly depth. She was like a secret: in a school filled with punk and bohemian wannabes she was effortlessly cool and seemed to have no idea. She owned only two small suitcases that carried a few special novels, a watercolor set, a candle she had bought from a street market in China, some sweaters and skirts. She was bright and witty and I really thought she would be someone I’d always know.

But something was missing about Liz. She just had a hole inside of her. Things never seemed to make sense or sit right with her, almost like she didn't want to fit in. People confused her. She hadn’t lost her virginity yet. She was very impressionable. Nothing made her feel sure... except for this scarf-wearing, clove-smoking hipster, Jack*. 

Liz introduced me to Jack and though he was very good-looking and charming, I knew something was off almost immediately. I’d had a manipulative boyfriend in high school and Jack reminded me too much of him for me to be drawn in as much as Liz was. But, he and Liz both were great friends to have. They were a year or two older and quite mature even for that age. They held dinner parties where we drank wine casually, and talked about real things. Any time I spent with them felt meaningful and productive. I valued them as friends, but Jack just seemed to have a hold on Liz that I couldn’t ignore.

The better I got to know Liz, the more of a mystery she became to me: she spoke about her parents like they were casual acquaintances. If her housemates were annoyed with her, she never cared or could understand their reasons. I watched her date and dump three guys within four months and she wasn’t affected by any of them. She was somewhat out-of-touch in all of her relationships... except with Jack. When she spoke about their friendship, her face lit up and she was sure of herself. She understood Jack’s place in her life and she let him have as much room as he wanted in it.

I guess that would have been okay, but Jack was very manipulative of Liz. He made himself very easy to talk to, but often used strong language when telling her how she should “live her life”. He often called her choices “cowardly” and accused her of not being true to herself. I watched her adapt to his thoughts and drop classes, dislike professors and people, change her style, all because of things Jack would say.

I ended up telling her how I really felt about him on a sunny day on her porch during the last week of school. Her anarchist housemates were giving each other stick-n-poke tattoos and when I said Jack’s name, they all stood up and walked off. Liz listened intensively and took everything I said seriously. But a week later I got an email from Jack telling me I was “psychotic” and “evil” for trying to turn Liz against him. I gave up and just remained good friends with Liz. We never spoke about Jack again and he and I ignored each other in our ten person poetry classes.

Summer came and went. I had been living down in the cornfields with friends and when I came back to the city, Liz was one of the first people I saw. But something was clearly different. She was angrier. More driven to find “truth”. She talked a lot about people being “fake” and “passionless”. While we sat on her porch drinking Bellini’s, she told me in a voice drenched in bitterness how difficult it was for her to smile and be polite with customers at the cupcake shop where she worked.
            “I just want to scream at them, ‘BE AUTHENTIC! Don't just say 'thank you' because you have to, say it because you want to!’”. I nodded slowly, but her behavior was odd. She also mentioned that Jack had begun taking her to see his “mentor” who he’d been with since he was 17. The mentor had an odd animal name and Jack had a tattoo of lions on his shoulder, which was representative of the name his mentor called him.

When we arrived back at school for our junior year, Liz, Jack, and some of their friends began leaving school during the week and driving to Chicago (about a 90 minute commute). I tried asking Liz about it, but she was very distant. She told me she was still seeing Jack’s mentor and I left it alone. We still spent a lot of time together and on my twenty-first birthday (which tragically fell on a Monday during finals week and my celebrations had to wait four days...) she took me out for white wine and cheese and we stayed up all night talking. During winter break we hung out in Wicker Park with moody writer boys and I was still very grateful for her friendship.

But then things began to change more quickly. She began leaving school more and more to see the therapist and rumors began to swirl around the college about a cult. I began seeing her writing “Blue Dolphin” in places her name should have been. She was caring less and less about school and more and more about her “mentor” and the way “he thought” she should be living her life. She grew increasingly angrier about how “fake” everyone was, the masks they were wearing, how in genuine they were living their lives, etc.

One day, I walked up behind her at the campus coffee shop and saw her feverishly writing. When I asked her if she was working on a poetry assignment that was due for our class later that night, she quickly gathered up all the papers and said she was writing down everything she had ever done wrong in her life. I saw written on one paper something about her afraid to have sex. I started getting worried.

When I confronted Liz about what she was involved in, she shut down. She told me I was a coward and wasn’t living truthfully. I told her she sounded like a brainwashed version of Jack. We stopped speaking and she and Jack (and a few others) missed finals week to go on a Zen retreat in the Southwest with their mentor. The rumors about the cult were getting stronger. People started googling the mentor’s name and found his “teachings” online. The editor of the school paper rushed up to me one day and asked if I knew anything so he could add it to a story he was writing.
            “I don’t know, it’s a fucking cult,” I told him, angry that I didn’t know much more than that.

The last time I saw Liz was at her Senior Reading with Anna (see link below). Anna read a poem sarcastically calling the college out for claiming to be open minded, but accusing her and her friends of being in a cult. Liz stood next to her nodding and glaring out past the stage. I shrunk back in the dark, ashamed. Maybe I had been wrong? I felt like my concern had turned into gossip and I stopped talking about it entirely. Liz blocked me on facebook and she, Jack, and Anna all graduated early to move to Chicago.

For quite some time now, I have wondered about the mysterious mentor were and when I was writing my Honor’s Thesis my senior year, my mentor and professor asked me what my relationship was like with Liz. He had seen our relationship wilt into passive aggressive “critiques” in our last writing class together. I finally just burst the whole story out and sat in his office until the sun went down recounting every detail of the whole thing. How Liz had gone from being my dreamy best friend to a brainwashed follower of someone who renamed her after an ecstasy pill. When I finally vomited everything out, he said what any good writing professor would say: write about it.

“I can’t Shawn,” I told him, shaking my head. “There’s no ending. It just feels like bubbles in my head—I don’t even know what I’d say about the whole thing.” At the time, these were just friends who came, shook me, and then disappeared.

Nothing made sense about it all until now. The only person (from the cult) who kept me as a facebook friend was Liz and Jack’s friend Anna (we were acquaintances). A few weeks ago she posted a link to a podcast interview with a caption along the lines of, “Some stuff has been going on in my life for the past two years and I want you to know about it.”

I rolled my eyes as I clicked on the link.
Maybe she’ll admit she’s in a cult, I thought, knowing they were all too warped to ever do so.

But two minutes into the podcast, that’s exactly what she did. I screamed, ripped off my headphones, told Ben to put down his MCAT book and the two of us listen to this.

I can’t really explain the kind of closure this gives me, or the kind of sadness it brings. Anna and I have been emailing a lot in the past few weeks and we’ve been able to talk about Jack and Liz in a way I have never been able to with anyone before. It’s been comforting to know that my suspicions were correct, but it’s difficult to know that people I know are involved in something really heavy. The cult is based out of Chicago-where I’m originally from-so I do know of a couple people who have been attending the meetings.

I’m going to end this now with Anna’s interview, which I think, is a great story. I’m so happy she’s out of it all now and I like the message she has at the end of her interview. I hope you’ll listen.

*Names changed.
**I don’t feel comfortable calling out the cult leader, but if you live in Chicago and want to know if your therapist is trying to brainwash you, you can email me. ; )

04 July 2013

For the Holidays, We're Going To...

It's done, it's done! Ben and I will be meeting my parents in the capital of The Netherlands for what can only be an auhmaaa-zing trip! I know it's quite a bit away, but I just can't wait. It will have been almost exactly one year since I've seen my parents and I can't wait to travel with them. 

Ahhhhh! December get here!

01 July 2013


Hey guys. 
I've loved having y'all follow me on this little blog and I'd love to keep having you. 

I'm suuuuuure you've heard Google Reader is retiring, so if you'd like to keep following, head on over to Bloglovin' or you can follow this blog via e-mail (it's on the sidebar over there). 

That's all. Carry on, loves. 

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