Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Episode 5: Rob's mind goes blarghargharghargh (a la Nigel Thornberry)

Blargharghargharghargh! The flight's on Saturday morning from Heathrow Termnial 5 (oh dear) and on BA ( oh good). I'm a mixture of nerves and excitement - I wouldn't say i'm losing sleep, just finding it a lot harder to get to sleep...

At the front of my mind are all the little things that you might not think about when going abroad but are actually pretty important:

a Cat - will there be one?
Have I packed plug adaptors? (Russia seems to use the general, European ones)  Will my landlady let me use the shower every day? Will she have a cat? How long will my commute to the university take? 3 or 4 big jumpers?  Is there a Karelian dialect to get round? Will my landlady have a cat? What's a suitable gift to give someone from Russia? Am I going to freeze to death in the name of fashion? Will my landlady have a cat? What is Russian vodka like? Will I have access to the internet at home, or have to frequent cafes? Will my landlady actually have a cat?

And breathe.

Hidden amongst my trivial and daft worries there are a couple of pretty good points. Electrical appliances need the correct adapater. Forum trowling has yielded the answer that Russia mostly operates with European style plugs. Dialects and accents are certainly a concern although for a country of Russia's size it is surprisingly uniform.

Buying a gift to give a host or hostess is (according to Lonely Planet) something that is taken very seriosuly in Russia. I think staying in food and drink is a safe bet. A bottle of wine is the kind of thing that should suffice but with alcoholism still a significant problem in Russia, is a drink necessarily the kindest gift to give somebody, especially if you don't know your host's family situation?

Devon is famous for fudge (apparently) so this is an option. English tea is a good idea as long as my hostess doesn't think I want her to feed it to me instead of Russian tea... probably can't go wrong with biscuits though!

suggestions to the usual address!
last post from the UK coming soon!

PHOTO CREDITS: Cat photo, "Sleepy", taken under Creative Commons from's photostream on flickr -

Monday, 22 August 2011

Episode 4: Rob hunts for a coat (and nearly gets eaten by one)

Do charity shops and vintage stores have the same air fresheners or do old clothes really smell like that? Anyway, I was getting quite queasy standing there pondering that problem when I laid my eyes on an army-green, great coat on the furthest hanger from me...

So I spent the weekend clothes hunting by myself in Exeter. It seems that layers are the key to keeping warm outside and cool inside during Russian winters, but thermal underwear is a different story. This post is all about the search for a good coat.
Predatory hunting ground of the green-backed great coat

Before tackling the big department stores I thought i'd be smart and hunt through the city's charity shops for one. The logic here also came from the fact that vintage clothes tend to be made of warmer natural materials whereas their expensive modern counterparts are imitation and deceptive. Unfortunately, being Napoleonic in height, and not exactly round in the middle, I have trouble fitting into retro and vintage stuff...

Taking the great coat off the hanger and putting one arm down a musty sleeve I was suddenly lost in mass of weighty fabric and mothballs. I looked at the gum-chewing girl behind the counter as if to ask for help but she didn't look up from Cosmo. By this stage the coat had attained the weight of podgy toddler and my knees were going to give way. How did people wage war in these things!? I rallied and wrestled the green beast off my back and onto its hanger but the effort left me sweaty and undignified. A pack of hipsters, latte dribbling from their chins, barely contained their sniggers as I left the vintage store in dejection. I slogged up the hill looking for marks and sparks.
Another satisfied customer

I was distracted by a stickman leaving his temple (topman) and soon found myself ambling down aisles of carrot-fit jeans and "hilarious" slogan t-shirts. Suddenly I was affronted by a plumage of knitwear and to my surprise found a useful "Fair-Isle-style" jumper made (mostly of wool. Bagging this for the winter ahead I eventually made it to Marks and came across a suitable coat that doesn't make me look like a pensioner :) happy days. I suppose you can still rely on certain British brands to produce mainly woolen, Winter coats with room underneath for layering up. It's a stylish, double-breasted, military number in black. Its three-quarter length (or i'm really short) so it should keep my lowers warm too...yeah.

Whether it will survive the Russian winter is something that only time will tell and if I get turned into an ice-cube I expect all my readers to clog the customer complaints line...

More soon!

(In other news about two weeks until I go and the sainted VISA has just arrived! All feeling very real now...)

PHOTO CREDIT: "Vintage store" taken under creative commons from miss.libertine's Photostream on Flickr:
"Stickman" taken under creative commons from Anders.Bachmann's Photostream:

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

REPOST - Vice Guide to Film: Russian Parallel Cinema

VICE magazine - hipsta's paradise?
As an act of prepping myself up for Russia as much as possible I started trawling the net for inspiring Russian stuff. As usual, VBS TV (the video supplement to the ever-hip "VICE magazine") proved a brilliant rescource for wacky, travel documentary-exploitation-flicks.

The programme 'The VICE guide to' is a treasure chest of gems and in their film series I stumbled upon this, NOT FOR THE FAINTHEARTED OR EASILY SHOCKED but really interesting nonetheless...

"The VICE guide to Russian Paralell Cinema"

For fans of film, Soviet Kitch and surrealism, VICE co-founder Shane Smith goes to Russia in search of the originators of one of the world's most extreme and crazy film styles...

(also check out the VICE guide to travel - the North Korea episode is fascinating!)

PHOTO CREDITS: Vice Magazine Photo taken from udner creative commons

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Episode 3 (part 2): Rob gets an AIDS test (for his VISA...)

Anyone who has been to Torquay may have heard the often-mentioned fact that it is built on seven hills (Rome eat your heart out). While this is usually just the bane of dog walkers, the elderly
and mums with prams, this time it also proved to be the bane of dozy Rob Lees, driving their Mum's car, desperatelty seeking the GP's surgery five minutes before an important blood test...

Flash back three days and my fears were realised. To get the specific AIDS-test certificate needed for the VISA application I had to pay the surgery £98 and do it through my Doctor instead of the free, GUM clinic. Well I suppose the price of ink and paper has gone up a lot recently... So I booked an appointment to see the nurse and went about my usual business until the morning of my date with the syringe finally came round.

Torquay's harbour and "Mount" - my hilly home

Getting in the car that morning I was fairly confident in my ability to navigate the seven mountains of Torquay and find a place to park near the surgery. How wrong could I be! Soon I was hopelessly lost in an endless labyrinth of optimistically-named hotels, hammer-horror care-homes and towering apartments. I gripped the wheel frantically, pelting down the identical roads of Chelston and Cockington. They seemed to spiral in all directions. Everything looked the same. Round and round I drove, getting more and more flustered, like the victim of some Lovecraftian intrusion.

I gave in and phoned my parents at work for help. Every shred of my student independence crumbled away as I grovelled and complained to mummy and daddy for more accurate directions... (not an option when i'm in Russia)

Having found the surgery, my day was vastly improved as the nurse had been nice enough to wait for me. I didn't even mind being stabbed in the arm as we had a pleasant conversation about the unusual reasons for getting the test in the first place. With my blood safely on the way to the hospital labs I settled the bill with the receptionist and with lightned pockets I headed for home and the next stage of my year abroad planning...

see you next time!

PHOTO CREDITS: Torquay Mount photo taken under creative commons from Sovobongo1's photostream -