Thanksgiving at Nathan's was great. He lives about ten minutes from where I live which made it super-convenient. He's definitely gone for the minimalist approach in his apartment, which is a nice alternative to what many Russians decide to do (ie over-crowd their apartments with trinkets that they don't need. I'm lucky that Nina hates trinkets.) We managed to get a turkey and even cook it to the point of yumminess. The Russians were completely surprised that the boys were helping out in the kitchen. Not only that they knew how to cook, but that they would offer at all.
Side note - chocolate chip cookies are surprisingly hard to make in Russia. The entire freakin' country doesn't have vanilla extract! I ended up just adding stuff until it tasted somewhat normal and used M&Ms instead of chocolate chips. My poor host mom didn't understand the whole concept of cookies, trying to make them pretty. When they came out of the oven all flat, and not the perfect little balls she had perfected - "Что это за гавно!? Где мои красивеньки?"
We had pumpkin pie (SUPER good) as well has two coconut pies which were made with colored coconuts (because apparently they don't sell normal coconuts in Russia.....red and green...Christmas at Thanksgiving and all that....). We also had some home-made wine, stuffing and other вкусноты.
And now for something completely different....
One of the best parts about living in St. Petersburg is the ability to just go to the theatre/opera/ballet whenever you want. There are little ticket stands throughout the city. My personal ticket stand is the one at the Mayakovskaya metro station. The ladies who work there have a special kind of love for their work that one seldom encounters in Russia. They know all of the theatres, all of the companies that work there, were the best views are, etc. They’ll talk to you and help you find the best combination of price and place. I even lost a ticket once and they offered to call up the director of the conservatory to let me in anyway.
But enough of me gushing about my girls. What I really decided to write about is the dirty little secret of St. Petersburg. Well, perhaps not so dirty. Anyway, point of the matter is, if you go to the Marinskii or the Mikhailovskii you are ripping yourself off. You’ll end up going on excursion to one or both for free (well, not exactly for free….It’s included in your tution…). Sure they are both great, beautiful theatres. At the Mikhailovskii, especially, you’ll get to see beautiful chandeliers and signs with hard signs everywhere. The shows are all amazing (although, I’ve heard you shouldn’t bother to go see Romeo and Juliet), but it isn’t like you can go see the same thing other places for A LOT less.
My personal favorite places to go watch operas is the Conservatory. Sure the building is a lot less pretty – something out of the Stalin era, most likely – but the shows themselves are quite good. The sets are very well done, the singing is amazing, and all of the actors/singers are young and pretty (no fat lovers lolloping around on the stage). My first opera was the Marriage of Figaro. We were in the seventh row and only paid 350 rubles. The second opera we decided to see was Evgene Onegin. We got FRONT ROW seats for only 500 rubles. Although, I’ve heard that their ballet is not nearly as good.
Also, if you are up for watching movies in Russia (not as bad as it sounds if the theme isn’t too heavy), you’re going to want to go during the middle of the day. The prices change dramatically depending on when, where, and what you see. Evening prices are higher and more popular movies are more expensive. If you time it right, however, you can get very good seats for a complete bargain. For example, I went to see the first half of the seventh Harry Potter for 160 rubles (a little over five dollars).
Most importantly, take your student ticket wherever you go. Offer it, even if they don’t ask for it and if there isn’t a sign for it. When we were in Viborg, we offered our student tickets on the off-chance that they would take it (or at least mistake us for Russians). We ended up getting an even steeper discount than Russian citizens (less than half of the normal price for tourists).
You can do quite a lot of things in St. Petersburg (this isn’t MOSCOW after all) if you know the tricks. Don’t live your life by the guidebook – go out and explore! (or if you are chicken, ask your host families and tutors).