Having settled into my stride in the last few weeks in St Petersburg I have come to realise the error of my ways in extolling only its numerous virtues. That is not to say that St Petersburg does not have many virtues, merely that it also has a number of deficiencies which, shall we say, counteract those virtues. In order to atone for this admittedly less than grievous mistake I intend to fill you in on all the oddities and failings of the city that make living here enjoyable but at times, a little strange.
As remarked in my previous post, there are a number of very beautiful buildings, parks and monuments throughout St Petersburg. Buildings that in most countries would be cordoned off, pristinely maintained and generally made perfect for the ultimate #destinationpic. I cannot fault the maintenance of the buildings or monuments themselves, however, the surrounding areas are not so #destinationpic ready. I, for example, have yet to go to a historic or iconic building that does not have a bus stop directly in front of it. I am not suggesting rerouting all the buses that go by the building, merely suggesting moving the stops themselves to slightly different locations on their routes to avoid a consistent supply of static buses parked handily outside the monuments. Sadly Russian traffic officials don’t seem to want to heed the wise words of a 21-year-old foreign student, and thus the buses remain. So in order to avoid photographing a bus, and in order to see the building from a better angle, most people traipse around to other viewpoints of the building, ones that are not on main roads and so cannot be thus marred by public transport. Here, however, their efforts may also prove futile as within the building’s grounds, rather than maintaining an open expanse, those in charge of landscape and building design decided that these places directly in front of iconic buildings are the perfect locations for some public access port-a-loos. I am afraid I do not understand Russian logic in this respect, but perhaps I am speaking from the photo and Instagram-obsessed mind of a Western-Millenial.
Another Russian oddity is that there is an obsession with handing very important pieces of information to you on the most flimsy and minute pieces of paper possible. For example, on arrival, you are handed an immigration card, this is not a card, but rather a very thin piece of paper, about the size of your passport that is essential to doing almost anything in Russia. To register, you need this paper, to check into a hotel, you need this paper, to be enrolled in a university, you need this paper. And it is not the only small piece of paper needed for many vital tasks, it is but one of an overwhelming barrage of pieces of paper that I cling to desperately in the hopes that I won’t get unceremoniously deported.
On a slightly less serious note than deportation, I move on to another thing I perceive as strange in Russia. The cheese, and general dairy products. There is, what I would call an unhealthy obsession with slightly curdled dairy products in Russia. There is an abundance of these, for example, Kefir, a product somewhere between milk and yoghurt (usually used to make the famous Russian blinis) and Cottage Cheese, which is lathered onto absolutely everything possible. But despite these numerous curdled products, Russians do not seem to have the patience to wait for them to turn into the delicious cheeses we all know and love. Rather they create a part-cheese part cottage-cheese combination that is far more squidgy than any normal cheese, in my opinion, should be and that tastes oddly plasticky, reminiscent of a melted “Babybell”.
Besides these oddities and a few others that are either not as entertaining, and thus have not made the cut for this post, most things in St Petersburg are fairly normal. There is, sadly, a distinct lack of dogs, which those of you who know me will know is a real travesty. There is also a strange habit of – in a city with multiple breathtaking buildings – getting married and having your pictures taken on a cramped pavement in front of distinctly unremarkable buildings. After which they traipse around the city, whatever the weather, with all their guests and the bride shivering as she tries to avoid her white dress being dragged along the dirty pavements. Luckily this Russian oddity is one that is quite entertaining as I usually pass about three of these nomadic weddings on my walks to and from University. Despite all these minor grievances, I cannot complain as, for the most part, St Petersburg has won me over. Therefore, I will conclude with a positive discovery not mentioned in my last post. It is the discovery, that two doors down from my flat, is the oldest established doughnut or Pishki store in St Petersburg. There, they make some of the most delicious sweet fried doughnuts known to man, and they only cost about 10p each. As delightful as this discovery has been, it has also proved detrimental as the store is extremely close, and on my route to and from university…very dangerous.
With that sweet but dangerous thought, I shall take my leave and…not…go…and…get…doughnuts…