Tuesday, August 25, 2009

только в России

My room mate Jeroen read in a book on St. Petersburg a sentence that went something like…you might not see something special every day in St. Petersburg but you will always be astonished about something!

Even though I think there are plenty of special things to see in the city, the latter part of that sentence is definitely true. Every time one of us comes back from the city centre, there’s always a funny story to tell!! “Danny, guess what happened to me today?!”

An example? Yesterday, Nikos and Anna went by the bookstore to return a book that they took by mistake. No books can be returned according to the bookstore’s policy, but for foreigners they can make an exception…

They had to follow one of the employees up the stairs until they got into a small office where they were asked to fill in 3 forms including passport details!! Half an hour later, a reluctant employee would give them the money back!

Something of continuous amazement for all of us is also the parking skills, or to be more exact…what Russians consider a parking spot. Even though there are designated areas for car parking throughout the city, it seems like Russians will park their vehicle wherever there’s an empty space! Whether that is in the middle of the road, on the pavement right in front the entrance of a building or on a path leading to a park…it’s all good!

We’ve also witnessed in astonishment how Russians call the attention of employees when they’re in need of something. They would just yell: Devushkaa!! without any hesitation from the one end of the establishment to the other!! To which once Jeroen actually saw an employee standing up for herself replying “Shtoo!!?” (means: what?!)

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The battle against the ‘verbs of motion’

One of the first things I was introduced to when starting my Russian course were the verbs of motion, now…whenever I hear these words together it seems like some allergy strike creating like an imaginative tree in my brain asking the following questions: “Are you going by transport? Yes/No? Do you go there regularly or just by sheer fluke? Yes/No? Is the destination an open or a closed place?!”

Anna & Nikos having a little after drink at our place discussing our frustrations bout Russian grammer!

Aaarrggg…and ofcourse the Russian language just wants to joke around a bit by adding a couple of exceptions! This has been my battle the past weeks but I think I finally am able to distinguish the different situations!! Though I’ve probably reached the border level of patience of my teacher multiple times but today I heard the ‘click’!!! Hallelujah! Lol

Am so satisfied with the professionalism of my course that I just sometimes smile in class thinking…wow! Throughout my little student life this has been the biggest purchase I’ve ever done and am just so happy I did it! Just a couple more days left but am definitely leaving with an overfilled bag of memories!

Nastiya, a special thanks has to be directed to her for being so helpful and knowledgeable about everything in St. Petersburg!

Дом Demы

Our stay in Moscow had been short and am sure that we missed some places of interest but what made my stay memorable was definitely spending the night at Dimitri. Dimitri is a friend of Nastiya (my practical teacher) who said we would be more than welcome to spend the night at his place and set a time and place to meet up.

After a little while of lingering around our meeting place he came waiving at us and we set foot for his place. He lives a bit on the outskirts of Moscow (like 30 minutes from the city center) where the suburbs didn’t look much different from the ones in St. Petersburg. As we arrived at his place we were greeted by his girlfriend Julia and without further ado Dimitry left and we wondered around the apartment for a bit. The apartment had an amazing view of the city with buildings stretching out as far as we could see (according to the latest census, Moscow has over 10,5 million inhabitants!!).

Julia was so kind to prepare a meal for us and we sat together at the kitchen table whilst properly introducing ourselves. I quickly fetched my little Russian-English dictionary, as we were bombed with new words! After our meal, the table was filled with home-made zakuski from their dachas and other friends started joining the kitchen table. Quickly me and Jeroen also got our notebooks out as they were teaching us slang!! The evening was filled with laughter and after a couple beers they started playing songs of Viktor Tsoii on their guitar (apparently a Russian ‘revolutionary’ rock star).

They loved that we did our best in explaining ourselves in their language and they would answer all the questions we would have, though the dominating answer must have been ‘because’! Whatever may seem odd to us, appeared even illogical to Russians and so they would just shrug their shoulders and say yeah…that’s just the way it is!

It was a great evening and I don’t think I’ve ever experienced such hospitality…the morning after they all wanted to go with us and show the city center (the strangest thing one of the guys told me must have been…’I only go to the city center like once a year!!!’ and his friends would call him to meet up, but when mentioning his location they would all be asking why?!??!)

We both told them we wanted to see the Lenin mausoleum after hearing rumours that that they’re planning on removing it within a month. We stood in line for about 45 minutes and gave all our bags to Dimi, whom already saw it 8 times, and were screened for everything. No phones, no bags, no cameras…no nothing, nothing was allowed as we went in and when you’re in you’re not allowed to stand still! Honestly, I was soooo nervous when entering the mausoleum as cold-blooded soldiers were standing on each corner! After several dark hallways we arrived at the center of the building where Lenin was located, soundless we walked around his tomb with strict soldiers observing our every move…the air felt strange somehow and watching him lying there felt like witnessing history!

Afterwards we walked around the city and as time flew by we had to say our good-bye’s at the train station...till this day I think it is incredible the way we somehow connected and became such friends, hugging eachother at the station and promising to write eachother frequently!! Moreover…as the train was leaving the station, one of the guy

s followed whilst waiving! Priceless memory and I hope to see them again soon!

I think I can now speak with more certainty that even though Russians may look mean at first, deep down they are softies that love to see you smile!!

Monday, August 17, 2009

speed tour of Moscow

As we walked outside of the station it felt as if we witnessed the start up of a giant market place filled already with people rushing through as well as drunken ones randomly standing on corners, lots of cars and small food stands. The weather wasn’t really in our favour and it would rain from time to time for about 10 minutes that day.

We strolled around the Kremlin in the beginning and then consulted our little guide for other things we could see.

First off we went to see the tretyakovskaya gallery which is located in what seems to be a church from the outside (slightly embarrassing as I asked a local souvenir shop opposite the museum where I could find it! She laughed and made me turn around –bot!)

The gallery is immense and houses one of the finest paintings of Russian artists, unfortunately we were under time-pressure and couldn’t see everything at a slow pace but I personally am starting to become admirer of Ayvazovskiy and his way of painting nature. It is truly beautiful!

Afterwards we went to the Pushkin museum, here he lived for a couple of years and it holds a big collection of original works and his personal possessions. It was very interesting although unfortunately not many things were described in English but it was definitely worth a visit!

Close by is also the Tolstoy museum which we visited. The museum really explains the different facets of his life, influences and correspondence letters he held with many (famous) people from around the world. It also showed the special relationship he had with Ilya Repin who painted him and his family numerous times of which a couple were on display, something that I didn’t know.

After our little culture overdose, we sat down in a park nearby wondering what we could do next…to our surprise we actually found this difficult but eventually decided to go to a park called VDNH which was formerly used to exhibit the achievements of the national economy. Our first impressions were of excitement as we saw the monument of Russian’s space endeavour during the period of the cold war, but against my expectations it soon declined from there.

It is a tremendous park which takes you at least 2 hours to walk through with immense soviet buildings and landmarks decorated with communist emblems which nowadays have lost its purpose and without a specific direction they’ve let the market run its course. Restaurants, commercial shops, supermarkets, 3D theatre, ferris wheels and even a track for kart racing now function next/in these buildings along with statues of the hard working comrades during the communist era and Lenin. A typical little tourist train drives jauntily through the boulevards and American music can be heard through the loudspeakers spread out through the park. It was a strange sight, which we quickly decided to leave in order to meet Dimitri or Demi or Mitya (Russian names always appear to have like 3 different names for some

reason!! haha Alexander à Sasha or Shura)

Russian in Moscow!

Before my arrival to St. Petersburg, I couldn’t help but ponder with the thought of taking the train from there to Moscow. Moscow, one of the biggest cosmopolitans of the world and where the Russian government resides within its immense stone walls next to the infamous Red square.

Fortunately, my room mate Jeroen had a real ‘russian attitude’ saying why not? (in Russian: Pachemu-nijet?) I’ve come this far! And so off we went!!

The adventure already began when purchasing our train ticket at the local train ticket branch. We faced around 15 offices, each of them having some sort of ‘organized’ queue. Organized is between brackets as it would be perfectly normal for Russians to tell the person in front that he/she will be back soon and just show up 45 min later! Yes…we stayed in line for nearly two hours!! Watching the people before us answering all sorts of questions, we quickly scrabbled what we wanted on a piece of paper, which we handed over to the cashier after greeting her!! Nonetheless, the cashier still had lots of questions and almost immediately the entire line of people behind us, were helping in translating and getting what we wanted! It was so nice to see them help us, each of them had a minimal English vocabulary but together they made us understand what the cashier was asking us!

Align Right

The end result! after two and half hours of waiting/translating and sign language...

As soon as Jeroen told his practical teacher Nastiya about our little adventure, she mentioned that we could stay at a friend of hers in Moscow, which immediately solved the accommodation issue!! At first we were quite nervous to spend the night there and imagining all sorts of ‘what if’ ‘s but it turned out to be an unforgettable experience! (more about that later!)

On Friday evening we boarded the night train to Moscow and went into a small coupe (2x2,5 m) with 4 beds and met our room mates. Unlike the stereotypical stories of Russians getting drunk on the train and joking around, our roommates seemed from a southern province and were quiet throughout the entire evening. As soon as the train departed, a lady came by with a little basket mostly filled with light and strong alcoholic beverages that she promoted to us with a smile. We kindly refused, as we both knew that we would have a long day the next day but our next dorm neighbours must have been celebrating something as their voices became louder by the hour! Hahaha

We woke up early the next day with a blurry and undecipherable voice of the train driver followed with some Russian pop music, the hallway was decorated with empty beer bottles and cigarettes buds remaining of the previous night. We got off and instantly set foot towards the Red Square and made pictures still half asleep, which can be seen below!

Art-to-go and закуски, please!

We asked our excursion teacher to take us someplace where the average tourist doesn’t normally go to unless they have some insider information! And so Nastiya took us for a walk and we walked inside a residential area near the centre and got see some nice street art including a little park that seemed like a tribute to Gaudi!

Street art with the love bus!!

I also wanted to taste some more typical Russian food and so Floris and me used our practical class and asked our practical teacher to take us somewhere where we could taste the typical Russian pie. Unfortunately, the waiter let us know that half the menu was not available anymore...”only vegetable or cherry pie!”, this might seem strange to some of you but after having spent nearly 3 weeks in St. Petersburg barely anything surprises me anymore (today I found out that toilet paper is sold per roll in the supermarket!!).

In any case we tried them both and they were quite tasty but not really extraordinary, should try it at some other places soon! As we walked towards Nevskii prospekt I was suddenly in shock as I thought I was witnessing a robbery of Repin paintings from the Russian Museum on the street!! But I soon found out that they were hanging up copies on the walls of buildings, below you can find a picture of it!

That same evening, my housemate Suzanna had proposed to prepare us some traditional belini’s with caviar and salmon!! We all helped a bit in the preparation and it turned out delicious and so filling!!!

Suzanna the head chef with her newly bought book on traditional russian cuisine

Monday, August 10, 2009

Peculiarities of daily life in St. Petersburg

One of the great benefits of my Russian course in St. Petersburg must be the fact that we’re living in a true residential area of the city. Not in the city centre, not next to fancy boutiques or restaurants but in a neighbourhood where the average well-off Russian labourer comes home to, buys his dinner, etc.

This allows me, as well as all the other students, to witness first hand how Russians lead their lives in this city, instead of the typical touristic circus in the city centre. During my stay I saw so many amusing peculiarities that I decided to write them down, so here they are:

· In case you want to blend in with the Russians, here are two ground rules: Men -> do not style your hair with any gel or any of that sort. Women -> only wear shoes with at least 8-10 cm heels, the true Russian women even wear it when they go on the beach (yes…I’ve seen it)

· If only by observing the amount of sushi bars located in this city, I think it is realistic to assume that the average Russian must eat sushi at least once a week! Mc Donald’s doesn’t stand a

chance against them!

· “The Rock garage”. For years, Russian people have assembled (illegally) their own garage for their vehicles in front of their apartment. Moreover, men would use it as an excuse to escape from their apartment by claiming their car needs some upkeep…while in actual fact, they would invite their buddies for beers and rock music, consequently it has been dubbed the Rock garage!

· When you go with friends to a restaurant and one of you already gets his meal…do not wait until the others get served!! No it is not impolite…the average kitchen here does not understand "having a cosy meal together", instead they send out everything as soon as it is ready. Do not be surprised if you think you order three courses and a side dish, that it suddenly arrives all at the same time! Welcome to Russia!

· If you’re misunderstood by Russians, instead of explaining it in English…try the French or German language. I’ve been told multiple times that more people in St. Petersburg speak these language than English!

· At any local shop, be it at the groceries, the liquor shop or any shop that issues receipts for that matter...Russian employees love to tear your receipt in half before they give it to you! I’ve been told that traditionally there used to be a cashier separate from the department you would buy your products from, so you would pay first and then collect your purchase at the corresponding department. Even though this system has been abolished for a couple of years, the tradition continues…

· Russian women and picture taking. Once Russian women get sight of a photo camera it seems like a natural reflex for them to pose as if they were modeling for some erotic magazine, no matter whether the background is an ancient statue or some trees in a public park!

· Instead of declaring your love through a letter, flowers or sending a gift…Russian women really fall for you when you spray graffiti with sweet words on the pavement in front of their building (just in case they forget)!