Saturday, February 05, 2011

St. Petersburg, first impressions

I woke up to a winter wonderland as the plane plunged into an almost-vertical descent toward St. Petersburg's Pulkovo Airport. I prayed, for the second time in ten hours, that by some miracle I would walk out of the plane. 
Almost whimsically, these colourful onion domes
adorn the Church on Spilled Blood.

Obviously, I did. And from the airport I was swept away into a day full of new experiences, new sights, new foods, and a new lifestyle. I came home and fell into bed last night, completely exhausted, but very thankful for this smooth transition and excited about everything that lays ahead for me here.
The cupboards in my apartment were completely bare when I arrived, so I ventured out on my own in the evening to a гастроном (gastronom) to get some basics to make dinner. My shopping list wasn't long: chicken, bell pepper, garlic, tomato sauce, yogurt, fruit. And yet it took me over an hour and a half to procure these six items. I've since learned that, for my situation, I should really stick to продукты (produkti), which are also little grocery marts but function in the self-service manner that Americans are used to. The gastronomi are set up with large glass cases around the perimeter of each room. You can't just walk up and pick up a product to read the package, or handpick your own produce. Instead, there is a woman behind each counter whom you must ask for each individual item. The whole thing looks like an over-sized, over-stuffed deli.  Unfortunately, very few of the vocabulary words I learned in class came to mind, so I used gestures and a string of broken Russian to obtain the bare essentials.  
Cathedral of Kazan, modeled off of one in Rome

This morning one of  my supervisors and his wife kindly offered to take me with them on their weekly trip to a giant shopping center. Honestly, I was quite impressed.  This center was larger than most Wal-Marts in the States, and had a considerable collection of imported American brands.  The full line of Heinz sauces are available, Pantene, Crest, Maybelline, and many other cosmetic brands; they even had a gluten-free section!  I'm starting to get used to the currency here and the feeling of carrying around several thousand rubles -- which is strange, at first, to carry around a thousand-ruble bill.  I feel exceptionally wealthy to carry a thousand of anything. There are about 30 rubles to a US dollar, meaning that 3,000 RUB is about $100. 

I'm still recovering from a bout of sickness last week, so I wanted to get out of the house this afternoon for a look-around without setting out on too grand an excursion.  
The Mikhailovsky Castle, not to be confused with the
Mikhailovsky Palace, which is next door
So when the same couple that took me shopping offered to show me around the neighborhood, I was delighted!  We took a great little walk and in the course of two hours (and about a three-city-block radius) I saw and learned more about the buildings around me than I would have ever expected.  I am still blown away.  As much as I would like to, there is no way I could share all of it today. I have my work cut out for me, and enough material in this neighborhood for an entire year of excursions -- not to mention the sixteen weeks I have here. My camera was not in working order this afternoon, so I've borrowed some photos from the web just to give you an idea of what it's like to see another exquisite building around every corner.

The Hermitage

Here is just a taste of what lies just outside my front door...
  • Church on Spilled Blood
  • Peter and Paul Fortress
  • Aleksandrinskiy Theater
  • Russian Museum
  • Russian National Library
  • Hermitage
  • Singer Building - former Russian headquarters of the American sewing company Singer
  • Gostinyy Dvor - shopping archade built in 1785, boasts over 300 shops
  • Church of St Catherine, the oldest Roman Catholic church in Russia
  • Stroganov Palace - where beef stroganov was invented! I hear there's a restaurant inside where surely I can order some straight from the source. 
  • St. Isaac's Cathedral and St. Isaac's Square
  • Kazan Cathedral
For a quick view of some truly beautiful photos of St. Petersburg, I recommend this page from English Яussia. (Cliquer ici pour voir de magnifiques photos de Saint-Pétersbourg que Youssef va adorer!) 

Interior of the Alexandrinskiy Theater
The Singer Building, former Russian headquarters of the American sewing company
Bird's eye view of the Peter and Paul Fortress.
The golden spike supposedly makes its church the tallest in St Petersburg.
Miche, c'est une déscription du marché que je t'ai décris dans mon mail...je n'ai pas su acheter tous ce que je voulais parce que je n'ai pas eu les mots de vocabulaire pour demander sur tous!  Mais ce matin je suis allée au grand shopping, encore plus grand que cela où j'ai acheté le maillot avec toi, et là-bas j'ai acheter tous ce dont j'avais besoin pour remplir mes armoirs.  J'ai même trouver un coin bio plein de choses sans gluten...des galettes de riz, pâtes de riz, et tout!!  Je me demandais si tu as vu des pâtes faites avec de la farine de riz, parce que si tu les achètes peut-être que Marion, Aline et les enfants n'en auront plus marre de manger le riz souvent.Cet après-midi on a fait un tour du coin; la liste dessus montre un peu tous ces bâtiments fameux qui sont pas du tout loin de moi, et j'ai ajouté des photos de certains mais ce ne sont pas mes photos.  Demain je prends mon appareil avec. C'est seulement un tout petit promenade pour arriver à l'Ermitage!  En fait, mon bureau est juste en face de l'Ermitage.  Quelle chance! Et mon boss a une carte de musée donc je peux aller tous les jours si je veux.  C'est vraiment très chouette.



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