Tuesday, July 28, 2009
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
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
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!
Monday, July 6, 2009
Friday, July 3, 2009
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
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
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
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
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.
Monday, June 8, 2009
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!
Friday, December 12, 2008
First, Czech Airlines rocks. They had toys for Alex. When was the last time an airline gave toys to a little kid? Or, did we not get any on previous trips because she was too young to play? hm....she did also get a little stuffed animal on Lufthansa ...
Second, we got to stay in an embassy owned (leased?) apartment, which is a huge benefit with a little baby who needs darkness to sleep and parents who would rather not hit the sack at 8pm. Some of the embassies that have apartments for the folks who come to work temporarily will rent them out to embassy folks who just want to vacation, and it turns out December isn't exactly high season. It's also a huge benefit because it was right by the embassy, which is in a very sweet location. We could have walked everywhere we went, and did walk everywhere except one place.
Third, wow they give Americans a run for our money in terms of turnover at restaurants. With Alex we are not lingerers anymore and really want to get our food FAST and be acknowledged when it is time to ask for the check. We were in and out of most meals within an hour.
I love the mix of traditional European but a nod to practicality - like most places in Europe, there was plenty of outdoor seating at the restaurants and cafes even though, as mentioned above, the temperature hovered around 0 Celsius. One place we saw actually had a blanket at every seat in deference to the cold. I still opted for the indoor cafes for warming up.
Speaking of warming up, I should mention gluvein, spelled the same way in Czech and Germany. It is very similar to sangria, but served hot. It was instrumental to getting me through several long spells outside. How did Alex stay warm, you may ask? Well, not gluvein! She once again showed up she's daddy's girl and was pretty content with her hat and mittens, sweater and raincoat. Yes, raincoat. In my defense, it is lined, and for comparison sake, Terry wore a T shirt and leather jacket.
Link to the Photos.