The shorter the day, the longer the night – Чем короче день, тем дольше ночь – Je kürzer der Tag, desto länger die Nacht

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.

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

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Reading Week – Helsinki

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.

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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).

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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.

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It’s a very interesting museum/gallery and had some thought provoking exhibits, such as an exhibition titled “After the Turmoil” http://www.kiasma.fi/en/exhibitions-events/meeri-koutaniemi-arman-alizad/ which brings to question how one moves on and carries on living a normal life after a traumatic upbringing or traumatic event occurs in their lives.

 

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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!

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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.

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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.

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We then found our way to the Sibelius monument. We felt like children in the snow, because it was just so unbelievably beautiful.

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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.

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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”.

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fancy staircase
Sea Cow
Furuhjelm’s Sea Cow – One of the most complete skeletons of the extinct Stellar’s sea cow

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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.

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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!!!

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So that’s all for Helsinki, my top five suggestions or tips if you’re going to be visiting Helsinki are:

  1. 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.
  2. The Finnish Museum of Natural History – you won’t be disappointed.
  3. Walking around the city is great for orientating yourself, and you see so much more than getting the bus everywhere
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

10 Things About Living Abroad

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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)
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    The discovery of hummus after five weeks in Russia
  3. 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.
  4. Living in a foreign country is really challenging.
  5. 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.
  6. It is possible to include dill in almost every meal. The Russians do this very well.
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    Dill in the soup, dill in the salad…
  7. Queuing is so different in different countries, and also different depending on what building you are in.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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!

Ziferburg – Цифербург

Ziferburg: noun a very German sounding name, a difficult place to find, very pleasant to work in, well worth the twenty minute hunt for exactly the right place.

In my last post I mentioned that in one of our guide books, a cafe named Ziferburg was supposed to be opposite Gvostiny Dvor, but on my explorations I discovered that the location had run into disuse. I also mentioned that online, they apparently had relocated, and on Tuesday, Kelly and I made it our mission to hunt down this place and try it out.

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First of all, I feel you should know that it was honestly one of the most challenging places to find yet. The address given on their website is indeed correct, but the actual cafe is in a building that isn’t well signed, and it is on the first floor (in English terms)/second floor (in Russian terms), and then when you get to that floor you have to distinguish between two different cafes and various other rooms!

We made it in the end. The person behind the till explained to use exactly how the place worked, and we got to choose our own clock as a way of identifying us, then all we had to do was ask for a latte, pick somewhere to sit and start working.

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The atmosphere in the room which we were in was kind of strange. There were a group of people conducting a sort of photo shoot, but very quietly. There were another group of four people playing a card game in one corner. And then there were people sat out on the mini balconies just chatting. Then there were others, who like us had brought work to do and were sat very studiously scribbling away at whatever assignment had fallen their way.

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In the two hours that we were there I had a latte, a couple of biscuits – which were pretty nice – and then in the last hour, the cafe staff broke out a watermelon, which we accompanied with some herbal tea – I went for green tea, whilst Kelly went for a hibiscus tea (каркаде).

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Ten out of ten would definitely go back there again of an afternoon. It’s a great way to break up the day after having classes all day, and to rewind, get the homework done, but also chat and relax a little, without the constant pressure that someone might want your seat having bought some beverage slightly more recently that you.

Ah yes, I forgot to mention, that this cafe works on the basis of you pay for the amount of time you stay there. So you can help yourself to tea, ask for coffee or cocoa, and then also help yourself to the items of food that were on the table.

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I have added a link to their instagram page if you click on the word, because their website is rather confusing. There are a couple of linked cafes of the same style across Europe, and on the main website they list out the various towns which they are based in, so it will be interesting to visit the equivalent cafes but in the different countries at some point!

Time Flies

Another week and a day has gone by so quickly, and I haven’t had a chance to sit down and write up about anything, which just goes to show both how busy things have been and how any time I’m just chilling, it’s a much needed rest to recuperate ready for the next day.

Anyhow, here I am with a little update.

This week’s post will be a little more food and cafe orientated than before, simply because I have been to quite a few cafes this week and I have pictures from them.

 

Number One – Marketplace, Nevsky Prospect

There are at least two of these restaurant/cafe/bar places along Nevsky, and the food, cakes and coffees are brilliant!

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It’s the perfect place to just nip in for Kaffee und Kuchen after classes, or for a quick and reasonable meal in the evening. The food ordering system is a little different to what I’m used to, but once you learn what to do, it is actually a system that I prefer, because the service in many restaurants here isn’t great. How it works is, there are different sections of cuisine, and you go to the section that you want to purchase from. You ask them what you want, they might tell you exactly what your dish is called and then you go to the cashier, tell him/her what you’ve ordered, you pay for it there and then, and then bring back your receipt to the place where you’ve ordered your food, collect it and take it to wherever you’re sat. Having typed that all out, it looks and sounds a lot more complicated than it actually is, I promise.

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For desserts my particular favourite is the Honey Cake or the Chocolate Caramel Cake. Of course, I am yet to try the others, and they all look delicious, so I am looking forward to testing out the other desserts in the time that I am here, and my favourite might change in the weeks to come.

http://www.market-place.me/ru/spb/

 

Number Two – Bonch / КОФЕЙНЯ «БОНЧ», Bolshaya Morskaya Ulitsa

I love this place so much! It’s so relaxed, it’s really near to a metro station, and their savoury, sweet and drinks are just perfect.

This week I went there twice:

the first with the intention of getting work done, and the lighting and atmosphere is perfect for doing just that. I ordered an Ice Latte (латте айс) and Kryssa ordered a hot chocolate – word of warning a hot chocolate here can either mean a very thick almost mousse like liquid or what I would normally have as a hot chocolate. Of course, both varieties are delicious, the thicker one can just be a little unexpected sometimes.

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And the second as a refuel after visiting the State Hermitage. So I ordered a Tiramisu and a Halva Cream Coffee, both of which were absolutely delicious!

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Everyone who I’ve taken here so far, has really liked both the food and the atmosphere. It’s safe to say that it’s pretty high up on my list of favourite cafes.

http://www.bonchcoffee.ru/

 

Number Three – Кофе на кухне, Nab. Reki Fontanki

Not the easiest place to find, but definitely one to visit again! It was well worth the many road crossings and bridges to eventually find this place. Although pretty small, the cafe manages to fit in lots of customers without it feeling too crowded. There is a pleasant mix of table heights and quirkiness.

Of course, we couldn’t go there and not try out the food. So I ordered a Tomato Wrap (Ролл с томатом), a chocolate milkshake (Молочный коктейль шоколадный) and a cheesecake (Чизкейк). All of which were very delicious and all of which I would highly recommend. And Kelly ordered a Tuna Wrap, a cappuccino and a cheesecake as well.

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I would also like to give them ten out of ten points for the fact that when I attempted ordering in Russian, they didn’t instantly switch to speaking to me in English, but rather spoke in Russian slightly slower and slightly clearer, which was really nice of them and made my day, because it felt like I was actually achieving a part of the purpose of my year abroad – to be able to hold a spontaneous conversation in Russian.

Also according to Kelly’s guide book, they make vegan friendly muffins. We didn’t however enquire after those, so I cannot tell you for sure if this is the case.

General Notes

  1. We found that a lot of the places that are listed in guide books, online or on Google Maps, are either not where it says it is, or have been closed for a while. Whilst exploring I accidentally stumbled across one of the cafes that we wanted to visit only to find that it was very much closed, under construction or perhaps relocated.

    formerly Ziferburg – according to their website, they’ve relocated, so I will check this out and update as and when I find out
  2. If you go to a cafe that turns out to not be so “cafe-like”, don’t be afraid to go find somewhere else. Most of the time they don’t mind, as long as you’re polite and greet them as you leave.
  3. Might come as a shock… BUT ..don’t expect them to speak English. The majority of people who you come across will be very pleased that you are attempting to order in Russian. Of course there are some who get impatient, but don’t let that put you off. It’s so much more rewarding to at least attempt to speak in Russian, rather than to start off in English and to then later realise that you could’ve said it in Russian. It’s also really good for your confidence for speaking in an unprepared situation.
  4. This one applies to anywhere that you might buy things – so the supermarket, shopping mall, grocery store, restaurants and cafes. Always be prepared for them to ask if you have the 27 roubles to make the change that they give you back simpler. It may seen counter-intuitive to you but that’s just how things work here. You get used to it.

My First Blog Post Ever

If you found your way here, then it’s probably due to Instagram and right now I’m not sure if that is a good thing or not. Pretty soon I’ll be travelling off to Russia for just shy of four months, and whilst I am over there I wanted to have some sort of record of some of the antics and experiences that I get up to, whilst of course studying really hard. Hopefully by beginning this blog a little earlier than when I’ll actually be going, it’ll encourage me to stick at it, and it won’t get added to the waste bin of things-I-started-but-never-completed.

So today I tried out a number of new things, rather in keeping with the “first” theme.

The First One: I really wanted to bake something in my last week in the UK so I tried out this recipe for a vegan bakewell tart, but made it into a slice, and tweaked a few things.

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Nonetheless, it’s safe to say that this recipe is now on my “highly-recommended-good-to-make-quickly” list. It is super easy, super vegan and probably not super healthy, but it’s homemade and tastes good, so that isn’t such a big deal.

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The only thing that I would change is perhaps find a way to make it less gooey, as my dad was under the impression that it was under cooked.

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And here’s the link to the page with the recipe… (emilycooksvegan.com/2013/01/27/bakewell-tart/ )

 

The Second One: For a while I have considered testing out Bullet Journaling, and many different friends have asked me if I’ve tried it out, simply because it’s apparently something that I would do. So in order to conform to this perception of me, and also because I’m pretty intrigued and fancied trying another new thing, I had a go. The first set back was that I don’t own a squared or dotted notebook, so I picked a cute one from my shelf instead. The next problem to solve was to figure out what works for me…

So I made a key…

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And started off by having a day to a page and tested out different ideas for this whole day to a page thing…

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We’ll see how it works out, whether I’ll be able to stick to the organising and planning, whether it will actually help, but for now I quite like it. It’s at least encouraged me to drink more water today!

 

The Third One: writing a blog. I’ve never done this before, as you can probably tell. So I’m still figuring out the whole webpage and wordpress thing. And still working on how to write in a nice way, without it becoming too rambling and boring. Really need to work on that one. And I’m still trying to find a way to end this blog post before it gets too long.

 

So I guess that’s it for today, take care!