This week and next week are my host parent’s birthdays. My host mum is so easy to buy for or knit presents for…but my host dad? Socks? Underwear? Coffee? Why are men so hard to buy gifts for? Thank goodness I had my host sis Lera to help me out! We went to the local makeup/shower products store(sort of like a drugstore with no drugs…) and found some cologne. You can’t even to begin to know how precious my host dad is. He’s so sweet and hardly ever talks, but I got a “I love the cologne and thanks for the present!” out of him. It definitely made my day!

Moving back to last weekend(silly school and the large amounts of homework I have!), I finally went ice skating with Lera. Let’s just say, it was an epic fail on my part. Epic fail. Basically small children were skating circles around me while I stood and wondered how the heck to even move forward. Perhaps better luck next time? Or maybe I’m not meant to be balanced…later that day, we made delish tacos, queso, and guacamole(see a trend here?). I’m trying to make Tex-Mex a thing here in Russia…so far I’ve only managed to convert Lera. My host dad was less than impressed with queso and chips. Hmmm more for me!

After a wicked long week this week( we had a holiday Friday, so instead of actually getting a day off…Friday was on Sunday. Yes, I had Sunday classes), today was a fantastic day full of food, knitting, and books! After a 3 hour private Russian class(oh, yes, just me stumbling along in Russian for 3 hours. I’m sure it was quite painful for my Russian professor) I was FREE. I met up with Lera and we ran home and changed for my host parent’s birthday dinner. A metro ride and a marshrutka later, we were at a Chinese restaurant. Can you say AMAZING? The food was probably some of the most interesting I’ve had, but amazing none the less. It was set up as sort of a buffet with about 10 entrees and almost as many toppings( like bean curd, mushrooms, cucumbers etc). I tried cashew chicken, pineapple chicken, chicken hearts( purely by accident and sadly gross organy texture), cucumbers with glass noodles, noodles with mushrooms, Peking duck(AMAZING!!!!), green tea with honey, fry bread, and FROG LEGS(sort of like fishy chicken or tilapia). There were a few assorted things I tried to stay away from like seafood, but for the most part I tried everything.  We started at 3pm and didn’t finish until 5:30. It was an amazing afternoon with champagne for birthday toasts and really sweet people.

After the dinner and toasting was completed( one should never underestimate the amount of toasting that will happen…I stayed with sips of champagne, but I definitely watched glasses of vodka being downed for every toast!) I went to meet up with Katie at a Coffee House. We had a great time drinking tea( free since I knew a girl that worked there!) and eating dessert. Finally, we went to Дом Книги (a giant bookstore) and I picked up The Moonstone and Arabian Nights (in English of course) for about $8.

Definitely a great start to my weekend!

Some of my amazing food!




































Peking Duck





I saw the SUN today!

March 3, 2012

There you have it…the highlight of my week. Sunlight. When you come from the Midwest/South US like I do…the sun is always out and always warm. And if not…wait about 24hrs and it will be. Here in St. Petes, when the sun comes out it’s a happy and awesome day. Yesterday it poured buckets and buckets of rain then when it got cold enough, it snowed and rained at the same time. Epic fun let me tell you. So when the sun was out today, I knew adventures were in store for me. After some amazing cold pizza and hot tea for breakfast( how well my host parents know me) I set off to Gostiny Dvor metro to meet up with Katie and go back to the Hermitage again. Seeing the whole Hermitage is my goal and I thought today we could get a HUGE chunk of it seen. Ha. Think again silly girl. We literally walked for three hours and maybe saw 1/4-1/2 of the FIRST floor.  As soon as you turn a corner there’s a new statue room, chinese smoking room(opium anyone?), or a skylight filled gallery of Spanish art complete with giant vases made of Lapis Lazuli…I am beginning to believe there is no end to the treasures this awesome museum holds.

By the time we reached the Flemish artwork, Katie and I decided we could live without one more crucifix painting for today and went off in search of food. More specifically baked potatoes. My host sister told me about a Russian “fast food” place that serves baked potatoes with your choice of toppings, and Katie had heard of it too. After searching for a bit down Nevskiy Prospekt we found it(well, ok I was chattering like always so Katie actually found it). Walking in, we had no clue what to do and stood around for a bit until we figured out the ordering system. Kroshka-Kartoshka( meaning crumbs of the potato literally or “baby potato”) is the place for a little bit of baked potato heaven. You order you potato based( potato with cheese, meat, or perhaps mushrooms) and then they basically make a twice baked potato for you. You then add your salad toppings of choice. Katie had sour cream with dill on hers with fried mushrooms and I had some salad with peas, ham, and carrots with cheese. Can you amazing and super cheap? With my small Fanta(I can’t resist Fanta ever) and one salad topping it was 135 rubles or $4.60. The worker I talked to was very nice and understood my Russian(bless her soul). Definitely going back again.

Finally, we did a little shopping…one cannot resist H&M and especially not in Russia. Thankfully I managed to escape with only one pair of shorts( to wear with tights of course!), a shirt covered with birds, and some adorable socks. Definitely a hit to the wallet unlike lunch. Then, to end all days well…we got dessert. In the Galeria( a HUGE mall by the Moscow Railroad station) we found a Cinnabon and chowed down on some sweets. Tired and happy with my purchases I came home to some amazing Russian food( mushrooms, potatoes, and carrots cooked in cream) and ice-skating on TV. Doesn’t get much better.

The only picture I've managed to sneak in the Hermitage thus have to pay to take pics usually. This is my favorite hallway modeled after one in the Vatican

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Just when you think everything is perfect…

February 25, 2012

I’m ashamed…it’s been over a week since I last posted! However, unfortunate circumstances occured…namely, I have food poisoning. Yes, I have been laying in bed since Wednesday hoping to either die(just kidding!) or magically recover. I think today is the first day I can say 1. I’m sitting up in bed 2. I have no headache 3. Stomach cramps are tolerable 4. I have one of the best host families ever

I made the mistake of going pubbing on a Tuesday night…granted, I didn’t get drunk or anything silly like that. Just hung out with some friends. However, the pub is filled with unfortunate things like smoke and bad bar food. I wish I had used some common sense and thought “Self, you shouldn’t eat this bar food…it may be bad.” By Wednesday night about 2am my host mum found me passed out by the bathroom in incredible amounts of pain from food poisoning. Not my finest moment to say the least. And how exactly do you explain in Russian…I have food poisoning when you’re having a hard enough time just sitting up? You don’t. You look pitiful and collapse in bed. Probably the only reason I survived this was through 1.water 2.pretzels 3. sprite(which my host mum got me at 2am one night…see why my host family rules?)…and the best medicine this planet has to offer 4. Smecta. It’s like a voodoo charm or really just a powder that soaks up the toxins in one’s intestines(found a description online in English).

Sadly, this means I missed ice skating, I’m going to miss the final day of Butter Week(Масленица) and I now have about 5 days of homework to do in 2(debating doing that or watching tv…thinking tv is going to win). However, right now I’m happy to just be feeling well enough to blog about my experience. Hopefully by Sunday I will be able to emerge from my sick bed and maybe go outside for a bit since it is close to being above freezing!!

When ill with food poisoning=your best friend



February 15, 2012

Ciao! I know…I’ve been MIA for the last few days. Sadly nothing too interesting to report except school is impossibly hard. This may be because I’m a perfectionist and I hate not being able to express myself/understand ancient Russian literature in Russian. I must keep reminding myself that I won’t be fluent in 2 weeks and I may never understand a whole lecture this semester…must keep reminding myself! Enough of my complaints about school and it’s exhausting self…they could go on for pages, but I’d need some chocolate for that nonsense.

I did get to go to theater last Sunday with my host mum and Katie. It was an experience to say the least…it was a modern compilation of heroes from Dostoevsky’s novels complete with choreographed dance. That’s right…actors dancing to some of the strangest music ever. I heard Michael Jackson, James Brown, and Barbie Girl for starters. Russian theater is sort of like movies…there’s really good ones, bad ones, and just strange ones(think of the Indie category of film). Afterwards we walked around downtown St. Petes(for some reason my host mum is totally unaffected by the cold) and went to the Stray Dog Cafe…it was a meeting place for famous writers in the 20th century before it was shut down for awhile by Stalin. It was super cool inside, tons of “dogs” made out of shoes, cigarette boxes, old clothes, bottles etc. Google it for more info!

Katie and Asya in the Stray Dog Cafe













ME! With some of the many "dogs"




















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I have done the impossible!

February 12, 2012

That’s right I said it…the impossible. I have made good ol’ Southern chili in Russia. Difficult? yes. Have you ever tried to search through spices that are not in English? If not…it is a task. Not to mention spices that no one uses here…cumin, chili powder, and paprika to name a few. I searched high and low for almost 2 hours in Stockmann’s(it’s a very large Finnish grocery store that has a bigger selection of food stuffs/international things) to find chili ingredients and…wait for it…TORTILLA CHIPS. That’s right, TORTILLA CHIPS. Maybe you still don’t understand my obsession with Mexican food, but learn now that I crave it always and yes, I paid almost $20 for 2 bags of chips, canned queso, and salsa. A Southern girl gotta do what she’s gotta do to survive. Afraid to talk to the meat man(almost all meat here is sold from behind a counter with the exact weight you want) due to lack of prepared vocab, I opted for what I hoped was pre-packaged ground chicken for the chili(I was correct, thank god!). At home, my host family after almost 3 hours of cooking( I had been soaking the beans since the day before) was given bowls of chili with cheese and sour cream. I was met with exclamations of “How Interesting” “What Interesting Spices” and from my host dad “Can I have another bowl?”…I almost hugged him. I had successfully introduced Southern food:) However, not tortilla chips. Apparently bread with chili is much better. Am I complaining? No way…more chips for me!!! Homemade flour tortilla making tomorrow I think…

My chili being made!

Not to go back in time butttt….sorry I was extra excited about the chili situation;) Earlier that day I met Katie and some of her friends and we went to the Political History museum. Very very interesting. It is set up in 2 mansions that connect and is a walk through of the tumultuous Political history of Russia with documents, clothing, weapons, and rooms. While most of the large descriptive posters were in Russian some of the displays had both English and Russian. Free with our student cards it was well worth the visit. However, after 2 hours and only halfway through…we called it a day because they were about to close and we were close to eating each other! After the museum we headed to a Uzbekistani/Sushi(weird combo, I know) restaurant near the metro and proceeded to stuff our faces with amazing food. I’m not really sure what it all was exactly but it was quite delish and sort of a mix between Russian and Indian food. I will definitely be back!! Slightly expensive(everything I got was around $15) but we also got drinks, appetizers, and tea so cost is all relative.

Sort of like fried stuffed naan

My food-meatballs with potatoes and veggies in a sau

Also, while on the way to the museum…we passed by the St. Petersburg Mosque…it is HUGE and can hold over 5,000 worshippers at a time. However, since it is an active house of prayer only those going in to pray are allowed and of course, no cameras inside. It is extremely gorgeous on the outside and I am told the inside is equally as beautiful. Maybe before I leave I will go to Friday prayers and shoot some pictures of the hundreds of worshippers heading to the Mosque.

Close up with amazing arabesque work

St. Petersburg Mos

And to go back in time a little bit further, Katie and I went to the Hermitage on Friday and took a look around the ground floor. It is apparently not the most popular floor as there are boxes everywhere and badly done display cases. It got slightly better as we got into the 5th cent. B.C and the labels were in both Russian and English. No pictures were allowed thanks to the ever present ladies in each room watching your every step!!! But interesting things were to be found in this unpopular floor. A tribal chiefs right shoulder skin showing his well-done tattoo(quite good for 5th cent. I think!), his head, a whole mummified horse(they were apparently big into horses in the Siberia/Mongolian area then), a large felted carpet with gryphons, and a log burial chamber with tree trunk coffin. Odd? very. I shall try to sneak a picture of the tribal chief’s skin next time I visit. My goal is to see the whole Hermitage before I leave(around 20 km of walking) and since it is free with my student card and quite close to Gostiny Dvor…I’ll def be there every week or so! Ciao for now;)

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The “real” reason I’m here…school

February 9, 2012

Ok, ok…so I’m actually suppose to be going to school while I’m here so not all fun and games. I’ve only had 3 classes thus far since most have been moved to a different day or time. So far I’ve tried to go to 6…50% isn’t bad, right? :) Russian classes are set up as either lectures or seminars. Either you sit and listen or talk and participate. Guess which I’m trying for? You get a cookie if you said sit and listen. However, I went slightly into panic mode as I sat in my classes…I understood absolutely nothing. Like when I say nothing, they could have been explaining the exact answers for the final and I wouldn’t have known. As soon as class was over, I wanted to go home, cry, then pretend that I wasn’t in Russia and could just tap my shoes together and head home. Negative. So I settled for emailing a friend who’d been here and my advisor with a on-the-verge-of-tears email explaining that I was going to fail and I needed to escape to Bali and become a bellydancer instead.

My school!

What was the advice they both gave me? RELAX. I haven’t even been in Russia a week(still I feel as though I should be fluent damn it!). Best advice ever. Why? I went to school today and actually understood some of a lecture about ancient Russian literature. At least, I got the main idea and a time period. I’d say successful for a class taught all in Russian for Russian academic students! The professor afterwards was impressed that I’d even come to this class and tried to follow the lecture and said she’d do her best to give me easy readings that were closer to my level. I almost jumped with joyyyyy! Then, I took my language placement test. Thinking I’d failed and would have to go back to the beginning of Russian and relearn the alphabet, I was pleasantly surprised to find out I’d tested right in the middle which is quite good for only 2 years of Russian:)  I celebrated by meeting my friend Katie for snackies at Svelto- a pretty cheap and good Italian chain restaurant near Ploschad Vosstania. My Pepsi and ham pizza reminded me that all was well in the world and I didn’t actually fail at life.

When in doubt…take a breath and skype your family. Then watch Sex and the City…and eat chocolate. It works wonders for panic attacks.

Perhaps sensing my frustration and overwhelming desire to curl up in a ball forever, my host mum took me to see Chehkov’s “The Seagull”. After napping for almost 4 hours, I awoke to “Kateeeee, theater timeeeeee” and headed out on an adventure with my babushka! The theater was awesome and an interesting piece of Soviet history(apparently Lenin gave a speech there). Even though I understood none of the play, the costumes and set were AWESOME and very avante-garde. While Chehkov is difficult to understand even in English, it was a great experience and a fun time with my host mum. After the theater we walked around a bit in the snow and she showed me an interesting church hidden nearby our apartment. Called “The Church of the Mother of God” because in 1856 someone saw either a vision or image of Mary(my Russian is not so good to distinguish the difference) and it was believed that when Mary was a child she had come to this spot and prayed on it/did something on it(again, Russian slightly faulty) and so it is now known as a “Saint” church. Never know what you might learn from a babushka;)

Baltic Theater

Church of the Mother of God












Finally, later today, I got to spend a little down time with my friend Katie at a Italian cafe near downtown St. Petersburg. It’s a cheap and delish little chain called Svelto. My ham pizza was cheesy and the perfect size for a light dinner and my bottle of Pepsi was super cute:) Perfect ending to my day…and a good motivation to start my homework!

Russian Pepsi


Svelto Pizza




Food!!!!(or the most important part of my travels)

February 8, 2012

Anyone that knows me knows…I love food. I love cooking, trying, and tasting all sorts of delish(or not!) things. Thus, a large portion of this blog shall be dedicated to my culinary adventures here in mother Russia.

First, let’s just take a minute to discuss the hospitality of Russians. It involves food…and lots of it. When I say I’m pretty much down to only eating 2 meals a day it’s because I hide during the third or face having food stacked in front of me. My host family is ridiculously nice and have selective hearing when I say “No, Thank you I can’t eat any more”. They proceed to pile more food in front of me or slip little candies onto my plate. My host mum is constantly cooking and if I even look into the kitchen, she is magically there pushing me forward with the promise of tea and more food.

Late night blini...with homemade raspberry preserves and sour cream

Now, about the sour cream fetish Russians have…it is true. On everything, borscht, blini, other soups, bread etc. Thank god I love sour cream.

I had to get over my initial fear of eating things that have been sitting out. There I said it. Cheese, sour cream, yogurt, eggs, pizza…all sits out and waits to be eaten. I thought ( as a crazy American does)these things must be in the fridge at all times!!! Apparently no, since I am still alive.

My host mum and her "Russian" pizza

My host mum is a night owl so if you’re awake past 10pm believe me, you’re eating a late night snack or meal. One night it was homemade pizza with sausage, pickles, garlic, mushrooms, and BBQ sauce. Weird? yes. Delish? yes. The crust was some of the best I’d ever had and well, I’m a sucker for weird and crazy toppings.

As to eating out: It is not especially popular here in Russia as the idea of hospitality takes over and people mostly eat at home or with friends. However, cafes are everywhere for a quick and very cheap snack and cup of tea! My experience thus far has been awesome. It is usually $2-8 for a drink and small snack or dessert. You order at a counter and then take a seat wherever. I have only been to one where ordering from a server was necessary(my helpless wandering about the cafe prompted the question of American, yes?)

A cafe snack-pizza and pepsi about 65r(or $2.50). This one was just beyond Palace Square

I have gone out to eat once so far with my friends as a treat before one of them left. We wandered down Nevskyy Prospekt looking for a likely candidate-moderately priced with Russian themed foods. We happened upon the “Soviet Cafe” and stopped in. It is a low ceilinged slightly smoky restaurant with home-y interior and menus in both English and Russian. Our service was prompt and the meal was amazing. My food was hot and well-seasoned with traditional Russian ingredients. My total came to around 350r or $12 with a split appetizer, 0.5l of water, and a full meal. Quite reasonable for the portion and delish food:)

Appetizer of Vareniki-Ukrainian dumplings with a potato filling and fresh dill on top

My amazing food-fried poatoes, pork, tomatoes, and onions sauteed together with fresh dill

Katie with her Draniki: Potato Pancakes with ham and onion

Megan with her Chicken Kiev and mashed potatoes


Sightseeing and such

February 8, 2012

Ready to get out of the house, I joined my friends Katie and Megan on a cold but amazing tour around Nevskiy Prospekt and some of the most important sights of St.Petersburg.

We saw The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood…just the outside as we were to late to go inside. It was built on the site where Tsar Alex II was assassinated. It is unbelievablely beautiful in person and I can’t wait to go inside.

Church of Spilled Blood with my marshmallowly self in front!













However, due to extreme chilliness we went inside a cafe for a very sweet treat! One of many on the main drag(Nevskyy Prospekt) it was warm and full of amazing desserts. One thing I’ve noticed about desserts here is that they lack the intense sweetness of American desserts and opt for a more subtly sweet taste, which I appreciate.

All of our amazing desserts with tea waiting to be poured!










We mostly did outside sightseeing as Megan had a limited amount of time and the Hermitage has hundreds of rooms(apparently if you walked the whole thing it would be around 20km!). Standing in Palace Square was amazing…seeing what was once a place of royalty then of revolution, only heard about in books is a bit overwhelming and difficult to comprehend. I have a idea that this feeling will happen a lot here in Russia.

Palace Square












Winter Palace/Home of the Hermitage

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Realizing I should have worked harder in Russian class

February 6, 2012

I finally decided I must have a phone and perhaps learn where/how to use the metro if I was ever going to venture outside my safe and warm little room. With Lera, I managed to not get lost and learn where to buy the best groceries, phones, and makeup. We went into a MTC(cell phone provider) and she quickly launched into Russian describing what I needed while I stood by uselessly…by uselessly I mean I understood nothing and it was obviously to everyone that I was a stupid American unprepared for actually living in Russia. Without Lera, I would have bumbled my way through buying a brand new car.

At the metro station Lera proceeded to buy me a metro pass which enables me to never have to look for change/talk to the ticket people or so I thought. Today however, when reloading my metro card I handed the lady a 1000 r note and she proceeded to ask me something in Russian. I assumed it was “Do you want to use all of this?” and said “Da”(yes). However, she apparently said something that Da was not a good answer too…and proceeded to ask me again. I look terrified and said I don’t know and I guess she 1. took pity 2. just realized I was a dumb American and put money on my card. I have learned some things about the metro people 1. they always look scary 2. they really don’t speak English 3. they hate when you use them to make change 4. eventually when you(like me) cannot understand their Russian through the speaker and the loud station, they will look at you sadly and perhaps either help you or hand your money back.

Everything you need to survive as a student in Russia

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Learning how to function in the Arctic(no, really-the Arctic)

February 6, 2012

After a slightly awkward first day(I mean, I just moved into a complete stranger’s apartment) my host mum took me to my school to be registered and meet my advisor. I began to get my coat and boots on ready to take on the cold. Asya looked at my wimpy little coat and head with no hat and said ” No, no you need hat and a real coat” and I received a coat and by coat I mean 10 lb full length fur coat. I tried to wave off wearing a hat, but was met with firm resistance and a exclamation of ” very cold!!. I have never been so happy to wear a hat in my life. It was so very cold…your breath freezing immediately and your nose cannot run as the snot has been frozen. Quickly I understood why no one ever invades Russian…ever. At my school which is a close 5 min walk thank goodness, I was met by Russian, fast Russian, questions in Russian, and so on. Apparently my blank looks of terror and nervous laughter only encourages this as I was quickly lost in a torrent of Russian.  No one has yet believed me when I say my Russian is very bad and I need it slowed down and filled with easy vocab. They laugh and continue on.

I received a class schedule(all in Russian) and a quick introduction to the world of college in Russia. Then I hustled away by my host mum to “go on a walk” no seriously, we went on a walk. It was the coldest but most amazing walk I’ve been on in awhile. The area where we live is historic and full of interesting buildings and places. Pictures to come as it was much too cold!!

For the next couple days I did little but sit in my room and knit while watching pirated Disney movies off YouTube since it was around -23 C and much to cold to adventure.

Borsch and bread with "ham"(aka bologna) from my first weekend!

My adventures began later this weekend, thankfully with Lera in tow to translate/hold my hand!

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