Oct 1, 2017
We happened across the stage and saw the dancers waiting to come on, so we stayed. Excellent group!
I should have been surprised about how much I would enjoy Russian cuisine, and I would have been had I thought about it all. Who goes to Russia for the food? Most come for the Hermitage, as I was. One would vaguely expecting something gruelish, like kasha (it’s here, unfortunately). Too much bland cabbage dishes and greasy meats – they do like cabbage and you can certainly greasy (as well as quality) meats, including some of the best hard sausage I’ve had anywhere. But so much good stuff? Never!
So what is it you dine one here? Of course there is the famous borscht, the kind of simple and inexpensive food you would find in a Russian bistro (inexpensive places unlike what the Parisian counterparts have become) , cafeteria or most any hole in wall. I’ve had a bowl for less than $1 with chicken bits in it. They taste much the same and always good.
I am certain the economy would collapse if either sour cream or dill became scarce. The former is dolloped or smeared on half of the things you see in restaurants, such as blinis, which are crepes filled with meat, cheese, veggies, great for a quick inexpensive snack or a whole meal. They can come filled with beef, pork, mushroom and a variety of other veggies, and sweet versions. You can get them for about $3 at Tepemok, a fast food franchise that features them. There they make them as you watch on one of several crepe pans (actually dedicated burners). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teremok (The ‘p’ in Russian is an ‘r’ in the western alphabet. Don’t worry, it is normal to find this confusing.)
Dill is in soups, stews, various versions of blinis and a wide variety of other items. I am not a fan but fortunately there are plenty of things to choose from which do not have it. Sometimes you do not see it as a listed ingredient, although many menus have English translations so you can choose your basic ingredients, sometimes it is just a garnish, but in Georgian food it with parsley is considered the standard spice.
Dumplings are a favorite, stuffed with meat, cheese or veggies, often in soup. Meat pies, Pirozhki (pirogi), are popular and the same or similar dough is used for sweets. Salmon in various forms is common but fairly expensive.
Coffee shops serve coffee for $1- $2, many of them quite good. Some tiny places have push button machines that make a fine cup and there are free standing coffee machines that for $.50 serve up a very good cappuccino – and they use that very word in bars and restaurants. Pizza is popular, although I have had it only once, and it wasn’t bad but hardly what you would find in Italy. While at that restaurant the pizza was good, the white wine was served warm, the fries came out 20 minutes ahead of the burgers our friends ordered, and they were cold, as were the burgers, but this was the exception and not the rule for other places we’ve tried. Pizza, burgers, yep there is foreign food here, and that’s a St Petersburg tradition, having long ties to Europe.
Herring Under the Fur Coat is a salted herring salad that has several layers: salted herring on the bottom, topped with chopped onions, potatoes, carrots, beet roots and dressed with mayonnaise. Salad Olivier is a winter dish- boiled potatoes, peas, beef, pickled cucumbers, onions, eggs and carrots. Chebureki are a deep-fried turnover with ground or minced meat and onion. I had one at our local Cafe Brynza- it was wonderful! https://cafebrynza.ru/. Their site is in Russian but if you use Chrome you can translate it by right clicking anywhere on their page.
Soups! This is a cold country so they have perfected these. Okroshka is a summer soup. The main ingredients are diced raw vegetables, boiled meat, eggs and potatoes, served with kvas, a popular fermented drink made from black rye (I’ll skip this next time), and sour cream. Of course. Solyanka is a thick, piquant soup popular in Russian and Ukrainian cuisine. It can be cooked with meat, fish, or mushrooms. Other ingredients include olives, pickled cucumbers with brine, cabbage, potatoes, sour cream and dill. Of course.
Beef Stroganof, perhaps named after someone in the Stroganof family, is a common dish, but since it has sour cream, I have avoided it. Other main dishes include grilled and roasted meats, stews and a wide variety of fish. I am seeing a lot of sturgeon and salmon. I’ve bought roasted pork from the upscale Stockmans, which was excellent, as was their ham and Russian cheese.
Did I mention dumplings –Pelmeni? How could I forget (easily, I am not a huge fan). Lots of them around. They love cabbage and eat a lot of it in soup but also they stuff and roll the leaves. Yum! Chicken kiev is a popular dish of chicken breast stuffed with grated cheese, mushrooms, herbs, egg yolk, then breaded and baked in oil. Khachapuri are a thick boat shaped bread filled with varieties of melted cheese with an egg on top. Peg had one. I found the cheese to be rather bland and the dough to be rather, well, doughy, but maybe it was just the way that restaurant does them.
Beer is everywhere and the local stuff is inexpensive and good. Wine is widely available, but you have to get the imports or you will likely get sweet versions, which is how they like it here. But at Barclay Cafe they have a good selection of dry Russian wines, the house barely $2 for a small glass and not bad at all. We are quite far north so they need to add sugar to get enough alcohol and to mask any unpleasant flavors. There is a lot of Spanish wine around, even some from our favorite city there, Valencia, although the labels are not ones we have ever seen.
Desserts are fabulous! Lots of cherries, blueberries and other fruit fill or float on various dough arrangements. Since cherries are hard to come by in some many of the places we live in I am loading up on them here.
Russian cuisine is quite sophisticated and varied, and there is so much I have not tried and a lot more that does not even show up in St Petersburg. This is a huge country with many ethnic groups, and other than Georgian (an excellent eggplant rolled around some king of walnut mixture) and the Chebureki (I think I had a Crimean version) we did not knowingly have anything that was from the non-European part of Russia. Visit and enjoy!
Some of my information came from https://bridgetomoscow.com/russian-cuisine
The Hermitage possesses over 3 million items including some of the finest examples of European art and holds the largest collection of paintings in the world. The art collection was founded in 1764 by Empress Catherine, those purchases coming via an art dealer her country of birth, Germany, and much expanded by her successors. It has been open to the public since 1852. There is comparatively little Russian art- that is to be found at the also excellent albeit much smaller Russian museum. European artists dominate the collection of paintings and sculpture, and much of it is French, Italian and Dutch. The excellent collection of Impressionists is in the General Staff Building
There are tons of portraits in the Winter Palace, the majority of them of high quality. You see more of Catherine the Great than any others, it seems, which isn’t surprising given who founded the museum.
Several that I found of particular interest. This painting was done in the French Rococo style. The woman is wearing a colored silk dress. There are contrasts of colors and strong shadows.
The next painting gets the following write up in the Hermitage site: “Few artists have truly successfully depicted children, but Anthony van Dyck in this portrait of the daughters of Philip, 4th Lord Wharton, produced a genuinely appealing image. It was painted during the late, English period of the artist’s career, and is executed well within the traditions of Western European official portraiture. The girls are shown posing statically against a very roughly indicated, generalised background, with just a hint of a decorative landscape. Dressed and coiffed a la mode, they look like true grown up ladies, the eldest holding herself importantly and with a sense of her own importance, just like a lady at court. The youngest gently holds her sister by the shoulder, frozen in the pose in which she has been stood by the artist. The official majesty of the formal portrait is softened by the little dog, surprised by his mistresses’ immobility, who scratches wonderingly at the eldest girl’s dress with one paw. With its elegant colour scheme, dominated by cold pearly-grey and silver-blue, and the virtuoso skill in conveying the texture of fabrics and jewellery, van Dyck’s painting yet manages to be a very gentle and informal image of two charming girls.” https://www.arthermitage.org/Anthony-van-Dyck/Portrait-of-Elizabeth-and-Philadelphia-Wharton.html
Caravaggio is a master of the light, although this is not the most dramatic of his paintings in this regard. There are three versions of this painting. The version in the Uffizi there is a table-top in front of the player, but in this versions it is marble with a violin and flowers. The notes are so exactly painted that we know who the printer is, the Roman Valerio Dorica.
The collections are in six historic buildings along the Palace Embankment, that is along the River Neva. The Winter Palace is the largest of the buildings and has the most art – all of these photos are from this building. The museum has several exhibition centers abroad, such as the one in Amsterdam.
In the basement there is Siberian and Caucus art- one small example:The Roman and Greek collections, as well as the Egyptian, are also in the basement area.
The museum supplies a good map, but it is still a challenge to navigate at times. It took me a while to wind my way to the cafe area in the Winter Palace. There are only two and for whatever reason they are right next to each other. There are some grand spots elsewhere in the Winter Palace where having a coffee would have been quite luxurious!
I’ll remember the Hermitage rather more for the rooms than the art, which while excellent, is to be found elsewhere as well. One could say the same of the palace, but I found it different enough, and it’s general setting as well, to easily justify the costs and challenges of coming to Russia.
The State Hermitage Museum is one of the world’s great treasures, both for its palaces and for its magnificent art collection, the world’s largest. In the next post will be about the art.
The exterior of the Winter Palace, a green and white 3 story building, is full of sculptures, vases and Corinthian columns. When you enter are greeted by this magnificent staircase.
The palaces were built for various Russian czars and are the rival of Versailles. This Winter Palace has 1786 doors, 1945 windows, 117 staircases and 1057 lavishly decorated rooms.
You make your way around the Winter Palace with the aid of a well designed map, which helps a great deal but you have to bear in mind that the palaces were not built with tourists in mind, so you can still have a hard time finding what you are looking for if you are not skilled at map reading. I found that the guards could get you pointed in the right direction, despite not speaking much if any English, nor I any Russian beyond vodka and nyet.
These gold leaf columns knock you down with their luster.
There are many wonderful of caryatids, many of them in gold leaf.
The ceilings are magnificent as well.
The photos in this post come from the Winter Palace. There are 6 others open to the public. They are the Old Hermitage, The New Hermitage, the Small Hermitage, the Hermitage Theater, and the most recent additions, the General Staff Building and the
In 1731 Empress Anna Ioannovna commissioned Rastrelli, the court architect, later the famous master of late baroque to build the Winter Palace. He completed it in 1735. Seventeen years later Empress Elizaveta Petrovna hired him to expand the building. However he decided to start over. The new plans were approved in 1754. The building was finished in 1764 under Catherine.
This is where people with less money go to buy and sell, quite the contrast from the high street just a few minutes away. It is next to some very fancy areas and is slated for massive development, so this folksy shopping will be moved to the city’s edges. The area is about 35 acres of streets and buildings in rough shape.
We bought umbrellas from one of the vendors. He spoke English fairly well and as it turned out he was born in Pakistan. He complained that the Russians are adverse to learning any languages. While we were there a couple came by to ask the price of another umbrella. He attended them briefly and then came back to say they are from one of the stans. How could he tell, Peg asked. From their accent? No, from their appearance. The distinction escaped us.
The goods could be from almost anywhere, except some of the very Russian winter hats with the fur ear flaps and a few other things. There is a wide and fascinating variety of facial features, however, and in a few cases the dress is not typically western. I’ll be looking to get photos as we go along. I’ve seen some that would make very interesting paintings.
Here is a good sample of the ornate if not gaudy buildings sprinkled throughout the city.
September 8, 2017
On our first full day in St. Petersburg, after an effortless 3.5 hour train ride from Helsinki, we took trolley 3 from the Metro Pushkinskaya area to Lenin Square. This trolley takes you through some of the most attractive areas of St Petersburg. Being on the trolley makes photography difficult as many of the interesting structures go by quickly or are too far away. I got a couple of snaps from my phone, though, to give you some sense of what it’s like. You’ll notice they seem to love golden domes and spires.
Being on the tram did not make people watching difficult at all, although you could be almost anywhere in the US or Europe judging by appearance and dress. I’ve seen several women with striking long black hair, faces as white as snow and dressed for a night on the town. Otherwise it’s very much like what you see in the photo, which I grabbed off the public domain to avoid taking photos of people on the tram.
Other than the domes the architecture is generally pretty similar. The vehicles include many of the same brands you see anywhere in the US or Europe. The city is often described as being the most European of Russia’s cities, entirely justified as far as I can tell so far.
We stopped for lunch at a kind of bakery that made pies- meat, chicken, fish, mushroom, berry. Very good and very Russian.
Language is a barrier for us. In the central part of the city most menus are translated. This was not the case in the pie place but a waitress spoke English fairly well and served up everything with shy charm. On our first night we ate at a posh place recommended as being very traditional by our friendly landlady. The translations were just so so but we did get what we ordered. In my case it was a shrimp dish with dill (everywhere here), parsley and a small portion of some cooked greens that I could not identify but enjoyed greatly. They had Russian wine on the menu, which is almost always sweet, so we ordered some red from Spain. It was decent and not too expensive (in Helsinki there’s nothing less than $35). We saw also found Spanish wines in the grocery stores, not the best Spain has to offer but acceptable.
I am enthused about being here. This is a fabulous city known especially for the Hermitage, one of the world’s best museums= in fact it is a collection of museums in palaces built by a series of czars starting with Peter. More to come!