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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Just a taster of the impressive fountains at Peterhof on Saturday! So much shiny! So much water! So much rainbows! So much goldeness!
We did go inside the palace, but photography is forbidden, so there’s nothing to show for that. It is well worth going inside, if only to enjoy sliding around with the shoe socks that they give you to put on. But in all seriousness, the rooms are breathtakingly detailed and ornate!
View towards the Palace
very shiny, much gold
don’t stand too close to this one, you’ll get hit by flying coins
Just a catch up, so it might be a bit of a long one.
I’ve now been in Russia for a week! The weather is just as temperamental as I remembered, the Russian language is still hard to get your head around and the buildings are still just as beautiful!
The day we arrived was a beautifully hot day, so wearing a thick pink coat on the plane and then lugging a suitcase up and down subways was not a smart choice, but nonetheless one that I made and followed through.
The following two days it chucked it down with rain, but we started our university course in the buildings surrounding the stunning Smolny Cathedral.
At last on Wednesday, we had some beautiful weather so after lectures, it was nice to go out and explore the city a bit. Hopping on the metro is not a task for the uncertain. The acceleration and deceleration of the trains is enough to make you wonder if the train driver forgot that there’s a station coming up, but the speed of them is necessary for getting you from A to B in the least possible time. You just have to keep in mind that the escalators down to the platforms, although also very fast, they are incredibly long, and for some lines you have to even take two sets of escalators. It’s all worth it, because you come out of the metro station, and the building is pretty impressive.
Ploshad Vosstaniya is at the Moscow Railway end of Nevsky Prospect, and is a stone throw away from Galeria, a huge shopping mall that’s almost always packed full of people. Having visited there on Thursday for a few essentials, we made our way home, picking the worst time: rush hour.
Then on our day off from lectures, we visited Alexander Nevsky Lavra, and saw the graves of many famous Russia people such as Dostoevsky and Tchaikovsky.
And of course, what graveyard would be complete without the pensive cat…
Just around the corner from the graveyard, was the actual monastery and they did some bell ringing for nearly twenty minutes, which started off quite nice and pleasant but after a while, it kind of felt like you were in some really intense movie with a really huge scare coming up, so I wasn’t such a huge fan of that.
This is already a pretty long post, so I’ll wrap this up here. We did visit Peterhof on Saturday, but I’ll post a little later the pictures from that stunning place of many many fountains and much much gold.. wow