Monday, July 28, 2008

My Eastern European Adventure in Brief

Background: Born in St. Petersburg in the early 1980s. Immigrated to the U.S. at age 9 in the early 1990s.

Itinerary, July 2008: Tallinn, Estonia, and St. Petersburg and Moscow, Russia. This is my first time in Estonia and my first back in Russia since the move.

Travel companions: Parents, born and raised in Russia.

My verdict: Russia is a foreign country in which I happen to speak the language.

Parents' verdict: The exterior has changed (shops full of consumer goods), but the Soviet mindset and bureaucracy are alive and well. (Note: This doesn't apply to Estonia. Tallinn looked and felt like a perfectly civilized, European city.)

Best thing eaten in Tallinn: Something called "Witches' Pudding," a mashed potato/mushroom/cheese casserole. Can anyone point me to a recipe?
Best surprise in Tallinn: Biting into these little fruit tartlets, filled with farmer's cheese instead of butter cream.
Best way to spend an evening in St. Petersburg: Walk down Nevsky Prospect, to the Hermitage, then to the Neva River.
Other ways to have fun: Go grocery shopping and gaze at half a dozen varieties of farmer's cheese (including raspberry and poppy seed flavors).

Best way to stick to a food budget in Russia: Eat rye bread (17 rubles, a little less than a dollar) and chocolate-covered sirki (about 5 rubles, or 30 cents). Wash this down with kvass--rye bread beer, lightly carbonated, mildly sweet and very refreshing (20 to 40 rubles, depending on the vendor).
Best way to blow a food budget in Russia: Eat anything else. Why is Eastern Europe still considered cheap? (It's not.)

Best surprise in Russia: The fast food chain Teremok, which sells sweet and savory blini and soups. Ideal meal: Borsh, blini with goose liver pate and half a liter of kvass. Other ways to pass time in St. Petersburg: See palaces.
Go on long walks in parks: Read some Pushkin: Things to avoid: Interactions with clerks, cashiers and office workers of any sort. You will be ignored at best; yelled at at worst.

Parents' final verdict: Farewell, Russia. No love lost.

My verdict: Someday, I'll be back. If only for the goose liver blini.


Diana said...

Glad you had a good trip.Isn't it funny that the more a place changes the more it stays the same i.e. the rudeness of cashiers etc. Teremok is one of my favorite places to eat in Russia. Now I am hungry! :)

Foodichka said...

Teremok! Every time I ate there, I kept wondering when one would open in the U.S.

Yulinka said...

Diana & Foodichka--I was very pleasantly surprised by Teremok. Even their customer service is good--the cashiers obviously went through training. I don't think Teremok would go over well in the U.S., though. L(

Julia said...

Your pictures are beautiful!

I left Riga when I was 5 and haven't been back since, although both my parents (and my paternal grandparents) have gone back a few times.

There's definitely no love for Russia in my (Jewish) family, so I've never had any burning desire to go and visit my homeland, but your beautiful pictures make me wonder if perhaps I should just go and look at the place....

Yulinka said...

Hi Julia--Nice to hear from you again. I had trouble thinking of Russia as my homeland--it was mostly a foreign country. So I could enjoy the architecture and museums, etc., as a tourist. You might have the same experience if you go back. For my parents, it was different--my dad said that he couldn't enjoy St. Petersburg because of unpleasant memories of life in that city.

radish said...

hope you're having fun in my hometown :)

Yulinka said...

Radish--Are you from Moscow? I realized I never did write about my side trip to that city.

- AbsolutStoli said...

great post yulinka! glad you had a good trip. i havent been to st. petersburg yet, but thats one of the cities on my list to visit.

i grew up in kiev, and still consider it one of my homes, even though i left when i was 10, so about the same age you were. for some reason both my sister (who is 35 now) and i both still love ukraine/kiev. i wonder how come so many expatriates feel otherwise though. ive met so many people, both young and old, who have absolutely no desire, or are just indifferent, to go back there. its kind of sad, actually...lots of really great culture, history, people and food(!!) there. so its good that your visit was a pleasant one.

Yulinka said...

Stoli-Yes, people who've immigrated at a young age often aren't at all interested in going back and many are pretty hostile toward Russia/the former USSR countries. I'm no fan of Russia, but it makes me sad. Then again, I don't live there. When you have U.S. citizenship, you have the luxury of visiting Russia for fun and going back when it gets too much.

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