Monday, 3 December 2012

Surprise! Russia is Cold In Winter.

On the way to do my laundry in the middle of a blizzard: one pair of socks, two pairs of leggings, some alpaca wool socks (shut up), jeans, a thermal top, a cardigan, two jumpers, alpaca wool gloves and a coat that is quite literally thicker than my bedding. 

Oh, that wasn't my laundry. That was on my freezing body in the tundric waste that was Petersburg on Friday. 
THAT. Is NOT. NORMAL. And there's hundreds of them all over the city. 

The situation has eased up a bit in that some of the snow seems to be melting where people have walked over it. This means there is now filthy slush all over the pavements and dripping off the roofs onto people's heads below. The rest of it has stubbornly stayed put though. Piter does look beautiful in the snow, but it's hard to see with a scarf over your mouth and a faux fur hood blinkering your face. 

I'm currently sleeping under 6 wool blankets and freezing as the radiator in our room, with a wooden counter built around it, radiates less heat than fresh vomit. But we've been recommended to request an extra radiator from our bezzies the cleaners.
Anyway, everyone looking forward to New Year? The next holiday on the calendar? I can't wait for Father New Year to put my New Year presents under my New Year tree.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Temple of Love, Peace and Music

 …or where to find the world’s biggest Beatles fan, Kolya Vasin. As long as you love the Beatles, he’ll love you. He’ll answer all your questions, but don’t expect him to take sides: he has no favourite Beatle, no favourite album, no favourite song – he just loves everything they do. Look out for the first record made in St Petersburg on the black market, from an X-ray scan. He’s been collecting for 50 years and in the temple for 20. 
 Some quotes from him:
[On his hand-made temple model] “The yellow sphere is love – like the sun. The blue sphere is peace – like the sky.”
“The Beatles is my native music – it is the music of my soul.”
“All good people listen to The Beatles – only foolish people don’t listen to them.”
“Before The Beatles, there was no freedom in Russia. Then there was freedom.”
[As we were leaving] “Beatles forever! All you need is love!”
First record made in StPb on the black market, from an x-ray scan
Every Friday 6-8pm at Pushkinskaya 10.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Russian Fishing

The most expensive outing I will have in Russia and it was so completely worth it. Perched on the edge of a small lake on Krestovsky ostrov’, this restaurant allows you to catch your own fish and eat it. Rather like choosing your own lobster (what I’ve seen in movies) except so much more thrilling! The fish are divided by species, so pick from trout, sturgeon, beluga or crabs. Only the trout is caught by a line and you can choose to use a small fish as tackle and have a smaller catch, faster – or use sweetcorn for a slower, bigger catch. We went with the latter. Sergey, our helper, was extremely friendly and helpful and quietly bashed the fish’s head in while I wasn’t looking. He also lifted the nets so I could take pictures of the other, massive fish.
We got to play an ‘amateur’ game of Battleships on our paper placemats and there were other board games available, as well as free Wi-fi. You can also admire the naval-themed décor and the large photo of Putin’s visit to the restaurant. With the recommendation of the great fisherman himself, who could resist?! 

We were served the entire trout with a salad of lettuce, lemon and olives, as we chose to have it grilled. It was absolutely delicious and we ate enough food for about 4 people, determined as we were to finish everything to justify our cold-hearted killing. There was also a friendly pet cat who stared at us until we fed it some fish and some funny fishing-related cartoons in the toilet. Our fish and two massive tankards of beer was £70, which was more than the R2000/£40 recommended by the many reviews I’d seen beforehand. We supposed that those people had ordered from the menu and tried the casual fishing offered by the restaurant, which doesn’t seem worth it. Considering an Indian out for one here costs £20, we were happy with the extra expense as all fishing equipment was included. A wonderful one-time experience, and first-time fishing experience for me!

The complex the restaurant is in is also worth a look:

Karl and Friederik restaurant
Historic stone
On the way back, walk behind the restaurant, past the lake, and turn left into the little fork in the path. This way will take you past the Zoopark, complete with ostrich and chickens. Turn right at the end of this road and follow it back to the crossroads by the Metro station. Stop to see the Japanese-style shrine from the town of Osaka, and the wishes tied to the trees behind it. 

11 Yuzhnaya Doroga, Krestovsky Ostrov’. Turn left out of the Metro station, over the first crossroads, then take the first right. Follow the road past the ‘Sport Palace’ (9) to number 11.

Thursday, 22 November 2012


 This vegetarian/vegan restaurant is full of art from the Academy across the road. A welcome change to meaty Russian cuisine, come here for falafel and Asian dishes. ‘Asia’, the tofu stir-fry with peanut sauce and rice noodles is delicious (R320). Get it with a “Lakshmi”, made with Sudanese rose, sugar and syrup (R80). The Arrabbiata pasta is also spicy, yummy and very meatless!
From Engineer’s castle, cross the bridge towards M Chernyshevskaya and walk up the road – Botanika is on the right opposite the Art Academy.

Monday, 19 November 2012

‘We don’t call this “Snow”’

We closed our curtains on this:
And opened them on this:
The amount of snow that would have caused chaos in England was just a peaceful addition to an apathetic city.
In London you have to leave early with your unmatched gloves and layers of permeable clothing to touch some snow that’s still white. 
Here, people try to avoid it and you can see why by the piles of slush that mount up at the side of the road. 

Nevertheless, virgin snow stretches across parks and pavements, aching to be crunched.

The pigeons were also not bothered.
This snowfall was apparently just a taster. I'll report back in December from my igloo.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Yusupov Gardens

 A serene park, free from noise pollution and free of charge, the gardens make a nice change from the bustle of Sennaya Ploshad’. People talk in hushed tones, or just silently contemplate the surface of the lake, still but for the ducks that have their own ramp. Come in autumn to see the fiery leaves, flowers clinging to colour and hopefully catch the Mushroom Festival that is hosted here.
Sadovaya ul.

Yolki Palki

 ‘Fir trees and sticks!’ This kitschy, crazy restaurant chain serves up tasty, traditional dishes to both tourists and Russians. Shashliks (around R400) come with salad, onion salsa, a few wedges and toasted flatbread, while the salmon and red caviar fettucini (R360) will make your fellow diners envious. Their dedication to kitschy Russian folk décor is admirable – features include a giant oak, a boar’s head, oversized painted wooden spoons and an imitation hearth. The salad bar is also great value and it’s well worth taking the opportunity to sample some ‘mors’ and traditional Russian appetizers (homemade shots).
Nevsky prospect, opposite the Kazan cathedral.

Tokyo Nights

Discount sushi joint on Sennaya ploshad’ that offers 2for1 sushi round the clock. Rolls with avocado or salmon and cream-cheese are especially yummy and you get fast, friendly service. The salmon on our sashimi rolls looked a little strange as it was cooked, and the addition of pizza and steak on the menu is kind of discordant, but go for the sushi for a tasty, cheap meal out in a lively, well-decorated restaurant.


Another Russian fast-food place – come here for quick, simple Russian dishes. I once heard a crying toddler in the British Bakery exclaim ‘I want Teremok!’ Honestly, I can see why. Their ‘Obed 1’ is a welcome vegetarian lunch deal: I always go for the blinchik with mushrooms, the cheesy cream soup and ‘Ivan-chai’, for R109. There are four different lunch deals, so those of the carnivorous persuasion can also get their fix. 

Tandoori Nights

A necessary stop for anyone lamenting the lack of spice in their diet and/or sick of Georgian food, Tandoori Nights is the budget-friendlier neighbour of Tandoor. Run by a London chef, the interior features familiar statues of Hindu gods and maroon table linen. The English-speaking staff are happy to chat and (sometimes but not always) bring over complimentary salty lassis to whet your appetite. Curries are from R400-950, lassis R150-200 and butter naan R70 – don’t leave without trying it! Raita comes with a biryani, otherwise the yoghurt is too thin to be worth the R100. Expect to pay between R750-1200 for a curry, rice, naan and a drink, but it is absolutely worth it after months of Russian food and a great place to take a visitor.

Gorokhovaya ul, opposite the Admiralstvo.


This popular café chain does a great hot chocolate that comes with the complimentary water to help wash the thick, rich substance down. Recommended with whipped cream to help thin it out (genuinely), it’s not the best hot chocolate in the city, but the popularity of the chain can be a great relief to weary tourists/students. With whipped cream: R180. Another great pick-me-up is their pots of tea – around the same price as their other hot drinks but you get several cups’ worth; Pu-Er gives a great burst of energy (R180). 

Russian Musuem

 More of an art gallery than a museum, this is not just for art students and critics. It is impossible not to appreciate the masterful techniques of the works, a study encouraged by several exhibits with the preparatory pieces displayed around the final product. Like the Hermitage, the interior is just as beautiful as the paintings and it’s free entry for students. Particularly recommended are the many statues and paintings of Ekaterina II and the works of Ivan Aivazovsky  - vast and just stunning.
Original study for Bronze Horseman
Ekaterina II

Last Day of Pompeii
The beginning of music
Ploshad’ Iskusstv: turn right down Inzhinernaya ul into the square – look for the enormous black and gold fence on the left (not hard to find). 

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Railway Musuem

Pay your R50 to the bored babushka and admire the map of the railroads over Russia – or rather, the huge section of Russia that apparently nobody lives in. There is a wonderfully large painting of Lenin arriving from exile in Finland (on the train, of course), and a wide selection of Soviet propaganda to pore over between examining models of railroads and trains. The big finale is the actual carriage from the Siberian Express that visitors can walk through.

Sadovaya ul, left of the Yusupov gardens.

Radio Baby

 Even for club-haters (ie me), Radio Baby can surprise you by holding a cultural event. Although I was expecting a Mayakovsky reading, the lecture on History of Art as related to Mayakovsky and his friends proved very interesting and gave me the chance to see the club in daylight (well, at all). Expect club pricing for drinks (R180 for a pint of really nice cider) and some eclectic decor. Fluffy pink lamps, anyone?
Kazanskaya ul 7 is not nearly informative enough. Enter the archway at Dom 7 covered in adverts and go into the building in the far left-hand corner. Tell the security guard you’re headed to Radio Baby, then go through the turnstile and out into the courtyard. Walk straight ahead and Radio Baby’s entrance is in the middle of the building in front of you. Phew.

Rada & K

 A Stolovaya serving vegetarian and vegan food, Indian and Eastern European style, it’s not surprising that the staff dress like SOAS students fresh from their gap years. What is surprising is the range of delicious food (all of it meat-free) and the strange collection of framed portraits on the walls – Gandhi and Abe Lincoln among them. The disco balls and sleek, modern interior seem a little discordant with the sitar music that softly plays from the speakers, but just pretend you’re in Camden and the yoga adverts and dreadlocks will all fit into place. The ‘Indian dahl’ (R80) is more soupy than the traditional dish but beggars can’t be choosers and this beauty of a Stolovaya leaves you with a full stomach and pretty full wallet. AND they do deliveries and 10% student discount.
Gorokhovaya ul 36 – walk towards Nevsky from Sennaya ploshad’ and turn right down Gorokhovaya. Look for the green sign saying ‘Kafe’.