Monday, July 11, 2011

Exploring the City

11 Jul 2011, 00:00-ish, dorms

woke up at 6:30AM and it was already bright. I dozed back off and woke up for good at 9:15. Since that was only fifteen minutes before I had planned to wake up, I got up and showered anyway.

Chloe and I got dressed at a decent clip and were, again, the first ones outside, this time without even a Kirill. We came downstairs without breakfast, which I came to regret. Well, Chloe had had a granola bar. I pondered buying a banana or something before people gathered, but I was still pondering by the time everyone had arrived, so I didn't. By 11:00 everyone was there. The excursion bus containing the driver (Edward), the tour guide/NYI staff person Andre, Kirill, his friend Katya, and a staff person named Lena, plus the three Croatian girls who are under her care. They arrived in St. Petersburg a few hours before us and got to see and take pics with Iron Maiden (!!), but I'm getting ahead of myself.

We got on the bus and started the excursion, but then turned around to pick up Jen. She sat next to me and we talked a lot about everything under the sun. We stopped at lots of cool locations at our excursion: the head of Vasilevsky Island, the battleship Aurora, St. Isaac's Cathedral, Church on Spilt Blood, and a few others, ending finally at Smolny Convent, which contains St. Petersburg State University's International Relations Department from which Kirill and Katya had graduated only three days prior. It's a gorgeous building. Actually, SPbSU has all sorts of lovely buildings, including the Philological and Oriental Departments, where I study, right on the University Embankment. Totally beautiful.

I got a corn on the cob from the first food vendor I saw, which as breakfasts go is not bad at all. Jen and I also both got really excited about the Iron Maiden thing as we saw more and more ads all around the city and realised that the concert was going to be that night.

After the excursion we stopped at a Russian restaurant called Stolle for food. I had kulyebyaka with meat and Kirill let me try some of his pie with salmon. I also had Jasmine tea which was great. Tea is a beautiful thing to have in the middle of the day after a long excursion.

At the restaurant I got out my phone and my courage and phoned my relatives. My family has relations living all over the world, most of whom I've never met and wouldn't know if I passed on the street. These are some such, but they're living in St. Petersburg, so of course I cannot be in St. Petersburg without visiting them. I will phone the Evreisons (relatives on my father's side) again when I'm ready to meet up with them, i.e. when I am not exhausted from having just arrived. Lyudmila Romm (a relative on my mother's side) will call me when she is ready to have me. She lives in Pushkin, a suburb of St. Petersburg where the legendary poet himself is from, so I do hope I get to visit her.

After Stolle, we went to get lung scans which were necessary paperwork for the dorms. They cost 250 roubles and ascertained that we had no TB or cancer or what-have-you. Then it was time to get bus/metro pass cards. This took quite a while because a few of us had to exchange money which took forever. The pass cards gave us unlimited rides on all buses and trolleys and 70 rides on the metro.

Once we all had the cards in hand we went to a ticket booth where we asked about various concerts--Iron Maiden, Thirty Seconds To Mars, etc. The Iron Maiden concert began at 19:00 that evening at SKK (Sports and Concert Complex) and cost us 2200 roubles (~US$80) per ticket. Tom, Oleg, and I bought those tickets gladly. Jen vacillated a bit and then decided to be a responsible adult and join the journalism students at dinner at 21:00 that evening.

Once everyone had what tickets they wanted it was time to go back to the dorms. Kirill lives on a completely different metro line from us so he charged me with the task of bringing everyone's lung scans to Natalia, who had checked us in the day previous. He walked us to the metro station (Mayakovskaya) and then went to get to whatever his home was.

We got back to the dorms without incident and I got the lung scans to Natalia, changed into pants, put on more makeuppy things and my bandanna and left the dorms with Oleg and Tom.

We took the subway to Park Pobedy and followed the crowd of obvious metal fans to the Sports and Concert Complex (SKK). On the way there we saw large amounts of graffiti telling Russians to stop drinking so much alcohol and if I could figure out how to work the pictures properly on this blog, I would show examples of them.

At SKK I had to throw out my water bottle (well, my Tazo Tea bottle filled with water) before entering ([expletive deleted]). We bought T-shirts at the merch table and then got plastic cups of water, which we also weren't allowed to take into the main concert area (double [expletive deleted]).

Once inside Oleg and I decided to push forward as much as we could to try and see the stage even a little bit, while Tom preferred to stay closer to the back for a quicker exit, should he need one. Oleg and I actually managed to get pretty far forward. We took a bunch of pictures, though my camera is not built to take photos in dark places, as evidenced by the crappiness of a lot of the pictures I've taken at night or at that concert. My camera rebelled entirely at the idea that it could take video--claimed that it didn't have enough battery power or some such, the silly. At one point Oleg lifted me up for a few moments so I could actually see the whole stage with my own eyes. That was actually super nice of him as no photographs will ever compare.

So the concert started at 20:30 and went on to about 22:30, by which time our legs were dying and we were nearly deaf. It was so good though and I feel so lucky that my first time in St. Petersburg coincided with Iron Maiden's first time in the city.

We took the metro back to Primorskaya and went to Kofe Hauz (Coffee House) where we got pastries, drinks, and wi-fi. I tweeted from Oleg's phone about the awesome night I'd just had. Then we got back to the dorm a little after midnight. It was already its darkest by then--not a full dark, but a kind of twilighty greyness.

I brushed my teeth, rinsed off, and went to bed.

11 Jul 2011 06:00 (RUS time), governmental dormitories

It was 5:30AM when the gulls woke me up, their raucous crying echoing off the dilapidated Soviet buildings of this residential area. I tried to block it out and sleep for a bit longer, but quickly gave it up.

I got up to go exploring my hallway. Found a balcony and came back to the room to get my camera. I took some lovely pictures of the sun...rise? sun-slightly-lift, more like. Also took pictures of an Asian man on the balcony below me who had the same idea, but before me, and with a better camera. Then I went back into the hallway and decided to do some exercises. I did two repetitions of the surya, with 10 push-ups each and by the end was feeling sweaty enough to go back out in the balcony. I breathed a bit and then went back to the room to write in my journal, read the newspaper, and just do general things to distract myself from being awake about 2.5 hours before I actually have to be.

11 Jul 2011 22:28, back at the dorms

After I finished the above journal entry, I wrote a small verse, which can be found on my profile. Then I got up to shower and dress and continue to distract myself from being awake so early. I checked out the In Your Pocket guide to the city that had been given to us when we first arrived. It had some good info about stuff to find in the city and also events that were happening theatre-wise.

Tom called me around 9-ish to go looking for this mythical cafeteria on the 2nd floor of our dorm that we'd heard about a few days ago. So I got up and went downstairs with him, only to discover that the cafeteria is in fact mythical. It is not open in the summer at all, even though signs for it are still up.

We returned to our respective rooms to pack our stuff for the day and then Chloe and I went downstairs, being, as before, the first ones down, though not by much this time.

Kirill showed up around the same time as the last of the stragglers and in short order we were off onto the bus to get to the university. Kirill and a few others were in front and Chloe, Brandon, Sean, Nick, and I were in the back. We got off at the university stop and then sat around in the courtyard of the philological faculty (PhilFac) waiting for Dr. Bailyn to get free so he could orientate us. Jen met us outside and Oleg delivered to her the Iron Maiden shirt we'd bought her.

Now, my sister has said that John Bailyn is the only American she knows who speaks Russian perfectly and without an accent. On the phone when I exchanged words with him the previous night it was absolutely true. In person, he's got a bit of an accent--enough to place him outside of any major city in Russia, but not necessarily the United States.

He, Kirill, and Jen gave us various spiels on classes, responsibility, safety, health, etc. and took any questions we had. After the orientation we all had lunch in the uni cafeteria, but I paused to chat with Jen about what we'd do for a farewell dinner for her, since she was flying back to the States on Wednesday.

We chilled in the courtyard for a while after lunch, waiting until it was time for us to go to the Russian institute for our proficiency tests. I used Danielle's computer to try and figure stuff out regarding tango. My google-fu is not as good in Russia as it is back home, but I managed to find a few things here and there.

Then it was time to go to take our Russian proficiency tests. Those who were total beginners did not have to take the test for obvious reasons. The rest of us first had to fill out a sheet with our information using only Russian and then do a multiple choice grammar test.

We all turned out to have such different levels that putting us into groups became a huge hassle. Kirill was not pleased. I have a pretty advanced level of Russian, despite coming to the U.S. at such an early age, so I was placed in a pretty high group and I got to choose three of five classes that were offered for that group.

After the classes were sorted out, we had basically free time. Kirill showed us one very pretty street, a completely pedestrian area, on the 6th and 7th lines, only two blocks away from the Russian as a Second Language building. I should pause here to explain how the streets work on Vasilevsky Island. Most of the streets on the Island just have names like everywhere else in St. Petersburg, but starting from the Strelka (the head of the island), the first twenty blocks or so have lines instead of street names. The lines correspond to the sidewalks, not the driving part of the street, so the first street is called Kadetskaya liniya on one side and 1st liniya on the other side. Our Russian classes are held on the corner of the Lieutenant Schmidt Embankment and the 9th line.

So Kirill took us to a nice pedestrian street on the 6th and 7th lines. The church at the start of the street started tolling the hour very prettily as we walked onto it. After that, since we were free to go, the group splintered. Some people went to the city centre, a few went back to the dorms, and a few of us stayed on the street.

Nick, Sean, and Brandon wanted to use Internet, so Kirill showed them the Internet café that was by the Coffee House on that block. Then he, Gabrielle, and I went to do some errands. Gabby had arrived only the previous night, since she was coming from Oregon and wasn't taking any of the classes for credit. We had to get her a phone and a metrocard so we went to do just that.

Both of those things took relatively little time, but it was enough time for Kirill to get a phone call that Tom had been pickpocketed. Luckily his documents were still safe, but he'd lost his money, bank cards, and metrocard. I took over conversation duties while Kirill phoned John Baily and Tom about the whole thing. They were not very difficult duties as Gabby is very easy to talk to and a pretty cool person.

In the MTS store, while Gabby was doing the phone-getting thing, we had had some conversation about hookah and the like and, discovering a shared love for it, Kirill decided to lead Gabby and me to his favourite place--a café/hookah restaurant called Brooklyn Local. They have hookah, sushi, and bagels, as well as drinks both alcoholic and non-. It is a simultaneously hilarious and awesome place, since I grew up in Brooklyn. Adding to the awesome was the fact that theyhave free wi-fi and loan out laptops that you can use for free. I decided from that moment that Brooklyn Local was my new favourite place.

The three of us stayed and chatted there for a few hours, smoking two bowls (the first bowl change is free!). We talked about everything from jobs to politics to culture. I also managed to find more and better details about the tango class thing, so that was cool.

Eventually it was time to head out, so we paid the bill and skedaddled. Not before getting discount cards, though. Kirill led us to the Gostiniy Dvor metro station and put me in charge of collecting photos for our registration from people. Russia has this funny thing where people need to be registered at their residence if they're going to stay in the country for longer than like five days, so since we were gonna be in the country for a month, they needed our info. For that, we also needed our photographs. We also needed to get Gabby's photo taken for that very purpose. By the time we were on the metro, Gabby's allergies were killing her, so I hoped to get things done in a timely fashion.

So Gabby and I got on the metro and took the two stops to Primorskaya station. We found the photo studio in pretty short order, but it was closing just as we got there. We went back to the dorm and I started collecting photos from everyone while Gabby went back to her room.

I started writing this journal while waiting for people to get back from Kofe Hauz, but then I got such a stab of hunger that I immediately went to the grocery store to buy eggs, veggies, bread, and cheese. I also bought sugar for the tea and two mugs.

By the time I got back and started making my omelet, people started coming back, so I finished my omelet and then showed a bunch of people how to refill the money on their calling cards or their phones. Then I hung out with Ben and Oleg in the hallway for hours, eating my omelet. At some point during the hangout, I got a text from Kirill saying that he needed not just our photos, but our full passports as well, so then I went back around collecting the passports.

It is around 2AM now and I am going to bed.

As always, comments, questions, feedback of any kind is totally welcome.

No comments:

Post a Comment