Life in Front of the Lens

Russian ladies have truly, utterly perfected the art of posing. They have it down to an absolute t and are not afraid to whip it out in public. The poses are intimidating and immaculate, taken to look natural yet ultimately painstakingly thought through. However it is second nature to the women, and a snap takes seconds. Sit, pose, done, over.

When at the ballet the other day, I got a first hand experience of just how serious Russian women are about the perfect picture. Take for example the 7-year-old girl who was having the tantrum to end all tantrums. She was not a happy girl, crying, screaming, stomping, shouting. However, as soon as her mother grabbed her and shoved her in front of a lovely view of the stage, for the 3 seconds it took to capture the image, the waterworks were capped and a shining smile was pulled out. Picture taken, all hell broke loose again and said madam stormed off. Remarkable. Even aged 7, the Russian girls can turn it all on for the camera.

In the foyer of the very same theatre stood a shiny grand piano. It was not played, but it received a lot of attention as a procession of dolled up girls each sat upon the stool, arched their backs with precision, tossed their heads over their shoulders and dazzled. Snapped, they tottered off to the next location to repeat the process. I had been wondering why the girls were all so dressed up for an 11am matinée, and it all became clear. They were dolled up for the obligatory ‘look at me at the Mariinsky’ photoshoot.

Whilst browsing the Museum of Russian Political History, by far one of the best museums I’ve been to here, I was distracted and bothered by two women scurrying around ensuring they had each taken a photo of the other in front of every artefact and snippet of information. In actual fact I don’t think they knew or cared where they were, just so long as they had documented that they had been there.

The ‘selfie’ craze has been going for a while now, but it’s a whole other ball game in Russia. Perusing VKontakte (pretty much Facebook but in Russian) you will come across image after image of perfectly made up girls popping a hip in various locations. There are also hundreds of photos of girls in bikinis on holiday, proudly showing the world what their mothers gave them. As one friend put it, these mothers are most likely the ones behind the camera, instructing their daughters on the optimum way to display their assets for the world of VK to see.

This all fits with the mentality seen here of why have something which costs money, if no one knows that it cost money. For example, if you’re going to buy a designer item, ensure it has a label on show so that everyone knows that you paid big. An expensive car is not enough unless it is gold or how about matte black? It seems that people buy things and visit places simply to show the world that they have these things and that they can afford to have them, rather than to enjoy the experience or gain something. I only hope that in between all this posing and showiness, they’re taking time to stop, watch the ballet, listen to the music and enjoy living life for themselves, not for the sake of a photo.


Dead Souls

Disclaimer -This post has nothing to do with Gogol

Yesterday two friends from school and I decided to take advantage of the incredible sunshine and wandered our way to Alexander Nevksy Monastery, simply to see what we might find. Having done little to no research, we were not expecting to enjoy ourselves quite so much as we did, stumbling upon easily one of my favourite places in St Petersburg. This may sound morose seeing as the highlight of the Monastery is by far the Tikhvin Cemetery where many famous literary, musical and political figures are buried; Dostoevsky, Tchaikovsky, Lomonosov. The tombs and headstones are remarkable works of sculpture in themselves, and like many things in this country, they are over the top. There was of course one which featured a ridiculous amount of gold leaf for a graveyard. In Russia, or at the very least in The Northern Capital, you will never find yourself far from some building or other adorned in gold.

The monastery itself is of course astonishing, incredibly ornate and, like all churches here, intimidating. I always feel guilty as a mere spectator in holy places here, as they are Orthodox and take their religion more seriously than I have seen elsewhere. Before entering a church, people will cross themselves and bow once, twice, sometimes three times. This is then followed by more crossing as you pass by the multiple icons within the church/cathedral/monastery, and there are those who go round and kiss every single icon. The whole process takes a very long time and there is a serious atmosphere. Women must have their heads covered at all times. When leaving the church, there is more crossing and bowing at the door, and once outside the church, they turn and cross themselves and bow again. A lot of crossing, a lot of bowing, a lot of kissing, a lot of respect and reverence for the many saints.

Of course, it is forbidden to photograph the inside of the Church of the Annunciation. Picture monks in black gowns, gold, icons, gold icons, statues, mosaics, colours, gold, tiles, gold and gold and you might get near to understanding what it looks like. Did I mention the gold?

On a side note, whilst on the topic of monks, I saw two nuns smoking today. Welcome to Russia.

My few Instagram followers received a spamming yesterday – blame the weather and beautiful graves. Here are some snaps of my new favourite graveyard, not a phrase I ever thought I’d say.

IMG_1516 IMG_1517 IMG_1521

Vitali – Sculptor



IMG_1525 IMG_1526 IMG_1529


Having wandered and wondered among the cemetery, we headed to the bridge just next door and were rewarded with a spectacular view of the Neva. Everyone else may be bored of seeing pictures of rivers, but I love them.

IMG_1511From Russia with love.

Blinis With Bab

What we in England consider a ‘blini’, is not actually a true Russian blini. A blini is little more than what we think of as a pancake, or crepe, and as I found out on Sunday, they are cooked the exact same way. The exciting master class in Russian blinis turned out to be little more than recreating Pancake Day in September. It was a lovely experience cooking with my Babushka, if not quite the new recipe I had prepared for. So forget the little canapé type blinis you are imagining, the real deal are bigger, and thinner.

The history of the blini: before they became Orthodox, as most of Russia is now, the Russian people used to worship the elements and had many Gods, such as the God of Wind, the God of Rain and the God of Sun. The blini was made originally as a symbol of the sun and thus, it is a religious recipe. Quite a simple history for quite a simple dish.

Just like on Pancake Day, take 2 eggs, a litre of milk, salt and sugar to taste and mix. We did this in a bowl with a hand blender. Next, add flour. I believe my Babushka said 300g, but I don’t remember, I didn’t write it down and she didn’t measure it out. A seasoned pro at making blinis, Sonia cooks by feel, much like my own Grandmother. The consistency (again, very detailed) should be not too watery but not too thick, It should coat a spoon and be silky smooth, so blend well.

Now the difference: we add butter to the pan to avoid sticking. Russians add a tiny bit of oil, and then a glug of oil into the mixture. This does not get mixed in, but instead sits on the top of the mixture and you get a little with every ladleful, ensuring that these tasty offerings to the sun don’t stick in the pan.

Take a ladle of mixture and put it in the pan, being sure to tilt the pan straight away and evenly coat the surface so that you have a perfectly round blini of even thickness. Then just cook like a pancake, flipping when the colour on top is slightly darker and all the same. Voilà – blinis à la Russe!IMG_1247IMG_1243


We had ours as delicious parcels of flavour, filled with cabbage, rice, mince and carrots. They were simply wonderful.

If you find yourself in Russia, head to their version of MacDonald’s/Starbucks – Chainaya Lozhka (Чайная Ложка – teaspoon). It’s fast food the Russian way – blinis and borscht.

From Russia with Love.

P.S. Tonight – Opera at the Mikhailovsky theatre, darling. We’re off to see Verdi’s “Un Ballo I Maschera”. When in Rome…

Fangirl Moment on Bolshaya Morskaya

Despite a hangover which would force even the strongest amongst us to shut themselves indoors for the day, yesterday I decided not to wallow in pity but rather to take advantage of the gloriously sunny day in St Petersburg and embarked upon what ended up being the most lovely 5 hour walk, complete with my German flatmate Jakob in tow. The walk took in all manner of sights, both on and off the beaten track as we stumbled upon beautiful building after beautiful building. By far the most exciting part of the day for me was discovering number 47 Bolshaya Morskaya Ulitsa.

nabokov-house-on-bolshaya-morskaya-ulitsa-in-st-petersburgThe above house is where none other than one of my all time favourite writers, Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov, lived from the day he was born (22nd April 1899) until he was 18. Nabokov described his childhood as “perfect” and you can see why when you imagine him as the eldest son of a wealthy and prominent family growing up in a house like this. Remove the cars and picture it on a snowy day, complete with horse-drawn carriages roaming the streets.

2892This picture shows the beautiful decoration at the top of the house; a mural running along the length of the house which adorns it with colourful flowers, all outlined in gold of course. How very Russian. In his memoir Speak, Memory, Nabokov describes the house in great detail, dedicating the first 12 chapters to his childhood here . Having seen this, it has moved up on my reading list and will be commenced very soon.

All in all, a perfect day and the best way to shake a hangover. I shall leave you with a picture of myself looking a bit too excited to be standing next to a plaque.


(Translation: The writer Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov (1899-1977) was born in this house)

From Russia with love.


St Petersburg Street Art

The St Petersburgians make excellent use of space (see parking), as is shown by their use of the pavement as an advertising location. As you walk along the avenues and streets, across the bridges and between the beautiful buildings, your eye is drawn to the many, often colourful, adverts, slogans and signs spray painted onto the ground. Personally, I love it – it adds more colour and life to this already vibrant city and provides something to look at when you walk with your head down to avoid the bitter winds hitting your eyes. Oh yes, it’s been that cold already.



A boutique shop which has moved locations (I believe)


A hostel (one night – from 350 roubles, a month – 9000 roubles)


A selection


A bar (called I Simply Love – very literal translation, it’s probably a colloquialism)


A fitness centre on Nevsky Prospekt


A big chain of coffee shops, called ‘Coffee Haus’


The parking – another example of efficient use of space…

From Russia with love.

St P Snaps

Here are some of the photos I’ve taken so far. They are not great quality as most were taken on a rather overcast day, but they show some of the beautiful buildings and culture of the city.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Today I’m off to the Kunstkamera, a museum of bizarre objects which Peter the Great collected including: a mammoth and Siamese twins in a jar. Sick bag at the ready.

To Market, to Market

Today my friend Saoirse and I ventured into the north-east of the city to find a recommended flea market. We went on the metro all the way over 3 different rivers (or branches of the same river, who knows?) and ended up in an area known as Udelnaya. Here, there is a market akin to those that you find in East London, a little home away from home perhaps. The traders all have stall-shops, they display their wares outside but all have a covered ‘indoor’ area too to protect them from the elements. At Udelnaya market you will find fur coats galore, vintage clothes, military uniforms, shoes, bags – you name it, they will probably have it, if you’re looking for clothes. There was a disappointing lack of junk jewellery which is something I always search for. However I did buy a Pringle 100% cashmere beige jumper for 350 roubles (roughly £7) and a bright yellow sweatshirt for 200 roubles (£4) and who can complain at that? Udelnaya is well worth the relatively quick metro journey and we will probably return at some point to hunt some more.

In other news I’ve realised that every time I have a bad meal (as I just have), I miss home. When I have good food, I feel better. It’s the luck of the draw whether you live with a Bab who can cook or not. My family are lovely, but I seem to have been a little unlucky in terms of food, something very important to me. With that, I’m off to eat some chocolate.

From Russia with love.

Life in Black and Grey

Everyone here wears dark colours all the time. This is another factor adding to the many reasons why I stick out as the foreigner I am, to be named and shamed in the street. As an avid supporter of colour, this wardrobe adjustment may prove difficult. Time will tell, at least it’s preparing me for the Parisian sartorial way – black on black on black, c’est chic. The choice of dark colours reflects and changes with the seasons. In spring and summer, colour is cracked out, but come those dark wintry days and nights, the Russians (or at least St Petersburgians) choose to dress in a way which allows them to disappear into their surroundings. Fantastic as it would be to advocate change by wearing my usual cheery palette, I think for now I’ll try to blend in.

I have also decided that even the way I sneeze is foreign. However, I was asked for directions in the street today, so maybe I am looking more Ruski as the days go by. I was flattered by his mistake and then blew it by saying (in Russian) “Yes, no here, no there!” to which I got a bemused look and we went our separate ways. Result!

From Russia with love.

P.S. Supper today was actually inedible.

The Truth about Borscht

When I think of Borscht, I used to imagine the image below – a smooth soup of blended beetroot and other vegetables.


Well, dear readers, allow me to introduce to you the non surgically enhanced truth about beetroot soup. It is actually a translucent purple liquid with a film of butter on top (as with every dish) and bits of chopped vegetable floating around. You can then add sour cream to it, I choose not to.


Despite appearances, it’s actually not bad. Looks can be deceiving, as I have been discovering with most meals here! My new friend Saoirse had quite the surprise regarding the look and reality of her food –

From Russia with love.

Hoisery Hatred

There is a disturbing penchant here for the most offensive tights ever to be produced. We all know that tights can be a tricky subject and although they appear a simple garment, can really work against us. Well, tights will never look bad again as I will now forever have imprinted in my mind an image of the favoured style in this transitional weather.

‘Granny tights’ doesn’t even begin to describe these monstrosities. It is the colour which is offensive – not skin colour but also not black, they are a disturbing beige with a tinge of grey. They are like flesh coloured tights in need of a good wash. It is as though the women want to look like they have tanned legs, but all they succeed in doing is looking as though they have a disease. If you then take these hideous tights and add to them open-toed shoes, you have the worst street style trend ever to emerge. I see this sight on about 50% of the women in the city. Kate Middleton, you would love it here (sorry, I couldn’t help myself).

From Russia with love.