As usual, I’ve managed to get completely behind with this, so here is an update for last week, and I’ll try and get back on track with this week at the weekend. On the Monday after last writing, I woke up feeling extremely grumpy and stressed, probably caused by a fairly consistent flow of bad family news, mild alcohol poisoning from the weekend, PMS and irritation with the university for still not having told me when my lessons were. We’d had a fresh snowfall so I decided the best course of action was to get myself out of the house and go somewhere pretty, settling upon the Summer Garden (Letny Sad), which looks like a winter wonderland of evergreen trees and boulevards in the colder weather. Due to a series of failures on my part to board the correct public transport, I ended up near the centre of town about a kilometre away from the Garden, and decided to walk the rest of the way. I did this for some distance over a kilometre before rechecking my map and seeing I’d gone the wrong way. Very luckily for my mood and any breakable objects nearby, I had managed to head towards another spectacular park, in fact the first one in St Petersburg, the Tauride Palace and Grounds (Tavrichesky Sad). This turned out to do wonders for my state of mind, as I entered its snowy, winding network of paths which led round frozen pools and bridges. Children were happily walking across, and skating on, the ice and I even saw some woman skiing through the trees…
Although more or less in the middle of nowhere as far as I was concerned, I was getting a little chilly by this point as the wind was unforgiving, so I decided to find somewhere for a coffee. I ended up in a tiny place which was half-cafe, half-florist and reminded me very much of the little gift shop I work in at home. In a final stroke of sod’s law rearing its ugly head/bad luck, I took the wrong bus home and ended up at the Summer Garden after all. I did not go in, but stared angrily at the gates before waiting in the cold for the correct bus. When I eventually did get home, I found out it was supposedly Blue Monday, the saddest day of the year, which might go some way to explaining my bad mood!
The next day, I headed into university for my first language class. All classes in Russia last 1.5 hours, so if you have a few bunged together, you can very easily end up studying the same thing for about half a day. My language classes are 3-4 hours, twice a week, which is a long time to try to concentrate, particularly as there are only two of us in the class. My fellow student is Teodora, a Bulgarian girl who is studying at UCL. She’s lovely to talk to, and was here last semester too, so knows how difficult things can be with timetables etc. My teacher is good: clearly very intelligent and quite entertaining. He does not like my accent and spends large parts of each lesson dragging it over the coals and showing me videos of Russian children learning how to roll their letter ‘r’s. This is fair enough, although I wish I could say it was unnecessary… The weather at the beginning of the week continued to be wet and dreary, and on this particular Tuesday culminated in me walking a little bit too close to the road and getting spectacularly soaked from head to foot in muddy water by a passing bus with no regard for pedestrians. Sometimes, I think I am unknowingly starring in some higher power’s personal sitcom…
I finally got my timetable on Wednesday, which is very full-on and involved some pretty major clashes where I was supposed to be in two different campuses at once. It was nice to have a vague outline of what I am supposed to be doing though, and I was also able to decide which weekend looked best for a visit home, having finally applied for a visa which will let me leave Russia and come back in again afterwards within its validity period. Alla has taken to making me pancakes after my gym trips, which I adore even if it entirely nullifies the point of the workout. I have introduced the family to pancakes with sour cream, herbs and garlic, which they had never tried together before. My garlic obsession continues to know no bounds, but we did decide it was probably good for our immune systems in the cold. I also went for a wander round Nevsky Prospekt again and found a monument to Catherine the Great, looking fab, with all her nobles/lovers sitting at her feet in classic Catherine the Great fashion, although the lighting isn’t ideal:
Thursday and Friday saw all the international students invited to an orientation programme, designed to help us settle in and figure out how things work a little more. This was actually quite handy, as it gathered us all in one place and introduced us to each other, and all the key Russian players. I met an American PhD student called Donna on the Thursday, who said she’d keep me in the loop of people living in the dormitory, when she found out I was living separately. On the Friday, I attached myself limpet-style to a couple of girls – April and Caro – from UCL, also on their year abroad and renting together. We spent the unusually sunny day wandering through the centre and stopped in at the famous Dom Knigi (House of Books) which has stationery, souvenirs and books galore, right in the middle of Nevsky in a spectacular building previously owned by the Singer Textiles(?) Company. We took the opportunity to get some good tourist shots of the city centre, the Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood (built on the site of the assassination of Tsar Alexander II) and the Kazan Cathedral:
We then opted for a traditional Russian McDonalds, before the girls invited me back to their flat to meet their friend Cora. We all got to know each other over a cup of ubiquitous Russian fruit tea. A night out for international students had been planned for the following day, and we made plans to have pre drinks together beforehand so we could all arrive in a group. Stacey and I had decided to meet up to see ‘La La Land’ so I left fairly quickly to go and find her. We loved the film, which mercifully had very little complicated Russian dialogue, but the ending destroyed both us and the rest of the cinema audience, who made loud, angry, very Russian noises directed towards the screen.
Saturday was also sunny, and I had a fantastic gym trip, where I used the sauna and bought a fruit smoothie post-workout, like a very basic white girl, and loved every minute of it. I had planned to look round the botanical gardens, but got into yet another muddle over public transport and had to give it a miss in the end because of the lack of daylight, which often ruins my plans! In the evening, I headed to the girls’ flat and got to know some other people from UCL (there are a lot of them here because they have an agreement with the university), before heading to a pub specialising in international types of cider, and then onto a couple of clubs. It was great to meet everyone and find others in the same boat as me. Basically, having friends is nice!
On the Sunday, the weather had reverted to its usual gloominess, and my second attempt at exploring the Summer Garden met once again with defeat, if you can count sitting in a warm cafe and eating a cupcake as defeat. I did manage to make my way towards and inside a spectacular Russian Orthodox church and accidentally crash a wedding, although nobody seemed to mind.
All in all, it was a pretty full-on week and I feel like I’ve settled in a bit more and got to know the city better. I will try to be good and update this on Sunday, fulfilling my original aim of a post each week, but make no promises! Thanks for reading!