Tuesday, November 16

Только в России...

So... Time to update the blog! I have a fair amount to talk about since my last update, so I hope you're sitting comfortably :P Just so you - my loyal readers - know, the title means 'only in Russia', a phrase I'm finding myself saying with increasing frequency...

Firstly, we went to our landlady (Roza)'s dacha. All Russians have some interesting obsession with living in the countryside, but also like the convenience of the city. This means almost every middle-aged person has both a city flat and a dacha, which they often build themselves from scratch or in kit form. I first discovered this strange country house phenomenon last year when I was in Russia and visited a dacha, which was extremely confusing since my knowledge of Russian was limited at best. I'm not sure if it's just a Russian tradition or what, perhaps other countries also partake in the two-houses-no-matter-how-poor-you-are craze. I dread to think how much petrol is used by Russians just going to their dachas (usually done several times a week, and they can be up to an hour or so from the city), but I expect it's a lot. This is Russia, though, and they seem to still believe their resources are limitless. Roza's dacha has been built from scratch by her husband, Vanya, who is a bit of a Jack of all trades... It has so far taken them ten years, and it seems likely at this rate that they'll still be adding to it in another ten years. It's definitely still a 'work in progress', and they actually live in a small wagon when they're there. I admire their determination in building their dream house, but it does seem a little excessive.

So we left for the dacha on Wednesday morning, after Roza had told us the traffic would be better during the week so skiving school was a good plan. A 40-minute-ish drive later and we arrived at their 'village'... The first thing that struck me (and Maddy, too) was how strange all the houses looked. They really looked like they'd popped straight out of the computer game 'The Sims' - all very strange designs, many covered in plastic fascias as though they were bought flat-pack in Ikea or something. I loved it, and decided I'd enjoy building the life-size plastic wendyhouse of my dreams if I had the chance. After stopping off at the local supermarket to buy some privisions, including a big yummy cake, Roza drove us to her house. It was in a great location, right near the coast with a nice view of the Gulf of Finland (though it was extremely misty on the day so we couldn't see very far), and I was impressed :) We sat and had tea and cake in the wagon, along with Roza's pet terrapin, who I inadvertently scared with my camera flash, before looking around the half-built dacha then going for a walk around the village. Roza is extremely similar to me in a couple of ways. The first way is our shared love of shopping (she calls me шопаголик 2 - shopaholic 2, her being number one), and the second is the fact we're both rather nosy. Wandering round the village examining everyone's houses was lovely, and Roza's commentary was entertaining - "This is a very old house - take a picture!", "A very rich old lady lives here, all on her own!", "Look at this stream, this is where the poo goes into the sea... The Finnish people don't like it," were some typical examples.

A good time was had by all, and we headed back to the city in the afternoon after a nice day of fresh air in the country. Here are some pictures to accompany my dacha story:

(Top Left: Roza's dacha; Top Right: The quality toilet facilities on offer at said dacha; Bottom: A very misty view out to the Gulf of Finland.)

The next notable event of recent days was going out on Friday night. Everyone decided to go on a huge school night out to Club Griboedov, which was handy as I can see it from my bedroom window, it's extraordinarily close, though before Friday I'd never actually been there. We started with drinks in Fidel, where I had a couple of 'cocktail Natasha's, my usual drink in Fidel. I'm not 100% sure what's in them, but they definitely contain a lot of vodka and some grenadine, and they're pretty tasty. We met a couple of German tourists in the bar and chatted to them, and they joined us for the evening. They were pretty fun guys, and had just arrived in Petersburg for the first time ever that day, so we were keen to show them a good time. We moved on to Barbara for one drink, then ran for the last metro to the club. We literally did run, by the way, which was hilarious and embarrassing, but we made it on to the last train of the night with 4 minutes to spare. The club wasn't bad, it's housed in a nuclear bomb shelter which is underground, but has an upstairs terrace and glass-walled bar. It was actually the coolest place I've been to since I got here, though it was a little pricey. I treated myself to a 'white Russian' cocktail even though it was a bit expensive, as it was the first time I'd actually seen one for sale in Russia, and it's my favourite cocktail back home... I had a good night all in all, and there were many drunken foreigners knocking about the club, so much so that I can't even remember overhearing any conversations in Russian - only English. I was yet again hungover on Saturday, even though I've quit the horrible pikey cocktails-in-cans, opting for the more traditional drink of vodka. My body couldn't even handle that! I am a rubbish drinker.

I didn't do a lot over the weekend, only a big shop in Auchan (still my favourite supermarket) and watched a few films. I watched 'Stalker', a Russian classic by Andrei Tarkovsky, though I think it needs another watch as it made little to no sense. Then again, I think that was supposed to be the point. Hmm. Yesterday I went to Mega (huge shopping mall) once again, with my friends Pippa and George, though managed to refrain from buying anything. I do need to go back later in the week to buy myself some new jeans, though, as my current pairs are getting very worn out. Bah. We found something extremely cool at Mega - a huge матрёшка (Russian doll) made of Lego, and here is a picture of me next to it:

Anyway, I apologise as always for the lengthy blog post... I don't even know who reads this anymore! It's sort of like a diary, though, it'll be nice to read over it again myself when I've forgotten bits of my year abroad! 

Naomi :)

Monday, November 8

"This is Russia, not Indonesia!"

So, not a huge amount has happened since my last post... Reading week went well, I had a nice week of rest and recuperation speckled with entertaining moments.

On Wednesday me and Pippa decided to go for a walk around the islands of Petersburg, covering two, Vasilevsky and Petrogradsky. Vasilevsky is where Pippa lives and is quite pretty, and Petrogradsky is where Zenit (one of Petersburg's main football teams) plays their matches. Petrogradsky was actually very posh and had some beautiful buildings and very expensive shops. Here are a couple of snaps from our jaunt:

(Top left: FC Zenit stadium; Top right: A pretty building on Petrograsky Island; Bottom: An entertaining sign in a fast food restaurant, listing mainly N. American cities in Cyrillic.)

On Friday, my friends George and Seb hosted a party, which was pleasant. We had two visiting guests, Tom (from Manchester) and Adam (from my uni but studying in Moscow), so it was nice catching up with them. The party moved on to our friend Nick's flat, which is 2 minutes from my flat, via a lovely Russian gypsy cab... This trip was eventful as at one point the poor driver, who appeared to speak no English, actually got out to check his tyres for punctures. Four drunken English students + one poor conked out Lada's back seat = recipe for disaster. Luckily, we all got to Nick's flat alive, though a few card games later I was starting to feel pretty tired and went home. It was a nice night, though I wasn't quite drunk enough to deserve the hellish hangover I received on Saturday :( I've resolved to quit drinking (yes, in Russia!) for the time being... Or maybe I should just quit the cheapy 9% 'cocktails' made up of unknown alcohols I insist on drinking, and stick to the more traditional beverages. We'll see.

On Sunday, me and Pippa decided to check out this flea market Pippa had read about on the internet. It was quite far from the centre in an area neither of us had previously visited, so we were a little worried about what we'd find there. The website Pippa had found directions from appeared to be from the age of dial up, so we were dubious as to whether the market even existed anymore... Luckily, it did, and our Удельная adventure began! It was basically one huge car boot sale, only with no cars, just tarpaulins laid on the ground... Cue a few hours of browsing amongst the market, which stretched as far as the eye could see in a field that made Glastonbury look well kept. Me and Pippa were pleasantly surprised at how friendly all the salesmen and women were, even when they realised we were foreign. It felt like we'd left the ever-xenophobic Russia far behind! We were brought back down to earth when we saw the sheer amount of scary 'military goods' on sale, such as knives, bullets, rusty army helmets - some with bullet holes - and grenades (no such thing as Health & Safety here!). All in all it was a great trip, even though all I bought was a pair of socks, and was a chance to speak to some lovely people... I intend to buy more next time, as we've decided to visit as often as possible, hopefully every weekend :)

I would have added some pictures of the flea market to this post, but I didn't actually take any. I was a bit scared that taking pictures of people's items might have seemed a little rude... I'll take some distance shots next time we go and upload them so you get more of an idea of what the market's like!

The aforementioned market seemed even better after we visited the tourist market near Nevsky Prospect later that same day... It was a stark contrast, as most people at the tourist market spoke English to us and were really on the hard sell. I didn't like it at all! Though it seems to be one of the better places to go to buy souvenirs, and I think if they'd realised we spoke some Russian the prices may have reduced quite drastically. Oh well, I don't need to buy any souvenirs for at least another 6 months, so I'll worry about it nearer to the time! Oh and the quote which forms the title of this post is some market stall owner's reponse when we questioned the extortionate prices of his watches...

Anyway, this is a rather long blog post considering I said I didn't have much to talk about, so I'll end it here! Also, I'm supposed to be going to my landlady's dacha (country house) on Wednesday, so hopefully I'll have lots of fun to report and nice pictures to share from there! Here are a couple more pictures from the last few days:

(Left: Amazingly named English pub near my house; Right: These snowflakes were big enough to be picked up by my camera! Winter's a-coming!)

Naomi :)

Tuesday, November 2

Reading week has commenced! Huzzah.

As the title suggests, it is currently reading week :D A time to get some much-needed rest, and maybe do some cultural activities too. Oh, and maybe a little work. It's been so long since my last post that I can't really remember everything that's happened. I'd list key events like I did in my last post, but nothing has been particularly of note. It's not been a bad week, just a pretty regular one... Therefore, I think I'll keep this post short and sweet and just say this...

...I bought a new camera! Yay! This one is a lot more 'portable' than my old one, being around a third of the size, so I'll be taking a lot more pictures from now on. I got a total bargain, a 14MP 5x optical zoom Fujifilm for around £68, plus the sales assistant was amazing. He got shoved towards us in the shop by his fellow employees, presumably because he was the only one who spoke intelligible English... He was lovely and helpful and told me and Pippa we were beautiful and thanked us for being so smiley. It's been so nice not having to lug my huge old camera around, and it means I can carry it around with me 24/7, resulting in more 'snapshot'-style photos. I haven't actually had much to take pictures of since I bought it, but here are a couple of the ones I have taken:


(Top left: What was left of the snow mentioned in my last post once I woke up; Top right: Plaque near my house informing passers-by that Lenin once lived there; Bottom: Vodka aisle at the local supermarket... Yes, it's a lot of vodka.)

My plans for reading week are as follows: Russian Museum, Alexandr Nevsky cathedral/cemetery, perhaps visit some other museum-y type things, take lots of photos, go to a party or two and sleep a lot. I'd like to be able to say I had more adventurous plans, but I'm here for 9 months and do intend to do lots of travelling, just not quite yet. There's still so much in Peter I haven't yet explored!

I'll update this again soon, hopefully with more interesting/exciting news...

Naomi :)