Guide to Russians’ Beach Vacations

Posted on 21. Apr, 2014 by in Culture

Image mine

Image by Maria

Vacation has been covered on this blog more than once, but this subject — and activity — is something I’m ready to revisit at least once a year. First, a post from a couple years ago given a nice overview of the general vacation vocabulary. In this post, I would like to concentrate on what, in my experience, is a preferred vacation type for many Russians –  namely, the seaside vacation.

Choose your destination

Every summer, thousands of Russians try to поехать на море (go to the beach). Море is technically the sea as opposed to an ocean, but people don’t usually say поехать на океан, even if that’s the case. I will give the vocabulary as it is used in the travel context, so don’t be alarmed if you see a “weird” Russian word for an English one whose translation you thought you knew.

Турция (Turkey) is a top vacation destination for Russians, followed by Египет (Egypt) and Греция (Greece). Over 3 million Russian tourists visited Turkey in 2013. This can probably be explained by good value for money and lack of visa restrictions.

Explore the amenities

Part of the reason Turkey and Egypt are so popular with Russian is the fairly high level of service they provide for the money. These countries are known for their all-inclusive resorts (“всё включено), where guests don’t need to spend another cent once they set foot on the hotel’s large and often fenced-off premises. Popular food options are полупансион (half-board) and полный пансион (full board), often with a full buffet (шведский стол) for the guests.

Hotels try to keep their guests entertained with анимация — daily athletic and kids’ activities and nightly entertainment by the аниматоры. It may include аквааэробика (aqua aerobics), конкурсы (contests), дискотеки (dances), etc.

Other sell points for hotels include вид на море (ocean view), бесплатный трансфер из аэропорта (free airport transfer), кондиционер (AC, which may be a given for Western travelers, but not always so for Russians), and экскурсии на русском языке (tours in Russian).

Image mine

Image by Maria

Book your vacation

First and foremost, you need to book (забронировать) your trip. This can be done in a number of ways. Some people prefer package deals, so they бронируют путёвку (book a package). Путёвка may include a combination of things like перелёт (flight), проживание/размещение (accommodation), трансфер (airport pickup), питание (meals), and экскурсии (tours; day trips).

A synonym for путёвка is тур (a tour). Тур will most likely involve visiting multiple destinations or, if one destination is involved, a trip to that destination with a specific purpose. Some examples are автобусные туры (bus tours), where you visit multiple cities on a bus, or шопинг-туры (shopping tours), where you take advantage of the lower clothing prices in the US or Italy, as the case may be.

However, if you prefer to travel independently, you will need to book your hotel (забронировать отель/гостиницу; better still, забронировать номер – book a hotel room) and buy your train/plane tickets (купить билеты).

Get settled in

If you haven’t booked airport pickup (трансфер), you may need to ехать на такси (take a taxi) or добираться на общественном транспорте (take public transporation). Once you are in the hotel, you will need to check in (зарегистрироваться) at the reception (unfirtunately, there is no universally accepted Russian term, and you may hear ресепшен or even рецепция).

If there are any issues with the room, you may need to ask the hotel to move you to a different room (переселить в другой номер). Other questions may include missing towels (полотенца), using the pool lounge chairs (лежаки), and the timing of the meals (завтрак – breakfast, обед – lunch, ужин – dinner/supper).

Enjoy your vacation!

Russian Easter. Can You Say “Христос Воскрес”?

Posted on 16. Apr, 2014 by in Culture, History, language, Russian food, Traditions

Image by Flickr user verechagin

Image by Flickr user verechagin

This year Пасха (Easter) in Russia and Easter here in US coincidentally fall on the same day, so I decided to give you an overview of what Easter is like in Russia.

First of all, forget the bunny; there is no Easter bunny in Russia. Also, forget the whole Easter basket for kids: Easter in Russia is not about hiding eggs or giving out candy-filled baskets. In a nutshell, Russian Easter boils down to stopping at church at some point of the day, dyeing eggs, baking куличи and getting together with family for a meal.

Lunar calendar is used to determine the exact date. Russian Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday after the spring full moon. This year, spring fool moon is on Tuesday, April 15th. That means Russian Easter will be celebrated on April 20th. 

People begin to actively prepare for Easter on Thursday. The Thursday before Easter is called Чистый or Светлый Четверг (Clean Thursday). On this day many people go to church to ask for forgiveness, to cleanse themselves from the sin, so to speak. It is also typical to clean the house, start красить яйца (dyeing eggs) and печь куличи (baking kulichi).

Traditionally, Russians use onion peels for egg dyeing. People usually start saving regular yellow onion peel a month or two before Easter. When the time comes, the eggs are boiled with the onion peel for quite some some; a reddish-brown color that develops as a result is rich and 100% natural. Today many people also use artificial dyes and decorative shrink wrap.

shrink-wrapped eggs (the sleeve goes on the boiled egg, then both are dipped into boiling water, whick causes the wrap to conform to the egg)

shrink-wrapped eggs (the sleeve goes on the boiled egg, then the egg is dipped into boiling water, which causes the wrap to conform to the egg)

Куличи, along with eggs, are the two staples of Русская Пасха. Кулич is a special type of sweet bread made with yeast dough and decorated with egg-white frosting.

During the week preceding Easter, a lot of Russian churches hold всенощная — a service that lasts most of the night and includes ritual walking around the church for quite some time.

Всеношная (image by Flickr user Vlad

Всенощная (image by Flickr user Vlad)

Easter is a family holiday in Russia. Armed with eggs and baked goods, you either go visit your family, have them visit you, or get together with friends if family is not around.

When greeting somebody on Easter, you would say Христос воскрес! (Christ has risen!) and the other person would respond Воистину воскрес! (Indeed he has!). You would then also exchange eggs.

Освящение куличей и яиц (blessing of kulichi & eggs) is another typical ritual that takes place during Easter week. You can bring your own food to church to have it blessed.

Освящение куличей и яиц (image by Flickr user Yan Yarman)

Освящение куличей и яиц (image by Flickr user Yan Yarman)

Lastly, most people play the egg game: two people smack the tips of their eggs together, the person whose egg survived the smack wins. The winner proceeds to smack eggs with other participants.

I have now officially mastered making yeast dough, but I am not baking any куличи this year; however, I will try to make some onion-dyed eggs!

Всего хорошего! 

First Time in Russia: an American Perspective (Part 1)

Posted on 15. Apr, 2014 by in Culture, Russian for beginners, Russian life, Traditions, when in Russia

Mike in Russia

Mike in Russia

The other day, my husband and I were engaged in a conversation about his perception of Russia. This post became a natural extension of that discussion. What follows is my husband’s account of our first trip to my homeland together. In order to adequately describe the adventure, the story will be told in two parts. So, here is what Russia is like through the eyes of an American :-) .

Enter Mike Banks:

As we made our descent into Minsk National Airport in Belarus, the pilot announced that we’d be on the ground in a few moments. This was the beginning of a three week trip that would include seeing parts of Belarus, a train ride to Moscow, a flight to Orenburg, and a stay in the Russian village, поселок имени Калинина. For an American visiting this part of the world for the first time, my expectations were overshadowed by my excitement and sense of adventure. Being a history enthusiast, I had always loved Russian history; being married to a Russian only enhanced my curiosity and thirst for knowledge of their history and culture. The lesson I was about to learn would breathe life into the history books I had previously read!

Next to избушка на курьих ножках (a house from Russian folklore)

Next to избушка на курьих ножках (a house from Russian folklore)

As we disembarked the самолёт (airplane), I noticed what a modern feel the terminal had; however, it seemed deserted, many lights were shut off and small businesses closed. My wife, Jenya, and I were met at the аэропорт (airport)by an acquaintance of hers. We had a two-hour drive to Mogilev, the city in which she and her mother had emigrated to America from. As I sat in the backseat listening to Jenya and Sasha converse, I found myself drifting toward the landscape and various buildings we’d passed. In my mind, I was imagining the Germans in WWII or the French under Napoleon marching toward Moscow; I did not know whether they’d passed this exact spot in which I found myself, but this did not stop my imagination! I was also thinking that the landscape closely resembled that of Michigan, where I was born and raised. The terrain was flat and littered with tall pine trees, the sky was gray.

Upon arriving in Mogilev, we went immediately to the квартира (apartment) my wife lived in only a few years prior, we would stay here about a week. This was the point at which the tinges xenophobia would creep in. The condition of the apartment building shocked me! Though it was dark, the odor introduced itself to my nose a few meters before I entered the building! The lobby of the building was old and dank; I had never really been in such a plaсeat least not one that was inhabited by tenants. As we made our way up the concrete stairs, we were finally met by the door to the unit we would be staying in; the door looked as though it was not only meant to keep people out, but also to keep something in! Once inside, I was quite relieved. Though very old, it bore little resemblance to the hallway we had traversed to get to it. The walls were not drywall as I had been accustomed to, but rather plaster with wallpaper over them, as well as tapestries. The floor was wooden with a few rugs over it. The apartment consisted of four small rooms, including the bathroom. Jenya had done well preparing me mentally for each of the places we’d stay while on this trip! Aside from the two hotels we’d be staying at in Moscow, this apartment was to be the nicest place we’d be spending time in. 

We had taken a quick shower and decided to go out to eat! Though it was early December, the weather was pleasant and we were able to walk. We found the a restaurant and were seated upstairs. The place was nicely decorated and there were a quite a few other patrons. Because there were many dining here, I suspected the food would be good. Being what some would consider a “typical” American, I loved to eat in restaurants rather than at home. Fortunately, the U.S. dollar was worth many Belorussian rubles so our money would go a long way!

Once our food arrived, I was immediately struck by the size of the portions; unlike in America where you’d “stuff your face” and still have leftovers to take home, the portion size here would be perfect. I had цыпленок табакаhicken Tabaka) with potatoes and it was fantastic! We also had a few drinks to celebrate the occasion. It was a pleasant surprise to receive the bill and it roughly equaled $15 (keep in mind this was 8 years ago, a lot of things have changed). This same meal in the US, with drinks, would likely have been about three times as much.

It is worth mentioning that my Russian speaking skills were very poor, however, I could understand the language a bit better. I had been learning the language for a few years, mostly by listening to my wife speak to others. By listening to people converse, you would recognize certain words and then try to piece together what was being said; sometimes this worked and at other times I was quite wrong! During certain parts of this trip, my wife asked that I remain silent and let her do the talking – that was fine with me! Apparently, my silence could save us some money, because some people tend to jack up the prices once they know you are a foreigner.

Our first night in Mogilev was nice and we were very tired, having been awake now for about 36 hours. The excitement of being in a foreign country could only keep us energized for so long and we longed for sleep. Many adventures awaited us in the coming days and we could not wait to begin!

Part two coming up next Tuesday! Until then, всего хорошего!