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.