Russia

Pushkin and russian museum

If you click on that picture and go to look at all the Saint Petersburg pictures as a group, you will notice that they are uniformly, well, grey. It was grey there, and according to N had been gray for quite some time. In fact, I had a window seat on my flight from Frankfurt to St. Petersburg and it was one giant expanse of gray clouds all the way, so this may be a wider phenomenon than just St. Petersburg.

Winter palace

And my stay was a little bumpy. I got there the last night that N’s group was there, so I met N and when with her and a friend to meet more friends at a pirog place and then I went off to bed at my hotel. The next day I moved from the hotel to the gloomier but culturally more interesting apartment N was living in, but N was tired and had a paper due (a paper which clouded my stay in Russia and which she finally finished in Estonia) so I went off to do some touring on my own while she worked on her paper. The trouble was, she kept hoping that she would finish, so I kept putting off the things we wanted to do together — like the Hermitage — and then we never had time to do them. I saw the Siberian collection at the Hermitage, which is very interesting, but I really wanted to go back and never got to do it. I did, however, see the Church of the Spilt Blood (all mosaics and icons), see a lot of the Russian Museum (and learned a lot about icons, which are much more interesting than you might have thought — there’s a huge collection in the Swedish National Museum, too, which was cool), see the Kazan Cathedral — but not St Isaac’s, or the Museum of Political History. We would have loved to go to a ballet or the Philharmonic, but did not. Next time.

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Fun things I did were to go to the bookstore in the old Singer Building with N to have tea. (That is N’s picture from the fall — it was greyer and snowier in December, and people were wearing winter coats.)

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Walk around and around and around. I walked up and down Nevskii Prospekt which was full of people at all times, but especially, it seemed, at around 5:00 in the afternoon, when it was already completely dark and the lights were all on and people seemed exceptionally cheerful. I crossed all the bridges I could find — over canals and over all parts of the Neva. The bridges are all labelled, and it was with especial pleasure that I crossed the Sinii Most which is, I knew from my rudimentary Russian, blue. Dark blue. Everywhere I went there were lots of people walking, and lots of groups of schoolchildren — and even babies — all out in the winter, and all wearing snowpants. I was really impressed with all the school groups I kept running into in museums, too. Is that true here? I don’t think my kids went on so many field trips to museums. All wearing snowpants, too. They seem to have figured out that you can be outside as long as you have the equipment for it, and the kids seemed perfectly happy about it.

Spend a lot of time in the Russian Museum. I went back there with N, eventually. Take the metro to a flea market. Drink tea in N’s kitchen with her housemother and another student from Austria — a graduate student. I liked her a lot (so did N.). Eat — pirog (which is like a turnover); piroshki (which are like dumplings); pelmenyi (like ravioli or wontons. Ours were potato and delicious.); pastries from the bakery; blini; borshch; even the soup at the cafeteria at the Peter and Paul Fortress was good — simple,but cheap and good.

Another strangely cool thing was the language — which I actually understood more of than I thought I would. Some people would realize that you spoke English and would quickly switch to English. But a significant number of people either did not realize — at least two people came up to ask me directions, in Russian — or just assumed you would understand and keep talking to you. We were waiting in line at a kasse to try to buy tickets to see the Nutcracker (which was hopeless) and a man came up and asked us which line we were in (I think). We were sort of in a joint line. I pointed, to indicate that we were behind the woman in front of us and then she turned and sort of explained it to him (I think), but somehow included us in the discussion — and I could understand enough (I think) to know that that’s what she was telling him. There were verbs about standing thrown about. I don’t know — I just sort of felt included even when I understood nothing.

Anyway. I think N felt that life there was sort of grey and difficult, but I kind of enjoyed my four days there. I want to go back.

In other news, K just took off for Pittsburgh. It’s kind of an odd time to go, but his two siblings can meet there now and his mom is not doing at all well — I think it’s not too long before she can’t live on her own — so it’s actually a good thing they are meeting now and not later. It’s odd, though.

And will we go skiing? I don’t actually know. Maybe. (I have seen snow, and am less impatient than I would otherwise be.)

But it’s quiet — N is out, M is reading, and I might just go to bed. Hmm. Not a bad idea at all.

Post-christmas

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We’re sliding into that post-Christmas state of hanging around relaxedly. Yesterday I started to alphabetize a bookcase that’s been a mess since we moved in. Four years ago.

That is a picture of the buffet on the ship from Helsinki to Stockholm. I was impressed with the Christmas decorations, which were there, but not overwhelming. That woman was pretending to be very interested in what that man was saying. Oh, who knows. Maybe she really was interested.

Cheese plate

Here is a picture of a cheeseplate assembled from the buffet. It really wasn’t the best part of the buffet, but does make a nice picture.

Buffet!

Here’s a fuzzy picture of N. I believe she is eating some salmon. (There was a very delicious poached salmon, plus smoked salmon. And swedish meatballs.)

The ferry was amazing. It had a huge duty-free alcohol-and-chocolate store, a duty-free perfume store, and a duty-free gift store. I could have purchased a whole lot of Moomin mugs for much less than they usually cost, but showed admirable restraint and did not. (Plus, I could not imagine carrying them home.) I did get a present for my mother-in-law and some videos of movies made of Kurt Wallander mysteries (!!!), 2 of which N and I watched on the boat. There were lots of little kids running around, but it does seem that the main purpose of the ferry is for people to stock up on cases of beer, some of which they consume while on the ferry.

I couldn’t sleep later on — I consistently woke up around 2 am, hungry — and wandered up the ship to look outside. We were just coming in to the Stockholm archipelego, which was beautiful — lots of little houses coming down to the water, occasionally a few would be lit up. I was sitting on a bench looking out the window and a drunken Finn wandered up. We had a nice conversation, actually. Then I went back to bed.

By the time we got to Stockholm we were exhausted, really. We really mastered the mass transit, though. A guy on the ferry told us to take a bus from the ferry to the train station and store our luggage there, so we did just that. It worked, but was slightly exhausting. We wandered around the old town, which seemed to be full of tourist shops (and snow!), and then made it to the National Museum, which was excellent. The Christmas market was nowhere near as interesting as either Tallinn or Helsinki. Everything was incredibly expensive, too. I don’t think we bought anything except lunch at a falafel place and dinner at the airport. Oh, and coffee at the museum. So after the museum we wandered back to the bus station, collected our luggage, took the bus to the airport and checked in. (Actually, all the busses were incredibly efficient, and not that expensive.)

Rest and Fly

Here is N at our hotel at the airport. That was pretty much it! We even saved a bit by putting the sheets on ourselves. We got up at 4 the next morning to fly home, which took forever due to storms in Frankfurt and then again, leaving my mom’s house, in New England.

We had a day or two at my mother’s house, which was great. There was a blizzard (okay, a foot of snow, which to be honest looked like about 8 inches) and we saw my sister and my brothers and it was fun.

And now we’re back.

And now the baking begins. As soon as M comes downstairs.

Or maybe not . . . We have days.

Next

Next we took a two hour ferry from Tallinn to Helsinki. If you look on a map you’ll see that they are pretty much directly across the Baltic Sea from each other, or actually I guess it’s the Gulf of Finland at that point.

We took a cab from the ferry landing to the hotel. It was about 4 in the afternoon and dark. We dropped off our stuff — we stayed downtown — and then went to the Christmas market where we wandered around looking at knitted and woven things and eating things. Salmon, mostly. Delicious salmon.

We got up the next day. We were very tired and it was a somewhat luxurious hotel. We ate the enormous breakfast provided and then wandered around town until 5 when we had to get back on the ferry to Stockholm, stopping first by the Christmas market to buy a salt salmon, a shawl, some chocolate and some mulled wine (which turned out to be Norwegian!) to take back home with us

I seem to have no pictures of Helsinki, but I think it may have been my favorite place. This guy’s pictorial blog shows a lot of places we were. Our hotel was across this street from this cafe, which is also an amazing candy store. But go and look at the other December pictures, because they show exactly where we were, and how beautiful it was.

Behind

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I keep waking up thinking I am on a ferry, needing to wake up to get through customs. Maybe it’s because my bedroom is the old sleeping porch with windows all the way around — so it does sort of feel like a ferry. Except our ferry cabin was deep in the hold with no windows whatsoever. A little creepy. I might spring for a cabin above the water line if I were to do it again. Although it was fine.

Estonia was beautiful. It had been overcast until our last day in St Petersburg when the sun finally came out. It snowed after we crossed the border into Estonia (by bus), but was clear and sunny the next day. N was very happy to see light. Anyway, Tallinn is a beautiful city. We were in the old medieval downtown, which is hilly and has little alleys and is fairly difficult to find your way around in. Lots of churches — Russian and German (complete with an enormous number of elaborate family crests all over the walls) and some very beautiful Estonian churches which are very plain and simple.

We spent some time in the photography museum which had a great exhibit of someone named Peeter Tooming. You can see one of his pictures here, but the ones we liked best were a series of pictures of different groups of people posed in front of a photographer’s backdrop. You could see the edge of the backdrop and whatever was behind it, and then the people posing, always looking slight self-conscious or goofy.

We had so little time anywhere that it was sort of hit or miss what we saw. In Stockholm we had intended to get to the Museum of Modern Art, which is supposed to be great, but stopped on our way at the National Museum, which was itself wonderful. There was a room full of jumbled heads — busts from all different time periods displayed sort of as if they were in a storage closet. It was great. And another room full of lightbulbs that went on and off and up and down — sort of a relief after the Hermitage, actually, in which museum guards doze or knit in every room. There was also an exhibit, in Stockholm, of Caspar David Friedrich. I guess I actually saw a lot of art — I saw the whole Russian Museum as well, which had some stuff — Kuindzhi, Shishkin — which must be from the same period as Friedrich.

Anyway. I recommend Tallinn. It had the most authentic Christmas market, really with only woolens and some juniper wood sandwich boards (which I wish I had bought) and almonds and mulled wine. And apples — apples everywhere and cider. Lovely, lovely, lovely.

And now I’m off to worry about Christmas eve. We’re usually invited to a party on Christmas eve, which I always am reluctant to go to because the girls hate it, so they stay home and I’d really rather be home with them. But this year it was cancelled, which is great, but we didn’t hear until yesterday — so we are free to stay home with a fire and some chestnuts and maybe fondue — that was my family’s traditional Christmas eve meal. I’m very glad, but I do need to go to the grocery store.

Then I’m done.

Merry Christmas!

Back!

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I am back. And now have 1.5 days to pull everything together for Christmas.

But that’s okay. Mostly I have to clean the house a bit and maybe do a bit of shopping, and then I have another glorious week off at home, due to the collapse of the state budget.

It was a great trip, and I’ll try to write more later.

This picture is from Tallinn, which is a beautiful city. It was bitterly cold, and we tromped around the old medieval city all morning, fingering all the mittens available at the Christmas market (and I wish we’d bought more) before retreating to this lovely cafe for some coffee and cake.

There was snow everywhere we went, and it was hard to come home, but it’s okay now that we’re here.

Contemplating retirement possibilities in Helsinki . . . what a pretty city that is.

It was a great time of year to be visiting, too.

Merry Christmas!

New worry

My new worry is, how am I ever going to get the house clean in time for Christmas?

The answer is, I am not. It would take a week. It would take a week of K going off to work and M going off to school and me being left here all alone in a quiet house. I would start with our bedroom. It would be great.

Hmm. Maybe I can squeeze it in between midnight and 6 tonight.

I wish I had a magnet for newspapers that I could wave and all the newspapers would be drawn to the door and then would follow me out to the recycling bins. That would be a start.

Anyway, do you know what is in Helsinki?

Not the Moomin house. (Oh, go look at it. It’s really cute. Although perhaps expensive. And don’t look at the English version, which is a bit frightening.) The Moomin house is near Turku, where it appears to be kind of cold. Huh. But, in Helsinki, there is the Arabia ceramics museum!

I wonder if I can drag N out to look at it with me.

I did manage to drag them all out to look at the tile museum in Lisbon. (Oh, go look at that site, too. It’s amazing. Let the top picture change — it takes a while.)

My grandmother's plates -- Arabia thistle

These are the plates that came with my grandmother’s first condo in Arizona. When she moved to a bigger one, I convinced her to keep them, and leave the ugly yellow ones that came with my mother’s condo in the one my grandmother was leaving. Aren’t they pretty? It’s not the best photograph, actually.

In further news, I found another pair of boots in my closet — low, warm, waterproof boots. So I think I’ll bring those, too.

Oh! This is what my mother in law has — it’s very handsome. Hmmm.