As you may have guessed from the title, the days are getting ever shorter here in St. Petersburg. So this post is going to delve a little into the reality of living in a city where the sun hasn’t shone in many weeks. It’s not all greyness and it does get better, so stick with me.
So these shorter days are not helped by the constant blanket of cloud which covers the city. If anyone has ever lived in a country or city which doesn’t get sunlight for long periods of time, then you’ll know that living like this is actually pretty tiring and challenging. It can be pretty hard to pull together the motivation to keep on with the everyday task, because all you see when you look outside is grey cloud, grey pigeons, grey buildings and bare grey tree. Hence it has actually been quite a challenging few weeks.
What, you might ask, have I done to try to deal with it? well that’s what I can share with you. The things that have helped me to cope a little better with so much greyness.
skyping and messaging my best friends
I have some amazing friends, if they’re reading this then I hope that they know how amazing they are. I don’t think there has been a skype session where I haven’t felt better having talked even about random things.
drawing and being a little creative
this one is a big stress reliever. I brought a notebook with me to Russia, in which I draw and write all sort of creativity and being able to do that is a huge help. There is just something about taking a break from the hustle of the day and all the tasks that weighing down on me and taking a moment to just draw something and completely focus on that instead.
meeting up people
obviously if you are in a strange city and you don’t know anyone, then this one can be difficult. But I have been so fortunate to make some great friends here, and on difficult days it’s been great to meet them up and to just get work done together. Sometimes we don’t even talk that much because we’ve got homework to be doing and vocab to be learning, but to know that you have people that you can agree to meet up helps with forcing you to get out and about despite the grey weather.
finding your comfort zone
okay, this one has been tricky here in Russia, because I am almost always outside of my comfort zone, in that you always have to be ready for someone to speak to you in Russian, or that you might have to do something at short notice, or the thought that something might crop up is constantly there. However, if you can find places in whichever city you are in, where you know that if you go there, you’ll feel relaxed and you can have a clear head, whether that’s a cafe which is closer to home, or a space where you feel productive, or even just walking about the city and the metro with music in. Whatever works to make you relaxed and can then wonders for dealing with the gloominess of a grey day.
Wishing you all the best wherever you are, and I hope that the sun shines for you tomorrow, because when the sun shines and the sky is blue, everything just looks that little bit better.
Loft Project Etagi (Лофт Проект ЭТАЖИ) is an art space in the centre of St. Petersburg. There are a few eateries, every so often there are different exhibitions on the various floors, and it’s one of the few places here where you are able to legally able to walk around the roof top and view the skyline of the city.
Фестиваль Хаски – Saturday 12th November
Over the weekend there has been a “Husky Festival” happening at the Loft Project, and when I found out about this, I couldn’t resist going. It was a lot more crowded than I anticipated, but what do you expect when they have real huskies available for petting ❤
For an entrance fee of 100 rubles you were given access to the exhibition, a postcard of a husky and little pieces of paper so that you could vote for your favourite husky picture.
I am so glad that I went to this event. What struck me was how the huskies were simultaneously so chill and calm, and so alert. Also, their fur is unbelievably soft and their eyes are just gorgeous!
My only suggestion for improvement. More huskies and less people.
Having had our hopes of travelling abroad during reading week diminished by the lack of returned passports, we were pleasantly surprised when they came back just in time for us to book a semi-spontaneous trip to Helsinki and then on to Tallinn.
Day 1 – St. Petersburg to Helsinki
I got up super duper early on Wednesday morning in order to make the 6.40am train to Helsinki.
It meant getting on one of the first metros of the day, which was kind of strange. We arrived in Helsinki at around 9am Finnish time with the whole day ahead of us, but also with heavy rucksacks on our backs. And so obviously the first thing we did was get coffee and croissants. They’re just not the same in Russia. And it was a no brainer for me to order a chai latte at the first opportunity (my ultimate weakness).
When we left the main station it had begun to snow pretty heavily so we walked around in the hope of finding somewhere warm and dry and interesting, which is when we stumbled across the Kiasma Contemporary Art Museum.
Then, in an attempt to find the bus station to go to the hostel, we were blown around in the snow and sent around and around in circles by the signs, until we finally figured out that we needed to walk a distance from the actual central bus station, in order to find our bus stop. We were so glad to be able to collapse onto our beds in the hostel after such a chilly, snowy and busy day!
And what would be more suited than finding the local Chinese cuisine and enjoying the authentic dishes for dinner. I went to bed content with tofu, satay sauce and jasmine tea in my stomach.
Day 2 – Helsinki
When we woke up on Thursday morning, the sky was blue, the sun was shining and we’d bought croissants the previous day so we were sorted for breakfast. It had snowed even more that night, and everything was coated in this layer of icing-like snow.
After taking the bus a little way into town, we got off and upon seeing a cute stationary shop, we felt obliged to go in and pay them a visit.
We then found our way to the Sibelius monument. We felt like children in the snow, because it was just so unbelievably beautiful.
After admiring the monument for a suitable amount of time, we made our way towards the city centre, where we stumbled across the Finnish Museum of Natural History, not before pausing at another cute cafe for a delicious pecan and caramel cookie and of course, a chai latte again.
If you’re ever in Helsinki, the museum is well worth a visit. Admittedly all of the information is in Finnish and Swedish, so we didn’t really understand anything, but it is still impressive! And I did learn one thing because someone kindly translated what was written about the now extinct “sea cow”.
After that museum we took a walk around the city, and looked at the various points of interest, and after much walking and walking we found a delicious sushi restaurant. Safe to say that day two was a good day.
Day 3 – Helsinki…
As it was our last day in Helsinki, we had to be checked out by eleven, meaning that we carried around our luggage for the whole day, but it was nonetheless a good day. We spent the time we had left in Helsinki walking around, looking at buildings that we hadn’t seen before, and then we made our way to the ferry terminal, not before finding some cool graffiti!!!
So that’s all for Helsinki, my top five suggestions or tips if you’re going to be visiting Helsinki are:
Figure out how the public transport system works either before you go or as soon as you get there – there is a transport office in the basement of the main station with lots of information leaflets.
The Finnish Museum of Natural History – you won’t be disappointed.
Walking around the city is great for orientating yourself, and you see so much more than getting the bus everywhere
When you’re in a cafe with WiFi, check your route to your next destination and make all of the screenshots, because the WiFi in a lot of the shopping malls doesn’t work.
If you’re a student, ask if they have a student discount for items, because we were told a bit too late that a lot of places do really good discounts for students, so it’s worth an ask.
The next installment will be about Tallinn! It is so beautiful there and I can’t wait to share with you the pictures from the Old Town.
A lot has happened this month: the weather changed, ice-hockey happened twice, theatres and musical concerts have been attended a lot, new coffee shops have been discovered, no blog post has been written.
So to sum up October and keep this blog alive, let’s see what I’ve been up to here in Saint Petersburg for the past four weeks!
Also apologies for the photo quality, or rather the lack of it, my phone was accidentally set on a really low setting and I only realised really recently when I was looking through my settings.
Week One 01/10/16 – 08/10/16
Sun 1st – The Mariinsky Theatre – The Fire Bird – Шопениана/Жар-птица/Шехерaзада
This ballet performance consisted of three ballets, Chopiniana (Chopin), the Fire Bird (Stravinsky) and Scheherazade (Rimsky-Korsakov). All three were stunning in their own way, but by far my favourite was the Fire Bird. The theatre itself is stunning, and I was so glad that we were able to see the performance in Mariinsky I, as opposed to the other two parts of the Mariinsky.
Wed 5th – Stationary Shops and Street Art Tour
Okay, so that sub-heading makes it sound so much more official than it actually was. After uni classes I met up with Masha because she was going to show me where to get sheet music (if I wanted to get some), and then she took me on a small tour of the street art in some of the courtyards interspersed with stationary shops that she knew of which she thought would appeal to me. It was a really lovely afternoon, and I now know of three really cool stationary shops and that makes me quite happy ^_^
Fri 7th – The Great Hall (Philharmonic) – Hollywood on the Neva – Голливуд на Неве
Preceded by my first visit to Укроп for dinner, which is a completely vegetarian restaurant, and although the food was really good and the atmosphere was super chilled, I was just really upset by the fact that their name meant “dill”.
Anyhow, getting back to the philharmonic. We bought tickets for all of CultureClub in the morning, but there weren’t a huge number of tickets remaining, so we bought “free seats”, which actually means we were sat around the edge of the hall, on these fancy benches, but didn’t have designated seats so could’ve changed bench if we decided we didn’t like the view.
The music and repertoire of pieces chosen from various Hollywood movies starting from the 20th Century was interesting to say the least. It gave you an insight into which films are obviously slightly more popular or well known here, as I had never heard of some of the films mentioned. My favourite was of course their rendition of Moon River from Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
Week Two 09/10/16 – 15/10/16
Mon 10th – Canadian Thanksgiving
I have a friend here, who is originally from Canada but has been living in Russia for a long time, and I was really touched when she invited me to come over for a Canadian Thanksgiving dinner. I was initially really worried about going, because I assumed that, like a previous dinner, we would all be speaking Russian, it would be very exhausting but of course still really fun. But to my relief we all spoke in English with the odd Russian phrase dotted in here and there, and it was so nice to have food that was more Western and didn’t contain dill. I know that the point of being here is to speak Russian, but at the same time, there comes a point where you brain needs a break, and needs to be able to relax a little bit.
As part of the thanksgiving tradition (for her family anyhow) before dinner they go around the table and say what they are thankful for, and then before dessert they go around again and share a verse that has meant a lot to them in the past year.
Thur 13th – Salmon and Stir-Fry Vegetable Noodles / Ice-Hockey
I was informed of a Chinese shop in Saint Petersburg, as I have been hunting for one for a while. So Kelly and I went to it. It’s called красный дракон or Red Dragon. They had all the specific ingredients that we needed to marinate the salmon, then we went to this grocery store called Лэнд or Land, and yes it was maybe a little pricey, but they had peanut butter and large tubs of hummus and a lot of fresh vegetables, whilst still being a lot cheaper than Stockmann. So we can back and made the Salmon & Veg Noodles and it was really good!
We then set off to the ice-hockey. СКА vs Динамо Рига! It was a good match. Saint Petersburg won! And it was pretty chilled.
Week Three 16/10/16 – 22/10/16
Fri 21st – Masha’s school visit
I didn’t get up to much in this week, but on the Friday I went to Masha’s school to talk to her English class about the UK, University and studying. It was interesting to see what her school is like, and how the different ages are all in one school, unlike the UK. On the way home Masha showed me a cool art installation in one of the courtyard on Vasilyevsky Ostrov and then a really cool Old Books shop.
Today was also the day when the oven which had appeared the week before started to be moved around the kitchen and the worktop shrunk in the meantime.
Week Four 23/10/16 – 31/10/16
Mon 24th – French Club
It was a gorgeous Monday, so I will insert an irrelevant picture of the cathedral next to which I am studying.
So, French Club! It was a lot less stressful than I was anticipating, perhaps because I already know someone who goes too, but also because the guy who runs the club – whose name I’ve forgotten :L – was really nice and wasn’t one of those people who makes you feel bad for not knowing much French. Admittedly I should’ve done a quite grammar and vocab revision blast before going just to make it that little bit easier and less awkward. But I can think of no reason why I wouldn’t go again. And fear not guy-who-runs-french-club I will brush up on my vocab and how to form the past tense, so I won’t be soooo painfully terrible next time.
Thur 27th – Ice Hockey
Round 2 of the ice-hockey! This time it was СКА vs KHL Medveščak Zagreb. It was an impressive game. Saint Petersburg won 6-0!!!! And in one of the breaks, some people dressed up as pucks and did some competition, it was weird, and kind of funny.
Fri 28th – Bake Off Level Russia
If you follow me on instagram, you’ll already know that Kelly and I christened the oven by making brownies, and we proved that you don’t need to have all of the correct equipment in order to make good food. We were lacking weighing scales, proper cups as alternative, a brownie tray, decent oven gloves, measuring jug or spoons, mixing bowl, smaller bowls for separate mixing and baking paper. But a saucepan is just as good a mixing bowl, and a jug with grams written up the side works just as well as a weighing scale, and guessing the amount of liquid couldn’t have been any better than using spoons, right?
But in all seriousness, it worked. Possibly because the recipe comes from How Sweet Eats’ blog, and all of her recipes are amazing (just fangirling a little because she comes up with ThE aBsOlUtE bEsT fOoD!), and possibly because there were two of us, and teamwork almost one hundred percent makes things work better.
And there you have it, the month of October in blog post form, and I didn’t even mention the weather… so here we go for a….
Summary of the important & notable weather occurrences in St. Petersburg this month
First day when you could see your breath when you breathed out – can’t really add a picture for that one.
First day of snow
Day when I got excited to see blue sky and the sunrising because it had been cloudy in over a week. The excitement was premature because I came out of the metro station at the other end and it had clouded over and remained that way for the following three days.
That was a long one! Hopefully I’ll stay a little more on top of this blogging thing in November. One can hope.
I’ve now been in Saint Petersburg for almost five weeks! So I thought now would be a good time to make a list of things that you discover about living abroad, but only from living abroad. As I’m pretty sure that I wasn’t told or warned of any of these things before setting of on my trip abroad.
Not living a train ride away from your best friends and family is sad and at times very difficult, but that’s when Skype is your invaluable friend! Equally, the famalam back home won’t always understand that sometimes things aren’t completely right as rain one hundred percent of the time, and that’s when it’s great to have friends who are also on their year abroad, and also understand where you’re coming from, and also are feeling the same feelings of missing friends, and feeling slightly isolated from all things British.
The foodstuffs that you are used to won’t always be readily available in the supermarkets. So improvising meals and scouring the city may become part of your life. (BUT WHEN YOU FIND THE HUMMUS IT BECOMES YOUR MOST VALUED POSSESSION.. also valid for Peanut Butter and any kind of Asian foods)
Pasta may or may not become a staple in the first few weeks, simply because it’s so convenient and an easy fall back. When you become sick of pasta, you then realise there are so many other options, you just have to experiment.
Living in a foreign country is really challenging.
Having to speak and be constantly aware of people speaking in a foreign language is very tiring. But obviously is great from the learning point of view.
It is possible to include dill in almost every meal. The Russians do this very well.
Queuing is so different in different countries, and also different depending on what building you are in.
Some people will be mean about you not being able to understand what they’re saying the first time around, some won’t care but a lot will be understanding and try to speak slower and simpler for you.
Public transport can be a mare. With buses, trolley buses, mashrutskas and trams to manoeuvre, as well as a metro map! It can all get a bit much sometimes, especially when the buses don’t seem to have an exact timetable, sometimes they turn up, and other times they don’t. One thing you can guarantee is that there will be a conductor on the bus who is shouting down the bus to find out who’s paid and who hasn’t but once you know what you’re doing, it’s all good.
Finally it’s okay to find that everything isn’t always as amazing as it is made out to be on Instagram and Facebook. Perhaps this should be my first point, but I’ll make it my last anyhow. There is a huge misconception that spending a year abroad is a bit of a holiday, but the reality is very different.
I most definitely have missed out some key points or quirks about living abroad, and if you have any other suggestions that feel free to add them in the comments. Hope you’re having a good time if you are abroad also, or if not hope everything is well!