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YOUR OPINION ABOUT ARCHANGEL

Find out the Ancient Rus in the Russian North. Welcome to Archangel!

Davey, Canada, Welland
Letter #1, About Russia and Archangel
My friend Andrew, maintainer of the Timme St. website (http://timmest.narod.ru), asked me to write my thoughts about Arkhangelsk (British/US/Canadian spelling is Archangel), a city in northern european Russia.

First, let me introduce myself. My name is Dave . My educational background is in political science (I found Russian politics to be especially exciting) and in international business. While finishing up my university and college education, I decided to take some time to travel a bit and learn a new language. Due to my interests, and also because of family roots in the country, I decided to study Russian language and culture at Moscow State University.

This was back in January, 2000. I had no idea what living conditions in Russia would be like, especially since all of the news I had seen on channels like CNN made the country seem, shall we say, less than satisfactory. Also, I had committed myself to traveling to a country which was, at the end of 1999, expected to fall victim to the dreaded Y2K bug.

Sure enough, the bug fell flat on its face and I made my way to Moscow. I had four of the best months of my life there, and decided to return to Russia for the last three months of the year, as well - but this time to St. Petersburg, Russia's cultural capital. Yet again, I amassed memories which will last a lifetime.

In the years following this second trip, I returned only once on vacation, but I knew that I needed to devote more time - a considerable segment of my life - to Russia. There is something here, something unexplainable, that gets deep down in your veins and changes your life! I soon made the decision to take a year out of my life, right between the student years and the serious career years, to live in a new Russian destination. Honestly, Moscow's population of 10 million and St. Petersburg's 5 million were a bit too much for me to deal with. I'm a guy from Ontario's laidback Niagara Region - I'm not used to the BIG city. Even Toronto gets to be a little much for me at times.

So I took out an atlas and tried to make my decision... where should I go? I compiled a list of interesting Russian cities, then found universities in each city that taught Russian to foreigners, then emailed off requests for prices and information. Two replies came back to me within hours: one from a university in Petrozavodsk, one from Arkhangelsk State Technical University. Many replies never came back (even now, a year later!), despite the fact that I had written the email in both English and Russian. The attention given by these mentioned schools to developing good avenues of communication via email made me confident that they would give the same attention to students and their (potential) problems. Eventually, I narrowed my decision down to Arkhangelsk... I still don't remember exactly why. Some reasons that do come to mind are: 1. I remember seeing the name Arkhangelsk in some Russian submarine movies, and that's pretty cool, 2. Arkhangelsk is further north, and I am not much of a sun person, 3. I got some really warm emails from a nice sounding person named Andrew who runs some sort of website about the city. :) He told me that Arkhangelsk was a pretty decent city, and it has all of the entertainment and social facilities that I could need.

Believe it or not, my decision was based on such trivial factors. My self confidence had gotten to the point where I as not in the least scared of walking off a plane (alone!) in the middle of nowhere in Russia.

As soon as I arrived, I immediately knew that I had made the right decision; the people here are so warm and hospitable, the weather is just about right (I love snow, although it wasn't hardly as harsh as I was lead to believe it would be), and I've got enough Western luxuries to keep me satisfied. Oh, and in the opinion of yours truly, who considers himself an expert in the field, northern Russian girls are among the best in the world. :)

The shops here are, for the most part, much like I am used to (although the idea of huge shopping malls has not yet hit Russia). I bought a TV to go with the hacked DVD player that I brought with me and I can buy (cough) pirated movies at a fraction of the North American price. I can go to Premier, an upscale supermarket in the middle of town, and buy any French, German, Spanish, Bulgarian, Moldovan, Georgian wines that I might want to have with my dinner (spaghetti here is a staple for students, not something that is impressive with expensive sauce and a nice wine like it is back home). Everything is here. I'm not much into dancing, but there are more diskotekas here than you can shake a stick at. I'm glad to see that Russians have adopted pizza wholeheartedly, and I can go have a big pizza and half litre of beer for 5 dollars.

These things have made my stay in Russia more easy. There is always a little bit of culture shock considering that everything here is in Russian (at least in the big cities like Moscow, you can get an English language newspaper!), but the food is great, the people are willing to help out and love talking with foreigners (foreigners in the big city are a dime a dozen, but in smaller cities like Arkhangelsk, it's like we're some sort of magical beings that speak some un-Russian language and have very un-Russian habits).

The time I have spent here has changed my view of the world and of myself. I feel that I am a stronger and more enlightened person. I have seen world famous pieces of art in St. Petersburg's Hermitage, I have gotten into a drunken fistfight with my best friend on Nevsky Prospekt, and I have eaten dried goldfish an appetizer with my beer at one of the city's finer bars. :) In other words, sure I've had some ups-and-downs, but in all, I would not trade my time in Russia for anything.

In closing, I would like to ask you to disregard any notions that you may have of Russia. Poverty here is not rampant (I see more homeless people on Toronto's Yonge Street than here), although the times are quite a bit more tough than at home. I had more than one person tell me to be careful in Russia, since it's "a communist country"... apparently these people have not watched the news in more than a decade! And the stuff about bringing extra blue jeans, which these same people seem to regard as a fact, is so far off the mark that you would not believe it (in fact, more people here wear stuff like Calvin Kline than I ever remember seeing where I'm from).

If anybody has any questions for me, please feel free to email me at davey@list.ru, My Website: A Canadian in Russia

Excursions to the wooden village - Malye Karely or an intersting trip around Arkhangelsk in the car! Order it now!

Davey, Canada, Welland
Letter #2, About Archangel and Kargopol
A short while ago, my friend Andrew asked me to write my thoughts about being a Canadian in Arkhangelsk. Of course, I went way off track and rambled on and on about foreigners coming to Russia in general.

Today I will right my wrong and give you all my thoughts about Arkhangelsk, with no mention (OK, maybe a few) of Moscow and St. Petersburg.

I first arrived here in late August. My main memories from this period are: rain, more rain and mosquitoes. I can't do much about the rain, but they sell all types of anti-mosquito products here.

As the temperature got colder, I started enjoying the city more and more. First of all, when you get covered with rain, you get miserable. When you get covered with snow, just brush it off and you're all set to go. I found a few quiet streets in the city that I really loved walking down, especially when huge snowflakes were falling. It was a warm winter here; the coldest it got to was about -25C, which is the same as we got back home in the Niagara Region.

The winter lasted a long, long time... in fact, the last snowfall we had was in mid-May! It was very interesting, though, to see things such as the pathway going all the way across to the other side of the river. People would be walking, men were fishing and kids would be playing on the frozen ice.

Now that the snow has finally melted, I am confronted with the only truly negative aspect of Arkhangelsk. I should mention it, since it is a very noticeable problem in the city, and I hope that it gets solved in the future. As soon as the snow melted, a whole winter's worth of garbage was revealed. Bottles, cigarette packs, and so on were strewn all around the city. I think they've been trying to clean this stuff up, but maybe it's turned into a habit for people living here to not care about where they put their garbage.

This is the only problem that nags me about Arkhangelsk. To finish this letter up, I'll focus on all of the good things so you forget about the garbage issue. First of all, Russian pizza is far better than Canadian or American pizza! We've got a few pizzerias here, and for a very reasonable price (US$2.50-$3.50 or so) you can get a medium pizza with huge pieces of meat and other toppings on it. It's not just the average pepperoni that we're used to, and tiny bits of pepper, they put really big slices on. Russian pizza is far more like real food than any pizza we can get in Canada!

The people here are incredibly hospitable. I have heard many times about the relaxed, easy-going nature of Northerners. It's absolutely true! In my opinion, life in the big cities (I promised to try not mentioning them) is far too fast. People only think about getting to work, then getting home so they can get to work again the next day. Here, there's far more emphasis on actually living life.

Also, since it's a small town, many of the problems associated with the larger centres are avoided. For example, I don't think I've ever seen a person in Arkhangelsk get his documents checked by the police. In the big cities, the police are best avoided, since they love checking documents (and getting bribes if your documents aren't in perfect order!).

Malye Korely is a must-see for any visitor to Arkhangelsk. It is a collection of old wooden structures gathered together to make what appears to be a really old-fashioned town. There are windmills there, buildings for blacksmiths, houses for landowners, and so on. It's about 45 minutes outside of the city, so people go there to walk around, have a picnic, and so on. It's got a completely different atmosphere during each season, too, so make sure you go more than once.

Kargopol is a very small town that has particular interest for me (I'm getting married there in June). It's quite old (Older than Moscow by a year everybody tells me over and over) and has a number of beautiful old churches. If Arkhangelsk seemed like a small town to me (it's got maybe 375,000 people), Kargopol is a tiny speck (around 13,000 people). Life here is so slow. It takes forever to walk even 200 metres here, because everybody's always walking around and they all know each other, so they all stand around and chat. I even saw an old lady leading her goats down the road. Goats! I felt like I was in a different century! The population of Russia is 145 million, and the 15 million that live in Moscow and St. Petersburg live lives that are distinctly non-Russian... to get a true feel of Russian life, a trip to a small town is necessary.

Everybody in Arkhangelsk walks down the boardwalk along the embankment. It's always light here now (it's around the period called White Nights when it's light for maybe 20 hours of the day), so people are just strolling around, even after midnight. It's quite difficult for me to get used to the sky being light, even at 4am, so my sleeping patterns have suffered a bit. But it's far better than in winter, when it would be pitch black out by 5pm!

That's about it for me. In closing, although the weather is cold, the people are very warm! If you get a chance to visit Arkhangelsk, you will not regret it!

Dave davey@list.ru

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