Day 3: moon face and white nights
- PDAs are widely accepted
- Russian Standard Bank – yes, a bank by the same people who brought you Russian Standard vodka
- The supporting columns in Kazansky Cathedral are made from crushed bone from whales stolen from Japan during the 18th Century
The day started with my closest friend Matt, or moon face as he passionately dislikes to be known as – less for any reference to Bert Newton and more for his rounded face which, too, is very pasty – whom I have not spent time with since he upped his roots and moved to Saint Petersburg mid last year. My flight landed at 10:20pm Saturday 4 June, yet I never saw darkness since my I left Incheon International earlier that day. For a period less than amonth each year, the sky is almost eternally bright in what’s known as ‘white nights’. Honestly, it looked like a beautiful sunrise that lasted for several hours as the sun hovered above the horizon, teasing me as to whether it would choose to hide or just stay within sight.
My first Russian meal? A burger, fries and Pepsi from Carl’s Jr. or Карлс Джуниор. All western brands are clearly visible in English, however often state the brand in Russian in a form of phonetic spelling as a vast majority of Russia does not speak English. This is slowly changing, with native English speaking teachers in high demand. Matt took advantage of this and it formed much of his part-time work – legitimate or otherwise. McDonald’s is written as Макдоналдс and to the ear sounds almost the same. However, the Famous Burger at Carl’s Jr. is also written locally to sound like ‘famous’ and ‘burger’ and the English is not simply translated in to Russian, which to me is bizarre.
After a late dinner and a couple of local brews at No Name Bar, we eventually called it a night around 3:40am. With my body clock still adjusting to local time, my body knew it was somewhat more like 9:40am Sydney time than anything else.
After a few hours sleep, day three was to be the main sight-seeing day in St Pb as many places close on Mondays. In the space of a day we were able to visit St. Isaac’s Cathedral and state memorial museum, Kazansky Cathedral, the State Hermitage Museum, Palace Square, Colonnade Museum and Khram Spasa na Krovi – the Church of the Saviour on Spilt Blood. Many of these places were the busiest Matt had ever seen them; in the Hermitage it felt moving through the corridors was tougher than a rugby scrum. The Hermitage is also home to a long list of European artists: Mattise, Picasso, Monet, Renoir, Rembrandt and da Vinci.
That night Matt hosted farewell drinks at the Metropol, with a dozen of his remaining nearest and dearest there to say “dosh-va-danya” or “good-bye”.
Day 4: the happiest Russian
- Train doors close very quickly
- Lennon is still viewed very favourably here
- I just realised I paid AUD$7.36 for a coffee this morning
- There are many gas pipes are above ground but no hazard signs in sight
- Petrol here is RUB20.9037 / AUD$0.70
As much as Matt has been a student in Russia studying their language he has also been a teacher, even to his senior Russian lecturer Alexander. As we went to collect Matt’s final certificate at Herzen State Pedagogical University of Russia, where Matt’s been studying the past nine months, Alexander took Matt aside and went through an essay with him, asking questions about English translation such as “what’s the word for a man driving agricultural machinery” – a farmer?
Alexander spoke excellent English; his language bank also included Swahili. With a reminiscent glaze over his eyes, Alexander said now was not a good time to visit Russia. Some 20 years ago everyone was happier, outwardly happier, and the economy was in a much better place. Now, the people here are sad and yet, like Alexander, they are aware that much needs to be done about the state of affairs: government, corruption, economy, standards of living.
My first honest taste of local food was at Tepemok where savoury pancakes were on the menu. Think crepes with meats or vegetables wrapped in them. Not pushing the boundaries of my comfort zone by any means, but very representative of the country. Much of the local food is unhealthy, but people continue to eat it. The young women are so because they literally don’t eat; once married they eat and expand like a balloon. Tepemok brews its own beer too and, wanting to try different things, had their honey beer. Sweeter than the ciders I’ve had home.
Many things that were popular in Australia and the wider western world some 20 or 30 years ago are just now reaching their height in popularity here: cigarette advertising, the mullet and Tommy Emanuel to name a few.
With no public healthcare system in Russia, the rich are rich and the poor poorer. I pass a man dragging his ‘dead’ leg as he walks with the aid of crutches.
Doors on the trains and the doors on the barricade-like structures on platforms between carriage and commuter close with such force and speed, like a fist thrown down on a kitchen bench in anger. As Alexander spoke of earlier, the mood here in St Pb is far from cheery and this echoing sound is just another reminder.
I sampled the most traditional meal of the country this evening: warm borsch – or beetroot soup – and pelmeni, a cross between an Asian dumpling and large tortellini filled with mushrooms and topped with sour cream. Warm borsch is delicious. I’ve been told cold borsch is far from enjoyable.
Matt has been a purveyor of fine experiences and, as he puts it best, Russia can only be surmised as a land of contrasts.