Week 3 in St Pete: A long way to the Mariinsky theatre – goodbye Helen!

As per my last update, I took the monday off to relax after a pretty heavy weekend out (not used anymore to such liberal bar openig hours), but managed to catch up with Helen to chat about previous days and school gossip at one of the many Irish pubs in town. It was fun and Helen informed me that my absence provided plenty talking points for the class – chiefly the Saturday morning jump into the canal ;o) while chatting at the pub we decided to go to the theatre together and managed to sort out tickets for the mariinsky theatre later in the week – swan lake it would be on helen’s final night in town. 

School was better this week and the last week in level A1.2. From next week we progress to pre-intermediate level (though i somehow missed the friday test). Below a shot of our A1.2. teacher Daria – thanks for all your patience. Its been great.

We would make these pub meetings a regular event from there and kicked it off with a visit to an aserbaijani restaurant tuesday followed by a rather classy live music venue on the fontanka canal (white night music joint). Food, drink and chat were all top class and made for yet another fun evening out.

Wednesday i had my usual catch up with the inlaws – this time with alex, his cousin and mama present. It was the first time that we all spoke exclusively in russian all evening. Alex was also pretty excited to do daddy’s russian homework (i should have had him alongside me all the way). As he commented, not too hard so he needs to work on his adjective endings (who am i to judge!). In any case its harder for daddy, but at least his handwriting is as bad as mine. As usual, food and cognac galore at the shabalin’s.

Thursday helen, julie and myself went to one of the best pubs in town (dickens  on the fontanka canal) and enjoyed the nice weather in the garden though only about 7pm the sun actually hit you. The main event was when Julie got excited about a haircut after we watched a russian shaving his friends head. She decided to ask for the shaver and helen had a go at a new haircut for her with some remarkable success. Funny beyond believe the whole situation and suddenly the focus for all customers sitting in the garden. See for yourself regarding the result. I still can’t believe this happened. Needs some balls (or the female equivalent).

After Dickens, we decided to go for russian dinner afterwards at изба. Slow service, but nice food. The issue i guess was the samagon – russia’s version of moonshine – which ordered alongside a decent portion of salo (basically slices pig fat). Hits you hard and almost cost julie her phone (as she left it in the menu that she returned to the waiter). Drama with happy ending! Fun discussions continued from everything like US politics to gender equality. 
Who is Julie?

  • She lives in Utah in a shared house with many friends and studies philosopy and antropology
  • Outspoken anarchist 
  • Does loads of voluntary work including providing free bikes (and advice how to fix them) and food to people
  • She and her friends celebrate a garlic festival – some sort of anti thanksgiving (since the americans stole the land and in theory should all leave the continent)
  • A lot more. But that remains offline

Half way through the evening we met Hank. A chinese born australian who studies piano at the st petersburg conservatory. He caught us speaking english on the street and asked to join. Altogether a really good night out.

While my friends went home, i barely made my next catch up with anna who i got to know the prededing sunday. She had a bad day of interviews and was up for some company. We had few drinks at a georgian restaurant before moving over to the infamous dumskaya street where one pub sits next to the other. They are all opened until the last guests leave – Well, by 8am they closed. Gave us a chance to walk about town, have breakfast, visit a cathedral and the training program of the russian navy for the upcoming national navy holiday. All bridges open at 11am. The sun was out too and invited for some lying about in the park. Needless to say that i skipped school. Good times. Friday night i skipped too ;o)

Saturday i met helen again for some more cultural program. We went to the nearby town of pushkin to admire ekeratina’s palace (well, one of them). Nice walk in the park before the weather turned to its usual rain. By then hank had gotten in touch and we agreed to meet back in the city. 

After yet another irish pub where helen and i enountered a somewhat strange russian girl with a seemingly dark history, we headed for mascha and ivan’s restaurant for a bit of food and my favorite beer – chimay blue. Hank joined us briefly before taking us to Pinch – great cockyail bar where we did some relationship councelling for him. Really nice guy. He is off to catch up with family / friends and play at a festival in germany, but really hope to see him again in september. 

Sunday was family day and i took alex to divo park alongside yura, nikka, artëm and daniel with family. Kids had fun. Parents too! After that alex and i attended the 1st birthday party of alex cousins sister. Famiky gathering … and you guessed it more food and drinks. 

The evening held something special. Yuri and daniel treated me to another football game. This time, at least technically, an away game. We went to see tosno playing zenit at the old zenit stadium. Needless to say that this turned out as a home game. 1:0 to zenit, fireworks and i found myself singing at least some of the songs i learned the previous week. Seems i bring the team luck, as yet another sluggish performance brought about three points for the team in ‘голубые’. Next week spartak will in town. Showtime!

Monday i turned up in school ready for the next level though still weak grammatically. It was tiring and i couldnt wait to get it done. This was especially so since the last evening with helen was waiting and our tickets formswan lake. Julie and hank joined for pre-performance drinks at the shamrock. How nice of both. First farewells to helen, who is heading back to canberra as i write this, and then it was time to see st pete at its finest. We were off to the mariinski theatre just opposite the pub.

While it was helen’s first ever ballet, the place holds some memories for me. First time i came here the evening before i met my wife to be on a corporat event 9y ago. I went again with katya a year later. But there was no time to dwell in memories for thaikovsky’s swan lake was on. The third time i see it in less than a year having been at the royal abert hall with cedric and in dresden with chanel. It was to be great yet again though i liked the performance in dresden most.

Goodbye Helen!

What a week.


Week 2: A week to forget, a weekend to remember

School didn’t go as well this time round as my new enemies dative and genitive entered the scene. Really struggled with these cases. If dative / genitive were my wife I’d divorce them, if they were guys I’d probably pick a fight! Well, as a good friend suggested – learning a language is like life. That was the downhill bit (not to say it can’t get worse). Star of the week was my intensive group teacher Ksenia with her enormous sentences embedding all sort of cases for which we had to come up with the right questions. It got better towards the end of the week, but somehow i still feel less confident than a week ago. My first test ended up at 68% – with a fair amount of goodwill from Daria (спaсибо!). 

Other noteworthy events included my first thai boxing session at legend fight club. They offer 7-8.30am sessions, which fits my schedule well though makes already long school days even longer. Wednesday evening the usual catch up with the inlaws. On Thursday i joined the first excurision – the neva embankments. Nice indeed and a good chat with Nastia who currently interns at the excursion department.

Friday couldn’t have arrived sooner. I started into the weekend in style with a few after school pints with helen from australia and a strong force in our group. Afterwards it was dinner time. Daniel had booked places at tartarbar – an upmarket though not crazily priced restaurant. Yuri & Nika joined us too. Many other places followed that night including union bar (great house music) and a karaoke place with more rock music. We met two austrian sisters (lisa & vera) on the way and had a fab time altogether. We wouldnt be home before morning and, clearly not quite sober, i even chipped in a short swim in one of the rivers (shower afterwards was mandatory given the water). Yuri crashed at mine, which my airbnb landlady found less than amusing after she encountered him in her kitchen at 7am ;o) well, thats life.

After some sleep we headed back out to meet daniel and then watch zenit playing rubin kazan. 2:1 in the end to zenit though the game was little inspiring. Anyway, 6 points from two games now for new coach manchini. I also got my zenit short done – with rocketontour label. In fact, we got teo since they misprinted the label at first. Good deal and a new jersey for yuri! In two weeks spartak moscow will be in town – should be fun.

Один город, одна каманда!

One city, one team (aimed at the multiple clubs from Moscow)

The evening was again rich in party as i went out with Chelsea – a fellow student and agriculture consultant funny enough. Two farm guys on the road. It turned into a long night again as we met a few locals. Fun times and a few new friends on top.

But the weekend wasnt over just yet. After some rest, i met katya, alex and the rest of the shabalin clan in a pub for dinner. There flight from london via moldova got very delayed and so they arrived only in the morning. Good call then that i skipped the pick up. Afterwards a catch up with the new friends from the night before at St pete’s no1 hip-hip meet up – 1703 bar. We ended up doing a night guide tour with artur – a cab driver with inpressive knowledge of the city. Finally, i got a glimpse of the open bridges. Beautiful place this city. One thing was for sure by then – no school on monday for me ;o)

Weekend in the Russian countryside: ‘дача’ time, finally!

Yura and Nika kindly invited me to join them at their countryhouse (дача) for the weekend. Nika’s mum and eldest child are staying there for the summer and they frequently go over to catch up with kids, relax and resupply the grandmother with groceries. To say i had been waitig for a дача visit would be a vast understatement. I love it and have good memories from earlier stints at Victor’s. Simple life. 

We drove there early Saturday afternoon – after all of us had digested friday night and the shopping was sorted. We got some super tasty vegetables off a trader near старая деревня station. He sells products from the neighboring (clearly warmer!) countries such as Uzbekistan and the other ‘stan’ countries. Similar to London, the supermarket veggies are not great in Russia i am told. The guy was such a good sales man that on top of tomatoes and cucumbers we also walked away with a melon, apricots and cheeries. Then quickly to the supermarket for meat, drinks etc and the groceries for babushka Lena … and off we went. 

The drive to the place wasnt too long. Some 100km away and, after some traffic when leaving St Pete, done in 90mins or thereabout. In fact, the place is only 100km away from the farm in Issad where I will work from end of August. On the way back Nika explained that the word дача originates from the russian verb to give (давать), as the tsar used to give such places to loyal servants. Well, this one was actually masterminded and build by Nika’s parents (chiefly the mum). Respect!

The afternoon turned out pretty busy, as the kids challenged us old men to a footie match. With wisely timed breaks we survived and thanks to somewhat more experience than 8/9 year olds we were victorious. In the afternoon the girls made a fantastic chicken noodle soup (i kind of had to eat two full plates … which i gladly did) before we got the fire going to grill veg & meat. Yuri was firmly in charge on the grill. We were never short of entertainment … even piano & singing ;o)

The evening went on for some time as we increasingly spoke russian with babushka lena. It turns out that there were some large battles in the area, an army hospital etc. The helmet of a russian soldier, which lena found in the garden is pictures below. Interesting to listen to her. I liked how, despite all the bloodshed, differentiated the issues germany and russia had as coutries vs individual stories like the ones of actually kind german soldiers. 

Sunday was really relaxed. We got up just in time for the first game of zenit st petersburg with new coach manchini. It was some timezones away and was streamed 11am st pete time. 2:0 for zenit. Yuri happy. Next weekend we will see the real thing at their first home game against rubin kazan. 

Given the house has no running water supply, we went to a fountain nearby to replenish water resereves and also did some shopping (replenishing alcohol reserves that somehow got rather depleted the night before ;o). 

Super weeekend. Now back to school.

Week one at school: pretty packed schedule

After the introductory Monday, the week turned out to be rather work intensive. Every day 3 hours of group lessons until lunchtime, then 1.5h intensive course early after and from wednesday an additional private lesson to refresh the lovely russian grammar (last time i enjoyed lessons was 7-8 years ago after all). This week we focussed on the instrumental and prepositional cases and reviewed the accusative in private lessons. 

The group was fun most of the time though there is one student who doesnt put in the right amount of effort which can be a little annoying and holds up others especially in group exercises with a partner. Monday we will have some new students as Miuki (japan), oskar (denmark and now elbrus bound) and birgit (east germany) finished their courses.

The ‘intensive’ group – oskar, mario & helen

This weeks graduates


On top of the daily 6 hour regime comes homework that consumes another 3 hours or so for me (especially since Daria, my private and group teacher, isnt shy to hand out tasks). Admittedly this was all pretty tiring. Lets see how i fared in our test on friday. Monday will show.

Afterschool activities: Having met katya and hadley on monday, i stayed home in tuesday, met the grandparents of alex on wednesday (which considering it was an all russian affair didnt go to badly) and visited Moo moo burgers (near sadovaya station) / located thai box club (saw some pretty bruised guys in the area) thursday. I havent yet participated i any of the school organised events given my private lesons clashed … so i missed the visit to the vodka museum (but then the bottle of kognac viktor and shared wednesday eve more than compensated ;o).

On friday Nika, yuri and daniel took me to a public concert in ‘new holland’. We were late and only saw two songs in the end of the russian band motorama. But it was fun nonetheless in this nicely refurbished (and very colourful) outdoor space. Afterwards we sampled some really decent russian craft beers at the Redrum bar. Great night out! 

First day at school and a BBQ at Katya & Hadley’s

My first day back at school started well after I finally got a decent night sleep. Swapped the morning shower for a catwash given there is no hot water in the district for another week (happens often in St pete center in summer under the banner of maintenance). It was a warm day again (after a miserable summer so far this year i am told) and a short 15min walk to my school – the Dershavin institute on Troitskiy prospect. 

By 8.45 I had registered and did my oral placement test. They put me in the elementary level class, which is the second lowest. According to their schedule it would take me 48 weeks @ 25h weekly to make the top level. Well, I got 5 to make some progress. The class is full. 10 people in the morning/midday sessions and 5 in the afternoon/intensive course. Many students are younger, some older (namely a German & Australian lady). Overall I felt very comfortable to speak and not afraid to make (inevitable) mistakes. Time will tell how quickly i can improve.

Yes, a student again!

After school we had a brief orientation walk in the area, which I used to obtain my local SIM card. Cheap (600RUB or 9EUR/month for 16GB & 500min) and swift. Just show passport and all is done in 10mins.

For the evening Katya & Hadley had invited me over for BBQ. First time I met their one month old son Max who kept the young parents busy, but showed some sympathy when we had dinner and went off to dreamland. They reside in a very nice villa in the Northern suburbs of the city literally on the seaside (gulf of finland). Quite a bit to go from the center, but a painless experience by metro & overground (and a quick cab ride when there is no traffic). Citymapper is a most helpful app and the journey gave me plenty of time to complete my homework (i needed it). We chatted for quite a while, had loads of meat (i ate for two having not had lunch today) and I got some more insights about my upcoming work exerience at their biggest farm in Issad. They seem as excited about this as i am. Lets see what ‘surprises’ they have up their sleeve ;o)

Comfortable & very wide trains

Huge & nice metro stations

What a great evening. Just a relaxed time with two great friends. How things have changed. It seems only yesterday that I visited Russia together with Katya when we wrote research together at KBW back in 2011 i think. Time flies. 

Guess which plate is mine ;o)

Now its almost 1am, but the city is very much alive. Its still not really dark (white nights) and many people hang out on the embankments probably some waiting for the beautiful bridges to open and many probably cherishing the short summer season (also the city doesnt really start working before 9/10am …). One actually needs to know the opening hours well especially if you live on one of the islands – many have gotten stuck as their is no transport off the islands after about 2am given the metro is closed from midnight and there are no ferries (well, unless you fancy a swim that is). 

I feel already very much at home here. But for now … good night or доброй ночи!