St. Petersburg

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Goodbye St. Petersburg, Goodbye Russia

We’re wrapping up our time here in St. Petersburg.  It’s hard to believe that the girls and I fly out this Wednesday, June 29th.  We fly Petersburg to Moscow and then have a direct flight all the way to New York.  I’ll let you know how I feel about that when it’s over.  David will join us a bit later on July 10th. 

I actually considered breaking out our down jackets one cold day last week, but then I realized that the flurry of white outside our 8th storey apartment was not snow at all but rather an abundance of cottonwood seeds let loose from the trees below us.  It was cold, though, but not down-jacket cold luckily.  It’s still amazingly cool very often, but we have had plenty of sun and warmth to go with it.  Now, we have sunlight outside until well past 12am and an eerie dawn-like lighting for the rest of the night.  Our Russian neighbors really know how to enjoy the “White Nights” of Petersburg.  We see people sitting outside talking and eating ice cream cones, exercising, and even one lady dowsing herself with buckets of water at all hours of the night.  It’s as if people are using these extra hours of light to make up for lost time due to those long dark winters. 

Our friend from California came out to visit us for a week in late May.  The weather cooperated and we had a great time with him seeing many of the sights of Petersburg.  The girls now consider Jared as part of our family and call our living room, “Jared’s room.”  The other day we were discussing the fact that David has to have a job to make money so that we can live and Hazel came up with a plan to help us out.  “Well,” she said very earnestly, “Jared works.”  And she looked at me in a way that suggested I should start planning a string of Fijian vacations right then and there.  So, Jared, are you in?  It’s always great having visitors, though, not only for the taste of home you get when they are there, but also because you experience the city in a new way when you have someone to show it to.

Russia has been our home for these past ten months and it is difficult, now, to say goodbye.  A friend recently reminded me that transitions are always hard, even when they lead you home.  And I suspect this will be true for us even as we head home.  I suspect that we don’t even know yet all the ways our experience in Russia has changed us and formed us, all of us.  It has been an incredible blessing to have lived here though.  God has provided for us and we have had a good experience here.  David has had a very successful research year and will begin organizing and writing his dissertation this summer.  Gretchen is currently trying to eat as many sardines as she can hold now that we are leaving.  Yes, we can get them in the US, but it just won’t be the same.  They won’t be Russian sardines, bought on your way home from the metro and carried lovingly and carefully all the way home with stop-offs in the communal playgrounds along the way.  And Hazel also looks forward to getting home.  But often when she speaks of leaving, in the very same breath she remembers that it may be a long time before she sees friends here again.  I can almost see her little heart torn two ways.  And I, too, look forward to resuming “normal” life, but I know that it will be jarring that first trip to Costco or that long walk through the cereal aisle back home.

Already, David and I are plotting the demise of our kitchen and all its gadgetry back home.  We’ve lived in St. Petersburg for three months with a total of four forks and a handful of spoons and haven’t ever needed an extra utensil, not once, even with guests.  So we’re heading home.  And we’re bringing Russia with us.      

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Hello Saint Petersburg

Every spring Lauri sets a day aside to go out to his secret bogs in the wilderness of Finland.  He goes to check and see how the plants are faring.  If he does this, he’ll know exactly where to pick later in the summer, when the plants are just right.  On harvest day, he leaves home very early so as to not give away his secret or be followed – his neighbors know he harvests.   Lauri said he would lead a friend astray before sharing the location of his secret bogs, his beloved cloudberries. 

Cloudberries!!!  Who knew there could be such a delicacy?  Our first night in Helsinki we stayed with the parents of a friend of a friend’s, Lauri and Ulla.  They served us cloudberries, and, yes, their name (and even their shape) lives up to the experience of letting one float over your tongue.  It turns out these berries are something of a national treasure in Finland and are highly priced and sought after even in Europe.  Lauri hand picks them every summer all by himself – a very difficult task because for one, they are very hard to find, and for two, they only grow in bogs, and three, they are very fragile little things – little clouds.  Lauri hunts them year-after-year and we were privileged to have had them served over German ice cream. 

The hospitality and kindness that Lauri and Ulla showed us were the introduction to our whole experience in Finland.  Most Finns speak both Finnish and English, which is a good thing for us because Finnish is not a language you mess around with as foreigners.  When words start getting up into the 15 letter range you stop trying to sound them out anymore and you’ve given up hope for a cognate long ago so you just ask politely, “Excuse me, do you speak English?”  You’re always met with a smile.  We had a restful and fun time in Helsinki, Espoo and Porvoo.

We visited the great Sea Fortress, Suomenlinna

These guys are the guardians of the train station

                   EMMA museum in Espoo

Helsinki is beautiful, has that special charm that you only find in northern European cities, and is riddled with art deco style architecture.  Public transportation was great, and there were stellar views off the gulf of the many wind-swept forested little islands.

On Friday, we took the new high-speed Finish train, Allegro, from Helsinki to Saint Petersburg, arriving into Finland station in only 3.5 hours.  The train ride was amazing and, in my opinion, too fast.  I wanted more time to see the groves of aspen and birch and lakes flying past us out the window.  I wanted more time to read Tove Jansson to Hazel.  I wanted the train to go slower so I could see those quaint red and white little homes that are pervasively scattered throughout the countryside.  And (this is the kicker) we discovered halfway through the ride that the train actually had a playground in the last train car - we only had time to play there once between lunch, tea and lounging about.

Shortly after arriving, Dave set out with a real estate agent to find and secure an apartment while the girls and I settled down at a friend’s house.  The waiting was painful but, of course, Dave came home with great news about a wonderful apartment close to a metro stop.  Dave’s my hero.  We are now at home on the 8th floor in Saint Petersburg.  We have internet, we have a good water-filter system under the sink, and a balcony that wraps itself around the building and affords amazing views of the sunset – which is increasingly later and later each evening, much to my happiness and much to the confusion of our girls, who have to try to go to sleep with what seems to be hours before bedtime.  Dave will start working right away.  And I’ll start planning museum trips.      
                                       Hazel in our new kitchen with the sunset behind her

Porvoo, Finland

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