donderdag 19 augustus 2010

Thank you!!!

Even two amazing weeks in St. Petersburg can come to end and I would like to take the opportunity to thank a whole lot of people.
Let me start by Bart Leenhouts, the course coordinator: Bart, thank you so much, you did a great organizational job, you've organized the holiday of my life, well done!!! It was great to meet you and I hope to meet you again!
Nastya, our teacher, thank you so much for all the effort trying to make Marta and me a bit more capable of handling the Russian language! I admire your patience! It was great to be in your class, you've done a great job keeping me interested all four hours everyday and of course, you've taught me a lot! Hope to meet you again!
Nastya, our amazing tourguide! Do you know much about the city! Maybe if you read some of my other blogs you could see that I've really appreciated the excursions and the information which cannot be found in tourguides, you're the best!!! Keep it up and, of course, I would like to meet you again!
Next I would really like to thank from my heart everyone who has been supporting me from home! I do not dare to name you all personally, because I am too afraid I'd miss someone. Family and friends, I have appreciated all your comments, e-mails, messages on Facebook very very much!!! You made me feel like I was in your company on this great Russian experience and I was happy to share it with all of you!
Last but certainly not least I want to thank all my fellow students in Petersburg, I could not have imagined better company! It was such a pleasure to meet you all and I've had the most wonderful time discovering Petersburg with all of you! I am already missing you terribly, but where would we be without Facebook and Skype? I am holding you on your promise for a next meeting, Yoleen and I already have some plans layed out...
Marta & Yoleen, you were the best roomies, you are two wonderful women!
Special thanks to Luba, who has been amazing showing us around and the best Russian company we could wish for :). I really liked to meet you and to sing Valerii Meladzes songs with you in the metro :) :) You are an amazing woman! I am sure we will meet again!
Marta, Yoleen, Nicole, Giovanni, Giangio, Christiaan, Stephan, Simon, Peter, Huon, Jorg, Ronnie, Luba: До свидания!!!
Stephan, Christiaan, Marta, Luba, Simon, Yoleen and me

woensdag 18 augustus 2010

Really Russian

You have probably seen it come by already: some really Russian stuff. I think the first thing you will encounter is the Russian way of communicating. I have already said before that if you want to get something done, put on a moody face and mumble what you wish for: success guarenteed. Now I have to add something right away, because I don't want anyone thinking the Russians aren't nice: on the contrary! Once you are able to go by the tight face, Russians are very friendly, open and most of all hospitable people, something I admire very much! For example, I asked a woman in a shop where I could buy CD's with popular music. I think she took about 10 minutes to tell me the road, write it down and tell it to me again, without any hurry, with all the patience of the world. The second thing that drew my attention while walking the streets, is that the Russian girls are all so very slim and they look so good! From the hair, to the make-up, the cloths, jewelery, nails, shoes, they look if they just did a fotoshoot for the cover of a magazine. I respect them for walking those high heels all day long on the distances of the city.
The third thing is, the "militsia" can't go unnoticed. They are everywhere. With the blue suits and the big blue hats. If I had had the nerve, I'd have taken a picture with one of them. But actually, after all the warnings, I have behaved perfectly in their presence, not wanting to insult them for whatever reason.
Maybe even before the omnipresent militsia the "24 hour working" supermarkets drew my attention, What a relieve to do your shopping at 00.15h!!! Or at any time. And at which time you may decide to do your shopping, you will never be alone. Even most of the many flower shops that St. Petersburg is rich, are open for 24 hours a day. Very useful when you may decide you want to buy someone flowers at 3.30h in the morning.
What I am still wondering is where the flowers come from. As a true Dutch tulip girl I'd like to believe that flowers everywhere in the world come from Holland, but the large, strong, beautiful flowers they sold in Russia, I had never seen before!
That eating in a restaurant is an experience in itself, you may believe by now. But so is the payment. Russians will not accept a tip. They will bring you the receipt in a leather envelope, after which we used to put in the money, including the tip. But, after checking, the waiters or waitresses will come right back and give you back the tip. Only when you leave it in the envelop and leave, they will accept it.
Something that cannot go unnoticed is the following. As soon as you leave the metrostation of Nevsky Prospekt you are overwhelmed by the offers of excursions. Lots of women, speaking through a microfone, will make you attentive of the boattrips over the Neva. The only thing they overlook, is that many tourists don't speak Russian. And the only way they are offering it, is in Russian! Comparable to that was my security check at the airport on my way back home. I had seen the people before me take of their belts, shoes etc., so I knew what I was supposed to do. Followed the examples and walked trough the detection portals for search. After the employee had searched me, she made a gesture from which I concluded I could procede. Does this woman get mad at me!!! Shouting something in Russian I didn't understand after which she repeated the words, now accompanied by gestures, because I didn't obey. Only because of the movements of her hand I understood that I had to turn around for more search. To that I only replied in Russian that I didn't speak Russian...
Before I go to my last really Russian experience, I will point out that everything goes really slow. I like the fact that it is not as hurried as in Holland, but really, too slow can get on your nerves! The Tsarskoye Selo could only be visited from 16.00h to 17.00h for single tourists. After a long queue we entered just to find another queue to buy tickets. I think this trip (to the counter) took about half an hour, without exaggerating! The woman behind the desk took the studentcard, studied it, took the money, counted it, took the entree ticket form the garden, read it, took everything with her, arranged some things behind her desk, thought about if she wanted to sell you a ticket and then finally gave you one.
Now I have really come to my last Russian experience, just before leaving the country! I was already in the airplane. All the passengers where aboard..., but, we couldn't leave, because security papers were not there yet, so we had to wait! The waiting for the Russian security papers put us on a delayal of 20 minutes. For me, no problem, but many passengers missed their transitions. Viva the Russian security! ;-)

dinsdag 17 augustus 2010

Tsarskoye Selo

On Sunday 8th of August our friend Luba took Yoleen, Marta, Stephan, Simon, Christiaan and me to a place outside of Petersburg: Pushkin! In Pushkin you can find the stunning Tsarskoye Selo, of which I am about to tell you.
The huge palace stems from the 18th century. The development started under Catherine I, Peter the Great's wife, the architect was Bartolomeo Francesco Rastrelli. It wasn't until reign of Elizabeth (1741) that a large scal construction work of the building started, after which the palace was called "Catherine Palace" in honour of Elizabeths mother.
The Grand Hall
The Grand hall is an enormous area, which seems even bigger because of the amount of mirrors. The room feels great and majestic; it is ornamented with lots of gold and the ceiling has major painting. Maybe the most famous room of the palace is the Amber room. In 1717 Peter I was given amber boards and panels by the Prussian king.
The palace is surrounded by a huge parc, full of monuments, one of them being a mosque, the only one in Russia, to celebrate the victory over the Turkish people, around the 1770s and 80s.
Amber room
Of course our group had some "real Russian experiences" that day. I will tell about them in the next post!

Repin and the Gulf of Finland

Station Repino
What has Repin, the famous painter, got to do with the gulf of Finland, you may ask? Well, besides the fact that Repin used to live close to this sea, not so much, actually, the title points out the walk of our day, Saturday 7th of August. Because Petersburg had been subjected to extremely high temperatures this summer, somewhere between 30 and 40 degrees Celsius, Nastya suggested to combine the weekend's excursions and visit Repins house in Repino and the beach in one day. The trip to Repino was an excursion in itself, for we experienced the Russian electritchka. The train itself, I must admit, did not really startle me with enthusiasm, the only difference is that there are wooden seats in stead of clothed ones. The special thing about it, though, is the use of it by the Russian people, who massively use this transportation to go to their dacha's on Saturday. It really was full, so we had to sit on the ground. Not something that would withhold Nastya from introducing us to the subject of Repins house. The lazy tourists in us, would not let the day fully start before having a cup of coffee in Repino.

Nicole (l) and Nastya (r) in electrichka
Extensive sightseeing needs good preparation!
After quite a good walk through the forest, we reached Repins house, now a museum. It felt good being out of the city for a day. Nastya bought us tickets (she really knows her way around with student discounts!) and let us enter Repins house and atelier. Ilja Repin was born in 1844 in Tsjoehoejiv, Ukrain. In 1866 he attended the Academie in Saint Petersburg and painted his most famous painting in 1870, called the "Бурлаки на Волге", translated: the men who pulled the boats over the Wolga, which can now be found in the Russian Museum in Saint Petersburg. His works belong to the movement of Realism and were either social-critical or historical. Until 1907 Repin stayed close to the Academie in St. Petersburg, working there as a teacher. In 1918 he had a house/atelier built on ground that became to belong to Finland. The house was called Penati and was designed in a way that Repin could use good ligth all day long to paint. It is the place where he died in 1930 and can still be visited today. Much of the original equipment of the house and his paintings remaining intact. During Sovjet time the village was called Repino ( 17-08-2010).
Бурлаки на Волге
During our walk through the forest we encountered many lovely situated dacha's, as one of my pictures shows. A dacha, Nastya told us, is not something you can buy. Dacha's are passed on through generations of families, each "new" generation adding something to it, like a floor.

Dacha, covered in the woods
After our visit to Repins beautiful house, we went on to the beach near the Finnish Gulf. The beach was dirty, but OK, and the water was lovely!!! Being there at noon with an empty stomach it could not go without noticing that there is nothing commercial about this beach, because you cannot buy any food or drinks in the nearest surroundings! Of course this directly depicts the beauty and naturality of this area!
We ended our day spent in nature, with a trip back by, of course, elektrichka!

The beach
Going back home

maandag 16 augustus 2010

Discovering Petersburg night life

Marta, Giovanni & Peter
As mentioned before, our group loved to go out for dinner and drinks. This being either the whole group or subgroups. We used to agree to meet at Dom Knigi from where we started to look for a nice place to eat. Most of the time we didn't have to go far from Nevsky Prospect, because there were plenty occasions to have dinner. Only sometimes getting a table was not that easy being with a group of 8 people. I noticed that there are many sushi bars all through the city, so of course some of us have tried some typical nice Russian sushi. But we also visited a Russian restaurant twice where we could eat traditional Russian food. It remained a challenge to order the whole two weeks, but eventually, there was always beer, wodka and water on the table and some food, may it be something else than you thought you ordered.
Definitely a taxi-after-4 night
Going out after dinner is quite a funny story in Saint Petersburg. Because of the rivers and canals, the city has many bridges and they open at 01.00h and won't close until 04.00h. This means that if you stay on an "island", like we stayed on Vasilievsky island, you should hurry back home before one, or prepare for a good night of partying. Sometimes we choose to take the last metro home around 00.00h, sometimes we took a taxi between 0.00h and 01.00h or after 04.00u or the first metro around 06.00h in the morning.
Taking a taxi is really something you should do carefully. There seem to be many illegal taxi drivers, which influences the price of a ride, but also your safety as a tourist. "Tourist" seems to equal "rich". But it doesn't cross any taxi drivers mind that even if you WERE rich, you are not anymore after two weeks of Petersburg, but they will try and make the price higher anyway. So. The first time we took a taxi we thought we entered an official one, but actually, putting a light on your car does not make it official. We negotiated about the price and since the driver would not take us for 700 Rubels, we wanted to look for another taxi, but then he called us back, said he agreed. By then he already had the exact address where to bring us. One of the students had been in Petersburg before, so he knew we were driving the right direction. At one point the taxidriver began to complain, saying he suddenly recognised the street where he had to drop us off and said it was a very long street, so he could bring us to beginning for 700 Rubels or to the destination for 800. Arrived at the destination the taxidriver locked the doors and didn't let us out before he had 800 Rubels. To compare, this is actually a drive you can get for 200 Rubels, if you are Russian.
The next taxi experience was with a definitely unofficial one. Even though our Russian teacher arranged it for us on the streets, we'd still have to be in it without guidance. But, all went well, this was actually a quite good experience, because the driver was really nice.
Luba and Sacha
Like I said, the taxi was not the only transportation we used. For example, the last night, we took the first metro and had a very nice refreshing morning walk to our apartment. Because Luba, Yoleens friend in St. Petersburg, had done so much for our group, showing us around, pointing out interesting places, and she really became one of our group, we wanted to take her out for dinner, bowling and dancing (but SHE made the reservations!!! See what I mean?). The preview on the last blog shows our dinner that night.
Group picture after bowling
Yoleen, Stephan and Luba at Fidel
I had never wondered if Russians did bowling as well, but the bowling centre looked the same as the ones I am used to at home. After the bowling we went to the city again. We entered a real Russian disco and had a great time dancing. At least two tough security men held an eye on the dancing people and once a woman set down on a couch after an hour where it was no longer allowed to sit down, and she didn't want to leave, the security did not hesitate, took the woman over the shoulder and carried her out. Because the night was still young we went on to what has become THE place to be for our group, a cafe called Fidel. Fidel is just a small cafe where there is little space to dance, a bar, some tables and chairs and a small lounge space. The music is pretty much Latin, so our Italian salsadancing friend has had the time of his life, being in Fidel every night.
In the early hours of the morning we had to call it a day and accept that the last day of our holiday had arrived. In the most fresh air we have had in those two weeks we walked to the apartments. Some goodbyes were already said, others were saved for a few hours later.
Since my blog has not been chronological, this is not he end of the story, there is still much more to share, so keep coming back :).

zondag 15 augustus 2010

Daily life for Russian in Russia students

Because a lot of people were studying Russian this summer, the schedules of the students were devided. One day classes started for half of the group at 9h, the other day classes started at 12.45h, for the other group the opposite. This led to either being up early and doing homework for the 9 o'clock course, because you had been in the city the night before, with or without having a sleepy apartment mate joining you for breakfast, or sleeping late / doing some sightseeing in the free morning. Especially the free noons were spent sightseeing or shopping, because it was the best opportunity, no curfews.
Russian alphabet in classroom
For dinner there were basically three options:
- to go to the 24 hour working super market and buy yourself a one person meal
- eating with whoever wants to join in the bigger apartment
- out.
Let me start by telling about the second option.
The "guys" occupied the bigger apartment which contained a large kitchen with enough room to cook and a table where we could gather with at least ten people.
A few good cooks made dinner for the entire group, while others cleaned the table and the dishes. My compliments to Giangio, Giovanni, Yoleen, Nicole, Marta and Christiaan for making such wonderful dinners and of course all the Russian blini students for the "last lunch" :).

...and cleaning
The apartments were cleaned by ourselves. I must say, I had doubts about student apartments and cleaning going together, but I think everyone did a great job being as tidy as possible and I have to, once again, make my compliments for our two Belgian wonderwomen Yoleen and Nicole whose energies were endless and did a lot of cleaning. Because the streets are dirty everyone had to take off his shoes before entering the apartments and the same applied for the palaces in the city.
The third dinner option deserves a blog of its own, so I'll tell you something about the supposed main goal of our trip: the studying.
It seems a clear day planning that when lessons start at nine and finish at one you have the afternoon to do your exercises and that when class starts in the afternoon you spend the morning studying. HOWEVER it is Saint Petersburg we're talking about! Many of us had never been to this city and I am convinced that you cannot study a language (in its home country) without studying the culture. Every free minute was therefore filled with trips. Not in the last place to mention the excursions and practical lessons offered by the organisation. Because "networking" nowadays seems to be the key to a good professional carreer, and besides that, people are social beings, there has got to be some proper partying. I don't think I need to mention literally that I, personally, had problems planning time for homework. This led to either studying until 3 o'clock at night, or getting up at 6 in the morning to get the work done.
All in all I think my Russian has improved the last two weeks. During the lessons there are words that keep coming back, so in the end you know how to use them, so word knowledge has expanded and furthermore I think I am better able to understand Russian when it's spoken to me. Still, I find it very difficult and I think word knowledge will play a very important rule in improving communicating skills, because unlike Spanish and Italian, I cannot "make anything out of" Russian if I've never heard the words before.
I hope I am gonna find the time at home to order my notes and then I think I have really made a step forwards.
Let me see where I started this blog, yes, the daily foreign student life. I think I've covered the majority of that now, the surviving, the studying. Now I will finish this post by pointing out the next one, which will be on the topic of going out in a city that never sleeps!

donderdag 12 augustus 2010

Daily life for Petersburg residents

In two weeks you are able to observe at least some aspects of daily life of Petersburg residents.
The very first thing you encounter while finding your way around in Russia, is the communication with the Russians. Russians do not smile. At least not when they meet you or when they talk to you. If you smile, like I am used to in the Netherlands, people will foremost think that there is something funny about them. Politeness is shown by saying "here you are" and "thank you" and not all kinds of difficult constructions that I am used to like, "would you please..., could you be so kind...", Russian style: say what you want and add "thank you"! When you come across people in the street you don't say "hello". Now here's the challenge for me. When I entered my apartment the other night, someone else entered the building as well. I just said "hello" in Russian and... he said it to me too. We went in the elavator together and when I left, I looked at him and said "goodbye". I had the man smiling and saying "goodbye" to me too :). My teacher said that I must have met a quite nice Russian guy then.
In earlier pictures you have already seen some of the buildings surrounding our apartment. Nastya showed us a little different way of living during one of her pratica. Small alleys and many courtyards, where people get together. Tey either sit together on a couch in a small parc or in a childrens playing ground.
Find the cat

This is another old/new example: take a look at the elevator on the left on the outside of the building and the elevator on the right.
Besides the small parcs there are many spacious parcs. One example is the Mikhailovsky yard, where you can watch many newly wed's taking their pictures of their Big Days.
Mikhailovsky yard surrounding the Russian Museum

Bride and groom with their guests

Not only the parcs, but basically all the streets are very very spacious here in Saint Petersburg. You must be really carefull though crossing the street, because people are driving like it was the German highway. And of course there are traffic rules, but why bother following them?
In the streets of Saint Petersburg you'll find all kinds of public transportation: busses, small busses called marshrutka, trams and taxi's. The main transportation remains metro however, the one in Saint Petersburg being the deepest of the world, because of the rivers and the canals.

While walking the streets of Saint Petersburg you have a big chance of reading a love message written by a boy in front of the house of his lover, something typically Russian.
"Ja lublu tebja" (I love you)
Speaking of typically Russian, being here can not go without having tasted Russia's most famous dish, accompanied by a typically Russian drink, both worth trying:
Borsj en mors
Well, that was a short and certainly incomplete description of Russian residential life, but it reflects my acquaintance of the Saint Petersburg people and I hope you liked it!