Thursday, 15 August 2013

Hello, my name is Norma and I'm addicted to ACCESSORIES.

So after so many Russia posts, here's a quick break for everyone! (There are many more Russia posts to come!)

First day back in Hong Kong, after my classic yum cha/dim sum therapy in my favourite part of Hong Kong - Mong Kok, I had no alternative but to dash to Argyle Centre, my favourite mall in Hong Kong and home to the cheapest and trendiest stuff any young girl would want!

I've been meaning to make a more detailed review of Argyle Centre, with maybe a few recommendations of the best shops, but I still have 6 weeks here so I will try and do it soon.

I had $100 in my pocket, so the equivalent of about 10€. I ended up leaving with $10.

My first stop had to be my favourite store - How much? conveniently situated on the bottom floor near the escalator. The beauty about this store is that everything costs $25! Yup! You read correctly! (Thats about 2.50). Now to be honest, for the last 2 years, everything used to cost $20 only, but they increased the prices with inflation and whatnot, but I still always manage to snap up some amazing pieces which I always get compliments for, not to mention that I sometimes find stuff which is sold in this store being sold in other stores in the mall or in other malls for $60 or once I even found a ring being sold for $240! Insane!

This necklace immediately caught my eye when I saw it in the shop. But at first it was in another colour, and I wanted something sharper. I knew I had to have it when I found this!

Next I've been feeling the need  of a new bracelet. I often find myself buying mostly Earrings, rings and necklaces, mainly because I seldom find a bracelet that I like enough. Well this was a good day as I found this. I actually have a rather similar leaf necklace which I need to be careful not to wear this bracelet with to avoid looking like a character from the jungle book. 

(Left) Hamza Ring $20 (Right) USB ring $25
Last but not least that USB screamed my name and I grabbed it right in time. It is the cutest ring EVER. I love it and have been wearing it non stop for weeks!

Then while cruising around the mall I also came across this new store which I discovered back in April with really cheap accessories too. I was also going to get this really cute 3-fingered lobster ring as they had a $30 for 2 rings deal, and I really really wanted to get another ring as it's cheaper but it was cutting into my finger and I knew I wouldn't wear it if it hurt, so I ended up paying $20 for just one ring, as I think hamzas look cool and i've always wanted a hamza accessory of some sort.

How does it look?

xx Vagabond Girl

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Russian Food

One question I got a lot after my stay in Russia was, what do they eat there? Not going to lie, I had no idea what Russian cuisine was either. I just assumed it involved potatoes, meat and..well vodka.

My family were so worried that I was going to starve to death as I don't eat meat, while I just saw my trip in Russia as a "pre-bikini-season-diet" since there was probably not much I could eat. Oh how wrong I was....

For starters, everyone remembers the insanely gigantic portions I got for breakfast from my crazy babushka right? Well I was told by a Russian teacher that Russians always say "At breakfast you eat a lot, then for lunch you give half of it to your friend, and for dinner you give half of your lunch to your enemy" and to be quite honest, that is actually good for you...

Anyway, on the top left we have these pancake things made of grated courgettes, egg and smetana (my arch-nemesis) which is sour cream and is put in everything. However it is not the normal sour cream that you find in your nachos, but like his weird Russian cousin. Those were alright, but the smetana in it gave it a very strong sour, off-milk kind of taste which I wasn't a big fan of.  To the right we have that nasty fish which I refused to touch (I think it was herring). Then to the right of that, is a sort of scrambled egg thing with beans and tomatoes, sometimes it would just be tomatoes, and once I got scrambled egg with macaroni, it wasn't bad. Oh and let's not forget the vast quantity of dill that would coat that dish. And most other dishes of course. Honestly, the word DILL sums up my Russian experience - it's everywhere! Pasta! Pizza! Sushi! Soup! Salad! Now even i'm hooked and resort to buying Dill and putting it on everything! (#truerussian)

Next we have some strawberries, they were always smaller and wild looking, not those massive British ones that i'm accustomed to, but they were nice. Sometimes Babushka would use a fork to mash them up, but sugar and then pour tea on it to make some delicious strawberry tea. Yum! On the yellow plate is just a boiled potato. To the right is a type of "kasha" or porridge. Babusha made me many different types of kasha, like normal kasha which was like oats cooked in milk, "Manna" kasha which was like semolina cooked in milk and this one here which has rice and pumpkin. Babushka always used to bury a massive lump of butter somewhere in there too! There was also the obligatory glass of milk, which sometimes looked very watery with lumps of cream floating on the top, but hey if it tasted fine, I drank it. Whatevs. Never got delhi-belly! Usually there was also a boiled egg in the corner, begging to be eaten, and also that bowl of biscuits which just chills there.

Baked milk via

Babushka also sometimes made me some food for tea, as that woman was forever trying to feed me, and trust me, I'm not a skinny girl! She sometimes made plain cake with those strawberries in them, "buterbrot" which is just a slice of bread with cheese on top (like an open sandwich), or I would just eat the damn boiled egg.


One thing I really liked was tea with "baked milk" or топлёное молоко which is this kind of milk which has been simmered for 8 hours or longer and has this brownish tinge to it and a caramel-y kinda taste. When added to tea, it reminded me of Hong Kong style milk tea and made me feel right at home.

Obviously there was Mcdonald's in Kazan. Conveniently situated on the main street, Baumana, it was where most of my friends had lunch and hung out after class while taking advantage of the free wifi. Being not a big Mcdonald's fan myself, and also not being able to eat much that's on the menu anyway, I think I ate there once, and it was just for a hot fudge sundae. I mean, I WAS in Russia to try it's cuisine! Right....?

 Not really... Being the incredible sushi whore that I was, I frequently had sushi. And that means every 3-4 days. Sometimes even two days in a row, because this bitch don't care. This was a "5 person sushi set", and we beasted it in 3...and left the restaurant still hungry. (We paid about 400 roubles each, so like £8 each?) But it was a very fancy restaurant!

Ресторан "НАО"(Nao) 
Адрес: Казань, ул. Галактионова (Galaktionova), 6
Телефон:  236-16-94  link

Yes caught in the act here! This time it was after a long day at the beach! One thing which was very popular in Kazan (and maybe in the rest of Russia? I'm not sure) are "Pizza-sushi" places. Although it may sound like a weird combination (I mean come on Pinocchio/Small Tokyo was the name of this place! ^ ), it worked out very much in my favour because I was always annoying the hell out of everyone, trying to get people to have sushi with me. However with pizza-sushi places, they could choose to have pizza if they weren't cool enough to have sushi with me! Win win situation! This restaurant was nice too and rather decently price, (a sushi set like what you see on my plate there was about 300 roubles? so £6)

Pinocchio/Small Tokyo
улица Профессора Нужин (Professora Nuzhin, right off Pushkina)

Thanks to Pola for the photo 

However, bad service in restaurants and shops are the norm when in Russia. Here are me and Pola happily munching away while Ellie just sits and starves. Her food arrived when we finished!

But my favourite place of all was Планета Суши, which is a big chain sushi restaurant in Russia, but the lunch set was such a good deal that we always tried to make it in time to have it! 210 roubles (just over £4) for a drink, an appetizer for example, 8 sushi rolls (i always got the Philadelphia roll) and a main course, like noodles or rice (The mushroom and Salmon noodles with sesame sauce was my fave!). So cheap and SO filling, we always walked out clutching our bellies and desperately finding the nearest bench to have a food coma in. The a-la-carte menu is also amazing with really funky sounding fancy rolls and even dim sum! But it is a little pricier than other place for that!

Russia also had an amazing selection of crisp flavours. Here i'm holding up a packet of the new Salsa flavour by Lays. Yum! They also had many other amazing flavours like Mushroom, potato with butter and dill, pickles and dill, smoked cheese, bacon, crab, sausage, salmon and cream sauce and my favourite flavour of all : RED CAVIAR
The root of all my problems.  via
Another hotspot for us poor students was the кулинария "5 рублей" (Kulinaria pyat rublei), a self service type cafe right on Baumana (number 21, opposite Dom Knigi) where everything is lacto-ovo-vegetarian, and incredibly cheap while being incredibly delicious. From pirozhki (these baked or fried pastries with fillings such as potato, cabbage or mushroom and cheese) to semi fried buttery potato cubes, to soups, to rice, to kotlets (cutlets) made of beans or cabbage and salads too. It was just a great place to go and eat as it was so cheap and delicious.

(Left) Rice with mushrooms and carrots (it even had a saffrony taste to it!) - 30 roubles, (Top Right) Baked пирожок (pirozhok) with mushroom and cheese - 15 roubles, (Bottom Right) Mushroom and potato salad with mayonnaise and spring onions  - 30 roubles.  Total of 70 roubles which is £1.40!!! )

The inside of the cafe. There were always long lines at lunch time. Lots of students and workers eat there. Great place for a quick bite.

Another similar buffet/self-service style cafe we went to every now and then (especially if this place was too packed) was чак-чак (chak-chak), just up the road on Baumana as well. It was slightly more expensive with a similar meal costing about 180 roubles but with a little more variety and meat dishes as well.
Credits to Pola

 Of course the infamous дом чай (Dom chai) which is also on Baumana is also another similar place with similar food again. However the prices just cannot compare with кулинария "5 рублей".

A salmon пирог (pirog) or pie! yummy!

We also went to an Ukrainian restaurant once, which was recommended by our Russian teacher called Корчма Млин which is right off Baumana. It was my first time having Ukrainian food and being the massive dumpling fan that I am, I decided to try the Varyenky. These dumplings can either be boiled or fried (being the fatty that I am these are obviously fried), and typically have fillings such as mashed potato, cabbage or even cherries! I decided to go for the mashed potato, and I also chose to have some fried onions with it (though I thought it was going to be inside the dumpling), and there was also the option to have other toppings such as fried mushrooms. Also please note the giant dollop of evil semtana in the corner (die bitch die). These dumplings were definitely not what I had in mind (when I think fried dumpling, I think gyoza/gao zi style things with thin crispy skin) however, the skin of these dumplings were very thick and doughy, it was almost like a panzerotti (or just like a mini pirozhok). I thought that it was a very carby meal with the dough and the potatoes together and it was a little bland, but very nice and interesting nonetheless! 

Корчма Млин
Островского 39/6 (Университетская)
Dessert at the Nation-wide cafe chain Shokoladnitza (theyve got good food!)

Buterbrots with red caviar which we had at the theatre while watching the ballet as well as a Russian cheesecake thing which my friend was obsessed with.

And of course, there was vodka.A lot of vodka. My dear friend Ellie (check out her blog here!) bought me a bottle of this "Norma" vodka. (No it's not "Hopma" but the "H" is a N and the "p" is a R). It sure was good vodka!!! This bad boy is only about 240 roubles (under 5 quid.) Yeah, the amazing thing about Russia was that all the naughty, sinful vices were DIRT cheap. Pack of cigarettes? 72 roubles for the nicer ones (£1.40 - cheaper than duty free!) Half litre can of beer? about 40 roubles (80p. YES) Oh Baltika 7, I love you.

xx Vagabond Girl

Thursday, 8 August 2013

2013 Kazan Universiade

Olympics? Obviously everyone knows what that is!

Paralympics ? Yeah OK, heard of it.

Universiade/World University Games ? Never heard of that before! Until I came to Kazan...

This cat with wings was the mascot of the 2013 Summer Universiade which lasted from the 6th to the 17th of July. The whole city was buzzing with excitement for weeks before the beginning of the games. Roads were being rebuilt  and English signs were being put up. 

The games started about two weeks after we had been in Kazan, and the difference in the atmosphere was incredible. The main street (named Baumana) was ACTUALLY crowded, and you could always hear different languages being spoken all around you with all the athletes dressed in their country's shirts with locals dashing up to them for a quick photo. Not going to lie, we couldn't resist these Estonian boys either.

(We also lied about being athletes to avoid revealing too much information to creepy men)

Tickets for the Universiade were also very cheap, costing only about 70-120 roubles (100 roubles being £2)  per event, and it even included a whole day of free transport around the city. So we went to see the swimming heats.

I never knew that watching swimming could be so exciting! And so many countries participated!!

The tickets also gave us free access to the Olympic park, where there were some activities and a concert in the evenings. Then from 10-11 there was a free Cirque du Soleil show!!

Only problem with a free Cirque de Soleil show was that it was extremely crowded, and Russians aren't exactly polite when it comes to queuing as we got pushed around the whole time, and some babushka's hand was up my bum.

Nonetheless it was an amazing show with some really spectacular acrobats and stunts.

This was the scariest one as the man was unharnessed and at one point, even blindfolded!!

xx  Vagabond Girl