Update – last week of term.

Wow! Only 5 days left until I go home for Christmas! How the time has flown… ok so there were a few moments in the term where I felt like it was dragging out, but now that the end is here it feels like it went in the blink of an eye! And so much has happened in these last three months.

Going home is going to be good, but I’m not going to lie, I’ve been enjoying myself so much here recently that in a way I want to stay here a bit longer! So I may come back earlier than I originally intended in January, but it’s all up in the air and will be decided later.

I’ve bought most of my Christmas presents for people here, and I’m going to probably start packing on my last day here, Friday, because I won’t have any lessons. Then I’m going to go to English movie night one last time and say goodbye to people. I said goodbye to people at church too yesterday, mainly those from my house group.

I will miss them all!

But I need a break. I’ve worn myself out this week helping prepare for the party on Saturday, which, by the way, went so well!

I don’t have any really good pictures but here are the ones I do have. I and a friend had to roast some potatoes for the party, and we cut out so many snowflakes to hang up everywhere! Another friend baked millions of gingerbread cookies, and we played silly games like reenacting the Christmas story scene by scene in groups – we were all very creative; for the scene where An angel visits Mary, a guy stood on a chair and two guys stood behind him with a silvery white scarf and fluttered it like wings, and he then proceeded to get his phone out of his pocket and ring Mary to tell her about what was about to happen. You might have had to have been there to appreciate it, but I can assure you everyone was laughing at that point! We also sang the 12 days of Christmas song, which everyone found hilarious. We made a roast dinner for everyone to try (hence the roasted potatoes) and we even made sprouts for everyone and told them that they are traditionally eaten but also hated in England, but they all went so I think Russians like sprouts!

But hey, after all of that excitement, I had to sleep with a hoodie and a hat on last night to try and get my cold to go away – my window in my room lets in draughts so I end up getting quite cold in the night, and that combined with poor sleep and lots of extra activity just really tired me out. I need to make it through this week though because I have more tests! None of them actually count towards my degree but I want to do well to show that I’ve learned stuff and also so they’ll put me into a more advanced group next term. We don’t know if they’ll base that off our test results yet or if they’ll send us another aptitude test by email so it can’t hurt to get good marks.

I’m hoping to go to Ukrop (the chain of vegetarian restaurants) soon with a friend from my group to celebrate he end of term. She won’t be coming back to St P next year, she’s going to Germany for the other half of her year abroad, so sadly we’re going to be saying goodbye for good this Thursday. In fact, I’m the only one from my group returning to St P next year, so that’s going to be weird!

I’ve found housing for next term in a great location near all the shops I normally go to for food etc so I’m really happy about that, and the rent is cheaper so I’ll be saving some of my loan, which can be used for other things!

So yeah that’s me this week. I can’t wait to go home and have lots of hugs and catch up on the advent calendar and play my cello again! I just hope I can defeat this cold!!

In case I don’t post until the new year, have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New year everyone!

С рождество и с новом годом!

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Vegan in the winter… in Russia. 

This post is an update on how I’m managing life as a plant based vegan in Russia and how I’m planning on coping in the winter. I just want to make a mini disclaimer here and say that I’m not an expert in nutrition, and I’m relying on recommendations from sources that I trust (NHS UK, How Not To Die by Doctor Gregor, for example). I’m just giving ideas and suggestions here, I’m not suggesting that this is the only way to live / that this works for everyone.

But first a little history on Russian cuisine: for centuries, Russians have eaten meat and fatty/carb-y foods throughout the winter to keep them going because it gets so so cold (as much as -20 degrees Celsius!). Through all of the famines and civil wars and sieges that the people have had to deal with, it makes sense that their diet always includes a high calorie source of protein and fat (aka meat and dairy) with some kind of carb.

In previous decades, the thought of being vegan in Russia would have been laughable… so very difficult. But fortunately the word is spreading and veganism is on the rise even here in Russia. I’ve actually read accounts of people being raw vegan in Siberia, so if they can do that there, then you can definitely be vegan anywhere. Just sayin’. However, there are definitely less vegan ‘junk food’ products – as in, the more processed stuff. Vegan burgers, sausages, fake cheeses, etc. In my first post about my initial discoveries about being vegan in Russia, I talked about soy milk and yogurt – check that post out by clicking on this link here. There aren’t as many plant milk options either so far as I know… I’ve only managed to find a few in Stockman (the Finnish shop) and Kompas Zdorov’ya and they tend to be more pricey. [edit: after further exploring, I found the aptly named shop Veganika (Веганика) – it’s near Cadovaya metro station and sells cheaper plant milks, massive blocks of tofu, and pretty much anything else you might want as a vegan (ice cream, yogurt, etc. And it’s not too expensive!) check it out when you come to St P.]

This is what I’ve discovered from researching online – and some of it applies to meat eaters too.

Things to focus on:

Vitamin D. This is crucial for everyone. The days get so dark that you literally don’t really see the sun. It is easy to get deficient in vitamin D and that can lead to a calcium deficiency which is damaging to your bones. It can also lead to other problems like depression etc – Seasonal depression especially. I was recommended this brand of vitamin d drops which I bought in an аптека (apteka – like a chemists. They can be found everywhere). They were just over 200 roubles, so about £1.50ish.

Vitamin B12. You should probably already be taking this, vegan or not, because there are few reliable natural sources of b12 anymore. B12 is a bacteria that grows in the soil, and when we wash our vegetables/use insecticides etc. this washes it off. B12 is crucial for your nervous system, and becoming deficient can cause serious health consequences. You don’t need to be taking it every day, but once a week is recommended. You can get tablets or a spray fairly cheaply in a health food shop or online. Here in Russia the aptekas would sell it.

Iron. Spinach, potatoes, beans and lentils are my friends here. Oh, and chocolate of course.

Vitamin C and A – winter squash and any fruits (especially citrus) that you can get your hands on. The great thing is that winter squash has both of these nutrients and it’s in season in the winter (hence the name). I’ve managed to find little pots and bags of it frozen, but buying fresh usually gets you more bang for your buck (as they say). Fortunately oranges are cheaper than apples at the moment so I’m getting a lot of those in but the prices do change.

Healthy fats – dark chocolate, tofu, avocado (if you can get it and it’s not too expensive), nuts (almonds, peanuts, walnuts, etc), and seeds (flaxseed, chia, tahini / sesame, etc). Avocado is pretty expensive here, so only rely on this if your budget allows. You can buy tinned olives here fairly cheaply and olive oil is also available. I go to Kompas Zdorov’ya/Veganika for flaxseed butter (yes it’s a thing) and peanut butter / tahini. I also buy olives fairly cheaply from supermarkets. Your body will turn to fat to burn for fuel to keep warm so make sure you stay stocked up on these!

Carbs – where possible go for whole grain – so oats, rice, pasta, buckwheat (it’s really cheap here), potatoes (if you can get sweet ones every once in a while for the extra beta carotene and vitamins, but ty are pretty expensive, sadly). Rye bread is cheap too and nutritious, Russians eat this at breakfast lunch and tea most days! It’s a staple here and definitely worth a try to make the most of being in Russia. Likewise with the buckwheat. You can also get some vareniki (dumplings) which are stuffed with potato, beans, spinach or pumpkin which are vegan friendly, just make sure you check the ingredients/apply the benefit of the doubt rule (read my last post to find out more about that).

Colourful and green veggies – peppers, beetroots, spinach, kale (if you like it – I personally don’t!), cabbage (especially red cabbage which has a great nutritional profile). Winter squash again fits in this category. I find that frozen spinach from Stockman is cheaper. Also frozen broccoli. And look for sales (скидка / скидки). Vegetables tend to go up in price or disappear from the shops at this time of year so you might have to budget to pay a bit more for them if you can’t find anything cheap.

Fruit – yes, even in winter you can get some fruits! Bananas are usually available year round, and although they will be imported and aren’t local, they are better than nothing and are great for stuff like potassium etc. In Russia cranberries are pretty cheap because they can grow in colder climates, and they pack a serious nutritional punch. I get them frozen to add to my porridge (oatmeal) in the mornings but also because they are cheaper this way.

Dried fruit. Dates, dried apricots, prunes, raisins, etc. are widely available here too.

Weird things you might not know about Russia.

Привет друзья!

This post has been a long time coming, and to be honest I’m tempted to make this the first edition as the list just keeps on growing… but I figured that this is probably the best way to start getting across. So here we go… some of the weird things I’ve found about Russia.

  1. Slippers in the house. You are not allowed to wear outdoor shoes inside, it’s considered really rude! This includes the gym I’m told. I didn’t remember for the first few days when I first arrived and was absolutely mortified when I realised that I’d been breaking this most sacred of rules… but I forgot to bring slippers so I’ve made do wearing socks instead!! My host family wear crocks indoors but my family forbid me from wearing them because apparently I would be committing a fashion crime.
  2. Tap water. You can’t drink tap water in Russia. You can use tap water to brush your teeth and shower in and wash food in and to cook with. But to drink you have to get bottled; in my flat we have a massive galling tank with a pump out of the top which my host “dad” changes every time it runs out. The water tastes different here too – bottled water often does but this stuffs got a hard taste. You get used to it though! I don’t actually know why you can’t drink from the taps… I think it’s something to do with the pipes!
  3. No smiling in the streets. Unless you know the person, you don’t tend to smile or wave at people in the streets especially if you don’t know them. Some people look really grumpy as they walk down the street totally focused on where they are going. I find this weird as it doesn’t take a lot to get me to smile!
  4. Unfriendly metro ladies. I’ve already mentioned in a previous post about how traumatic it was trying to get my подарожник (Oyster card) but trying to top it up again… my goodness. Customer service in England is definitely friendlier! I dread having to go to the little ticket booth just inside the metro and ask for them to top up my card now.
  5. Unfriendly staff generally. Customer service in shops and restaurants isn’t at all like in England, where the moment you walk into a shop someone will come up to you and ask if you need any help etc. But no. Here in Russia they leave you to get on with things on your own and any small inconvenience that you ask them to perform for you receives another grumpy look! (Note: only strangers are like this!! If you know the person, they are so warm and friendly and offer to meet up with you and have you round at their house etc). I’ve only met about 2 friendly customer service staff since being here! One lady got cross at me because I gave her a couple of hundred roubles too many for what I was paying for. Seriously….
  6. Women dress differently. This one isn’t really “weird” exactly but just “different” and I think it’s a culture thing. Women here really pride themselves on their public appearance. This is the same in most European countries though – I know it’s definitely true in Spain at least! But there are girls wearing heels on Nevsky and most wear skirts and tights and tight fitting fashionable jackets and a handbag and a full face of natural looking make up… although there are some people who dress more casually. There are lots of tourists too wearing whatever they normally wear… But I’m told that in the winter when it starts snowing (in mid October) women still wear heels!! I guess in England women don’t tend to take quite so much pride in their appearance to the same extent – but maybe that’s just my observation. This is coming from the girl that is more comfortable in sports gear or pyjamas though 😉
  7. Chinese tourists. There are so many!! They come in hordes, trail off their buses and link arms in files and then it’s like a stampede… heaven forbid you happen to be in the way and end up getting swept along with them into their museum or park that they are visiting! This happened to me a few times and it’s slightly terrifying! Maybe it’s part of their culture? I don’t know… if any of you readers out there know then please educate me 🙂
  8. Superstitions – flowers. In Russia, you don’t give yellow flowers to anyone, and you definitely do not give them an even number of flowers or anything lower than 3 flowers. Apparently it brings bad luck. Red flowers are given to men on Victory day and on their birthdays and are a sign of ‘victory’ (I think). There are a lot of superstitions here so maybe in a future post I’ll write more about these 🙂

That’s round one – hope you all find this interesting! I’ve almost finished my 3rd week here… 33 to go! I’m gradually starting to get into the swing and starting to forget what it’s like to live in England… I think that the counter-culture shock will be intense at Christmas, especially after the snow and the cold. Don’t worry, I’ll try and document that too!

 

First Week.

So, it’s been basically a full week since I first set foot in Russia for the first time. I’ve posted a lot this week; I wanted to make sure that all of my first impressions and experiences were out there for those thinking about studying Russian or visiting Russia, so I’m doing it for you guys!

My first week has had ups and downs. I would be lying if I said I hadn’t felt homesick. I have. I still do. I miss my family and friends, and I’m still not sure how I’m going to make it through 9 months of life here… but it has to be done and I know that I’ll get used to it here eventually.

Today, for example, instead of staying cooped up in my room studying, I took up an offer from a friend through my new church here (Hope Church) and went to a place called Petergof in the suburbs of St Petersburg. It’s kind of a little town on the outskirts, but we went to this massive palace with huge gardens – might be called a Dacha, but I’m not sure about that yet! I spoke Russian all day long! It was intense but worth it for my speaking skills, because when I got home, a simple conversation with my host about how my day had gone was so much easier!

To meet the people I was going with, I had to take the metro for the first time since getting here. Fortunately my practice on the metro in Madrid this summer came in handy and it was all fine and I got to where I needed to be half an hour early!! It was funny because you have to go right down underground for a really long time here, it’s a good 5 minutes on the escalators to reach the station at the bottom! People are reading books and listening to music on their phones and reading the newspaper on the escalator like it’s completely normal. Which I guess it is, for them. For me it was a new experience!

I was told before I came to just say yes to everything. Every opportunity to speak Russian and experience the culture or way of life. I mentioned this tip in my post about how to make the most out of learning a language abroad… So I guess that’s what I’m doing. I’m taking my own advice, and by keeping busy, it helps me not think too much about everything I feel I’m missing out on at home and how homesick I’m feeling! I might go on about this a bit for the first few weeks while I’m here, but I’m just being real so that others getting ready for their year abroad are aware that it’s normal to feel this way. I’m missing my aunts wedding to be here, and I was meant to be a bridesmaid. I won’t be in any of the photos… and I’m from a really big, close family, so you can imagine how that feels. I also spent my 21st running around trying to buy food and a sim card in a strange, new and HUGE city, in Russian. I’m not complaining, it’s just that it’s not ideal exactly!

What also really helps me is knowing that I’m never alone, because God is here with me. I can talk to him at any time and he is always listening, no matter what! I’m so glad I made it to Hope Church on Sunday last week because I’ve already got friends helping me out and trying to connect me up to other people who can help me and look after me a bit in these first few months. It’s good to feel like you have people who are rooting for you when you feel cut off from what is familiar to you.

Anyway, I’m super tired – mentally and physically – from all the walking and Russian speaking I’ve done this week, so I think I’m going to keep this post shorter than the others this time. This weekend I don’t have many plans other than going to church and going shopping again for some more food and things. I may go to the Hermitage (art museum) tomorrow with a friend but that’s not been decided yet.

Time to get some sleep and recuperate! See you soon! 😉

January blues – the highs and lows of uni life.

Exam week. I don’t know about you but – I don’t like exams. And after having what was probably my best Christmas ever… getting dumped back in Exeter is a bit of a downer!

….Buuut it’s finally over!! I had 5 exams, unlike most people, and 3 out of 5 of those went really badly. We’ll see when results come out, eh? I honestly don’t get how chilled out they are about preparing for exams at uni. During my A-Levels, we did two to three essays a week. At uni, we do formatives… which might just be an essay plan or just the introduction. Or maybe a short commentary. Either way… that’s all the prep you get. Unless you’re super keen or an absolute BEAST and can somehow find the time to do test essays in your own steam.

This is probably really boring but I’m gonna explain what I did to revise, because this blog is kinda for the students out there.

1/ Basically I do ‘smart’ revision. In other words, I pick the stuff I know I will need to know, or that I know are my weak areas, and start there. If I plan it right, I usually cover everything, but if I don’t get that far, then I’ve at least covered the key areas.

Also… I never consider an exam ‘lost’ and stop revising even if it’s the hour right before the exam. NO exam is lost. Any revision you can do before or in advance COUNTS. Especially if you target key areas. Say you have tonnes of books to just read. Don’t try and read them from cover to cover. Just look at the contents page and pick the chapters that are relevant and read those. Or parts of them. This tip is kind of a 2 in 1.

2/ I look at past exam papers. I don’t necessarily do them, but looking at them and even at the mark scheme really helps. If there are some titles I don’t think I could write an essay on under pressure then I might have a go at mind-mapping everything I know related to that title and then try and read up on those areas.

3/ This one mainly applies to history modules etc. I make a time line. My A level history teacher frowned upon it saying it would make me narrate events in chronological order. Obviously DON’T do that… but it helps me (personally) to get the key dates in my head and memorise them in relation to one another, i.e. one thing led into another thing… and so on. Because you associate one event with another event, it helps you memorise it.

4/ Figure out your learning style. I’ve probably mentioned this in a previous post but take a free online test and find out if you are a visual, kinesthetic, aural or traditional learner. Do you need colours, do you need to hear it over and over again, do you need to write it out… etc.

5/ TAKE BREAKS. Even if it means watching a silly YouTube video for 10 mins.

6/ Exercise. This could literally be just going for a walk. This week I went most evenings for a little walk near where I live. When I’m at home, I go and bounce on the trampoline for an hour or so before bed.

7/ Eat well. I know most students live on pot noodles and pasta… but add some veggies and your body will thank you. It’s easy to get run down, so make sure you’re getting lots of nutrients in and not just coffee!! And revising uses a lot of mental energy… so you will probably feel quite hungry!

That’s all I can think of for now. Hope this helps someone!!

Anyway… back to general life stuff… I feel like I’m getting back into the swing of things. My room is my little house (obviously). It has everything I need and use in it… All my books and some of my food things that won’t fit into my kitchen space. But everything has it’s little place and what with all of my colourful revision posters and mind-maps it just looks really cool. Yeah just complimenting myself I guess 😉 All about that positive outlook!

Term starts on Monday, so I’ll probably begin reading and doing (more) Russian grammar. Oh and my application for St Petersburg is in and I’ve paid the deposit… I’m officially GOING. AHHH 🙂 I still need to figure out flights and a visa and insurance, but it’s actually happening and you have no idea how excited I am! I’m gonna post my first Russian recipe shortly so watch this space!! I made голубци (golubtsii) – they are like stuffed fig leaves but made with cabbage. Please don’t let that put you off though they honestly taste really good!!

Oh yeah and over Christmas I passed my driving test! I look pretty gormless in this picture but I was so happy I didn’t care 🙂 

Anyway, until next time!! до скорого!

Go for it.

I flipping love Aldi. Seriously, shop there. You will save so much money! 

 

All of this grub for £18.66!

  

My shopping list for this week 🙂

 

I always write a shopping list – it means I get what I actually need and don’t over-spend. I was able to get so much more out of my shop this week because I didn’t opt for tuna and I still don’t need to buy any meat (that box deal has lasted me two months!) Beans, though strictly not paleo, and definitely not Whole30, are much cheaper. So this week I wanted to give them a go 🙂 Aldi stocks kidney and butter beans and chickpeas…. And as my family well knows, I love (understatement of th century) chickpeas. 

The good thing is that these are OK as long as I know that my body can handle them. Which it can. All the better for me! And my purse – beans are a cheaper source of protein. 

I know that I’ve talked a lot about paleo and how great it is – and it IS great – but I did always intend to have to continue slightly due to price. Hence the tradition of beans. I’m not going to be able to do that box deal again any time soon – although I might get some individual things for a treat – so I’m going to stick to fish (Cod and tuna are slightly cheaper (in Aldi) than chicken and mince) and beans. I’ve even found a place that sells black eyed peas! Recipes and experiments will follow no worries 😉 

But yeah generally feeling good. Sleeping a little better now which helps! I managed to get the guts up yesterday and go and practice my break dance moves (a.k.a train) in the Lemmy (sorry – Exeter lingo. It’s short for the Lemon Grove, the student club on site and virtually right outside my accommodation (Lafrowda)). 

I’m working on my back spins, handstands and cartwheels and round offs and headstands, and other things like the six step and three step and the coffee grinder. (It’s ok you don’t need to know what they all are! Although if you’re interested you can type each one into YouTube along with VincaniTV and some sweet tutorials should ensue 😉 ).

My Russian is really coming on! I can say more than I think!!! I’m having a conversation with two girls in my Russian class on Facebook (it’s homework for next week – we had to come up with a basic dialogue).

But yeah – getting to the point of the title of this post…. 

I was invited out to dinner tonight by a couple in the church. At first I thought they had just invited me, but it turned out the we’re having a load of other students over – warning bells went off in my head straight away. I don’t know abou you but meeting new people is exhausting and scary! I texted my mum about what I should do, and she nudged me to go. Of course I was hoping she’d encourage me to stay home and relax or something. Nope. And of course she was right – I did go and I did enjoy it. The couple even made me a gluten and dairy free cake – they have friends with intolerances so they already had all of the ingredients and it was divine! 

Stepping out of your comfort zone is something you have to do a lot at uni. There were a few time I debated not going to gymnastics or breakdance and tried to talk myself out, but then I went and really enjoyed it. Sometimes you have to just go for it. 
 

Weekend paarrtaaying again.

So today began bright and early with lots of veg cooked in coconut oil and an omelette with some steamed broccoli. Saturday. My day of actually getting up to date with my work again.Ellen and I cycled to Aldi again. This time I have pictures to prove how ridiculous I look doing this 🙂
  

 I know – not the most attractive angle! 

 

She makes me laugh that girl. Good times 🙂

Today was a little slower – I managed to catch up with a lot of work which was great and I’m super prepared for doing the rest tomorrow! Lots of lists!!!

I think I’m gonna head to grace church again and see if it might be my church where I settle eventually 🙂 I met my friend Josie after a Russian lecture once this week which was ace so I’m hoping to see her again. Plus…. Free lunch! Total student!

Lunch today was so great Ive actually forgotten what I made 😉 but tea was a poached cod fillet with white rice and lime juice and some rind (actually tasted amazing!) I added some chopped cherry tomatoes too 🙂 mmmmm

Then later on in the evening when everyone went out to watch the rugby I prepped some beg for later in the week. I have a couple of lectures that start around lunch time so I tend to make stuff in advance. I roasted the parsnips I bought for parsnip chips again as I’m planning on having a steak on Monday (after gymnastics I’m going to need that protein!) I also roasted some butternut squash and some carrots so I could make a soup from the Performance Paleo Cookbook by Steph Gaudreau so I can just save it in portions for when I news items. This week it turns out I have quite a few ingredients for the recipes in the Whole30 book I got before I came so I’m going to be trying out some of those 🙂 Watch this space – I’ll try and snap some pics when I can – even if they are from my phone!!

By the way – thanks for all the like people I really appreciate it 🙂 makes me feel like more people are interested and not just those I’ve purposefully sent a link to! 😉 the more support the better – the transition to uni is a lot bigger than I thought it would be. In good ways and bad. But on the positive I think I’m doing ok 🙂 I mean, if you think about it, thousands of other people go through this every year so I’m not the only one.

I’ve been wearing the earplugs my granny sent me for 15 mins now. I’m trying to get used to them. How on earth do people sleep with these in?!?! They seem to block the sounds from the flat party in our kitchen quite nicely but it just feels really wierd. Might have to take them out!

Just had someone pound on my door calling my name. It’s probably Rob wanting me to down another pint of water.

Not tonight 🙂 gosh I’ve just realized that if I hadn’t locked my door they’d have come in and seen me wearing these ear plugs. *Awkward*

Slightly worried that with all of these people drinking we’re going to run out of toilet paper again. It happens! Be warned future students – if you share your toilet with others it’s highly unlikely that they will have the same hygiene standards as you – girls are usually fine, but guys?? Nuff’ said 😉 they seem to have no concept of how to use a toilet brush – or one of them doesn’t at least. Gross right?

Anyway… If I’m going to have a hope of not yawning through the service tomorrow is better try and sleep. Night all!