Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Who knew? Beer is non-alcoholic

We keep forgetting to mention this astounding fact. At least in Russia, beer is considered a soft drink, like Coke, and is occasionally sold in 2 liter plastic bottles just in case someone thought that was a joke. A Russian who claims never to drink might be telling the truth and still downing a few beers every night. Crazy.

Monday, December 28, 2009

We are living in a statistical anomaly.

My boss in the past looked up the average number of sunny days in St Petersburg in the month of December. The source he found gave an average of zero days. Since you can not have negative days to bring the average down that basically says there is no sun in St Petersburg in December. There probably is a day or two every decade so that rounding brings it to zero.

When I was in the states on facebook people in St Petersburg were posting about seeing the sun. Now today for a short period this afternoon I saw blue skies and sun. It seems this December we have seriously bucked the sun stats. Probably there will be no sun in St Petersburg during the month of December for the next two decades.

Settling in

St. Pete decided to welcome us back with a massive snowstorm. The snowfall itself is well over a foot and drifts are taller than me. It took Terry three or four trips outside to shovel out the car.

I had heard that the streets aren't plowed and sidewalks not shoveled and said to myself "OK this is something to learn to deal with." You can't truly comprehend what it means until you're faced with it. How to push a stroller on a "sidewalk" that consists of tampered down snow interspersed with piles of slushy drifts and the whole thing is the width of a person anyway. I have yet to figure out who gets the right of way; no matter which direction I travel it always seems to be the folks coming the other way. Driving is little better as the streets are in the same situation, except the width of the packed down snow is a car. Studded snow tires make lots of sense and I'm sure glad Terry got some on the car before he came home to get us.

I have yet to venture out with either stroller or car - so far it's been me alone or Zoltan in the Moby (a wrap - which is like a sling in concept). If I am not to go stir crazy though, I will need to brave the streets in some way, so I plan a test run in the car this week ... on a day our babysitter comes, as I don't want to be responsible for the children in case things don't go well.

The good news is the open space next to our building does seem to be free of the citizenry who populated it during the summer, so I should be able to get Alex out to play in the snow if I can ever get her and Zoltan's naps timed well enough that they are both properly up and not eating at the same time when the sun is out. It's like a logic game ... I love logic games!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Reunited at last

Terry has returned to the USA to assist me in bring the kids back to Russia. This is what I have to look forward to ... a recent conversation between Terry and his boss...

Boss: "I don't think the sun came out today at all"
Terry: "Of course the sun's out. It is a slightly lighter gray than it was this morning."
Boss: "If you can't see the sun is it still out?"

Friday, November 6, 2009

Alex learned a new word

On Halloween when Alex came back from trick or treating she was saying "candy". We realized she had never said that word before. Our daughter knows the word for "pear" in 2 languages but didn't learn "candy" until she was 2. And she calls breakfast bars "cookies." We're at least doing one thing right as parents!!

Friday, October 9, 2009

brief update from the States

We do often go silent, but not usually this early in our new adventure. Right now we're living the separated life, as Alex and I have gone home for Zoltan's birth because health care in Russia isn't very good and I don't speak enough Russian to make me otherwise comfortable about the experience. In our 3 weeks in the USA we've been sick, spent a week in Pennsylvania, and had 2 play dates :-) Terry and I have done separations several times in our relationship, but the addition of a child makes it that much harder and I have so much respect for the military and other families who regularly spend time apart.

Terry's in training right now so he isn't home either. If he does much sightseeing in Moscow I am sure he'll post about that. My mom moved to Amesbury a couple of years ago so I am learning a whole new town - and have been pretty happily surprised at what's here. This is definitely not the Amesbury that existed while I was growing up. The next time I take Alex to Cider Hills Farm I'll get some photos - they have apple picking, hay rides, a country store, and farm animals to look at ... and is only about 5-10 minutes away! This whole driving to get anywhere thing has already gotten old to me, but the people in my mom's development are a pretty close knit bunch and nobody minds if Alex runs across their yard or gently pets their ornamental stone animals, so we can at least get some fresh air and exercise without have to go too far.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

He created a monster

The Philadelphia Eagles play today. Hence, in the mindset of any self-respecting Philadelphian, today is a day to wear one's Eagles jersey. Or one of one's Eagles jerseys as who would be caught with only one? Of course, Alex has a jersey (but only one, she grows too fast).

It got chilly in St. Pete as of this last week, so we wanted to put on a long sleeved shirt under Alex's jersey before going outside. The conversation between Terry and Alex went something like this:
T: "Alex we need to put this shirt on first, but then I promise we'll put the Eagles shirt on top of it."
A: "No, Eagles shirt"
T: "Yes, we'll put on the Eagles shirt AFTER this shirt."
A: "No, EAGLES SHIRT!"
Followed by Alex hugging the Eagles shirt to her chest, fending off daddy's attempts to put on the other jersey, then attempting to put the Eagles shirt on herself.

We did get a short video of this exchange, someday to be revealed.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Photos of Helsinki

The photos from this weekends trip are up online. I had a late night last night editing to get them all up. So enjoy the fruits of my labor.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Helsinki, part II

To keep things balanced, some things I did NOT love about the hotel:

- Reception kept directing me to the children's play area, which was allegedly situated in the dining room. Perplexed as to why I could never find it, I asked restaurant staff. It has been closed for "renovation", possibly never to return. So, a) one of the draws of the hotel didn't exist and b) front desk staff and restaurant staff (maybe 50 meters from each other) don't talk :-(

- on our first day, when our room hadn't been cleaned yet at 5pm and we headed out for dinner I asked at the front desk for housekeeping to go right away as we wouldn't be gone long. On the second day, as the cleaning staff was on our floor when we left for the afternoon I didn't feel a need to specifically ask that our room be cleaned. Silly me. I had never felt the necessity of daily room cleaning in my pre-toddler life, but really for us it is a necessity. Room cleaning should be a no-brainer for a hotel.

I'd still go back to that hotel chain, but not that hotel.

Our second night we ate at a Finnish restaurant where the meal was similar but not quite the same as the Lappish place. Terry has completely fallen in love with lingonberry and we tried to figure a viable way to bring some back with us but it wasn't to be. We'll just have to hope that it will grow it at the cabin.

The train ride back was an experience. We had booked the first class sleeper compartment, which has 2 bench/couch/beds and a small amount of space in between. Terry has posted photos so they should explain this description. Soon after we departed, one of the ladies who worked on the train (what are they called? They were basically stewardesses) came and asked if we wanted tea or coffee. It cost 60 rubles for the 2 drinks, which was actually a pretty good deal given Terry's 1.80 Euro coffee on the way there. A couple of hours later they came by again with beer or juice - free. Yes, FREE beer, but coffee will cost you. I love Russia!

The other highlight of the train ride was the sleeping daughter. When the sun started going down, we gave her about 90% of her normal bedtime routine, then lay her down on one of the beds, turned off the light, lay down ourselves, and hoped for the best while not even remotely believeing it would happen. She fell asleep with no crying, and only a few turns of sitting up and being reminded gently by her parents to lay her head down and go to sleep. It was a solid 1.5h before we came into the train station, and she even made the transition off the train and into her stroller without a major, full-scale wakeup.

This is where I extol the virtues of Ladybird Taxi. It's a great concept. The drivers are all women, and they only accept women as passengers - they will take a man if he is with a woman or a child. They carry car seats in the trunk, women's magazines if you want them, etc etc. They only speak Russian so I had asked Alex's babysitter to make the arrangements for me as we didn't have our car seat with us so it seemed like the best option for getting home at 11pm from the train station. Although the train came in 10 minutes before I had asked them to be there, my phone rang the moment we stepped outside the station. Unfortunately, there had been some miscommunication between our babysitter and the booking person, because the lady was waiting exactly at the location I was told she wouldn't be. But she gamely hung on the phone with me and talked me through getting to where she was parked even though I only understood about every 5th word she used.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Even the construction is clean

We decided to use this long weekend as a last chance to get away while we were just 3. Helsinki is a very easy train ride away, and as everyone who's been here told us it was the most boring capital city in Europe, we figured 2.5 days is probably just right to do it up.


We're completely loving life. Start with the train ride. They had coolers of Finnish water - the kind of coolers with the 20 liter bottles of mineral water - in each compartment, just available to drink. Then, the railway booked some compartments fully while others were nearly empty. As a service to us and the passengers without kids, a very nice conductor conducted us, and as it turns out another woman travelling with her little girl, into a compartment that only had 4 other passengers total (even though our assigned seats were in the full compartment). Alex basically had the run of the place, and loved climbing on and off many of the vacant seats. She also loved looking out at the scenery as we went by. We never pulled out the DVD player, even once! Although she never ended up sleeping, I still have a hunch she would have if the other little girl hadn't been around ... Alex climbed into her stoller and asked to lay down, asked for her stuffed dog and blanket and pacifier, and was quietly laying there for at least 20 minutes. However, the other little girl was up and about and just as Alex does she was really curious about the "sleeping baby". In any case, she made it to the hotel more than 2 hours past her bedtime without tantrums.


Next comes the hotel. It was a 5 minute walk from the train station and this train station isn't in a super sketchy part of town like some other big cities. Check in took almost no time at all, and our new standard of rating allegedly child friendly places is whether they have the crib in the room ahead of time. Yep, they did so we were able to get Alex down ASAP. The hotel also has a 24-hour lobby snack bar-essentials shop so we were able to get salads and drinks as we were starving. Our room is pretty close to the elevators, so we hunkered down on the huge comfy couch by the elevators to eat, rather than our usual practice of hanging out in the bathroom while Alex sleeps.


First impressions of Helsinki - everything is clean. The air, the streets, the water. Tap water is safe to drink and actually tastes pretty good. Everyone we spoke with spoke English and we heard it on the street. It was also surprisingly busy with bars, restaurants and clubs compared to what we had expected. On the street between the curb and the sidewalk where people can walk is a bike lane. We've also read that there are stands throughout the city where one can essentially use a bike for a 2 Euro deposit that gets returned when the bike is returned to either the original or another stand. How awesome is that?


Saturday we were up relatively bright and early ... of course it's an hour behind for us so it felt like we slept in. Another reason to love this hotel - at the breakfast buffet they had loose leaf tea and individual strainers. I have never, ever experienced this in my life and in my life I've stayed in some fancy places. Also, many of the items available were organic and according to the hotel everything possible is locally sourced. Breakfast was a bit lunch meat heavy for me but there were plenty of yummy breads and fruits and I got to try strawberry soup. I wasn't quite up for trying the smoked fishes as I wasn't sure where they really stood on the "OK for me to eat at this point in my pregnancy" spectrum.


As it is supposed to rain tomorrow, we chose today as the "get outside as much as possible" day and went to visit the Seurasaari Open-Air Museum, which you can read about here. As first we were feeling a bit annoyed about having paid the 6 Euros each for a place where everything was closed - we thought for the winter - but later realized we had just come too early when we walked back past previously locked buildings and saw folks in period costume hanging out in the open doorways. We stopped at the cafe for lunch and tried some Finnish cuisine - a hearty cheese and smoked reindeer soup with dark bread and a cheese and tomato pie. Soup was definitely the winner, I guess Terry still has the ordering edge on me. We also learned that the Finns drink more coffee than amost anyone.


Alex was unfortunately lacking in sleep so was grumpy and prone to frequent bursts of unhappiness, so we ended up cutting the visit shorter than we had planned. However, it is absolutely lovely there and between the open air museum, green spaces and cafes we could have easily spent the day. Terry came away with several building ideas for the cabin, and I'm actually OK with them.


After family nap we decided to get a recommendation for Finnish food and unfortunately the lady at reception directed us to a place that, although she was probably right that Alex would be welcome, there was nothing Alex would eat on the menu. Luckily, the map she used to show where it was had a bunch of other restaurants on it and we chose another one. I should stop here and clarify that we ended up at a Lappish restaurant. We think we'll try Finnish tomorrow. The lady at reception was careful to explain that they were different. The food was very hearty and very yummy and right now Terry is researching whether lingonberries and cloudberries will grow in Pennsylvania. They brought us a starter of reindeer salami that Alex scarfed down in 10 seconds flat. Terry and I both ordered different types of reindeer and for a man who doesn't like "sweet meat" - his description of meals that include sweetness or fruit in the sauce or accompanyment - he went to town on the lingonberries served alongside his meat. Dessert was a fried cheese in cinnamon cream sauce with cloudberry jam. The jam was more like fresh berries and we gave Alex spoonfuls to eat. She licked the plate clean and asked for more. I figure if they don't have it in the grocery stores, they will likely have it in a souvenier shop.


As we walked back from the restaurant, we commented on some road construction we saw. It was completely fenced off, with the striped tape threaded through the fencing for good measure. There was a big hole in the ground, but the dirt and tar debris, as well as the equipment, had all been cleared away. Those in St. Pete will attest that this is an astonishing sight compared to what we're used to, and refreshing!

Monday, August 31, 2009

Things I'm loving in St. Pete

1. Chocolate. The dark chocolate here is nice and bitter but, unlike most other darks, is very smooth and creamy.

2. Honey. Although Malta was renown for its honey, I actually really didn't like the taste. Some of the honey we've tasted here seriously almost made me swoon.

3. Restaurants with play areas for children. Even some that weren't listed as having them do have little nooks with toys, dolls, and books. And we're talking some of the finer restaurants in town - nothing at all like a Chuck E Cheese.

4. Our apartment. It isn't just large, but for the most part well laid out. There's a door between the bedrooms and the kitchen/living/dining rooms, so the noise of daily living - or entertaining - is mostly muffled from the sleepers. It is also wonderfully located - 3 great playgrounds within 20 minutes, metro within 10, a bus stop just on the corner.

I'm sure I will think of more ....

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Tsarskoe Selo

With summer reappearing this week, we knew we needed to take advantage of the warm weather and venture out to one of the several major sights outside St. Petersburg. We decided on Tsarskoe Selo, which means "tsar's village" and housed the Russian imperial family as a country residence. You can read more about it here.

Our adventure began as we tried to follow our inadequate maps using our inadequate Russian to read the very few signs we came across. The "highlight" was that we actually made it to one of the entrances of Tsarskoe Selo on our first try - but as there was nothing obvious about it as an entrance to the estate we decided this wasn't it and ended up driving around the neighboring towns for another 40 minutes. The second time we came across the same entrance I made Terry stop so we could ask directions. Imagine our delight when I said I was looking for Tsarskoe Selo and the lady said "Здесь" (pronounced roughly: zdes, and means "here") I then looked at the sign on the gate and sure enough it said Ца́рское Село́.

The sight is an attraction not only for the palace but also the grounds. We had packed a picnic lunch and settled onto a bench shaded by trees overlooking a little creek. After lunch we wandered around, interspersed with sitting in grass or on benches and just enjoying the fresh air, greenery, and moments of relaxation. Because we had Alex with us, there was never an intention of going inside any of the buildings. Where we entered was comparatively unkempt and forest-y, as we came closer to the palace the grounds became more manicured and there were more statues, ornate bridges, and flowers.

Although we had planned to stay longer, the gray clouds, grumpy sleepyhead missing her nap, and our own lethargy dictated that we only spent about 3-4 hours on the grounds. The good news was that we missed dacha traffic on the way home, and
grumpy sleepyhead not only fell asleep in the car on the way home, she made the transition back to bed seamlessly and let mom and dad take a mini nap too.

Is there a better way to spend a Sunday (minus the morning confusion, of course!)?

Saturday, August 22, 2009

language lessons

Alex has a babysitter who comes twice a week. She's a lovely Russian lady, and I've asked her to speak with Alex in Russian. Our 8 weeks of classes taught me a decent supply of basic words a child would use (tree, milk, colors, numbers, etc) so when Alex uses a Russian word with me I generally know what she's saying.

For the last 2 weeks or so she's been saying "issue", which I have interpreted as "tissue" because what toddler doesn't love to play with the box of tissues and one of ours sits on the kitchen counter in easy view but impossible reach.

This week, our babysitter and I were chatting about how Alex has grown so much just in 2 months, the playground equipment she has mastered, and some of the Russian words she uses. She mentioned that Alex regularly says "ЕЩЕ" ("more", roughly pronounced "yee-show") but it comes out "issue". Huh. Mystery solved. My daughter knows more of the local language than me!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

More adventures in driving

This morning I had to run an errand that normally requires 1/2 hour walk either way. Today I'm feeling very pregnant, and particularly exhausted from more than usual running around. So, I decided to get in the car.
Feeling very proud of myself, I saw my destination within 10 minutes. Then I remembered that I live in a pretty big city - i.e. there was nowhere to park. Ten minutes of searching for parking, with the attendant anxiety about being lost and frustration about all the people who parked like jerks - if they'd parked closer together there would be spaces available - I found a spot - 10 minutes' walk away from my destination.
Yes, it did save the wear and tear on my soles but I think the wear and tear on my soul may have been the same. Finding my way back out and then to home did end up saving me some time, but on the whole I'm not sure I'll be so eager to hop in the car unless I'm heading to one of the big shopping centers outside city center.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Metro security

Last weekend Terry and I had a child-free date of lunch and museum. We all had slept badly the night before, museums exhaust me (although I love them, what does that say about me?), and by going I was missing my rest/nap time (i.e. Alex's nap). This is all background to explain why I was so completely fatigued when we got onto the metro to go home.

Piter has one of the deepest subway systems in the world (possibly the deepest?), so the escalators are very, very, very long. You're not allowed to sit down on the steps while you're on them, but people do all the time. Every time I have been on the metro I have seen people sitting on the steps. So, in my exhaustion, what do I do? Yep, I plunk down to have me a 5 minute rest.

As we get closer to the bottom I can see metro security down there, as usual. I get up, and as I exit the escalator they gesture me over and start harassing me about sitting down. They point to the sign that forbids it. They try to get conspiratorial with Terry and ignore me when I explain his Russian is worse than mine. They demand an on the spot fine. The one guy pulls out of his pocket exactly what he wants us to give him in case we didn't understand.

We're not allowed to pay on the spot fines (aka bribes). If there is a legitimate ticket it has to be sent to the Consulate through the ministry of foreign affairs. Terry tries to tell them he's a diplomat, they just keep asking for the fine. He calls two different guys at the Consulate who do actually speak Russian to find out what to say to these guys. All the while he's holding his wallet - which contains his diplomatic ID card - in his hand. Finally, I pull the ID card out of his wallet and show the security guys, pointing directly to the part that says "USA Consulate" (in Russian). They say "bye-bye" (in English) and wave us away.

In Malta, being a diplomat didn't even get us discounts at the gym.

Lake Lagoda

Today, we took a trip to Lake Lagoda, also known to Russians as the "Road of Life" (more on that later).

We caravaned there with the CG and her navigation system, and another Consulate family. As it took almost an hour just to get out of Piter proper, and we turned around four or five times, Terry questioned my desire for a GPS system. I decided MAYBE it wouldn't be a good value investment.

We did finally arrive at the museum on the Lake, and between passing the baton of Alex back and forth Terry and I each got to hear about half the curator's spiel about the siege of Leningrad (Petersburg). You can read all about it here. The short story is that the Germans and Finns were able to completely blockade Leningrad in 1941. Rations became in such short supply that the daily ration of a non-worker/non-soldier was 125 grams of bread. I approximate that to about 2 pieces of regular sized sliced bread. The good/bad thing about that winter was that it was particularly cold, and Lake Lagoda was completely frozen by November. The Russians realized they could drive provisions across the Lake and fortify the city, which they proceeded to do that year as well as the next. Had it not been for this "ice road" it is unlikely anyone in Leningrad could have survived the 29 month siege.

After the tour, we went to picnic on the museum's grounds, where a table had been set up for us overlooking the lake. We grilled shashlik (super-yum!) and feasted on foods both Russian and American. The wind coming off the lake was a little chilly for me in the shade, but it was perfect in the sun. We basically just hung out at the picnic area for the rest of the afternoon. After we ate, the curator's wife came over with this amazing samovar - I'm calling it the campfire samovar - there is a "hole" for lack of a better word in the center where you put the burning wood to heat it up, and we had chai (tea. yes, it's called chai in Russian). I want one so badly! We'll definitely be on the lookout for this thing.

I was holding Alex and the curator's wife came over and said "Give her to me" in Russian (rough paraphrasing). I handed Alex over, she got a look of alarm on her face and handed her right back. She then said something in Russian, laughing as she walked away, and I was laughing with her ... as she walked away I turned to the rest of the group and asked what she was saying. The gist was "She looks so small but she's so heavy, what do you feed her?"

Friday, July 31, 2009

Cafe Botanika

On Friday, we playgroup mums decided to go to lunch after the park. This was a big decision for me, as there was no way Alex would nap at any point in the process. The restaurant we chose was one known for its child's play area, and with the other kids up and about I had hopes for Alex at least not being too wild in her fatigue.

Cafe Botanika is tiny, probably the size of my living room (OK, yes, my living room is ridiculously large) and in the back, sectioned by curtains and across from the toilets, is the most darling play area. There's outdoor murals on all the walls, and the high ceilings of the restaurant are put to good use with a loft area above, cozy alcove below. The staircase is small and narrow enough that it is easy for a toddler to hold on to the railings going up and down the stairs - Alex had no problem, and she's never been steady on the downward. The "above" also houses the DVD player. There's a decent selection of toys as well. We got the table just outside the play area, and with 5 mums there was always someone keeping an eye on the kids.

The food is vegetarian, all freshly made and although there is a small childrens' menu most of the kids who ate anything ate something off the regular menu. Alex was not one of those kids. It is a good thing I'm eating for 2 anyway. The staff was amazing, they were so unperturbed even when the kids escaped the play area and ran circles around the empty tables. They even came by the play area to clean up and organize it TWICE while we were there. That's attentive!

My carnivore husband will probably prevent us ever going there as a family but I'm happy to know that we'll probably lunch there with other moms. One more thing I'm loving about Piter. We tried to lower our expectations to avoid disappointment, were unable to do so, and so far have been pretty happy anyway. Yeah, yeah, winter is looming. But we have plenty of play date possibilities, so even that shouldn't be too awful.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Driving

I got behind the wheel for the first time today. First impression: Piter drivers are a**holes. A lot like a typical Northeast USA city but worse. Everyone is taking the left turn from the right lane, merging into the lane I already occupy, honking impatiently if - heaven forbid - I slow down to try to ensure there's no oncoming traffic as I cross a main road. There are many 4-way no-stops, as in 2 roads come together, neither is clearly the bigger road, and nobody has a stop sign. With SUVs illegally parked on the corner, so there's no way to know if there's oncoming traffic until just before it's too late.

The good news is it appears that u-turns in the middle of the street are no big deal to anyone, official or unofficial.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Weather

Never go outside without your umbrella AND sunglasses (unless it's winter, of course). As we stood at the corner, waiting for the light to change, I felt a drip. We were at the corner because the sun was directly in my eyes and I wanted to switch to the shady side of the road. I looked up to see if there was an air conditioner dripping on me, or an awning that may have had residual rain from last night.

Duh. It's St. Petersburg in the summer. It was RAINING. At least the sun did have the decency to hide a bit a few minutes later.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Where am I?

Terry and I had lunch at a Japanese restaurant near the consulate the other day. Some of the staff are Asian and some are Russian. This is how my mind works: after watching an Asian waitress walk by, a very pale blond woman comes over to take our order. My first instinct - Oh, she's white, she'll speak English.

Duh. We're in Russia. The first waitress had a better chance of speaking English.

Once again we thank our 8 weeks of language training.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

River tour

Our "Top 10" guide book puts the river tour as one of the best things to do in the city. Today was a perfect warm, no-cloud-in-sight summer day, calling for us to do something outdoors. Part of me really wanted to laze around the house but the other part said "no, you really will regret if you don't get off your lazy rear and SEE something" so we got ourselves organized and out the door with plenty of time to make the 11am departure time.

The tour began on the Fontanka, and we turned onto the Moika and the Neva over the course of an hour. The rivers are truly central to St. Petersburg, and it seemed all the top tourist sights were in view from the water. In fact, according to our tour guide, Peter the Great envisioned this city to be like Venice and tried to avoid all bridges in favor of innumerable mooring points along the river ... but he didn't account for weather, which makes wintertime navigation of the (frozen) rivers impossible.

Our guide gave good historical and architectural information of the monuments, bridges and buildings we passed. Terry and I each caught slightly more than half of what she said as we made sure Alex didn't fall off her seat, into the water, or bother the other passengers too much. She was extremely well behaved for a not-2-year old, but she IS a not-2-year old. Even without taking in all the information, it was a glorious day to be out on the water, and today is a memory that will sustain us in mid-January when we've got 3 hours of daylight and a wind chill of -40 (C or F, same thing). We're already strategizing how to arrange child care so we can take the midnight "White Nights" tour next summer - adults only. At least we got some great photos, as you can see!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

туркей хилл в Москве

I was on my walk back to the hotel tonight, when I swung into a grocery store to pickup some water and snacks. To my surprise sitting in the freezer section of the grocery store was Turkey Hill. I couldn't believe it. They had little one pint containers of Turkey Hill butter pecan. So I of course had to buy some. Unfortunately it seems this really is imported from Lancaster County and not produced under license by a local manufacture. Since the ice cream was somewhat freezer burned. On the one photo you can see importer just threw a Russian translation sticker on the container. I will say that did not stop me from eating the whole pint. For the record the title of this post is Turkey Hill in Moscow. The first two words are simply the words Turkey Hill in Russian Cyrillic letters. That is how it appeared on my receipt.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Hermitage

With Terry away, it's been generally rough around here. The bright spots include my 2 mornings when the babysitter comes. Rather than do chores - as I was our first few times - I ventured out with my new friend and her (much older than Alex) daughters to the Hermitage. It's free the first Thursday of every month so I decided it was a good time to check it out.

First, this lovely lady got me there, for which I am extremely grateful as those who know me know I have gotten lost going in a straight line (that was only once, but it makes a point). Second, she showed me the "secret no-tourist" entrance, where there was no wait at all and we walked right in. We also discovered an automated kiosk that will show you where you are, plot a path to where you want to go, and if you wait long enough print out a map. The Hermitage is enormous - over 3 million pieces of art - so the map is more precious than one might otherwise think. We got bored of waiting so we tried to fix the map in our minds and set off.

We headed toward the Impressionists area, where they happened to have a series of Rodin sculptures that I enjoyed much more than the Rodin Museum in Philly, and Picasso ceramics, which I had never seen before anywhere. I had no idea he had done anything with ceramics, and I was desperate to find a way to fit a few pieces in my purse to take home. As I'm not a Picasso fan, this is saying quite a lot.

On our way out, we got lost and wandered through ancient artifacts from middle Asia. The references on the pieces were from kingdoms and nations I'd never even heard of. We will definitely be making our way back as often as possible

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Greetings from Москвa

So exactly one month after arriving in St. Petersburg I was sent to Moscow on TDY. Tonight I got out and walked around the Kremlin. You can check out the pictures by clink on the photo above.


All I can say is Moscow is big. Really big. You can read about the fact it has a population of 13 million but until you are there you don't realize how big it is. For reference purposes NYC is around 8.3 million, Chicago 2.9 million, and Philly 1.5 million. To give an idea of the size of the city I am going to retell a story a local Russian told me. Moscow commonly will get winds that blow in from the north. These winds will blow across the city and while they do that with will pick up heat from the concrete jungle below. When this happens the southern portion of the city will be 5 degrees Celsius (9 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer then the North. This is because there is enough distance and heat produced in the city that by the time the winds hit the south they are not as cold. I am generally only in a small part of the city. Not that Moscow is bad, but I generally like smaller cities. I will take Philly over NYC, Edinburgh over London, and so far St. Petersburg over Moscow.


Thursday, June 25, 2009

First Impressions

I am really slow in getting anything up since we hit Russia but thing have been extremely busy. We got our stuff really quickly so that meant lots and lots of unpacking. So far here are some of my opinions and observations. First the light in the summer is really crazy. This is the farthest north I have ever lived and it is odd always going to sleep with the sun up. When you wake the sun is up. It has certainly affected Lynne much more then myself. With there being lots of sunlight at night she will regularly stay up much later then she really wants to.

So far most of the Russians have been very polite and willing to deal with us butchering their language. That might be because most of the Russians I am dealing when not working are in the shops trying to sell me something. All in all it helps that they are willing to put up with me.

There are a few things that Russians are very good at. One is мед (honey pronounced myod). Honey in Russia is like no where I have ever been. It is amazing. We bought some мед at the рынки (kind of like a farmer’s market pronounced Ree-nok). It was so good that it seemed like a crime to use it in tea. So we bought some cheap мед at the продукты (supermarket/grocery store pronounced Produkty). Even this stuff was really good. Sorry Malta your honey doesn't hold a candle to this stuff. Another is the варенье (pronounced Vareni). варенье is kind of like a thin Jam. It is made like jam but ranges from a thin syrup to a almost Jam consistency. The quality of them are excellent. We have been going through the варенье like crazy since we arrived. One strange thing is the Cherry варенье was made with whole cherry that still had the pits in them. So you have a jar or cherries in this thin cherry syrup. It was very tasty with our блины (thin pancakes pronounced Blini) but picking out the pits was a pain.

The city really is a 24/7 place. There are at least 6 продукты within walking distance that are open 24 hours. There are 24 hour restaurants and drug stores. It is such a change after Malta where you had to have everything for the weekend on Friday or you were in trouble. Here if you forgot something for Sunday dinner just run out and get. No problem.

So far I am really enjoying St. Petersburg. The weather is wonderful for summer. We see in January if my posts are so positive.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Culinary adventures

I am always amazed at which staple (in my mind) products are found at various overseas locations and which are not. In Malta, sour cream and applesauce did not exist. Here, baking powder, molasses (a.k.a. treacle) and Cheerios have never been seen, to my knowledge. I also have yet to find rice milk or more than one, undrinkable, variety of soy milk. I've just heard of a store where brown sugar can be found. How did people live before internet shopping??

Before I was able to get baking powder into my hands (first through my lovely new friend who handed me an almost-full container she happened to have with her one day, then through our netgrocer.com order) I was desperate for a pancake recipe that did not require baking powder, as pancakes are a staple breakfast food for me. Turns out that a true pancake can not be made without the ingredient, but Norwegian pancakes do not need it. I can still remember the delicious pancakes we had when while in Oslo so I decided this was worth attempting. Also, being Russian denziens for two years, we had to attempt blinis.

The recipe I found for Norwegian pancakes is remarkably similar to the recipes Terry found for blinis. In each case a large quantity of milk is mixed with some flour, eggs and a few other things then spread thin on a griddle. Also in each case a jam (vareini) is spread thin in the middle and then the whole thing is wrapped into either burrito or square shape. We definitely need more practice and some recipe tweaking before we have anything we could serve a guest without embarrassment, but for first attempts we had some very tasty breakfasts.

We've also been experimenting with sweets. We've been very pleased with the quality of Russian chocolate, although if we needed something more familiar they do carry Lindt 70% cocoa at many stores. There's also a very yummy gingerbread type cookie that has made Alex into a mini-tyrant. Really hard not to laugh at her when she stubbornly starts chanting "cookie! cookie! cookie!"

In another interesting twist, Alex only likes American applesauce. When we first arrived we put together a quick netgrocer order that included the handy travel packs of applesauce, because we know those weren't available here. It seemed as though her obsession with the food was easing, as she ate the first 2 jars we fed her but kept refusing the next one. When the netgrocer order came, however, she saw the packs, recognized them, and then became a mini-tyrant whenever she caught a glimpse .... it's good to know she really loves such healthy food, but it is a bit overkill - I have yet to feed her an amount that sated her, generally because I can't bring myself to give her more than 2 cups at one meal.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Summer Gardens

On our second weekend in country we decided to take a break from unpacking and do a little sightseeing. We forgot that most things don't open until 10am, and with Alex still being our early morning ray of sunshine we were up and ready to go by 8:30am. It was chilly but sunny, and the walk to the Summer Gardens was nice. The locked gates were less nice. The Church of our Savior on Spilled Blood is only a few blocks away, and although it was also closed, the thing that most interested us about the church was the outside - as you can see. We wandered a bit, took photos, and tried to keep me on the sunny side of the street.

Part of the excitement of getting to the Summer Gardens is that they will, reportedly, be closed imminently and for 3 years for restoration. The trees are large and leafy enough that there is little direct sunlight in the gardens, which led me on this chilly day to say "I bet these gardens are lovely in the summer, there is so much shade and benches everywhere."

As a famous garden, though, I have to admit I was a bit disappointed. There are reportedly some 90 sculptures and statues in the gardens, most of which I did not notice although we walked a decent amount of the gardens. Also, there are trees and a few shrubs, and that's about it for greenery. The paths are nice and wide, and there are many benches for sitting and people watching, but I just couldn't see what was so incredibly special about the place. I suppose it is for the best that I won't be going back!