Monday, 8 April 2013

A Visit from the 'Rents: Part 2

  Like the ska kid I am I'm going to pick it up (where I left off), I've been mega busy and a bit ill hence no posts for nearly a week.


Organ donated by Chicago, never played!
I played truant and took the morning off school, reason being the friend I made in the cafe that random time was flying to New York that evening. She had kindly offered to give me a tour of the Grand Choral Synagogue, so I was really grateful she made some time in between shopping and packing to give me and my parents a marvellous and eye-opening tour of the synagogue, and also glad I had a chance to say goodbye and bon voyage in person! I don't think I would have seen the synagogue otherwise, and if I hadn't taken her tour I would never have got to see the attic, the room where they store all the old books (Jewish law forbids burning them, sacred texts and items must be given a ceremonial burial), and hear all the stories. After the tour we went round the shop - I found a tub of houmous which I consider a major victory. D&A stopped at mine for tea and a bite of lunch, then we headed out again.

Room full of old sacred texts and items
Main hall of the Grand Choral Synagogue

We caught a bus tour of town that was more infuriating than anything! This kind of tour is good if you only have a weekend in the city: you can spend a few hours listening to audio commentary while driving around and looking out the windows, and you get a few opportunities to get off the bus, stretch your legs and take pictures. For example, we stopped outside the St. Isaac Cathedral and monument to Nicholas I, outside the Aurora cruiser, and in front of Saviour on Spilled Blood. I did much the same trip when I came here in July 2011, but I learned a few new bits and bobs still. However, for the whole tour the same music looped in the headphones! It was behind the commentary and also in the breaks, and often the audio skipped back to the start of the previous segment, repeating what had just been heard. Like having 'Land of Hope and Glory' played at you for several hours. Wouldn't recommend that company, Davranov tours...

A bustling Marketplace
For dinner we stopped at Marketplace on Nevsky Prospekt, which I read about in a guide. Really liked the laid-back atmosphere, all the food was yummy, and the system of taking a tray and picking what you like from the huge selection on offer means you can have whatever kind of cuisine takes your fancy at the time. The chefs cook the food up right in front of you, if you keep a keen eye out you can get a salmon steak fresh off the grill! My favourite bit was the citrus kompot though, a sweet drink made of dried fruits (and full of sugar!) that I got pretty fond of in Orion.


After classes on Thursday the troops were rallied to head to the Baltika Brewery for a tour. It took a while to get there - a metro all the way to Parnas, then a wait for a big Baltika-branded company coach to pick us up. We weren't allowed to take pictures inside the brewery for security reasons, but trust me the enormous fermenting and largering vessels were very impressive! They held over a million litres of beer at a time or something ridiculous. So we got the whole spiel: company history, how they brew their beer, where they get their hops and barley from (good question D!), and a tour of their own Baltika mini-museum. The best part was the tasting, obviously! We were seated at 2 long tables in their tasting bar, on which about 15 kinds of beer per table were laid. Some were repeats, but I tried to get round to tasting all the unfamiliar ones. One tasted of black bread and was brewed from rye (yuck!), but I really liked their super-girly Eve beer. It's aimed straight at the female market with swirly purple stickers and all, but the mango & orange and passionfruit flavours were super-tasty. Not as good as Belgian fruit beer mind you, but then this is Russian beer we're talking about!
So punk, taking photos where it's not allowed...

On a dare I slipped a bottle of beer into my hoody pocket from the tasting, escaped unnoticed too! Strangely I pinched the Old Bobby English-style ale though, which was probably a strange thing to do seeing as it wasn't the very best of the bunch. Still, at least it's one that's easy to drink when I get round to it. At the end we were given commemorative half-litre glasses which are exclusive "As a reminder of your visit to our company" ones. Snazzy.

Once back in town I went out for dinner as it was a friend's last night out. After that we hit a few bars - the first had live music going on which varied from a bit rubbish to pretty cool. I went and danced a bit, but on asking for a CD or a band name neither was forthcoming. We switched to another bar which started out empty apart from us and a few girls on a night out. After drinking up some courage we started on the karaoke in earnest: Phillip and I being the token metalheads decided it'd be a great idea to request some Rammstein and System of a Down, and scared pretty much everyone in the bar with our growling and headbanging! Awesome times.

Some point after many shots I ended up dancing on the table. I will maintain that Lisa started it, and I only followed suit because the guys called me a loser. Bold, stupid, drunk, call me what you will, but Vodka-Lois was not going to be called a loser! Oh dear Vodka-Lois, oh dear.


Predictably I was horribly hungover come Friday morning but also feeling very ill with a cold. I'd been sneezing the whole day before but Friday I was utterly stuffed-up, so I lounged in bed, watched The Perks of Being a Wallflower (enjoyable film), and D&A came over with essential groceries and commiserations.


Took a walking tour of town with D&A themed around the revolution and early Soviet times. Didn't learn an awful lot but the guide was very nice. I learned about the first communal building in St. Petersburg, how it was mainly occupied by kulaks and other wealthy ex-peasants. The grim tale goes that once they started voicing their dissatisfaction with the Soviet lifestyle most residents of the building were put to death: an eerie tale indeed.

We took a break for lunch in Cherdak which is not at all far from the Museum of Political History. The latter is worth a trip because if, like me, you haven't studied Russian history post-1900 properly then you'll learn a lot about the chronology of events after the revolution. It gives an idea of what life was like in Soviet times, lots of info on Lenin, Stalin and Khrushchev too. My favourite exhibit was this poster on the left, advertising an Akvarium concert on October 1st 1983. Nostalgic!


D&A invited me over to their hotel for breakfast: I stuffed myself with bacon pancakes, smoked salmon and sour cream pancakes, pineapple (aint nobody got time to cut up a pineapple!) and cheesecake. I cried a bit as they drove off in the taxi, but I was far more glad they made the trip than sad that they had to go home again. They treated me to so many museum trips and tasty dinners. I really enjoyed being a tourist here, not just a student and intern.

Today (Monday) was back to the old school grind, but I was more oblivious than usual having missed 2 days. Those are the only 2 days I've skipped so far and I'm nearly halfway through my time here, I think that's an achievement. Thursday will be halfway through my time here, and also is the day my boyfriend is arriving from London. Awesome times ahead!

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