I don’t want to go on about all my woes with the airlines (and there were many, expensive ones), so I will leap straight into a narrative of my first 24 hours in Volgograd

9:30pm – Arrive in Volgograd, one of my suitcases has a broken handle, the airport does not provide any trollies so I have to try and move 3 pieces of luggage while carrying a shoulder bag.  I don’t move fast.

I am met by Svetlana and Alessandro, a fellow teacher from Italy who came in on the same flight.  Alessandro also has a lot of luggage, and the car is only a normal sized saloon.  The driver somehow manages to fit us all in, though with barely a square cubic metre to spare!  This is how Russians invented Tetris.

10-ish – After dropping Alessandro off, Svetlana takes me to my flat. This is not at the address on my invitation letter.  I have to drag my luggage up three flights of stairs.  I know I will sleep well tonight.  She says she will come for me at 12pm tomorrow and take me shopping for some essentials.  She gives me a sim card but it doesn’t work with my phone.  She also leaves a copy of my schedule – it appears I am due to teach on Friday.  My flatmate Jorje is not due to arrive until tomorrow.

My flat is spartan by UK standards, but looks less lived-in than Alessandro’s.  You can see the Volga river from my balcony.  I don’t have a bed, as such, I have a couch that pulls out into a bed with side-boards, meaning I have to lie diagonally.  But there is a cooker, a fridge, a shower/bath, a microwave (Hallelujah!) and a washing machine.  All the basics in fact.  Except a toaster or a grill.  And wi-fi.

12.15pm the next day –  Svetlana arrives and takes me to the local mall “Pyramid.”  I have to buy a new phone that fits the sim card.  1000 roubles.  We go around the supermarket.  I have no idea what half the products are, and Svetlana is unable to tell me whether to buy the blue milk or the red milk (I went red).  I ask about Wi-Fi – it looks like I have to go and make a payment to the telecoms company in cash to activate it.

1pm – we catch a trolley-bus down the main road that goes through Volgograd, then walk to the office where I am introduced to Irina, the manager and Galia the librarian.  I get the wi-fi password for the office and I am briefly able to check my messages before I am called into the library.  I am given an armful of textbooks.  Alessandro and I both have a meeting with Mikhail, the methodologist who goes through the teaching process dos and don’ts.  Alessandro’s schedule said he had 4 classes tomorrow.  He is surprised when I say I just have one.  We go back to the library and Galia tells us neither of us have any teaching tomorrow, but we both have a Russian lesson.  I ask for an updated copy of my schedule.  (I’m still waiting!)

4.30pm – John (Alessandro’s American flatmate) invites us to observe one of his classes (in another building), with 4 teenage students.  It is a good insight into how the programme works and what is expected of us.  We then go to the main school building and observe another of John’s classes with 4 adult students.

7.30pm – John invites Alessandro and I out for dinner at a middle-eastern style restaurant with shisha hookahs.  I’m sold on establishing that they do pizzas.  I have a margherita (ever unadventurous) and a ginger lemonade (ok maybe sometimes adventurous).  The lemonade is really nice.  I ask about various concerns – police checks, bribery and corruption, how to get the Wi-Fi working – and John reassures me.  We talk about politics too.  Civilly.  Another American in the restaurant overhears us and gives John a pat on the back, he is really pleased with this!

Alessandro leaves early to meet a friend of a friend.  John walks me enough of the way home so I know where I am going, and reminds me how to find the school office in the morning for my Russian lesson at 9am.  I go home to find Jorje is there, and has paid for the Wi-Fi so it is working!  Time to update my blog…


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