The next day after my trip to Sapporo, I flew back to Saint Petersburg to spend the New Year holidays at home with my family. Thanks to my brother, who canceled his vacation plans just to spend time with me, I had the best 10 days one can have in winter, in Russia, in a freezing cold and a pitch black darkness.. ^-^ For my city, it is pretty normal not to see sun for days. The skies are constantly covered with snowy clouds so instead of bright daylight, we have grayish glow for a couple of hours each day that separates the morning darkness from the evening one.. When I was in University, I had to be on campus by 9 each day – it was still dark. Then, I had 6 or 7 90 minutes classes so by the time I was out, it was already dark. For 4 years of University I hardly ever saw any daylight in winter. ^-^
As you may know, we celebrate Christmas after New Year, on 7th of January so the city was still decorated and all lightened up! ^-^
To my surprise, the neverending construction near the Finland train terminal was finally completed and it turned out to be the biggest shopping mall the center of the city has ever seen with multiplex cinema, cozy cafes and all the European brand shops I could only wish for 10 years ago.
Needless to say, I spent a lot of time there – shopping, watching movies, drinking milkshakes and spying on the cool crowd or at least everyone seemed cool and tall and blond to me… Either I have been in Japan way too long or our folks cleaned up real good… Big shopping malls are still kinda new to Russia.. We are used to department stores but the building where you can spend all day? – that is something of a boom right now so you can spot a lot of young Russians in cool fedoras and leather leggings there… Ah, I wish I was 17 again…
This is at my new favorite cafe inside the mall. Living in Japan for so many years, I have forgotten all about how fun it is to eat your cheese pancakes with sour cream and raspberry sauce on the side of a half a liter triple cream milkshake! I haven’t had this much calories in one take for a very long time! ^-^
The annual Christmas bazaar was at the Alexander square and as always with a lot of traditional street performances, hot wine and honey cider stands, ice skating ring and attractions for kids. As much as I love the merry-go-rounds, I went for the hot wine.
And this is me trying on a tacky Russian winter hat made specially for foreign tourists. Actually, my brother ended up buying it for me so if anyone is interested – all yours. ^-^
There was a very impressive illumination show at the Winter palace square with music and lasers that made the falling snow sparkle like pixie dust.
My cousin Andrey has finally finished his new house so we went to see him and his family at their brand new home on the island.
My little niece started walking and talking and she is so adorable.
She introduced me to her favorite cartoon called “Masha and the bear”. It is a 3D version of a traditional Russian fairytale with a modern spin to it and it is absolutely hilarious. You can watch all 14 series online!
So on Christmas, we chose a small church in the Alexander park in Pushkin. There, on the background is the grayish glow that I mentioned earlier – the picture was taken at noon. ^-^
After the service, we went for a little walk around the park and then had Christmas lunch at my brother’s favorite restaurant called XIX century which was right in front of the church. I had a mushroom soup and Alex had borsch, then we both had pancakes. I couldn’t wish for more. ^-^
In the evening, we went back to the city to visit a new art gallery “Floors”. They had a nice little exhibit called “The accomplishments of Soviet design” that displayed the works of interior designers, industrial poster artists and modeling engineers.
I recognized a lot of items from back when I was little like a meat mincer that my grandma used to have at Dacha or the “sea battle” video game that used to stand in the lobby of a movie theater in my neighborhood. My brother even discovered an old automobile simulation game that he wanted so much as a little boy. ^-^
The next day, my best friend Anna had a party at her house. She has cut short her vacation in Italy just to spend her birthday at home with friends and family. ^-^
She brought a lot of tasty Italian delicacies and wine and made my favorite Napoleon cake from scratch, even the little macaroons on top.
Her mom is retired now but she used to be a surgeon and now teaches surgery at the first Medical. She is a true leader and her voice – I mean those loud girls at 109 department store during the sale season are nothing in comparison. She is VERY loud and very bossy so I just couldn’t say no when she made us all drink dirty martini and then play silly games I haven’t played since the first grade! ^-^
Have you ever had these kind of moments when you experience something out of ordinary and then it happens again in the very same day? I came back home and saw my family playing a board game!
It was some financial game my brother got for free from a bank as a New Year’s present. So we drank beer and played it through the whole evening. I, of course kept loosing because after several glasses of martini and being spun with my eyes tied I just couldn’t keep it straight. ^-^
Then, the day after, I also met with Marina – my overachiever friend.
She knew exactly where to take me – our favorite coffee shop with the best milkshakes ever!
In the evening, I also visited my aunt who just came back from Finland and brought tons of delicious seafood including my favorite fly-fish caviar.
It was also the first time for me to see her famous porcelain portraits of the family. These painting were done in an old XVIII century style but faces were taken from recent photographs so from left to right clockwise are my grandfather, my uncle, my father, my niece Polina, cousin Liza, aunt, grandmother and cousin Andrey. This is really amazing, I wish I took a better picture..
Then, we also went to a new ski park just outside Saint Petersburg called Tuutgari. It was really cold that day but with two liters of Anna’s dad’s special hot wine we were all set. ^-^
So basically, boys were skiing and we, girls were snow tubing.
My mom was the toughest of us all making her way up faster than anyone else. ^-^
It was a lot of fun but the guy at the top kept spinning me so after a few times of sliding down the hill I got pretty disoriented. ^-^
I also tried ice skating for the first time in my life. It turned out to be quite easy, not very different from rollerblading.
At a local cafe, I discovered my new passion for traditional old Russian guitar songs, something I was never interested in while living in Russia. There were two guys with guitars, some snowboarders who just came in and started playing. They were really good and played many songs I remember from my childhood like the one from the Bremen musicians
or this one, my mom’s favorite
It’s funny how I re-discover Russian literature and music now – something I was really opposed to at school. At 15 I was reading Fitzgerald and Bukowski instead of Ostrovskiy. To me, he was an example of everything that was wrong with the Russian program at school. But then, 15 years later, already here in Tokyo I read his “How the steel was tempered” and I really loved it. And with music too. I mean, bard songs.. really? Better Robbie Williams than Okudzhava! But now I really love it! I guess, the grass will always be greener on the other side…or maybe everything has its own time?..