feeling nostalgia: part one – sunbathing in underwear

One year ago, I was probably walking through Tavrichesky Sad in Saint Petersburg, smiling at how Russians of all ages like to sunbathe in their underwear.  It’s logical, right?  Why waste money and the headache of bathing suit shopping when you can just hit the park during your lunch break, find a nice spot of grass and hang out in your undergarments?  Plump, svelte, wrinkled, smooth – it didn’t matter.  In fact, the first ray of sun after the long winter, a line of braver Russians would also appear sun bathing outside of the Peter and Paul Fortress – there was still snow on the ground, mind you, but that didn’t matter.  Now, I don’t want to exaggerate – many Russians do wear bathing suits, but usually they were the beach sun bathers, not the park bathers.

Anyhow, now that I am home and back in the States, I have been doing my best to grasp the Motherland and understand what makes her tick.  My thesis research has had me sinking my teeth into whatever literature will give me a better understanding of how Russia developed following the great demise.  I now think I understand what I could not grasp while living in Russia.  I absorbed a lot but couldn’t process it all until removed from it.  And the ironic thing is, I really know very little.  Think about it – do New Yorkers get Californians or Texans, and vise versa?  Do politicians in Washington really understand politics in the rest of the world?  My point is that Russia is dynamic.  I lived in a beautiful “modern” city very isolated from the more rural Russia.  I caught glimpses when I traveled on the train in third class with the locals, but Russia is vast and so are her people and history.  I recently read, and highly recommend, Susan Richards book Lost and Found in Russia, as it gives the reader a good idea of what life was like for Russian people following the collapse of the Soviet Union.  Richards dedicated almost two decades to traveling through Russia, making new friends and telling their stories in her book.  Someday, I hope to be able to take the time to traverse the entire country (and ideally, post-Soviet space), but for now, I’m going to do what I did not do much of while I was in Russia – write about it.  Most of my blog posts were dedicated to photos and sight-seeing, which left me too exhausted to actually write about what it was like living in Russia as a foreigner.  We used to have a little saying – back in “the West…….”

That being said, now that I am back in “the West” looking back at days not long ago, I will begin to write about the untold events that exist for me now only in memories and photographs, beginning with the day I left home, terrified of what was ahead.  It didn’t help that Domodedovo airport was bombed the morning of the day I was scheduled to fly out.  I confess now, I started to have second thoughts, but then my parents thoughtfully tried to console me with the notion that security is always heightened after such incidents – when my friend and I arrived at Moscow’s other airport, you could have fooled us!  If “heightened” is the blond woman who frisked me when I went through Security and then proceeded to laugh at my underwear, then okay 🙂  My husband was sneaked through security at this same airport when he was about to miss his connecting flight to SPB.  I honestly don’t want to write everything now, so I will stop here and go for a jog, where I am sure I will not see people sun bathing in their underwear.  Until next time…..

Here’s to sunbathers across the globe!

Sunbathers outside of Peter and Paul Fortress.

Peter and Paul Fortress – the beach.

playing on pillars and watching the tourists go by in the boats.

the beach – Peter and Paul Fortress.

the wedding couple.

Girl talk.

С Днём Победы! Looking back at Victory Day, 2011 (St. Petersburg)…..

Today is Victory Day in Russia, a day also celebrated in some of the other post-Soviet states.  One year ago today, I was in Petersburg, surrounded by Russians at the Victory Day afternoon parade.  I took a lot of photos that day and wanted to share some of the ones that were not in my first post one year ago (https://lifeinrussia.wordpress.com/2011/05/09/victory-day-may-9th-2011-st-petersburg-russia/).

For those of you who are not familiar with this day, it is a day which commemorates the surrender of Nazi Germany to the Soviet Union during the Great Patriotic War (what we know as WWII).  For other European countries, it is known as Victory in Europe Day and celebrated on the 8th of May.  For the United States, our final day of the war came later when Japan surrendered in August, 1945.

С Днём Победы, Россия! Один год назад в Питере…..

Veterans being photographed outside the Winter Palace.

reflection of Church on Spilled Blood, early morning.

the little boy on dad’s shoulders.

waiting for the parade to start…..

Veteran marching in the parade.

parading down Nevsky Prospekt.

balloons and carnations.

parading down Nevsky Prospekt…..

the Babushka in the turquoise coat.

parading down Nevsky Prospekt…..

flowers in hand.

a well decorated Veteran.

Camaraderie (before the hug – see first post).

parading down Nevsky Prospekt.

waving to the crowd (I seriously dig her sunglasses).

two serious women.

lots of happy waving.

best braided hair ever!

everything about the woman in this photo just makes me smile…..

waving to the crowds…..

lots of smiles.

the little boy with the flag.

С Днём Победы!

Vagabonding in Kyiv, Ukraine……

"Motherland" statue.

I know this post is a bit overdue, but here it is nonetheless.  I am still mourning the loss of one photo I wish I had taken, but did not.  You see, every single day, my husband and I would walk through this one park around the corner from where we were staying and there would be all these old men playing chess, many of them wearing their Шапки (the classic fur hats) and drinking vodka.  The only day we did not see them out there was on our last day, when I said I would finally carry my long heavy lens and get a picture.  But when we walked by, there were no old men out playing chess……  

Kyiv – what an interesting city.  It emanates a bit of “the West,” but with that distinct post-Soviet atmosphere that I have come to love so dearly.  In winter, Kyiv is bleak and damp, with that sort of penetrating cold.  In summer, I imagine the city is very green and attractive, when all of the public parks are in bloom.  Kyiv is actually the third largest Russian speaking city in the world (behind Moscow and Piter, of course), so I was able to communicate well enough with people in my mediocre broken Russian.  The city is lined with beautiful cathedrals and as you come in on the train you cannot miss the behemoth “Mother of the Fatherland” statue on the hillside (she’s taller than our Lady Liberty).  I wanted to call this entry “Vagabonding in Kyiv” because that’s pretty much what we did for five or six days….. My husband and I wandered the streets, got lost in the parks, spent almost everyday looking through the market that winds down the Андреевский Спуск (St. Andrew’s Descent), and spent most nights at our rental apartment drinking cheap Georgian wine (something that cannot be bought in Russia for embargo reasons) and eating cheese and homemade matzo from the stellar Jewish Restaurant we stumbled upon in old Kyiv.  The apartment we rented for the week was super cheap and located in one of the classic Soviet era apartment buildings.  It had this pungent smell in the corridor….. we literally had to hold our noses at all times while in the hallway because the smell was so foul, it could bring one to tears.  We also learned a valuable lesson that week – when doing laundry, put the machine’s hose in the bathtub so as not to flood the downstairs neighbor’s apartment (this is also common in Russia, but not where I lived, so I was not aware this was normal).

Our original plan was to go to Pripyat, the now abandoned city that housed the workers (and their families) who worked at the Chernobyl Nuclear Plant.  From what my friends have told me, it used to be that you could arrange a tour anytime with an agency in Kyiv, but the laws changed shortly before we made our trip and you have to plan at least 12 days (not including holidays) in advance so that a permit may be obtained.  We were not able to go for this reason and it is still on our list of must-visit places in the future, although we did go to the museum in downtown Kyiv, which we thought was one of the most interesting museums we had been to and very well put together.

As for my overall impressions of Kyiv, I really want to revisit during a season with nicer weather.  The market on St. Andrew’s Descent was one of the best souvenir markets I’ve been to (outside of Moscow), and I definitely ate my fill of potato pancakes and borsch that week.  There was a great Jewish restaurant in the old Merchant’s district at the bottom of St. Andrew’s Descent that I would highly recommend if you want something different but authentic to the area and with some of the friendliest servers we have ever had.  The Monastery and Museum of the Great Patriotic War are must sees and located right next to each other.  Honestly, we did a lot of wandering and missed the one thing we really wanted to see (Pripyat), but Kyiv is a really interesting city and so affordable.  Plus, American citizens do not need a visa for tourist travel to the Ukraine.  However, we did run into a huge mess trying to get back to Saint Petersburg on the train – note, the direct train  to Piter does transit Belarus (something you think would be easy to find out ahead of time, but is not) and we did not have transit visas, which led us on a comical travel experience you may read about in my other blog entry “Only in the Ukraine.”  Seriously, for me it was the best part of the trip because I like a good laugh and we met some really stellar people, such as our taxi driver.

As for the rest, the pictures can do the speaking.  Here is Kyiv, the fourth and final “Hero City” we have now been to (there are twelve of them, 13 including Brest, and one day I hope to make it to all of the others).

Kiev, one of the Hero Cities.

“Mother of the Fatherland” statue.

love locks on bridges.

at the monastery.

St. Michael’s Cathedral.

Kiev Hotel.

Independence Square – the New Year tree.

Chernobyl Museum.

Chernobyl Museum.

Orthodox Christmas Day, Independence Square.

Orthodox Christmas Day, Independence Square.

The Soviet Style apartment complex we rented an apt. in.

The Tymoshenko camp downtown.

The Tymoshenko camp downtown.

remnants of the Soviet past (Museum of the Great Patriotic War).

the woman, staring at the tanks.

Monuments of the Soviet past (Museum of the Great Patriotic War).

color amidst the grey skies.

Graffiti. We went walking along this trail and got quite lost, but I found graffiti.

The Friendship of Nations Arch.

Salvador Dali on a trash can in the park.

Me and the giant teddy bear – I love teddy bears and I am probably the only adult who was that excited to have my picture taken with a giant stuffed bear.

walking through the Monastery.

Classic Vintage Car.

Inside the Monastery.

Stencil Graffiti.

Independence Square, Orthodox Christmas.

colorful park benches.

Rooster in the park.

McFoxy’s – Ukraine’s own take on McDonald’s fastfood.

the edges of the art market on St. Andrew’s Descent.

“Mother of the Fatherland” statue.