A big Snowy Day out Being Cultural

Trip Start Jan 31, 2011
Trip End Dec 15, 2011

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Where I stayed
Apple Hostel

Flag of Russia  , North-West Russia,
Tuesday, February 8, 2011

I'd set my alarm to 8am this morning, which with my body thinking it was 5am as it was, and not getting to bed till nearly 1.30am, I wasn't looking forward to. My guide or "honcho" as they're called, was due to arrive at 9am so this seemed a reasonable time to get up and get ready. 
As it turned out I slept through both Irene's 8am alarm, and mine, and I didn't hear her get up! At 857 I heard her call my name, woke up with a start and seeing the time jumped out of bed straight into the shower. 

This hostel seems a little eccentric. I will get pictures to explain this. It's lovely and all, it really is... but for example. The kitchen has a kettle, a microwave, a large fridge and a washing machine. No hob, just a camping stove, no toaster. The "sitting room" has 4 beanbags in the corner and a flat screen tv fixed high up near the ceiling, with poor analogue tv on it which no one in Russia appears to enjoy (according to my honcho in later conversations). The toilets all have bins next to them into which I think I'm supposed to put all bog roll I use. This is not a practice I'm very familiar with so I fret and always seem to get it wrong!
Now for the eccentricity- the 2 shower rooms have a massive circular shower in them with bodyjets and built in radios (are they connected to actual radio? I don't know) these are the sort of showers that cost about 800 I think.

(further aside)
Someone - in fact 'noone' (please say who you are if you're going to comment) suggested that the white crumbly stuff made from milk (that I described in my last entry) was cottage cheese...it might well have been, I did not recognise it as such because it looked, smelled and tasted nothing like cottage cheese, apart from the fact it was produced from a clear plastic bag! and then mixing it with strawberry yoghurt was a little odd tasting.

Getting back to the day, as I emerged from the shower and dashed across the 'sitting room' to my room i heard the doorbell ring, it was my honcho - Victor.
I quickly dressed in my silk long johns, water/windproof trousers, 2 pairs of socks, my boots, t shirt, fleece, warm jacket and gloves, hair still wet we headed out.
We went outside and he asked me what I wanted to see. At this moment I was still thinking "the insides of my eyelids" and actually couldnt think of anything and asked him to show me what he thought. 5 mins down the road as we established that I'd overslept and not had breakfast we went into a cafe and I got some breakfast. Obviously I wanted tea, but never before have been asked green or black? Green? No. Black??? "I want tea, normal tea, English tea", again the question "green or black?" well I guessed at black by the power of elimination really, oh and I wanted it with milk, and a croissant as it was the only thing I could identify in the display unit. So it all arrived, I wolfed it down and the bill came. I was charged extra for milk! 69 roubles actually, which is about 1.40 for a small jug of milk. I hadn't known this. Why? Because no one puts milk in their tea, they put honey in so milk is extra.

We looked at the map and decided on our route for the day and set off into the snowy streets. It started to snow, and actually didn't stop all day (my dad tells me that this made the BBC news - I guess not a lot else is going on as surely it always snows here?), nonetheless we walked and walked and I saw the following:
Gostinyy Dvor, the Saviour on Blood, also called the Cathedral of our Saviour, from a distance the Peter and Paul Fortress, the Eternal Flame, and then a few hours in the Hermitage (or Winter Palace), which cost 400 Roubles to get in (as a non Russian) and 200 more to take photos.

The Hermitage was incredible, so many rooms of gold, so many paintings, some huge, some small, and a whole section by famous artists such as Van Gogh, Picasso, Monet, Rodin etc.
There were rooms with pottery from 350BC, statues of gods, an Eygpt room with probably the oldest man in the world, Japanese art, Chinese art, everything. It was stunning, breath taking even. Just as with so many of the rooms in the Hermitage, also out in the streets you can't turn a corner without being wowed by something beautiful.

We wore ourselves out and headed off on the bus down Nevskiy Prospekt to Pizza Hut (Victors choice!), we shared a pizza and then he helped me practice getting to the main train station which I'll have to catch on Thursday night to Moscow. We went on the underground metro. Things are a little easier here, you get on the trolley bus (bus powered by overheard power lines) and pay 21 roubles and get off after one stop or one hundred stops. The same goes with the metro, 25 roubles and you can go as far as you want, which is handy if you can't muster the sign language or pronunciation of where you want to go. Give the ticket lady 25 roubles and she gives you a small gold coin/token to put in the turnstile and off you go. Got on the underground train which was full, yet more people kept getting on and forcing themselves in. I reluctantly had my personal space reduced to nothing and had nothing to hang onto so on every bump and turn I precariously balanced or just leant into people as gravity pulled me this way and that
My overnight train on thurs night isn't till 1153pm, I aim to get there for 11pm so it shouldn't be too busy for rucksack carriers. 
We also went looking for Russian hats. I fancied getting myself a proper fur hat. After passing lots of poor quality ones we went into a real hat shop with real fur. the hats ranged in price from 60 to 300 pounds.  Liz - I wish I had brought mums fur Russian hat as I think I'm going to need it more than you in the London Markets! It's seriously cold here, and merely tepid in London! lol!

Some other anecdotes from the day...
Victor pointed out a cat on a sort of shelf on some of the streets with a very battered looking wall around it. Apparently there are quite a lot of these and it is good luck to land a coin on the shelf, hence why the surrounding paintwork looked battered. 
I discovered that my visa has to be registered nearly everywhere which incurs a small fee! As if it wasn't enough to have paid for a visa, I have to keep paying to be here! this cost 150 Roubles yesterday, which is only about 3 but still...on principal I reckon I've paid to come here and paying to stay here :(

Supermarket Milk - I went to a supermarket with Victor who seemed to put me off every milk I pointed out, I've never had such a mission buying milk, this amused me greatly, I pointed at one, and he said (please imagine a russian accent here) "this is not milk" to which I'd say "it looks like milk? look there's a picture of white liquid being poured from a bottle" and he'd say "no, this is not milk, this is milk" to which he'd point at unrefridgerated cartons that looked like they were UHT. So after a lengthy game of me pointing at everything in the fridge saying "is this millk?" 
Victor - "No",
Me- "Is this milk?" 
Victor "No
Me " Ok what about this one?" (pointing back at something I'm CONVINCED is milk but have already pointed at, just in case it has morphed into milk)
Victor "No, I told you alrady, this is not milk"
we finally settled on a small carton which is baby milk apparently. Tastes good to me though in my tea and on my cereal. So I'm happy!

For dinner we went to a pancake house down the road, obviously I looked at the pictures, pointed and Victor ordered. I had ham and cheese, Victor asked for ham and double cheese, and then we took our pancakes to the table. (It was like fast food pancakes) about 5 mins later, a server came over with another pancake, we both looked confused. Apparently they didn't make Victors a double cheese, so they made one and brought it over! We therefore shared another pancake between us. 

Some of the people at the hostel thought we could be brother and sister as Victor has a smiilar colouring to me. We bonded by the end of the day and laughed and joked and were almost a little sarcastically jokey with each other too, so it was a fun day and we swapped skype addresses :)

For the evening I decided I'd like to see a show, so we went to a ticket office and I got a ticket to a Jazz night at the Philharmonic Jazz Hall. We walked down together and said our goodbyes. I found my way to the cloakroom, managed to order an apple juice using the international language of repeatedly pointing at things till we understood each other. Then had to ask again where to go, I got taken to a table in the bar and was given a menu. Fortunately there was english also so I could just point at the line that said apple juice this time and there I sat, on my own, feeling slightly silly on my own in my walking attire whilst everyone else was in jeans and nice shoes etc. Oh well, I didn't care, I was enjoying the Jazz, catching up with some notes for the day and was there till 1030 before I walked home. It was a nice place, it was essentially red, with lots of photos of Duke Ellington on the walls and waitresses in black with red waistcoats and a mini top hat on their hat. So the bands all swapped round, then mixed and matched and jammed together. It made a nice end to the day. I remembered the way back of course because of my superior spacial awareness skills and good sense of direction.

Oh and I've taken to being called Zoya as Zoe is apparently a bit too difficult to remember :D

Best feeling today: the awe that struck me in the Hermitage
Worst Feeling: the aching in my legs by the time I went to bed
Best thing: I think although the Hermitage was very beautiful, coming to the first church - the saviour on the blood was almost best because it was the first bit of proper eye candy that I saw so was all the more amazing
Worst thing: all the snow made walking around a bit chilly and visibility across the rivers quite poor.
Most beautiful thing: The golden rooms in the Hermitage, and I was particularly struck also by the painting of the Angel of Death

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Von Adder on

Hold onto your wallet Zoe, they can see you coming from miles away! lol

Gavin Fox. on

I am at Rogers house and captivated by your descriptions so far. I am reading them out to Roger so he is travelling with you too!
I too have done this journey in reverse all the way from Beijing to Helsinki by train back in 1985. Do be very careful with your possessions as I lost mine in Irkusk in the hotel bar even when I was "hanging onto them" They are masters at distraction and these people hang around the places they know foreigners go. I have travelled the world for over 40 years now on all sorts of local transport and stayed in all sorts of "cheap Joints" with my backpack and never lost anything until this incident in Russia. This was at a time when it was the USSR. I travelled for 7 weeks around China on ferries,buses and trains before Beijing. Make sure you go to Guillin and south from there on the boat down the Lee River to Yangshou. Amazing scenary!
Roger says Good Luck and stay safe,

Andrew on

Another amazing day then! Starting to feel very jealous of you now! I'm so glad you're having a great time, and have already made a friend! Also, I knew I should have given you my Russian hat! It may not be as warm as Lizzie's looked, but I'm sure it would have done the job. I'm just not sure how the Russians would have taken to the Soviet symbol on it!

Helena on

Ash and I are sat peeing ourselves at your blogs. You're living the dream baby!!! Its so exciting looking at your photos, it's like watching a different person.

Keep the diaries coming - we love reading them.
Miss you already. xx

noone on

It actually is quark (or tvorog in Russian), but it's commonly called cottage cheese in English.

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