Monday, March 29, 2010

I did it!

Yes. I did it. I got a ticket from Berlin to St. Petersburg for the 27. of May. This might be daring my good fortune, but since I will only know in April whether or not my visa will go through in time, and flights then will be extraordinarily expensive, I decided to be a daredevil for once in my life. I have up to now always played it safe, and taken the less risky option – now it is my time to test my luck. It should be fine, really – theoretically, I only need to receive my invitation letter at the beginning of May. Hopefully it will come sooner, though. I am also glad that I got my flights now just for timing’s sake  – the Lufthansa flights all arrive at 11:30 pm in Petersburg, and I would really rather avoid that… Mine will arrive at 5:50pm, which gives me enough time to get to university and my host family before it gets dark. Although, wait, there are the white nights starting then, right? I am getting more and more excited for this trip, but at the same time a little more freaked out – and the terrorist bombings on the Moscow metro today didn’t help. But, you know, it happened in Madrid, it happened in New York, and since it happened now, it’ll hopefully not happen anytime soon in Russia again..? And St. Petersburg is supposed to be a little safer than Moscow, though street crime is widespread.. But so it is in Paris and all big cities for that matter except for maybe Montreal. We live in an oasis of peace… Anyway, I also figured out that there is a branch of my bank in Petersburg, which is super helpful.

Surprisingly, being a Quebec resident has even perks if you want to travel abroad.  For example that I am covered by French health care just like a French citizen (once I sent in all those supporting documents). Or that I can get a trip cancellation insurance for an entire year for not that expensive. You see, I’m a daredevil, but not that much of a daredevil.

And also… I managed to…


…send off all those documents – my scholarship applications – before the deadline, which is in 3 days. Phew! I was still waiting for this one recommendation letter… But now everything is on its way. We shall see whether the good people will help me out with some money money money…

Finally, we also just submitted the letter to our landlord that says to take me off the lease and keep Madeline on. We found this really nice girl who wants to take over my room, she’s in Panama now for a semester and will then probably sublet from Madeline as of July 1st. That was another huge relief for the two of us. Rest to see what happens to my furniture – maybe she will want some of it, or else I’ll just sell it here at the beginning of May. 

Talking of our place, that is definitely one of my favourite things in Montreal and I’m really sad to let it go. It is simply perfect, especially for Indian dinner parties…



Saturday, March 27, 2010

Splurging at the bookstore

So, you need to understand – I got up today, Friday, at 7.00 am to get to my conference and hand in my assignment. Then, I hiked through the bitter –10 degrees cold to send off my second scholarship application at the post office. And hiked back to school. Then, I set up a letter to our landlord stating that I wouldn’t be returning to our apartment in the next year. And then… I sighed. And searched my never-ending to-do list for fun things to do. Like to buy travel books. Cause they are really necessary, you know? it was then, and it all started off quite harmless – I do need a travel book for Eastern Europe. So I got the Lonely Planet edition, since I heard they had the best price-per-value ratio.  

Eastern Europe Lonely Planet

And then I realized that I really also needed a phrasebook for St. Petersburg if I didn’t want to be totally stranded with only my humungous dictionary as support. So I got this too:

lonely-planet-russian-phrasebook-8578208 And then Amazon told me that I only needed to spend $7 more to get free shipping! Since I was sure to pay around five to seven dollars anyway on shipping, I decided it would be better to invest that money in something tangible. Haha, but of course Amazon doesn’t have books for $7, that’s how they make all their profits – by tricking innocuous people like me into thinking they are making a better deal! Well, anyway, so here comes my third purchase:

Paris inside out Which, in hindsight, was a pretty wise purchase. It explains all considerations one must have when moving/living in Paris as opposed to just guiding you to the tourist attractions. I might still get a real Paris tour book, but this darling will hopefully help me avoid several Fettnaepfchen, as we say in German. And also, I got free shipping for all of my purchases! Let’s just say – lunchbreak was a success. If not for my bank account, then for my anticipation.

Then, after a group meeting in which we plotted to revive the Eurasian Empire (Russian politics class roleplay. It’s going to be sick.), and my last gym dance class for this year, I went to this play called “The Rhodes Less Travelled”, put on by some first year students. It ironically portrayed students applying to the prestigious Rhodes scholarship… And no, I haven’t seen myself reflected in any of those characters, thank goodness. Although, that girl with crazy eyes and dishevelled hair… No, just kidding. The actors were excellent, and so was the production in general. That is I guess #4 on my top favorite list – the frequent and affordable great plays that are put on all over campus. Letting yourself be entertained has never been easier. 

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Reason has spoken...

... But the heart does not agree. After talking to my Russian professor, looking up more visa requirements, thinking about timelines, flights, and dreams, I think I am still going to pull the Petersburg thing through. It might be last-minute, it might be stressful, it will definitely be expensive - but hey, this is my summer of exploration, I'm 20, I want to travel, and it won't make me broke. So there we are. With the 3-day visa process, I could theoretically get the invitation letter at the beginning of May and I would still have enough time. I'm still applying for internships as a back-up plan, but I don't have the heart to give up on my dreams just yet - and will probably keep on following two summer plans at the same time for now. This means I will have to get behind applying for transfer credits now - but that should be worth it!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

My blog already needs a new title…

…or so it seems. Today, I received an e-mail from the head of the Deutscher Praeventionstag (the largest forum for crime prevention in Europe), which seemed to be vaguely interested in offering me an internship in Berlin this summer. Of course, I don’t know when and for what they need people, and I also answered that even referrals to other organizations would be really helpful. But the prospects for a summer internship in Germany seem probable… and so my blog might actually become bERlini and baguette…. This is particularly true because after consultation with my dad I am pretty sure that I don’t want to run the risk of trying to pull the Petersburg thing off last-minute. Suppose the letter of invitation is ready on time and is shipped over within a week, we would receive it around the 28th of April. A normal visa application at the embassy takes 10 (work)days and costs $55, the express application within 3 days costs a whopping $110. And then I would need to find a flight last-minute from Berlin to Petersburg… And what if my passport gets lost somewhere in the Russian embassy and I can’t catch my flight to Europe… Oh, it is so much easier to embrace a couple of summer months in Berlin where I can live with my grandparents and explore my hometown more thoroughly! I will definitely try and apply to more internships, though.

Just cause we’re talking about Europe – wanna know #3 of my favorite things in Montreal? The diversity of cultures and influences! For example, on Sunday I went with a friend to the Polish bazaar in the Polish quarter and we found this adorable yard sale/sale of old Communist badges and sketchy used chapkas/Polish food place/raffle fest! it was great.  GEDC0088GEDC0090


In other news, I found an Honours Thesis advisor, I think! My prof was very open to the idea and said that it was no problem at all as long as it touched her area of expertise. That was  much less complicated than I thought. And I don’t have to worry about it next year!

Also, I went to this info session yesterday, which was actually very helpful – except the 30 minute Canadian Embassy presentation, which was clearly useless to the 2/3 of the auditorium which weren’t Canadian citizens. However, the presenter had a very peculiar style of speech (Quote of my friend Bradley: “She is soo drunk!”) and so even this presentation was vaguely amusing. We could also use the health information about malaria, diarrhea and other tropical infections slightly less, since we are only descending into the Parisian urban jungle. But the academic and bureaucratic information was extremely valuable, and made me research several requirements for visa (as I thought, EU citizens don’t need any either for work or study, although I will have to register as resident at a certain point in time), health care (I called RAMQ this morning to get my ‘departure from Quebec’ form which I’ll have to fill out to be covered in Paris as well), and travel insurance (mine covers unforeseen accidents during travel, though I didn’t see evacuation insurance – but I don’t think I’d have to be flown out of somewhere.. Another good thing about not going to sub-Saharan Africa..). I also made pdf files of all my important cards and documents (think Residency card, health care card) after my last US-Border debacle, and sent a copy to my parents for safekeeping. just in case…

In terms of Sciences Po, apparently I filled out the language test during an hour and a half for completely nothing. The department sent me an e-mail back saying that they don’t process those tests and I should check back to the Exchange student site – where there were just documents of certain requirements and expectancies you have to look over and ‘self-evaluate’ yourself. As in – yeah, I think I can do this kind of grammar and I do know about most of that vocab –I think I am a level 4 student. Then you fill out a little self-evaluation form saying that you think you are a level 4 student and upload that to your application. And that suffices to let you into French lecture classes? I am bemused, but I did exactly the above and concluded that I am probably a level 4 student (it’s the highest level that they give classes in), just because I don’t want to be bored in French class and am confident that I’ll catch onto some grammar as soon as I get there. I do have 10 years of French class under my belt, even it that was 2 years ago. Now that I have all the documents scanned and filled out, I am theoretically ready to fill out my application. My only question now is whether it is worth to pay 190 Euros for a week-long orientation session. It is supposed to introduce us to the French methodology as well as the campus, the surroundings, and the structure of Sciences Po in general. When I think of Discover McGill and Frosh, I did invest in it, but made friends for the rest of my time here – I’m pretty sure that might be the same for the Sciences Po orientation week.

All this is of course happening while I have courses and the like –also two big paper deadlines are zooming towards me more quickly than I’d like them to. Especially since I’m still so behind in my readings that I should theoretically get through a whole book tonight to be on track. Ha. Ha. Ha. At least the weather helps to keep me indoors and busy:


It’s kind of hard to see, but yes, those are snowflakes. The winter has punctually made a return on the first day of Spring on Sunday. Sort of annoying since I had already seen the first spring flowers:  


… But hearing the trees crackle when the cold rain freezes on their branches does have a beautiful feel to it.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Things are happening!

Today is apparently a news-day, since I got good and bad news equally. The good developments totally outweigh the disappointments though… Let’s see:

1. I finally got the application link to Sciences Po! This means I now have a preliminary student number, and can fill out an application form with the usual information – address, personal information, I have to upload my letter of intent, my transcript and a passport picture again… I am a little nervous about this whole application process – what if Sciences Po doesn’t want me? On the other hand, apparently they have never turned a recommended student from McGill away, so it really would be a big coincidence if it were me. In order to submit the application, I also needed a proof of language proficiency, so I spent my lunch break filling out the online proficiency test of Sciences Po. As soon as they sent me back the results, and I have scanned my transcript and passport picture, I can submit the application and have one more thing ticked off of my to-do list. Yay!

2. I sent off the first out of three scholarship applications! Originally I wanted to send two, but in the last minute I realized that I needed a professor’s signature on my letter of intent – don’t ask me why. I’ll just ask my academic advisor to sign it. I’m only waiting for that and another prof’s letter of recommendation to send off the other two applications before April 1st – and then hopefully I’ll get some money money money for Paris!

3. I also got an e-mail back from the Russian Language Centre in St. Petersburg. They are super nice there, but the lady told me that it was not in her hands to fast-track the invitation letter process and that the letter should be ready on April 20th. Then she would mail it as quickly as possible to my prof, Mrs. Krasnova. I’m meeting with my prof tomorrow to ask how long the Russian consulate thing takes – maybe it can be done within a day or two, who knows? If not, I’ll have to seriously consider my other options for the summer… Looking into internships in Berlin, but I also considered just switching the Russian language course for a Spanish one and visiting my aunt for a bit… We shall see.

Phew, that’s all for now… Except that I am also meeting with my Russian PoliSci prof to talk her into taking me on as an Honours thesis candidate a year after next this afternoon. And there’s an info-meeting on studying abroad at 5. And the Sciences Po crew is going out for drinks afterwards. I’m not busy at all.

P.S. #2 of my favourite things in Montreal: The cold weather that makes you wear all kinds of things to keep you warm …  CIMG0785

… even the most hilarious hats. (I didn’t actually buy that one, though.)

Saturday, March 20, 2010

So why create a blog circa 8 weeks before the adventure begins?

Well, of course, because it's me. Over-organized, planoholic me. But also because travelling and moving someplace else encompasses so much more than the journey itself. Even if you are not from the Grabs family (and jeez, we are planners...), you do need to get things figured out in due time, and battling with bureaucracy and administration can easily take weeks, if not months. I realized that when we moved to Canada... fortunately, there was no blog there for that odyssey cause honestly, I'd rather forget about all that sweat and stress. But this time, since it's my personal adventure, visa applications, study permits, ticket reservations and the lot just need to be part of the memory. On that note, I just received an e-mail from the Russian language center that our invitation letter - needed to apply for the visa at the Embassy here - will be ready in one month. ONE MONTH?? I'm leaving in approximately 7 weeks! I'm trying to fast-track that process now from here, although I'm not sure how successful that will be. I think that even so, I might just have enough time to get my passport with my visa ready here before May 14th. It'll be stressful though, and that was what I wanted to avoid at all costs - stress. That will also be the time where I'm packing up my life here, packing suitcases and backpacks for a year and a half, taking finals... It will be a fun time to say the least. Yet, without the visa, I won't be able to travel into Russia - so it better arrive in time! Otherwise, I'll have to rethink my summer...
Oh yes, this is also why I wanted to start blogging now - this whole process is rather stressful, and might make me forget about life here because in my head, I'm already on the road/apartment hunting in Paris/missing my flight to St. Petersburg... I worry too much. So, I want to show my favorite things in MONTREAL as well, because - let's face it - it's an awesome city on its own. Sometimes, I feel like we don't appreciate it enough since we live here and have everything available all the time.
#1 of my favorite things in Montreal:

Eva B.! This awesome second-hand store on St. Laurent just below Sherbrooke is hands-down my favorite store in the city. The layout is crazy, ...

... there are mannequin pieces everywhere, and they always offer you a free espresso or tea when you come in!

...that is, if you don't mind having tea with a mannequin as well. No, the prices are good, you can find crazy deals, and the upstairs is a costume rental service! What more could you want?

Friday, March 19, 2010

Oh no, another blog...

So this is not to try and become famous, as Julie in 'Julie and Julia' wanted. Nor to give extensive life advice (from the 20 little years I have been on this planet...). Or to make people jealous of what an extraordinary glamorous lifestyle I lead (I don't). Instead, it's just supposed to be a travel diary. Well, I guess a travel-and-live diary for around a year and a half, maybe longer. Once I am out of town, so that I can keep in touch with friends and family and everybody who is interested where the hell I'm at. In my two weeks of travelling Eastern Europe in May, or in the gorgeous city of Petersburg in June. Visiting family in Berlin and friends in Switzerland in July. And then of course moving to the city of all cities, Paris, beginning August 2010. Having a blog also forces you to do blog-worthy things, and I definitely want to get out and about as much as possible during my time at Sciences Po, so there you go. There will be travelling, fun and monuments, don't fear. And there will be food. (I couldn't even prevent myself from naming the blog something food-related. Sigh.) Und der Blog wird wahrscheinlich etwas zweisprachig, odr velech druesprachig, ou bien on pourrait incluire une quatrième langue? Well, one is clear -- je vais voir la vie en rose... (and dominate the Eiffel Tower, just as in 2007) =)