Thursday, July 30, 2009


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


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!

Monday, July 6, 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


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

Wednesday, July 1, 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 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

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!