Happy Easter!

This year, orthodox Easter exceptionally falls on the same date as western Christian Easter. As you may know, the orthodox church still follows the Julian calendar, while all other Christians switched to the Gregorian calendar a couple of centuries ago.

Russian Easter traditions include church services and religious processions (of course), baking kulich (Easter bread) and painting eggs, which are traditionally dyed red, the colour of the blood of Christ, using onion peels.

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On Easter Sunday, people greet each other with “Христос воскрес!” (Khristos voskres; Christ has risen) and reply “Воистину воскрес!” (Voistinu voskres; Truly He has risen). After that, they hug and kiss three times, for belief, hope and love.

Fortunately for most people participating it, but sadly for me, Easter also means the end of Lent. As I’ve written before, Lent is a real feast for veggies here, who are shamefully neglected the rest of the year. You can find some vegetarian products (like plant-based milk and dairy-free mayonnaise) in supermarkets, which are often marked as “постный” (Postnyi; Lenten) and most restaurants have a separate vegetarian Lenten menu.

Especially this year, I was very glad that in Russia, Lenten products and dishes are mostly even vegan instead of ‘just’ vegetarian as I set myself the challenge of not eating any animal products for 46 days. If you wonder how I managed not to starve, I invite you to have a look at my Instagram account.

Who knows maybe this was the start of long-term dietary change, like the Dagen Zonder Vlees (Days Without Meat) inspired me to go veggie a couple of years ago. However, I don’t think that’s very likely as long as we’re still in Russia, where you have to be very resourceful once Easter has passed…

Picture taken from here.

Back to school flower power

1 September also means ‘back to school’ here in Russia. Our Russian teacher Evgenia told me that on the first day of school, children traditionally bring flowers for their teachers. Nice, isn’t it? She also laughed that it must be a great day for the Dutch economy, as most flowers come from the Netherlands (which means they are quite expensive too!).

I found these cute picture in the Moscow Times, which featured an article about this tradition today. Yup, kids’ enthusiasm for the start of the new school year really is universal! 🙂

Happy birthday, Volkov Theatre

Today’s the birthday of one of Russia’s most famous theatres, the Volkov Theatre in our new hometown Yaroslavl. It’s no less than 266 years old! That actually makes it the birthplace of the first national professional theatre in Russia. It was Fyodor Volkov who founded it back in 1750.

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Fyodor Volkov proudly watching over his theatre

The actual neoclassical building that’s standing on Volkov square, however, ‘only’ dates back to 1911. As you can see from the pictures below it is gorgeous and quite impressive. It has two stages and a combined amount of around 1000 seats for spectators. It is considered to be the most famous of the Russian provincial theaters.

On the theatre’s website, you can pay it a virtual visit and see what it looks like on the inside.

The Theatre has also been the subject of several works of art, among which these beautiful paintings by A.L. Sokolova from 1956 (left) and A.Y. Lelikov from 1964 (right).

(Pictures were taken from:

 

Looking for herring in Pereslavl

Two weekends ago, we went to explore Pereslavl, a small city about halfway from Yaroslavl to Moscow. It was actually a friend of us who wanted to go there because she was craving herring and as it happened there was a herring festival in Pereslavl on Sunday.

However, just like when we went to the sheep festival in Tutayev or the pancake festival (Maslenitsa) in Yaroslavl, where we didn’t see any sheep or pancakes, it was quite hard to find herring at the festival as well. 🙂  But the city was definitely worth a visit too.

We first stopped at the Kremlin, where we admired one of the oldest buildings in Russia, the Cathedral of the Transfiguration of the Saviour church dating back to 1152.

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Pereslavl’s kremlin is still surrounded by its original earthen city walls, which you can see in the background of the picture. We took a stroll on top and admired the view.

The other churches (three more!) on the Kremlin square weren’t really worth mentioning (we’re getting spoiled!), except maybe for the tent-roofed Church of Peter the Metropolitan.

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But the souvenir shops and stalls were quite nice. 🙂

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We then kind of ‘party-crashed’ a meeting of officials from Yaroslavl and Pereslavl (as the friend we were travelling with is a member of parliament of Yaroslavl). The ‘party’ soon moved from a restaurant to a Dutch-inspired bar specialised in … herring!

As the resemblance to anything authentically Dutch was a bit off and a herring restaurant wasn’t really the best place to be a vegetarian like me (but did you see that cute Russian bouncing castle?), I was happy we soon moved on to our last stop before returning to Yaroslavl: the beautiful Nikolsky monastery.

A bit more about Pereslavl herring

You aren’t a veggie and I’ve left you hungry for more info about herring? Sorry about that. 🙂 Here you go: Pereslavl is known for its herring thanks to Plescheyevo lake, which is home to ‘ryapushka’ or freshwater herring. The lake is also a former resort for Russian tsars, who liked the herring so much they made it one of the main courses at their official dinners. The city of Pereslavl’s coat of arms features two golden ryapushka on a black background:

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By the way, Plescheyevo lake is also where Peter the Great developed his obsession with the sea. When staying there on holiday as a teenager, he built a ‘toy flotilla’ of more than 100 little ships, including the so-called ‘Peter’s little boat’, which would be considered the forefather of the Russian fleet.

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(At the statue of Peter the Great in Moscow)

“Post” – Russian Lent – a feast for veggies

I think the 40 days before Russian Easter (which will be on 1 May this year) are my favorite period of time in this country. Winter is finally on its last legs and it gets lighter, warmer and greener again. But what’s maybe even better: it’s the time of “пост” or Russian Lent.

The principle of Lent in the orthodox church is quite similar to Lent in Belgium or other catholic countries: it’s a period of fasting, in which it’s not allowed to eat certain foods. In Belgium there are hardly any people left who still participate in Lent for religious reasons. Most people who still do it (there aren’t many) are rather motivated to set themselves a challenge, to care better for their health or to reduce their ecological footprint, hence the very popular campaign “Days without meat” (which was in fact what triggered me to become a vegetarian!).

In Russia, however, Lent is still mostly religiously inspired. And it’s a lot stricter too. Whereas in catholicism, there are – as far as I know – no clear rules anymore (some people don’t drink alcohol, some people don’t eat meat, some no candy). In the orthodox church, fasting means: no meat, no fish, no dairy products, no eggs, no oil and no alcohol. On some days, even total fast is kept.

As there are still many more people practicing their faith here, Lent is a much bigger deal here too. Many restaurants have a special “Lenten menu”, all dishes of which are completely vegetarian and often even vegan! Having such a hard time trying to find veggie options all the rest of the year (even more now that I’m pregnant and salads and soft cheeses are out of the picture too) you can imagine how thrilled I am about this!

And that’s not all; I even spotted some veggie products in the supermarket the other day. They had a special “Lenten shelf” with different kinds of Alpro soy milk (our Belgian pride!), vegan sauces and dressings and vegan sausages. I tried two of the latter. One of them didn’t exactly turn out to be a sausage (although it looked like it) but some kind of paté (паштет ). I used it to make a veggie variant of the popular Belgian martino sandwich:

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The other sausages were similar to hot dog sausages and so I used them for a simple but delicious dish we got introduced to by Chilean friends: completos:

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Too bad I missed the beginning of Lent as I was in Belgium and I’ll miss the end as we’ll be in Italy. But I’m definitely already looking forward to next year!

Happy Women’s Day!

Today is International Women’s Day. But while the day goes almost unnoticed in Belgium, in Russia it’s a big deal.

First of all, it’s a day off. And this year not just one, but two, as most people got yesterday off as well! Any holiday only becomes important when you get time off to celebrate it, right?

In Belgium, Women’s Day is mostly about promoting women’s rights and gender equality. In Russia, however, it’s lost most of its political meaning (unfortunately – it wouldn’t hurt to promote gender equality a bit more here, I think!) and has become more similar to Mother’s Day.

Men will give flowers and small gifts to all the women in their life: not just mothers and grandmothers, but also their girlfriend or wife, daughters, sisters, colleagues and schoolmates.

Although spring still seems quite far away (everything’s still covered in a thick layer of snow and we haven’t seen much sunshine for a while now), today’s also a day to honour spring. That’s why the flowers that are given to women today are often typical spring flowers like tulips.

But there’s actually another holiday next week that traditionally celebrates the imminent end of winter: Maslenitsa, the Russian variant of Carnival. I’ll be writing more about that soon!

Here’s how Women’s Day was celebrated at Wim’s work last Friday (I got the leftovers – yay!):

And here’s how we celebrated it this morning:

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