Fitting in and getting out

Trip Start Feb 03, 2009
Trip End Jun 2009

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Saturday, March 21, 2009

It's been over a week since my last entry and quite a lot has gone on, but it's all becoming part of the normal day-to-day life here and time has been absolutely *flying* by. I've been here for 7 weeks. SEVEN WEEKS. Yikes. However, this past week demonstrated to me one of the ways in which I've changed in my time here: spoken language. Obviously my English is still fine (and actually getting better because I often speak as plainly and correctly as possible when talking with people who are less comfortable with English) but my Estonian is picking up pretty quickly. I can't kid myself or anyone else and pretend to speak it well, but I know enough to order food at bakeries and cafes and get away with it :) So far, though, my proudest moment was at a clothing store at the mall. We were searching for a tie, and when the woman asked "What color do you want?" in Estonian, I recognized, understood, and responded in kind. Her next words to us came as we left, when she rattled off a mile-long Estonian sentence which only contained one familiar word, so we smiled and nodded goodbye and left before she could keep talking. Baby steps, Peter, baby steps.

The week was fine, though, starting with the Russian ballet on Sunday which was interesting and entertaining without being gripping. I don't really enjoy ballet, but I liked the music (Tchaikovsky) and it was an afternoon of culture, at least. Things were normal after that with only 1 minor hiccup on Tuesday when I had my first exam (in Estonian language, no less). We'll get our grades back on Monday, but I'm pretty sure it went well. I know I didn't ace it, but I'm pretty confident I got an A. Tuesday was also St. Patrick's Day, which of course is not really a holiday outside of the US and Ireland. There is definitely NOT a significant Irish population in Estonia, but the Gunpowder Cellar still hosted a St. Patty's party that night with a live band. A lot of international students attended, myself included, and it was a very social night that included a conga line around the bar! These festivities led to a pretty significant decrease in class attendance on Wednesday, but I made it to both of mine since the last one was canceled for the week.

On Thursday, we whiled the day away in our new favorite coffeeshop - Cafe Werner - and then attended "Polish evening" at a bar that was apparently designed to be hidden from the world. Once we finally got there, we were welcomed with a traditional Polish drink (a shot of vodka with Tabasco sauce) and eventually experienced the wonderful taste of pierogi. I actually spent most of the evening talking with a couple of the Hungarian students and a Hungarian professor from the university. We didn't really discuss anything in particular, but it was still worthwhile conversation. Most of us made it to bed relatively early that night because, on Friday afternoon, about 35 of us went to the only ski resort in Estonia at Otepää. We got a really good discount on equipment rental and lift tickets, and this supposedly the last weekend of "snowy winter" for Estonia. I'm not sure if I believe that or not, but I guess we'll see. Skiing was wonderful, though, even if the slopes weren't exactly steep. I did my fair share of falling - after all, it's been about 4 years since I actually used airboarding adventure 2 years ago replaced skiing at the time. My last few runs were successful, though, and all-in-all it was a great time.

Today (Saturday) was another lazy day, and the only time I left the building was to go grocery shopping. Around 6 I got a message from Ali (Turkey) saying that he was beginning to make borek, which is the Turkish dish Birol introduced me to a couple of weeks ago. I hurried up to Ali's room and, by the time the food was done, we had quite a group there, including Colin, Kelsey, Genevieve (all US), Olesea (Moldova), Jack (UK), Ali, and me. Then the other Americans and myself came down to my flat to make even more food (we never stop eating, it's really kind of sad) and were joined by Olesea, who is also Genevieve's roommate. We experimented with a few dishes like macaroni and cheese, cornbread fritters, and apple cinnamon pastries, but they all turned out *not quite* the way we intended. It's really strange, but every kind of cheese I buy here just completely loses its flavor as soon as it gets hot or melted. I don't understand it at all, especially with the strong flavors of some of them. The cornbread bits were really good, to me, but the others thought they were too greasy (I didn't know there could be too much). The pastries were the highlight of our adventures, though, and I think we'll be expanding on that concept as soon as we figure out what ingredients to buy. Estonian grocery shopping is still a confusing experience, but it's OK because everything is so cheap! Even if/when we mess up, we can go back and buy the right things and it still costs less than in the states.

I have one and a half more weeks until I visit London and Cambridge and I'm already getting excited about it. I mean, it's definitely going to be awesome to see Gail, Bessie, and Brittany, but I'm really looking forward to being able to roam the streets of London and continually recognize names and places of things I've read about in so many books. This week we solidified some more plans for the Norway trip at the end of April as well....if everything goes well, we will get to canoe in a fjord AND hike on top of the 3rd-largest glacier in Norway. Still working on some of the small details, but the basic framework is there for an AWESOME trip.

Well, Sunday is going to be 100% devoted to homework since I've slacked off so much for the past few days. I have readings for 2 classes and a 5-million-page-long cuneiform tablet to transliterate, so I'll definitely be busy. I'll probably try and update again at the end of the week, assuming the cuneiform assignment hasn't eaten me alive by that point.
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