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! 

Arriving in St. Petersburg … lets learn some Russian!

I have been offline for the past month and spent much time with my son Alex, catching up with friends in London and also some hiking in Catalonia around Tom & Marta’s excellent wedding. Sadly, all my camera gear got stolen out of my car in London. So iphone pictures for now.

For the next five weeks St Petersburg shall be my new home. Just moved into my room on Griboyedova canal. Large room in a proper old fashioned house along one of the three canal’s. The host lady Maria seems nice and doesn’t speak much english (helpful for my language efforts). There is also a black cat sharing the appartment. 

The travel to Russia was uncomplicated this time round. Yura picked me up from the airport after a sleepy flight owing to the short night after the killers concert in London hyde park yesterday. We spent a nice afternoon in the center enjoying good food at the ‘clean plates society’ and walked a fair bit catching up on events since we met for NYE. For dinner he invited me over to his place and prepared some tasty steaks.  Great to see Nika & Max again.

Now its time to get some rest and get ready for my first day back at school (and the oral placement test). Lets see how much I can improve my Russian before heading to the village of Issad in late August to commence my farm job. The last time I studied the language is now many years ago though some vocab remains. 

Loving it and really looking forward to some fun time in this great city that holds so many memories for me. A visit to Nika’s dacha and the first home game of Zenit (the local football team) are already scheduled. And soon Alex will arrive for his 3w with the grandparents.