Selasa, 04 Oktober 2011

Mmmmmm DILLicious.

My summer holiday in France mostly centred around yummy French food. Croissants for breakfast, baguettes and thousands of different cheeses (each one smellier and more delicious than the last) for lunch and anything with wine in the evening. I gorged myself on everything I could lay my hands on (guilt free as we all know that 'holiday calories' don't count - this doesn't work if your holiday goes on for over a month...) This food overload got me thinking about how when I go abroad I look forward to all the delicious food I can eat that we don't have back in England. When I go to Russia however, the food isn't really something I look forward to.

When I think of Russian food my first thought is: DILL OVERLOAD. It is no exaggeration when I say that Russians cover every kind of food in dill. Salads, chips, pizzas and soups are all finished off with a nice big handful of it. The first time I went to Russia, me and my friends ordered some chips in a cafe and were handed a plate covered in the green stuff. My friend took one look at it and said, 'mmmmm DILLicious'.

As a hater of beetroot and watery soup my relationship with Russian cuisine was doomed from the start. Borsch, one of the most popular dishes in Russia (although originally Ukrainian) is my idea of a nightmare. Fortunately my Russian mum Lyudmila happens to be The Best Cook In All Of Russia and her tasty food has saved not only my view of Russian cuisine but also my tastebuds.

I first met Lyudmila when I arrived in Petrozavodsk 3 years ago to do a Russian summer course. Knowing that I'd been travelling for 24 hours the first thing she did was to sit me down and feed me blini. Yummy blini covered in jam, sugar and honey... This began my love of blini and contributed to me buying way too many Teremok's on my year abroad. (Lyudmila's are the best though, obviously.)

When I left Petrozavodsk that year Lyudmila presented me with a huge Russian cake for me and my friends on the train back. Russian cakes differ from English ones in that rather than consisting of mainly sponge with a filling and topping, Russian cakes are like a bowl of cream with some biscuity type things stuck in at random. Cue a lot of mess on the train. Was well nice though.

A year and  half later I returned to Petrozavodsk during the freezing winter. It was -30ºC outside so Lyudmila cooked up some lush winter warmers, my favourite of which was a meat soup called Solyanka. Although not a fan of watery soups I liked Solyanka because it's full of meat and veg making it a bit more filling! After trying it at Lyudmila's I ordered some in a restaurant; it was nice but I've never found anywhere that makes it as good as her!

This summer Lyudmila introduced me to another Russian dish - pirozhki. Pirozhki are like little pastries that can have savory or sweet fillings. We had cabbage ones that were really tasty - much better than a Greg's sausage roll.

So The Best Cook In All Of Russia has shown me the good non-dilly, non-beetrooty side of Russian cuisine. Although, (like all Russian mums) she does seem to think I am 3 people and I can never finish all the food she prepares! Still, too much food is never a bad thing!

Senin, 19 September 2011

The Obsessed

I've recently read The Possessed by Elif Batuman, a book in which she discusses her adventures with Russian literature. She writes (amongst other things) about her experiences on a summer abroad in Uzbekistan, the international Tolstoy conference in Yasnaya Polyana (Tolstoy's estate) and travelling to St Petersburg to see a house made of ice. I really enjoyed reading her book and would definitely recommend it. Her style of writing is never overly academic, but with a clear passion for Russian literature - exactly what I'm trying to aim for! The tagline for The Possessed (named after the original translation of Dostoyevsky's The Demons) is 'Adventures with Russian books and the People Who Read Them'. As a person who reads Russian books and likes to have Russian adventures, I have been inspired to write my own journey through Russian literature which I have wittily titled The Obsessed (inspired by my slight obsession of all things Russian).

My first experience with Russian literature was in my first year at university. Unlike others I hadn't chosen to study Russian because of any previous interest in the history or literature of the country - I just wanted to learn the language. I decided to do the literature module though because I love reading.
The first book we read was One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhnitsyn; a story about the gulag written by somebody who had actually been there. One of the key things I found with the story was how matter of fact and not over emotional it was just like Solzhnitsyn himself. When he was expelled from the Soviet Union he moved to the USA but hated it. He reportedly said that the problem with America was that people were too happy and laid back and this got in the way of life. After the collapse of the USSR he returned to Russia immediately and loved Putin and his strong leadership.
The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov was my favourite book from my first year of Russian literature and is the story of the devil playing havoc in Moscow. I liked the more imaginative tone of the book - different to the usual epic love stories or tragedies Russian literature is known for. I also liked the back story about the pretention of Soviet literary circles. I find that I learn the most about history through studying novels.
Dr Zhivago by Boris Pasternak was the only book I had heard of on the reading list. I had to do a presentation on the novel but at the time found the whole 'epic love story' tediously boring. So I just watched the film. Still got a good mark though - I did my presentation on the poetry at the end of the novel which I had actually bothered to read. I really should go back and actually read it now.

When I studied in Petrozavodsk in July 2008 I had my first experience of reading Russian literature in the original Russian. The reading classes mainly consisted of our teacher making us read out a paragraph of a Russian short story then asking понятно (ponyatno - do you understand)? to which we all quickly nodded despite not having a clue what the paragraph had been about. It was in this class that I first read some of Chekov's short stories... although because I spent most of the class trying desperately to look like I understood what was going on I can't remember which ones exactly. Oops.

In my second year of university I entered a competition to win the contents of Alexa Chung's bag - I didn't want the contents, just the Mulburry they came in. I noticed one of the items she claimed to carry around was Nabokov's collection of short stories. I bought the book and started to read through them, finding many to be inspired by his early years growing up in Russia but then living abroad for the majority of his life. The main feature of Vladimir Nabokov's short stories is that they ALL end in tragedy. For example in his story A Russian Beauty the main character is Olga, a girl who was beautiful in her youth but never managed to marry. Once grown up she has had a hard life and lost her youth. Her friends set her up with a man who she agrees to wed. Then a year later she dies in childbirth. The interesting thing about this story is that the announcement of their engagement and her death is all in the same sentence...
"When they came to breakfast, Vera, her husband, and his maiden cousin, in utter silence, were performing nonexistent dances, each in a different corner, and Olga drawled out in an affectionate voice "What boors!" and next summer she died in childbirth."
It became almost a joke to me that Nabokov's stories would all end in "...and then she died." The stories are all so depressing - why would anyone carry them around? I doubt Alexa's claim that she keeps them in her handbag. (I didn't win the Mulburry by the way - if anyone would like to buy/win/steal one for me that would be lovely.)

On my year abroad in Moscow I was taught literature by a lovely woman who was really passionate about it and got excited by poetry she'd heard a thousand times before. Our first assignment was to learn Pushkin's Я вас любил.../I loved you once... by heart. Reciting poetry is a Russian custom we don't really have in England - from a young age Russian children learn poetry off by heart and will recite it at family parties throughout their life. Not only did I fall in love with the poem but I fell in love with Pushkin. He died in a dual against his wife's alleged lover Georges d'Anthes to protect his wife's honour. A real life love tragedy. Poor Pushkin though - losing his life for his cheating wife. What a cow.
Our literature classes were brilliant because our teacher was just so animated about life, love and literature. She encouraged us to read more and to get the most out of our lives in Moscow, always advising us on which plays to see at the theatre and which exhibitions and museums to go to. She loved stories about true love and would always gush about the heroes and romance of the stories we read. One day however she asked us about our 'real life love stories'. My friend Sinead told the lovely story of how her and her boyfriend met. My teacher loved it, turned to me, her eyes shining expectantly... "I DON'T HAVE A BOYFRIEND," I sobbed.

The summer after my year abroad (probably inspired by my literature teacher) I decided to broaden my knowledge of Russian literature and decided to start with Nabokov's most notorious novel Lolita about the inappropriate relationship between a grown man and a young girl. Reading the novel I felt preeeeetty uncomfortable... but it's another one ticked off the list.

During my final year at university I studied Russian Intellectual and Political Thought, a module in which I learnt the political situations surrounding many Russian authors when they wrote their most noteworthy pieces of work. We discussed how Nikolai Gogol's novel Dead Souls was a political commentary on the emancipation of the serfs, how Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Nikolay Chernyshevksy argued politics through their novels Notes from Underground and What is to be Done? and how censorship meant many authors in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries ended up in prison or mental asylums; most notably Pyotr Chaadayev who was declared insane after the circulation of his Philosophical Letters leading him to denounce his previous work in his Apology of a Madman.

Now I've finished university I actually want to read these books as I've studied the themes surrounding them so in depth! I decided to start with Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina (mainly because I found a copy on my boyfriend’s bookshelf and wanted to impress him by reading it). Whilst reading it I felt hugely intelligent because I did actually understand the political issues surrounding Tolstoy whilst he wrote the novel (thank you, Russian degree). The character of Levin is arguably based on Tolstoy himself; not only do they have the same name (Leo in Russian is Lev) but the character’s views seem to reflect Tolstoy's own outspoken views - he hated class hierarchy and would go and work in the fields alongside the peasants, just like the character in the novel. One of the things the novel is famous for is the repetition of names - there are multiple Annas, Alexis and Sergeis (or Anna's, Alexi's and Sergei's - apostrophe or not? Help please grammar geeks). In The Possessed Batuman says that she found the repetition of names 'remarkable, surprising, and true to life.' I however wasn't surprised. I always notice repetition of names in Russia a lot more than in England; on facebook I have 5 Olgas, 4 Anas and 4 Svetas, so to find this in a Russian novel seemed completely normal to me.

Now that I've finished my degree I've suddenly found that I can CHOOSE what I read next. This discovery fills me with pleasure and I have compiled a long reading list of works by Pasternak, Gogol, Dostoyevsky, Pelevin, Tolstoy and many others to go through. Next on the list: Dr Zhivago - finally gonna read it 4 years after my (first class) presentation on it.

Minggu, 11 September 2011

Petrozavodsk - a guide

Petrozavodsk is one of my favourite places in Russia. It was the first Russian city I lived in and I loved it so much I have returned twice! Many people (Russians included) see Petrozavodsk as a standard Russian city with not much going on but I disagree. As the capital of Karelia, Petrozavodsk has an interesting mix of Russian and Finnish history, something which the city reflects now. More people should go and explore Petrozavodsk so for those in Russia, those planning a Russian adventure or first years at Birmingham University who are terrified of their compulsory trip (- don't be, it'll be great!) here is my guide to all things Petro.

When to go.
The best time to go to Petrozavodsk to get the most out of all it has to offer is during the warm summer; July in particular is a great month to go as you can experience the white nights and День Города (den goroda) - city day, when the whole city celebrates its founding.
However, if you're an ice and snow lover and want to experience a real Russian winter then head to Petro during the winter months when the temperature drops to -30ºC.

What to do - for free.

Lake Onego

One of the biggest lakes in Europe, at first glance Lake Onego looks like the sea. Walking along the banks of the river you can see different sculptures which were given by twin cities of Petrozavodsk. One of the best times to walk along the lake is in the evening during the summer when the atmosphere becomes festival like with people drinking beer together, playing guitar and enjoying the long summer evenings. In the cold winters the lake looks pretty cool frozen over but after standing next to it for a few minutes your face will start to look like this...


Note - Anabelle is wearing clothes under that towel.
Piski is Lake Onego's beach in the summer; the place to be to get a tan, have a cooling swim and build sandcastles. Remember to take your buckets and spades or you'll have to resort to using your hands like me and your sandcastles will end up looking rather breast like.

Cathedral of Aleksandr Nevskii

If you've been to a Russian cathedral before you'll know how beautifully they are decorated. This cathedral is no exception and it's a lovely quick excursion. Remember to dress appropriately - shoulders and knees covered. Girls have to cover their heads but scarves are provided at the entrance.

Stroll around the city

There are many памятники (pamyatniki) - monuments around the town which make a good walking route.
See if you can find Lenin...

Marx and Engels...

and Peter the Great

What to do - on a budget.

Petrozavodsk History Museum
The local museum on the history of the city is a great way to see how and why the mix of Russian and Finnish influences has shaped Petrozavodsk. If I remember correctly the information is in both Russian and English so there should be no problems with understanding. Also, make sure you give the lover (or presumably, lower) floor a visit.

Sexy history
 The theatre

As well as the main theatre (pictured) on Kirov Square, Petrozavodsk has a Finnish theatre and a music hall. It won't be difficult to find something interesting to watch. There are regular performances of Kantele and traditional dance and Petro has many theatre and music groups who are usually performing.

What to do - when you have money.

Kivach waterfall

I've only involved this in the more expensive section because of the cost involved in travelling there. Kivach is quite far out of the city centre so unless you have someone to drive you there you will have to get there by bus or coach. To visit the waterfall is actually free and is well worth doing, its one of the most beautiful places I've ever been in my life. Spectacular in the summer and mystical when frozen in the winter. It’s just gorgeous. Also, on the drive there you'll drive past one of the president's summer houses and notice that the road suddenly gets a lot smoother...


Definitely the most expensive thing to do in Petrozavodsk - it costs around £50 for the boat and a tour of the island. If you have the money though, it's well worth doing. The wooden buildings are amazing, especially the two churches. The guides give an interesting insight into the history of the island and in the churches the priests will sing prayers to visitors. Remember to charge your camera the night before you go. I've been twice now and still only have pictures of the first half of the island!

Where to eat - on a budget.


The cafe named after the aforementioned waterfall is my favourite cafe in Petrozavodsk - I drove Anabelle insane by insisting we go there almost everyday. The food is reasonably priced and ranges from Russian soups to pizzas and fajitas (have the fajitas - they're the best). Kivach also has free wifi meaning you can normally spot a foreigner in there on skype.

Chaynaya Lozhka

Translated as 'teaspoon' this cafe is blini (pancake) heaven with loads of toppings to choose from. Nice and cheap but be warned; the portions are quite small, so get 2!

Mak Dak

Petrozavodsk's answer to Macdonalds; where the menu is exactly the same but with subtle differences in meal names... and quality. Be sure to try the 'Funny Meal' - their version of a happy meal. Unfortunately when transliterated into Russian the 'u' in 'funny' becomes an 'a' leading to a LOT of laughter among immature foreigners. Can't think why...

Where to eat - when you have money.


Inspired by Parisian cafes, Parizhanka serves a variety of dishes including sandwiches, pasta, pizza and sushi. Although not a connoisseur of Parisian cafes, I don't really see the resemblance... apart from the overpriced food! However I do love the very Russian attempt at a French cafe and I do LOVE sushi. So if like me you are addicted to sushi then head here.

Where to stay.

Every time I have been to Petrozavodsk I have stayed with my Russian family Lyudmila and Olya who I was set up with by the university when I first studied there. For tourists there are a number of hotels including Hotel Severnaya in the centre of the city and Onego Palace near the lake.

Where to party!

Cafe FM

A fun bar in the centre of the town with food, cheap beer and a dance floor just about big enough. The best night to go is called Petro FM where there is a live singer who sings old school hits from the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s. Maybe give the 'RnB' night a miss though - there's no DJ, just a playlist of songs that could loosely be described as 'RnB'.


If RnB and Hip Hop's your thing then head to Club Barcelona on a saturday night. 2 dance floors + cheap vodka and coke = dancing the night away.

If you're not a dancing queen and prefer to have a quieter drink then you are dull. Joking! (... kind of) But there are loads of nice bars around and most restaurants and cafes are open until late so head to them for a quiet drink.

Studying Russian in Petrozavodsk

If you'd like to get a real feel of Russian life then stay in Petrozavodsk for longer! The state university has a special department for foreigners to study Russian in Russia. There are courses suitable for absolute beginners who don't know the alphabet or a word of Russian and also advanced courses for those already studying Russian. The department will advise you on life in Petrozavodsk throughout your course and really are excellent at improving your Russian. If you're interested in Russia I'd really recommend starting any trip with a one month Russian course in Petrozavodsk in order to get the most out of Russia. To find out more about their courses visit their website.

Petrozavodsk is the underappreciated capital of Karelia and I hope this post has made you want to visit! It's a great city full of lovely, hospitable people. Go there and say hi from me!

Jumat, 09 September 2011

What I Learnt from The Art of Russia - BBC4

Despite my regular iplayer searches of the word 'Russia' I accidently missed the first two parts of this series on Russian art and only managed to catch the final episode. Nevertheless it was a really interesting watch, although did make me miss Моя Москва (maya moskva – my Moscow) a lot. 

I am not a massive art lover. I appreciate the skill that goes into creating a beautiful piece of work and love old oil paintings but anything that I don't understand/see the point of can never really capture my attention (modern art is not my friend). So I'm not a regular viewer of art related programmes but naturally anything with 'Russia' in the title will certainly draw me in and this short documentary was an interesting insight into how communism and revolution affected art in Russia... and vice versa.

Much of the programme was dedicated to the work of Alexander Rodchenko and his constructivist style which appealed to the Soviet authorities. His work is immediately recognisable as the 'Russian art style' of the early post revolution Soviet Union, like this poster encouraging people to read.

His style of using photography, shapes and bold words led the way for advertising and to the Westerner this kind of poster screams 'soviet propaganda' - I bet Topman is dying to turn this into a nice print t-shirt.

Any programme about Russian art wouldn't be complete without a trip to the Moscow metro, one of my favourite things about the city. The stations are decorated so beautifully, many of them inspired by Soviet writers, artists and architecture. The programme showed Mayakovsky station (incidentally named after one of Rodchenko's bessies - the Russian writer Mayakovsky, whose poems he illustrated with photo montages) and Ploshad Revolyutsii, one of the busiest stations, situated next to Red Square - cue lots of Russians looking angrily at the camera, annoyed at the disruption to their metro journey and the babushka in the little 'viewing hut' at the bottom of the escalator signalling at them to get out. The programme forgot to mention my favourite thing about this metro station though - the lucky dog! Forget the soviet inspired architecture; there is a statue of a dog in the station which is believed to be lucky... so much so that the bronze on its nose has been worn away because passengers rub his nose on their journeys.


As well as focussing on the ways that revolution and communism affected art, the programme explored the ways that art affected a different kind of revolution - the collapse of the Soviet Union. In the 1970s some artists staged an open exhibition of uncensored art in a forest near Moscow - it didn't take long for the police to come and destroy the work of the artists. This led to a public outcry so big that the authorities allowed the artists to put on their exhibition again in the centre of Moscow, one of the first steps towards uncensored art.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union the art world practically exploded. Now uncensored artists churned out piece after piece of work that would have been completely unheard of just a few years earlier. How much the state approved art world has actually changed though is a different matter. The current president of the Russian Academy of Arts is a Georgian-Russian artist called Zurab Tsereteli who designed the Peter the Great statue that stands in Moscow.

I'm not a fan of this statue, I've always thought it looks more like Captain Hook. The Kremlin seem to like it though and Tsereteli has close ties with the present Russian authorities. I wonder why...

Another Tsereteli creation

 The Art of Russia will be on BBC iplayer for those in the UK for the next few days - give it a watch!

Selasa, 30 Agustus 2011

Russian doesn't help in France.

For the last 5 years I have been to Russia every summer. I've become used to understanding (most of the time) what is going on around me and what people are saying. Even when my Russian was at its most basic I could still survive with the use of the golden word of the Russian language 'можно' (mozhno). It means 'it is possible' but can be used in a variety of different situations; for example in a bar you can say 'можно пиво?' (mozhno piva) - can I have a beer? Or at home you can say 'можно принимать душ?' (mozhno prinimat doosh?' - can I have a shower? All you need to do is point at the beer or shower and you'll be understood. Over the years my Russian has obviously improved and now (so I'm told) most of my Russian friends can understand everything I say.

Learning Russian at university always highlighted my lack of skill in other languages. Most people were learning at least 2 languages and would always compare Russian words or grammar rules to their other language. Aside from thinking that they were total show offs I never really cared about my lack of other language skills. Russia is my thing. When am I ever gonna use French, German or Spanish?

However, last week I went on holiday to France and it actually drove me insane that I really don't know any French. It appears that since my year abroad I have become a language snob. I don't want to be seen as another English stereotype who doesn't see the importance of learning a foreign language (because of course shouting louder in English is understood worldwide). I'm not just a language snob though, I'm a Russian language snob. Now when I hear any foreign language I immediately want to speak Russian or at the very least inform the person speaking that I can speak Russian so it doesn't matter that I don't speak their language.

In France one night there was a huge storm and the power went out in the house we were staying in. The next morning a man from the village (Jean Paul he was called - lovely and French) came to check we were ok. Only problem was he spoke no English and noone in my family speaks French. I was called upon to 'communicate' as the only one who speaks a foreign language. I stood and listened to him for a good minute putting on my best 'I understand everything you are saying' face which works well in Russia where I normally understand the overall situation. In France, this does not work. He clearly thought I did actually understand and looked at me expectantly but after struggling through my French vocabulary (boulangers, merci, salut, nous avons, vous avez, baguette) to Jean Paul's dismay I only managed to conjure up 'Je ne comprends pas'. In the end he realised everything was fine and left. Throughout the whole encounter I just wanted to ask him if he spoke Russian. I seem to think it is the only language in the world. Infact later that day I said 'да' (da) instead of 'oui' to a man selling tickets at a castle. I did manage to redeem myself by asking for a guide 'en anglais' though.

Maybe one day I'll learn French again, but for the moment I'll have to take Girl's Aloud's advice - admit I can't speak French and let the funky music do the talking. Although with the only club around in our village in France being a dodgy building with 'CLUB SEXY' written on the side I don't know how much of a good idea that would be...

Selasa, 05 Juli 2011

Where is this “Real Russia”?

The weekend has been pretty busy so I hope this blog isn’t too long!

On Saturday it was Petrozavodsk Day which had been postponed for a week because of the recent plane crash. Every town in Russia has a certain day each year when they celebrate the founding of the town. Usually there are decorations all over the town and stalls selling local products and souvenirs. This year the whole day was massively scaled down in respect to the people that died in the plane crash and so the main event was a kind of historical re-enactment of village life. There was a real sense of community there… and it was nice to see people dressing up and letting go a bit instead of being their usual serious Russian selves!

On Sunday we went to the Island of Kizhi, a beautiful open air museum with some amazing wooden churches. Last time I went to Kizhi my camera ran out of batteries halfway through. So naturally this year I forgot to charge my camera and it ran out of batteries again. Obv. But here are a few pics I managed to take…

We had a full house this weekend as the Finnish girl who lived with Lyudmila and Olga when I visited last year had come to stay for the weekend with her friend! So in our flat we had two Finns, two Brits and two Russians! I think I’ve said this before but one of the best things about learning a language and having the opportunity to travel is being able to meet and make friends with people from all over the world. In my visits to Russia I’ve made friends with (and kept in touch with) people from New Zealand, Norway, Holland, America, Finland… and obviously Russia! It’s so interesting to hear about people’s lives in other countries and to have friends all over the world! Good for free holidays too. Lyudmila prepared a FEAST for us and we spent the evening chatting, singing old Russian war songs on the karaoke machine and watching a soviet film. Standard night in.

One of our conversation topics was where exactly “Real Russia” is. All Russians will tell you that Moscow and St Petersburg are not really Russia! Obviously the big tourist cities are full of foreigners and their influence! But even in Petrozavodsk we’ve been told that this isn’t “real Russia” – apparently we need to go even further out to find out what Russia is really like. So someone please help me – where exactly is this “real Russia”? Because I really should visit.

Jumat, 01 Juli 2011

I’ve got more cream on me than a Russian cake.

We’ve been in Petrozavodsk for almost a week now and so far everything is going swimmingly. I can hear my Russian improving, I’m happy to be back with my Russian family and so far Anabelle and I haven’t had any major problems as group leaders. Hopefully it will stay this way!

I do find it funny how I have just settled back into normal life… but in Russia. I’m not really having any great adventure here. I’m doing exactly what I do at home: catching up with my friends, searching for jobs and checking facebook! I’m just doing it all in Russian (apart from the facebook checking).

We do have excursions most days with our group of students though to stop it being just like home! Yesterday we took them to an exhibition of photos that were inspired by Tolstoy’s short stories. Although it was only small and not at all clear which photos were inspired by which stories, it was only about 40p and a nice break in the day! At first we thought the exhibition was just photos of people’s perceptions of Russia which got me thinking about what I would take a photo of to show my perception of Russia. So far I think it would be a sofa bed covered in small coins. I think my idea needs some work. Suggestions?

So the biggest news of today is that my ankle looks like a tennis ball as it has swollen up after being bitten by a mosquito. They never used to like the way I tasted (and so I never got bitten) until last year when I got like 59 bites in one day after stupidly going into the woods without insect repellent on. Ever since then it seems I’ve been a lot tastier to the insects. Anyway, yesterday I was sat on my bed and suddenly realised that one of my ankles was twice as big as the other. Gross. I don’t like it when my body does weird things. (Side note: MUM don’t worry, its ok.)

Summer has also arrived in Petrozavodsk and it is absolutely boiling outside! Russian weather always means I have to prepare thoroughly before leaving the house – in the winter I need to put about 12 layers of warm clothing on and in the summer I need to cover myself with insect repellent and sun cream. I hate burning so at the moment I have more cream on me than a Russian cake… 

Selasa, 28 Juni 2011

372 days later…

So, if my calculations are correct it has been 372 days since I was last in Russia and almost 5 months since I last blogged. Woops, my bad.

I will blame this lack of blogging mainly on the TERROR of final year (which, by the way, I have now completed with a 2.1!!! *glowswithhappiness* However I also think a lack of inspiration could be somehow to blame for my blogging discrepancies. So to put this right I have done the only thing possible…


I’ve explained everything I’ll be doing in my last post so I don’t wanna repeat myself (… or make this blog super long)

So on Saturday Anabelle and I (along with the 22 students we are in charge of!) landed in St Petersburg. We swiftly introduced them into the Russian way of doing things by cramming them all onto minibuses way too small to fit both 24 people and 24 suitcases. Then a quick 5 hour wait in a train station and they were ready to experience their first ever overnight Russian train.

Waiting at the station.
I always think that I will sleep well on overnight trains; that the motion will rock me to sleep. But I am always wrong. The hard beds make it impossible to find a comfortable position. Anyone who has ever had to share a bed with me will know I move around loads until I am at the optimum level of comfort for sleep, but I never seem to find it on train beds! So even though I was super tired after a long day of travelling I only managed to get about an hours sleep. Sob.

On arrival at Petrozavodsk the students had to face their worst fear – being put with the host families they will be staying with. I well remember the look of fear in their faces as they got off the train from when I first went to Petrozavodsk, having no idea who I would be living with. Fortunately I lived with the loveliest woman in the whole of Russia and her equally lovely daughter – Lyudmila and Olga, who I am staying with again.

Sunday mainly revolved around equipping the students with Russian phones and SIM cards so they could communicate with Anabelle and I in emergencies. Sounds a simple enough task but it involved me buying 8 new phones and 24 new SIM cards from 2 different shops (the first one ran out of SIMs!). Good practise for my Russian though.

Yesterday the students started university with a lovely surprise test. Which, to be honest, Anabelle and I are to blame for as when the university asked us how to split them into 3 classes we had no idea so suggested a quick grammar test (sorry guys!) We spent the day organising various things with the university and then went to the cinema to see The Hangover 2 (in Russian!) with Olga.

So far returning to Russia has shown me two things:

Firstly, that being in Russia feels completely normal. Me and Anabelle both found it so weird that in fact going to Russia didn’t feel weird. We feel completely at home! Even more so for me that I am back in the first flat I ever lived in in Russia, in MY Russian bedroom! When we got to the flat Lyudmilla said, “Sarah, put your rucksack in your room,” like I had never been away.

Secondly, I am actually astonished by how capable I am in Russian. For the last year I have felt that my Russian language is pretty bad but actually it really isn’t! At university most of our assessments were centred on grammar and my Russian grammar is terrible (as is my English to be honest) and so my marks were never very high. However here I have already managed to understand an entire film in Russian, buy 24 SIM cards in Russian, have conversations with new people in Russian and liaise with a Russian university… and it’s only been 2 days!

Anyway, I don’t want this post to be any longer so that’s all for now. I promise you won’t have to wait 5 months for the next one!

Oh, PS, Anabelle has already been defacing the town with her surname tag…

(NOTE: Anabelle did not actually do this... another Smith had beaten her to it.)

Selasa, 15 Maret 2011

Q & A Day!

Hello everyone, I hope you're all having a great day! Don't forget about Japan, they are still in a critical state of emergency. If you have the possibility please donate something!

Well today is question and answer day, but unfortunately there have been no questions or comments this week. I guess everyone has been glued to the news following the tragic events in Japan.

Get your questions and comments in for next week. We would love to hear what you think and help you any way we can.

Have a great week!

Selasa, 08 Maret 2011

Q & A Day

First of all, Happy Women's Day to all the wonderful ladies out there! I hope you enjoy a wonderful day!

Today is question and answer day, so I will recap some of the recent question I've received, lets get started:

Question: I am considering the Trans-Siberian Express departing from Moscow in August and ending the trip in Bejing. Is that a good time of year to go? From what we read it is best to travel by 1st class cabin. The price we see (per person) is $1,000USD. Can you offer suggestions for the trip and a price?

Answer: yes, August is considered to be a very good time for the trip in terms of the weather, do you need just a one-way ticket to Beijing or would you like to make stops on the way? In this case several tickets + hotels will be needed. You can find some examples here Trans-Siberian Express, and here is another link to the train schedule that might be useful Train Schedule.

Question: Looking to travel to Nizhny Novgorod. Any advice on who do I get my visa from and what airline to fly.

Answer: Nizhny Novgorod has some specific rules, if a foreigner crosses the border at the Nizhny Novgorod airport, then he has to have an inviting organization located in Nizhny Novgorod. Express to Russia can help you with this through one of their partners, but it will be more expensive. They can also help you with booking a hotel, here is a link to hotels Best Hotels Russia

That's all the questions I have for today, get your questions in for next week! Tomorrow will be apartment of the week day! Stay tuned.

Happy 8th of March to all!

Sabtu, 05 Maret 2011

New Schedule for the Blog!

Hey guys, I hope you are all out celebrating Maslenitsa. I just wanted to write a brief post to let you all know what we'll be doing with the blog from now on starting on Monday. We have decided on categories for each day of the week, so on each day of the week there will be a specific post about a specific topic. So here is the schedule we came up with:

Monday - What's going on this week - On this day I will post about new events, exhibitions, concerts, shows, movies and whatever else new that is opening or going on that week.

Tuesday - Q & A Day - On this I will answer any questions that readers have, questions about anything, about something we've posted, about our company, about travel plans options ideas, whatever questions you have, I will answer them all on Tuesday so everyone can see, incase some people have the same question. You can ask a question through Facebook or Twitter or you can simply comment on the blog.

Wednesday - Apartment of the Week day - On this day I will post about one of the many apartments we have available for rent in both Moscow and St. Petersburg.

Thursday - Hot Spot of the Week day - On this day I will post about a bar or a restaurant in St. Petersburg.

Friday - Interesting Place of the Week - On this day I will post about an interesting place to visit in and around St. Petersburg, it might be a park, a museum, a store, and area of the city and so on. 

If you have any more ideas or suggestions or questions, please feel free to leave a comment! Hope you all are enjoying the holiday weekend (Maslenitsa and 8th of March here in Russia). 

Kamis, 17 Februari 2011

We want your ideas!

We are currently thinking about ideas for different categories for each day of the week on our blog. We want categories for each day of the week, for example Q&A Tuesday, every tuesday I will answer any questions you have. You can ask questions by commenting on the blog, sending me a message or commenting on our page or group in Facebook, or by tweeting on twitter. One day a week I will profile an apartment of the week so you can see some of the great apartments we have in St. Petersburg and Moscow!

What do you guys want to hear about? Please send us suggestions for our categories!
Such as: Q&A, apartment of the week, restaurants/bars of the week, ect.

On each day of the week I will post something about the specific topic for the that day, and it will stay that way for a few months, until we come up with new categories.

Hope everyone is having a great week!

Minggu, 06 Februari 2011


Exciting, exciting news! This summer I shall be returning to Russia for two whole months!!!! I am so excited that I have caught the exclamation mark and smiley face disease all at the same time!!!! :D :D :D

I’m going to be spending a month in Petrozavodsk again, acting as a group leader for a group of first years from my university, along with my friend Anabelle (who I’m sure shall be very excited to be making a return to this blog!) I’m so happy to be returning to Petrozavodsk, firstly because I have some really good friends there who I can’t wait to spend an entire month with and also because Petrozavodsk is the best place to practise Russian! I really don’t want to leave university after spending 4 years studying Russian and then immediately forget it all, like I did after my maths GCSE (where I could actually feel the information dropping out of my brain as I walked out of the exam). A lot less people speak English in Petrozavodsk than in Moscow so I’m going to really make use of being there and try and get my Russian better. And this time it will be purely for me, not to pass an exam.

After Petrozavodsk, Anabelle and I are going to travel to Moscow for around 10 days to visit our friends there. The thought of returning to Moscow fills me with giddy excitement! Especially because it will be the summer. Moscow without snow. My favourite kind of Moscow.

After that I’m going to be travelling to St Petersburg and then Estonia to help at a few charity projects there which I’m really looking forward to. I’ve never done these projects before so it will be a learning experience, but one that I’m ready for.

As the end of final year creeps closer and closer I’m thinking more and more about what I’ll be doing next year. I’m completely concentrating on my degree at the moment and so not looking at jobs at all. I’m definitely not done with Russia, so maybe having 2 months there will help me to decide what on earth I’m going to do next!

So yeah, basically… I’m going to Russia and I’m a liiiiiittle excited.
Here’s a picture of an excited me holding a Russian doll.

Rabu, 26 Januari 2011

Let mi spik from may khart, in Inglish.

According to an article I read in The Guardian last week the Russian government has decided that Russian officials must speak a foreign language by 2020. The reason behind this is that recently Russians have had a few embarrassing slip ups with their foreign languages, most famously the speech by sports minister Vitaly Mutko for Russia’s World Cup bid in Zurich

Now, let mi spik from may khart, in Inglish: this got me thinking about how when learning a foreign language you have to be prepared to be laughed at (although not necessarily by thousands over the internet!) Just like Mutko I have had some very embarrassing moments because of my lack of language skills, so I thought I’d share some of the funniest with you.

The first language struggle I had was when I lived in Petrozavodsk at the end of my first year in university. The woman I lived with asked me what we do for children’s birthday parties in England. I wanted to tell her about bouncy castles but obviously my limited vocabulary didn’t quite stretch to knowing how to say that in Russian! In the end I started jumping up and down in her kitchen pointing to the floor shouting “BIG BALLOON!” I still don’t think she knows what I meant!

In my year in Moscow there were many MANY language slip ups which I have already blogged about, but I’ll share with you my favourite again: the flour/fly incident. At the beginning of my year living in Moscow I asked my flat mate if we had a fly in the cupboard. I wanted to know if we had flour in the cupboard, fly = mykha, flour = myka. She still finds this hilarious!

Even in England I’m still embarrassing myself with my Russian slip ups…
Recently I met up with a Russian friend to practise my Russian and I was telling her about the time I spent in Petrozavodsk. I told her that I saw a bear outside the State University; I meant to say I saw Medvedev, the President of Russia. Bear = medved.


Selasa, 04 Januari 2011

Zigazig AH!

Hi/ Привет!

So at the moment it’s my Christmas holiday from university and I’m feeling pretty low. Over the last two weeks some major things have happened to me and have left me feeling completely unmotivated about my degree. I can’t find the energy or drive to do any of my work. However this blog is not some kind of self indulgent rant about my life – it is a self indulgent rant about my love of Russia! So I’m not going to get into what is going on in my life but I AM going to use this post to try and motivate myself again!

Throughout the four years of my degree I have never been in a lesson where I have felt that I actually fully understood the topic and/or what was going on! University has mainly taught me that although I have some knowledge on subjects I can never be bothered to ever become an expert on anything! Until this year when I learnt I am an EXPERT at pretending I know things.

This year one of my modules is about security and politics in Russia and Eurasia; a topic I know very little about. The module is different to others in that it isn’t taught with a lecture then a seminar; it’s all done in group work. At the beginning of each 2 hour session we are assigned a task and at the end of the lesson we have to present it. Normally the task is to write a briefing paper, press release or an answer to a radio news correspondent. Now I know very little about for example, political events in Kyrgyzstan (in fact it took me three attempts to correctly spell Kyrgyzstan) BUT if I am asked to write a press release about it I can totally pretend that I am an expert. As a journalist in the making I am brilliant at saying lots of things without actually saying anything at all.

So basically I love this lesson because people actually seem to think I know what I’m talking about! A few weeks ago I had my proudest moment at university to date… and it was all down to the Spice Girls. Before I explain it, please watch this short video to reacquaint yourselves (don’t pretend you don’t all love it!) with the musical genius that is, Wannabe…

We were given the task of making a story board to a music video to describe EU-Russia relations and were given a choice of songs or we could think of our own. My friend Toby (Toby Eccleshall that is – I know he wants to make sure it is all over the internet that he LOVES the Spice Girls) jokingly suggested that we should do Wannabe by the Spice Girls. As I immediately started reciting the lyrics (I am a long time proud fan) we realised that actually they really worked! So here is our storyboard describing EU-Russian relations, to the lyrics of Wannabe:

We decided to have the EU and Russia as a couple who had recently split up and then saw each other in a bar. I don’t want this blog to go on forever so I’m not going to explain each scene… but here’s the gist of it!...

The boy is Russia (shown by everyone’s favourite Russian stereotype – the mullet haircut) and the girl was the EU. The song begins with the lyrics I’ll tell you what I want, what I really really want so in this scene the EU and Russia are shouting what they want from each other. Then we move onto those well known lines If you want my future forget my past in which we show Russia throwing his hammer and sickle into the bin. Another chorus of I’ll tell you what I want, what I really really want is shown through Russia asking the EU for security. Later the lines If you wannabe my lover, you gotta get with my friends are depicted through the EU bringing on her friend Georgia. The lines If you really bug me then I’ll say goodbye are portrayed by Russia turning off a Baltika (Russian beer) tap in the bar symbolizing the Russian oil taps. Then comes the rap which was quite hard to fit in with the subject Em in the place became Moscow’s influence over the EU, we got G like MC was Georgia (although I don’t know how this is relevant… I think I just wanted to get the rap in somehow!) and finally that lyrical GENIUS of slam your body down zigazig ah showed the EU re-evaluating her relationship with Russia.


After our group presented this the whole class were crying with laughter and I think it is the one time that I can honestly say I remember all the information I learnt in a lesson. Give me a pop music reference and I will learn!

So thank you Mel C, Geri, Victoria, Emma, Mel B (…and Toby).