Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Making Russian Blini

One of my favorite Russian foods is blini, or pancakes. Russians call them pancakes, but they are really just crepes. I didn't even know blini was a popular staple here! Now, I try to eat them as much as possible along with my other favorite: borscht.

Lyaysan and I wanted to get together and I suggested that we cook something because it's cheaper than eating out and it's fun cooking with other people. She asked me what I wanted too cook and I just said, "Something Russian." I'm a horrible decision maker. I really want to learn how to cook Russian foods because I like them and it's a lot harder to find ingredients for the things I can make in the USA. She suggested that we make blini. I agreed because I love blini and I've also been pretty intimidated to try to cook them myself.

When Katherine and I were in Irkutsk the woman who ran our hostel made us blini every day for breakfast. She made it look easy because she'd been making them for years, but I just kept thinking, "How do they not burn?" Honestly, it's just a think layer of batter on a flame. As I watched Lyaysan make the blini I realized that it's actually kind of hard to burn it, and even if you do they don't really taste burnt.

I would provide a recipe here, but I'm not going to pretend I know how to make blini. Watching her cook I realized that you, honestly, just have to try it out and adapt to your liking. She used about 8 eggs, 8 cups of milk, a pinch of salt, a few tablespoons of sugar, some flour to make it thick (but it was still watery), and she added some oil so she didn't need to oil the pan. She made the first one and then we tried it and adjusted to our liking. This recipe made a ton of blini. You cook it like a normal pancake but with less time on each side.

With our blini we used sweetened condensed milk and chocolate spread to make it taste sweet. What I like about blini is that you can basically eat it with anything. Sometimes I'll order it sweet with bananas and chocolate, other times I'll order it with sour cream and chicken. You can even eat it plain which is common too. When we were in Irkutsk we spread jam on them. So, as you can see there is no right way to eat blini.

Have you ever eaten blini? What's your favorite way to eat it?

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

That Time We Flew Business Class

A few months ago, on our second trip to Moscow, something amazing happened. We sat in business class. Let me back up a few hours though.

Does anyone else feel this way on vacation? You're on your last day of your trip and you're just exhausted, tired, and cranky? It always happens to me, so, by the time we arrived to the airport, I just wanted to be back in Ufa. We spent the day trying to find something to do and nothing worked out. Museums were closed. I ripped my tights and it made a huge hole. I couldn't go get another pair because we already brought our bags to the train station. If you've ever been to Russia you'll notice that all the women dress impeccably. I felt so trashy walking around and I wasn't making Anton's day any better by stressing out. So, instead of going to see some buildings we ended up wasting time by going to the mall so I could buy replacement tights.
Just a glimpse at the amount of seat room we had!

Basically, we just wanted to be back in Ufa. By the time we got to the airport we learned that our flight had been delayed two hours and they weren't telling us where to go to check in. Anton walked around to find a place to charge his phone and do some work. Eventually, we went to a cafe so we could eat and he could work. Almost 10 minutes before the gates were to close we still couldn't figure out where we were going. Anton just went to the airline counter (which wasn't very clear) and asked about our flight. The woman gave him an attitude and told him, "150 already figured it out. Why couldn't you?" Well, she said something like that, it was all in Russian but that's what he said.

After dealing with her we went through security. Our gate had been changed three times since we got through security. When we got to the last gate our whole flight was waiting about 45 minutes in line to board. So, the counter lady could have lost the attitude because 10 minutes before closing was a joke. Domodedovo airport is always busy, so there wasn't anywhere to sit. We stood in line for that amount of time because we just kept thinking, "It can't be much longer." It was. I had noticed that we were in seats 2, but I didn't think it was going to be anything spectacular because I've been on airplanes before that were all economy seats and that boarded from the back.

Finally, about 3 hours after we were supposed to leave we finally boarded the plane, and we saw it. Two seats in business class had the same seat number as our ticket. We weren't sure if we were actually supposed to sit there. We sat with our stuff on our laps, looking around to see if someone was going to tell us to move. A father and daughter sat next to us and both had the reaction, "OH MY GOSH! We are here?!" At that point I knew that we were where we were supposed to be. The people in front of us, too, were shocked that they were sitting in the same area.

We didn't get any special treatment (unfortunately, it's wasn't first class), but it was just so cool that we sat in business class. The seats were much bigger and there were a bunch of extra gadgets, like a table that came out of the armrest. We asked the people next to us to take our picture and they asked us to do the same. I managed to sleep in the flight because all the extra room allowed me to sleep in a ball. Anton and I always say to each other, "Remember the time we flew business class? That was so cool!"

Have you ever had a bad day turn into a good day?

Sorry for the horrible quality. All pictures are from my iPhone.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Design Market Ufa

Living abroad is cool, but unfortunately life becomes routine and boring after a while. Unlike big international cities, like Paris or London, Ufa isn't all that exciting. A while ago I came across a market that was similar to the Cleveland Flea. I love craft shows and flea markets, so I asked my roommate's girlfriend, Julia, for information. She told me about the market, and I knew I wanted to go at some point because I love this kind of thing.

The event is called Design Market, and it happens every few months. I still haven't figured out the exact schedule, but I think it might happen every two months. It was one of the coolest events I've been to in a while, in both the USA and Russia. It was a market for designers so people were selling anything from art to jewelry to clothes to food. I wanted to buy everything and if I didn't think I'd have to leave Russia I probably would have. I even sort of wished I had children just so I had an excuse to buy some of the things they offered.

I met my friend, Lyaysan, and her friend, Marina, there. Unfortunately, we didn't stay too long, which is why I'm dying for the next event. I didn't get a chance to try any of the food, and I love food. I also didn't take too many pictures because I still feel weird about taking pictures in places like this. I hate drawing attention to myself. Although, I did attract some attention by speaking English. It still blows my mind how excited people get when they hear someone speaking English. I really should work on my Russian.

The above two pictures are of Julia and her table. She is super talented and I recommend checking out her Instagram if you are interested in handmade jewelry. She is also an AMAZING artist. She made this for Katherine before Katherine left to move back to the USA. I bought a bracelet from her, and I bought a pair of earrings for my sister (hopefully she doesn't read this!) from Krasotulya. There were some many other things I wanted to purchase for myself and for gifts, but I think it was a good things we didn't spend too much time there or else I would have run out of money.

What are your favorite types of events to attend?

All opinions are my own, and I was not reimbursed in any way for this post. I just like sharing things I actually like from talented people. :)

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

GULAG History Museum

In college I dual majored in history and social studies education. I have a terrible memory, so I will not brag about how many dates I can remember because, let's be honest, the only date I can remember is December 7, 1941. I was a little obsessed with Pearl Harbor when I was a middle schooler. I was so disappointed when my eighth grade history teacher told me we wouldn't learn about it that year. Anyways, what I liked about my history classes in college was learning how events impacted one another. I had an amazing professor who used three quarters of our intro to American history class to have us look at historical evidence and decide whether or not the USA is following the ideals set about in the Declaration of Independence. During this time I also took a million other history classes and learned more about Soviet history, which is where I learned about the GULAGs. When I saw that a GULAG History Museum existed I knew I had to go.
GULAG is the acronym for the Russian word meaning "main camp administration." It was not the place where prisoners were sent but the center of administration for the camps. In this post I will refer to the camps as GULAGs because it's just easier for my train of thought and comparison to Nazi concentration camps.  The GULAG system was not invented by Stalin. It actually existed before the Russian Revolution for those who were against the Czar. However, it took its modern, more well-known form during Stalin's reign. Do not be mistaken, the GULAG system was a corrective labor camp through forced labor, similar to the concentration camps in Nazi Germany. You should also know that concentration camps, are not extermination camps, although the former didn't really care about protecting the lives of those behind its bars. Anyone could be sent to the forced labor camps in the Soviet Union whether there was evidence of your guilt or not. There were videos shown in the museum of survivors who were tortured into admitting their guilt even if they were innocent. More people were killed under Stalin's rule than Hitler's, almost 10-20 million more people.
I remember Anton telling me that his grandmother cried when she learned of Stalin's death. My immediate thought was, "WHAT? She cried?! Do you have any idea how many people he killed?" He answered, "Yes, but he also did many good things for the country." Immediately I flashed back to my grandma telling me she cried when John F Kennedy was shot and learning about how FDR pulled the United States out of the Great Depression in school. Can we even compare the USA to the Soviet Union? Maybe we can. America has done some horrible things in it's history, but maybe you can't compare two completely different events. I also began to think about how we create Hitler to be a demon (which he is), but what about Stalin? In my opinion he was much more ruthless than Hitler so why don't we consider him to be on the same level? A while ago I looked into this and I found that Hitler is considered worse because he lost the war. Stalin was one of the winners so we tend to brush his brutality aside. Also, Hitler's Germany killed civilians almost exclusively for the ethnic cleansing while opponents of Stalin were sent to the GULAGs for the modernization of the Soviet Union. Those found guilty were mostly charged as standing in the way of modernization.

The GULAG History Museum, like Holocaust Museum in Washington DC or the S-21 Museum in Cambodia, was a very somber place. It's free to enter on the third Sunday of every month, which happened to be the day we went. I was surprised how empty it was considering it was free to enter. The museum itself was remarkable. I was amazed how much thought was put into the planning of this museum and it's very clear they want the history to be known. The museum was very interactive. As you can see in some of the pictures you can move the displays around. Unfortunately, like most museums in Russia, almost everything is in Russian. There are some displays in both Russian and English, but for the most part everything you want to read is in Russian. However, there are giant touch screens that show the same displays in English, but they are also shown in Russian so you might have to wait for someone to move from the display in order to read about the objects in the museum.
The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday 11am-7pm (Thursdays 12-7) and is closed on the last Friday of every month. Like I mentioned above admission is free every third Sunday of the month.

I think it's important for everyone to go to such museums and historical sites in order to educate yourself and prevent history from repeating itself. No one actually believes mass extermination and forced labor camps will exist until they actually do. Also, I recommend the book One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, which I read in college, and the movie The Way Back. They are both about prisoners in the GULAGs.

How do you feel about visiting such places? Have you ever done so? Which historical sites or museums have you visited?

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Offbeat Moscow: 3 Unusual Places to Visit

If I were to give you travel advice it would be to figure out what you like to see and do before you go on your trip. If you like art go to art museums, if you like history go to that really historical spot. I wish I would have thought of this before I went to Southeast Asia, heck, even when I'd visit new cities in the USA. Alas, traveling is a growing experience as much as an experience to learn about a new culture. Okay, that's about as inspirational as I'll get on this blog because I'm not an inspirational person, nor do I want to be. What I'm trying to say is that if you figure out what you like it'll make you feel like your trip was worthwhile.

Right before I moved to Russia I realized I really liked unusual things and abandoned places. This blog is like my own personal Atlas Obscura. I was a history major so I like going to historic places, especially related to World War I and World War II, but I also like those unknown places. I know I say this a lot, but I really like the challenge of finding something unusual online and then going out and trying to find that place in real life. On our first trip to Moscow we saw all those touristy spots, which I totally recommend in Moscow because they are worth it. Our second trip was an opportunity to go see those weird places. Plus, I didn't procrastinate to make a list on our second trip which meant I already had an idea of what we should see. Below I have a list of 3 unusual places you should see.

Children are the Victims of Adults' Vices Monument

This monument is within walking distance of the Kremlin. It may be frightening, but I was surprised when Anton told me it was "really cool" because we usually don't agree on what we find "cool." The monument was created by Mihail Chemiakin in 2001 and gifted to the city of Moscow. It depicts statues of 13 evils with two children playing in the foreground unaware of what surrounds them. The center statue depicts indifference which, not to get too political, I think is the most dangerous of all the evils. My favorite statue was "war" which contains a man wearing a gas mask holding a bomb with Mickey Mouses' head. I don't know why that one is my favorite, but maybe because I find the social aspect of war and it's impact fascinating. I'll clarify that I do not condone war, but I think studying it is fascinating, which again is why I like learning about World War I and II. This blog has a great description of each figure if you'd like to know more or read a more elegant recollection of the piece.

Fallen Monuments Park

This is one strange park, and, to be honest, I'm not at all surprised one of these exists in Russia. Right within the MUZEON grounds and next to Krymsky Val you can't miss this unusual park. After the collapse of the Soviet Union many of the statues of former communist leaders were taken down and brought to the park. In the 1990s the park began adding more modern sculptures eventually arranging them into the display you see today. As someone who is obsessed with Vladimir Lenin statues I was having a field day here! There were so many statues of him, and I really had to pace myself and not go overboard with too many Lenin selfies. It was also pretty eerie seeing statues of Josef Stalin. I know it wasn't really him but it's still an unsettling feeling seeing so many statues of him. 

Giant Chess Board

I don't play chess but if I did I would have definitely come to play on this chess board. Not to be confused with the Chessboard Killer, this large size chessboard is right outside Trubnaya Station in Цветной бульвар (Tsvetnoy bul'var). It's also really close to BB & Burgers if you are looking for somewhere delicious to eat! I tried to find information on this place, but unfortunately my search left me dry. I'd also like to know how this exists without people stealing it or maybe it's only in America where you have to worry about people stealing public property. If you have any information, let me know! What do you think? Would you visit any of these places?
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