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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Chicago with the Petersens

Road trip!
This week I am staying with the Petersens, and they surprised me with a trip to Chicago! Now, I know I just got back from my Chicago food trip, but I was still really excited to go back, because the food trip had reminded me just how awesome Chicago is (and I'm not even a huge fan of big cities); plus, this trip was going to be completely different from the last one, so I still had a lot to look forward to!
The Ferris Wheel

Thursday morning we packed up the car and did the 3 hour drive to Chicago. I had fun playing games like "headbands" in the car. When we arrived, the first thing we did was go to Navy Pier. I had wanted to go to Navy Pier when I was there earlier in the week, but there was no time, so this worked out perfectly. We did the swings first (which, by the way, is my favorite ride); Navy Pier has really good swings that go high and fast. I love the feeling of flying through the air with my hair blowing, my shoes off, and the sun shining down on me. Afterwards, we went on the ferris wheel. The first ferris wheel was actually made for the World's Fair when it was held in Chicago. It was so fun to ride all the way up to the top and see the beautiful skyline of Chicago, and the lovely blue of Lake Michigan.

Giordano's Pizza
After Navy Pier, we went to get some Pizza from Giordano's. Earlier in the week I ate at Gino's Pizza, which was good, but I found that I also really like Giordano's. The pizza here is stuffed deep dish (which I found out means that they put the toppings in between two layers of dough and put the pizza sauce on top of the top layer). It tasted amazingslightly more soft and melty than the pizza at Gino's. We took our pizza over to Millennium Park to eat so that I could see the Bean, which I have never seen, despite having visited Chicago many times before! It was pretty coolbig and shiny, with a curvy and warped reflection of Chicago and the people.
Our reflection in the Bean

Next we headed up about 1 hour north of Chicago for a concert at Ravinia. We stopped at Jamba Juice on the way for some delicious smoo
The concert at Ravinia
thies to snack on during the concert. All of the pieces that the Chicago Symphony (one of the best symphonies in the world) was performing at this concert were by Russian composers, which was awesome. I didn't recognize any, but Hannah had played one of the pieces in youth symphony. Ravinia was a beautiful setting for a concert, and the setup was amazing. We set out our blankets and chairs on the lawn and settled in for the concert. You could get seats in the main concert area for more expensive, but wasn't really necessary because the sound was just fine on the lawn. It was very relaxing to sit back and listen to the music; the Chicago Symphony did an incredible performance of the pieces.

Sleeping in Ikea
The next day we went over to Ikea for some dorm room stuff. Since I don't have a roommate yet, it was difficult to shop, but I did get some very useful things for a good deal, plus lots of ideas. We ate at the Cheesecake Factory afterwards. I'm not a huge fan of cheesecake, especially if it's plain cheesecake, but since I knew that I couldn't eat a whole piece of the Cheesecake Factory's cheesecake by myself, I opted to split with Hannah. Hannah wanted the original, and for some reason I agreed, even though I knew that I haven't really like other plain cheesecakes when I've tried them. However, the cheesecake came, I tasted it, and I was surprised. It was so good. It was creamy (but not cream cheesy—yuck!) and cold. I just kept eating more!
Now I'm thinking that I need to find a cheesecake recipe that tastes just like that one!

I loved this trip because everything was new and different—it just shows how much Chicago has to offer! I had such a fun time. Thank you Petersens!

(If you want to read more about my Chicago food trip, click here to go to my food blog)

Sunday, July 26, 2015

FIFA Women's World Cup Final - Vancouver, Canada

On Tuesday morning I opened up an email from my friend Anna’s Dad, Mr. Buist. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I read that on Friday it was possible that we would be leaving for the Women’s World Cup Final. To be honest, I kind of doubted that it would even happen. I didn’t want to get my hopes up too soon. But sure enough, when I arrived to their house on Thursday, I discovered that both the game tickets and the plane tickets had been purchased. I couldn’t believe they were including me on this! We headed to the airport on Friday morning to begin the day long journey to get to Vancouver, Canada where the Final was being held.

On Saturday it was the 4th of July, so surprisingly we drove back to the United States to celebrate. The Buists have some old friends in Washington so we were fortunate enough to have a place to celebrate the 4th.
On Sunday, it was game day. We took the skytrain into the city about 5 hours before the game was to begin and then followed the crowd. We didn’t want to enter the stadium that early so we found a busy tent set up for the World Cup. It was filled with US fans along with a few Japan fans. A band played for awhile, and games and food were available. Cheers and shouts often spread through the room at random moments. At one point a steady cheer for Japan broke out, but within seconds the US fans had joined and taken over. The Japan fans were hopelessly outnumbered and didn’t even try to compete. Shortly after we headed towards the ginormous stadium with the growing crowd and got in line. It took us about 30 minutes to get to the front, and while waiting, random bursts of cheers would break out. After our tickets had been scanned, Anna and I did a little happy dance - we were so excited!

Our seats were in the upper of two decks, right in the middle. They were perfect! With 30 minutes before the game was to begin, we had plenty of time to take pictures and watch the teams warm up. Our faces were painted, we wore jerseys and hats, but we still felt underdressed compared to some fans!

The game got off to an exciting start. I admit I didn’t really expect anything to happen for a little while. In the third minute the first goal was scored by the US Women. The crowd went insane! We were all screaming and jumping up and down! With every goal that was scored, Mr. Buist would jump up and down our row, then run past everyone giving them high fives. His excitement never died down. By the end of the first half you could see the desperation beginning to form on the faces of the Japanese. I couldn’t believe that I was present for such an exciting game!

I had several amateur commentaries and opinions available throughout the game, between Mr. Buist and the other viewers surrounding me. Chants broke out every so often and a few failed waves were attempted. My favorite cheer was when “I BELIEVE THAT WE WILL WIN” thundered through the stadium. The chants would build and grow until only screams echoed through the stands. Goal after goal was scored, and every once in a while the Japanese were lucky enough to slip one in. By the second half we were confident that the US had the game, but we still celebrated just as loud with every goal.

By the end of the game, our voices were hoarse and our smile were big. I still can’t believe that I had the amazing opportunity to go to this game, and especially with these people. Thank you so much to the Buists!

Saturday, July 4, 2015

These are a Few of My Favorite Things

There is no doubt.  I loved Moscow.  I've been running into old friends who read our blog, are friends on facebook or simply had a conversation with me, and they often comment "You loved Russia, didn't you?"  Yes, I did.  I threw myself into the past two years.  I explored the city, popped into churches and took every opportunity to visit Red Square. I made friends and was involved in the community.  So yes, I miss Moscow and most things associated with it.  Here are a few of my favorite things that, in my mind, make Moscow a unique place in this world.

1.  Onion domes - Gold, light blue with stars, and black domes fill the city sky.  It's difficult to go anywhere without being graced by the domes.
2.  Church bells - More often than not, it is a Russian Orthodox holiday for some saint.  The bells ring throughout the day.  It's comforting, not harsh to the system.  The musical sound floats in the air.
3.  Red Square - Every opportunity I got, I popped over to Red Square to just walk around and soak in the awesomeness of the place.  With St. Basil's on one side, the Kremlin and the department store, Gum, on other sides, it feels magical.  
4.  Women carrying bouquets of flowers - Flowers were expensive in Moscow, yet seeing a woman walking down the street, carrying a bouquet, was quiet common.  The flowers are very carefully put together in a half sphere shape with greenery and netting around the outside.  The designs are very symmetrical and tight.  The stems are tightly wound together, making the bouquet easy to carry.
5.  The circus - The Russian circus is nothing like the three ring circus we know in America.  Watching the circus is like watching a piece of art come to life.  Every move is very carefully choreographed.  Typically a live band accompanies the show.  The top performers in the world are here, showing off their skills.
6.  The ballet - For the cost of a movie ticket in America, I could go to the ballet.  I took full advantage of going whenever possible.  The Russians are known to be the experts in ballet throughout the world.  It's in their blood and in their history.  Although the Bolshoi is the top theater, several other theaters have shows of outstanding quality.  Traditional government funding of the arts has made ballet affordable to the public.
7.  Blini - Many countries in the world seem to have their own version to pancakes.  Basically, think crepes.  I'm sure that in the traditional recipe there are subtle differences, but to me they were the same as crepes.  And who doesn't love a good crepe?
8.  Khachapuri - Georgian food is popular in Moscow and St. Petersburg.  Kabobs and dumplings are great, but my favorite is khachapuri.  The easiest way to describe khachapuri is cheese pizza.  The crust is a bit different, it's lighter and melts in your mouth.  The cheese is more of a ricotta and mozzarella mix.  Traditional khachapuri has a raw egg in the center.  You're supposed to rip off some bread and sort of slosh it around in the raw egg before eating.  I ordered mine without the egg.
9.  Tarragon lemonade -  You can add raspberry lemonade, strawberry lemonade, basil lemonade and mint lemonade to my favorites.  I didn't care for the fruit juices in Colombia with fruit floating in them, but I like the way these fresh herbs and fruit complemented the lemon flavor.
10.  The metro system - I loved not having to rely on my car to get me around.  The Moscow metro is safe, cheap and convenient.  The different lines are laid out very well so that you can get any place in the city with typically only changing lines once.  Cars come every 30 seconds or so, so there is never a long wait.  The stations are beautiful.  The architecture reflects the era the station was built in.  Art telling the history of the country, graces the walls, columns and celilings. Most of the lines still have the old cars which I felt added a feeling of longevity to the system.  Often old Soviet music played over the tinny speakers, also adding to the enjoyment of simple transportation.
11.  Winter activities - Because of the long, dark, cold winters, Russians know how to enjoy being outside despite the weather.  They take full advantage of ice skating, skiing and dancing outside.  Even though summer is beautiful in the city, winter was my favorite.  People just bundle up in their long fur coats and hats and don't think twice about the cold.