OK, it’s not my motherland. A lot of people ask me if I have Russian ancestry, since there can’t possibly be any other explanation for an American Russophile, and all I can say is, does a name like Megan Lindsay Case sound Russian to you? Not that I couldn’t be Russian on my mother’s side or something, but no, I’m not Russian. Still, coming back feels like a return to reality in a way, as if my last 10 months in Sweden were just a dream…

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On Tuesday I was pretty sad to wake up in Russia and not in Sweden. Our flat is pretty nice by Russian standards, though I feel like we live in a concrete box only barely concealed by some badly-laid linoleum. The worst part of it is how far we are from the center.

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When we went to our old neighbourhood, Komendantsky Prospect, which is an end-of-the-line metro station, the other day, that felt like going to civilization. But look, the kitchen is big and bright and comfy:

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Anyway, our location is only temporary and we plan to find something closer to the center in the fall. We’re lining up students and other work, and tomorrow we’ll go to Kostia’s family’s dacha for about a week. That will be nice. Kostia’s mom will feed us till we burst, we’ll go swimming in the river, eat shashlik, wash in the banya, drink milk fresh from the cow, be chased by aggressive turkeys when we go to get water from the well, and be eaten alive by mosquitoes. 

Travel tips: Five years ago I rode the ferry from Helsinki to Stockholm for the first time. I met several other young travellers on board, none of us had booked a cabin and we spent most of the night hanging out. When I finally got too tired to stand, I went to the room where they had train-style seats for the cabinless passengers and got a bit of sleep. Our experience on Saturday night was rather different. For one thing, the ship we were on didn’t have the seats for cabinless passengers, so I got a few hours of fitful sleep on a bench and Kostia didn’t sleep at all. For another thing, the Saturday night ferry from Stockholm to Helsinki is full of booze-cruising Finns. Listen up: if you’ve never been to Finland before, do not take the Saturday night ferry from Stockholm, because you will get a very bad first impression of Finns, who, in all my other experiences, have been incredibly nice, normal people. It’s just that people aren’t at their best on a booze cruise. And the segment of society that likes to booze cruise as a way of spending the weekend isn’t exactly the most, um, as Russians would say, culturniy. So. Take the ferry, it’s a fun, scenic and cheap way to travel, but be sure to get a cabin and don’t take it on a Friday or Saturday night. 

They’ve got a shiny new train on the Helsinki-St. Petersburg line! There are two trains between Helsinki and St. Petersburg daily, one Finnish and one Russian. The Finnish train is a typical European train, clean and modern and yada yada yada. The last time I took the Russian train, it was an old-fashioned Russian one, with closed compartments for six people each rather than rows of seats in pairs. The compartments had a sort of charm, but when we got to the station on Sunday and saw the sign that the train was fully booked, I was dreading it a bit, because the compartments are a lot less comfortable when filled to capacity, and furthermore I was dead tired from the night on the ferry and just wanted to go to sleep, and that’s nearly impossible in a compartment of six people with non-reclining seats. But when we got on the train on Sunday, it was new and clean and sleek and had seats in pairs rather than compartments! But, they retained the perk that the Finnish trains don’t have – a free snack. You can choose between the beer-salami-and-roll snack or the yogurt-juice-and-croissant snack. We had the former, of course. It was a real beer with 5.2% alcohol, not a Swedish lättöl, and a very generous portion of salami. Mmm.

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