Anniversaries, the looming start of the football season and knock, knock who’s there?

So far today has been one of those very few ‘perfect’ days, and seeing as Spurs aren’t playing till tomorrow nothing can seemingly ruin the day! I’ve just got off the phone with one set of wonderful grandparents who are today celebrating 56 years of wonderful married life together (if you listen to Grandma), or 56 years of constant torment (if you listen to Grandad). My other grandparents have also celebrated just their 56th wedding anniversary last week and it’s been wonderful to catch up with them as well – they have just enjoyed a trip back to Cambridge and are enjoying life as much as ever! It’s been lovely to hear from four of the most important role models in my life, and be able to just quickly thank them for all that they have done for me over the years, and to know that they are still thinking about me and praying for me from the other side of the world. Congratulations to you both!

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The pitch a couple of weeks ago – thankfully there isn’t as much snow left!

Here in Russia, the sun is shining and the weather is great, the temperature is just below freezing but I’ve become pretty accustomed to the cold. I’ve just been told by my team captain that tomorrow we are getting ready for the start of the outdoor football season by cleaning the first team pitch. There’s still a bit of snow and ice kicking about and the ground is currently a little too hard to play on but it’s very exciting none the less!

I’ve also just submitted my ‘essay proposal’ form – a whole two days before the deadline! One of the requirements from Bristol whilst I am on my year abroad is to write a 3,500 word essay in Russian. The title that I’ve gone for is ‘В какой степени политические, социальные и экономические последствия Олимпийских игр в России положительных?’ For those of you who don’t study Russian/are too lazy to use Google translate (works like a dream) this translates as something like “To what extent was the political, social and economic impact of the Olympic Games in Russia positive?” If my title’s approved, one of the most interesting aspects of the essay will be looking at the different portrayals of the games in the Western World and in Russia – comments from you all would be much appreciated!

Another question has come up which I thought would be quite interesting to write about – ‘what is Russian humor like?’ Admittedly most of the time, the answer to this question is ‘non-existant’, however thinking more carefully about it I feel as though this would be doing a disservice to most Russian people. During training the other day, I was talking about Russian humor with some of the boys who told me that during the Communist Era humor used to be used to help people get through the day. This mainly came in the form of ‘anecdotes’ one or two liners that had a witty punchline undermining the establishment I think most of us would find quite funny – below are two passably amusing jokes that were popular during the Communist Era (and probably will be in Uncle Jon’s household for the next 6 months):

A Russian, a Frenchman and an Englishman were arguing about Adam’s nationality. The Englishman said “Of course Adam was English – he gave his only apple to Eve like a real gentleman. The Frenchman said, “Don’t be ridiculous Adam was French! Look how passionately he made love to Eve!” Whilst the two of them were arguing the Russian quietly said, “Adam has to be Russian. Who else, possessed nothing but an apple, walked around naked, still believed he was in a paradise?”

Two men were in a Gulag together sharing a cell. One asked the other, “what did you do to end up in here, was it a political crime?” The other replied. “Of course it was political. I’m a plumber and they summoned me to the District Party committee to fix the sewage pipes. I looked and said, ‘Hey, the entire system requires replacement.’ So, they gave me seven years.”

I’ll leave you with the beautiful view from my front door this morning – hope your Saturday is going as well as mine!

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Russian Cuisine

So after asking you for your questions, I surprisingly got some very sensible and interesting questions from a lot of you (and also very unhelpful and disparaging comments from others of you – thank you Mr Woolcott). Whilst I was on my 13 hour train journey to St Petersburg I decided to answer one of the first questions I got, which, as the title suggests, was “what’s the food like in Russia?”

Great question – Russian cuisine and eating habits are very different to ours in general. As part of my accommodation agreement with my host mother, I also get breakfast and dinner (evening meal) from her. Breakfast invariably consists of a large plate (yes not bowl, plate) of porridge, a yogurt and occasionally some toast with cheese. Каша (kasha) is very similar to English porridge – usually made with milk and the Russians are very insistent that its very good for you! On the rare occasions that I haven’t had it for breakfast, it’s been replaced with an omelette, as my host mother calls it (in reality it’s very oily scrambled eggs – but not bad at all). 
 
Dinner is taken very seriously – Russians nearly always eat three courses. The first is invariably a soup. As I’m not too keen on seafood, I haven’t yet had the fishy soup which I feel is the most popular in Yaroslavl, but other than that there are three main other types of soup – borscht, solyanka and rassolnik. All of these are equally tasty, and as you’d expect very filling – the Russians love soup mainly because its another way to counteract the cold! Luda usually puts meat in all three and serves them in huge bowls with about half a loaf of bread – and invariably adds a very large amount of mayonnaise. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt about Russian cuisine, it’s that if it doesn’t have mayonnaise in it or the option to add mayonnaise then it’s not considered good food. After this I’m usually full, and often have to try and delay the main course for a couple of hours – my protestations that I’m full are usually met with puppy dog eyes and the tame question ‘do you not like my food?’ from Luda which usually ends up with me eating my main course straight away and having to roll to my bedroom afterwards….
 
The main courses have been quite varied – often I have a piece of meat with spaghetti which is ‘Russified’ with the addition of lots of salads and sauces which Luda has made herself – most involve peppers and taste somewhat similar to sweet chilli. Occasionally we eat pelmeni, a very popular dish over here – pasta shells stuffed with meat (unsure as to what it is) and served with, yes you’ve guessed it, a very healthy amount of mayonnaise. Luda also makes a nice dish which she calls potatoes with mushrooms – and unsurprisingly consists of boiled potatoes, some fried mushrooms and unlimited amounts of mayonnaise. 
 
On the whole, the food here is great – I feel as though I have been really lucky to get Luda as a host mother because her cooking is excellent, and after a month or so everything that’s put in front of me now seems completely normal. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to get over the extraordinary amount of mayonnaise that they use though! 
 
Please keep your questions coming, and I’ll try to keep answering them in the coming weeks!

 

Just touched down in Yaroslavl….. nearly a month ago.

Having been here for just over three weeks, it seems like a pretty poor effort to only just be posting my first impressions about my time here (and it is), however I hope you’ll forgive the lateness. The excuses are in some cases valid (a lack of internet followed by a mild brain trauma), and in some cases completely invalid (those of you who know me know that on the whole I’m pretty lazy, and I’ve also developed a surprising addiction to chess – watch this space!). Anyway, here are a few words on my journey and first impressions of Yaroslavl:

After a relatively straight forward flight (by my standards) from Gatwick to Moscow, I was left standing outside Domodedevo airport in Moscow looking for a car with a number plate ending in ‘76’ – apparently meaning that the car was from Yaroslavl and the right one to take me to my final destination. For the first half an hour, there was nothing – and then a landrover appeared with the desired number plate. Grateful that my taxi had finally arrived, I dragged my two cases over towards the car, only to see a man hurriedly get out, grab a suitcase and run into the airport before the car drove off. Turns out that there are more than 2 cars with a Yaroslavl number plate…

After another hour or so the right minibus arrived and we set off on the 4 hour journey to Yaroslavl. After the first hour I asked the lady sitting next to me how long she thought it would be before we arrived in Yaroslavl, and after receiving a lecture about the awful Moscow traffic, she assured me that it would be no longer than 3 or 4 hours. Content with her answer, I somehow managed to fall asleep, and finally awoke 4 hours later. Having looked at the time, I naively thought that we might be close, and asked her if we’d be there in a few minutes. She told me not to be so stupid, repeated her lecture about the traffic, and told me once again that we would be there in 4 hours.

Pulling up to a seemingly deserted, slightly derelict, apartment block and subsequently being kicked out of the taxi at half 11 with only the instructions ‘find flat 25’ from the driver, was quite perturbing. The taxi then left, and I was faced with five doors to choose from, all with limited lighting and very little indication about what was inside. Just as I was starting to play ‘eeny meeny miny moe’ I heard a voice call my name from the darkness, and my new host Ludmilla appeared to take me up to my home for the next four and a half months. In the light of day the next morning I not only worked out that adjacent to my room is a sort of balcony, and subsequently that I know live next door to, not one, but two beautiful orthodox churches, a nice change from St Petersburg.

Speaking of St Petersburg, there is a really different feel to life here in Yaroslavl. Having been told by many people that Yaroslavl is a ‘genuine’ Russian town, it’s been really interesting to notice not only the change in pace of life here, but also that on the whole people seem a lot nicer and more willing to help. I think that one of the reasons for the latter, is that foreigners are quite a rarity here. When out and about in St Petersburg, you could occasionally hear English, however here it is almost completely non existent. The language school that I go to in Yaroslavl is located in a normal Russian primary and middle school (the age range is roughly 5-15), and when we pass through the hallways everyone seems to scream ‘hello’ in a very thick Russian accent and try to shake your hand. Whilst mildly flattering at first, being a celebrity has quickly worn off, I now feel well placed to sympathise with all those constantly hounded by the paparazzi.

Over the last couple of weeks, I have found a wonderful group of Russian friends, and have also enjoyed a 5 star stay at one of Yaroslavl’s finest medical institutions – blog posts will be forthcoming on both over the next couple of days. Other than that I was thinking it would be quite nice to give you guys (all four of you that read the blog) a chance to ask me questions, either about Yaroslavl or Russia in general. I can’t promise that they will be answered, but I feel as though it would be a good way of prompting me to talk about things that I’ve overlooked! You can either pop them in the comments section or email them to me at jm0555@my.bristol.ac.uk and I’ll hopefully get around to doing a post about them in the next couple of weeks.

 

ice fishing