Вернуться

So far I’ve spent my time back in Russia drinking coffee, hanging out with hot men, and having jobs thrown at me.  And yes, I am having a much, much better time than last time!  I don’t know whether the weather has made everything more pleasant, whether people are being nicer thanks to the sunshine and political developments, or whether it’s because I’m not working for ‘that’ company.  Either way, things so far have been great, and I can definitely imagine myself playing between Brussels and Russia in future.

I have however spent a disproportionate amount of my time thus far working.  Pretty much every day since my arrival—on which I spent nearly 15 hours in a café working—has involved going to a different branch of the wildly overpriced Coffeeshop Company, sitting down, abusing the wi-fi, and working my butt off.  My efforts have mainly been directed at some copy-editing work I’ve got going on, and on sorting through and responding to the huge number of submissions we’ve received for the Terry Pratchett/Alzheimer’s anthology.  Thankfully, submissions are now closed, so the actual reading-responding part should settle down shortly.

Anyway, despite my constant work-i-ness, I have had a couple of quintessentially Russian experiences.  Including a toilet bus, but I’m going to avoid talking about that particularly awkward and public experience.  I’ve been staying with Naz and Mikita in Primorskaya, kind of near one of the schools I used to work at.  (Side note—I definitely would have commented about how badly it was managed at some point, and it’s since closed down.  Quel surprise!)  So far that’s been pretty groovy, though actually, it’s rare that any of us are there at the same time.  On the upside, this means that there’s no-one around to watch me talk to the degus for protracted periods of time.  Yes, degus.  No, I’m not making up words.  They’re a Chilean rodent (in Russia, naturally) sort of between a mouse and a possum.  Or a quoll.  I don’t know, but they’re adorable, and there’s nine of them here for me to bribe with contraband flower petals and talk to in an uncontrollably high pitch.

I’ve also popped by Naz’s work a couple of times—once I was roped in as a guest Australian teacher, and once I somehow ended up doing some of her marking—very smooth.  And, as mentioned, I’ve had a few job offers (four attempted poachings so far!).  This is the time of year at which a lot of native speakers leave anyway, but it’s particularly bad at the moment.  I heard a while back that the Americans especially were leaving with the exchange rate, as they couldn’t afford to pay off their student loans.  But I mean this is a city (and/or country) which struggles to recruit and retain native speakers anyway.

On the topic of English, I’ve noticed that there seems to be a lot more of it around than there was two years ago.  There’s definitely more in terms of signage etc than in Moscow, but also spoken English is more noticeable, especially in the service industries.  I don’t know whether it’s because more people who were studying it at school have now graduated or what, but it would definitely be easier for a tourist now.  And, if anything, English seems to be more popular now—one guy came and sat with me in a café the other day, and man did he want to speak English.  He knew about five words, so it was a bit of a challenge for him, but there you have it.

On the topic of English people, I was grabbing some lunch the other day when I overheard some Northerners trying to figure out their map.  I asked if they needed any help, and as it turns out, they were only in St Petersburg for one day and wanted to know what to see.  One day.  And by this time it was nearing 5pm, and all they’d done is go on a bus and see the Hermitage.  Hm :/.  But that’s beside the point.  More interesting was when they asked what people were celebrating.  As it turns out, it was the city day, celebrating the foundation of St Petersburg.  I hadn’t seen the celebrations though, so thought they were talking about the Victory Day signs that were still about the place.  The lady knew about the Siege of Leningrad, but as it turns out, that’s pretty much it.  When I mentioned the 70 year anniversary (of the end of the Second World War), they asked “but why are they celebrating that?  Why aren’t they celebrating their own history?!”.  Ffs.  I told them that actually, there were 27 million Soviet casualties during WW2.  I explained that WW2 is taught as a Russian victory here (I’m staying well out of that one), and they were just shocked at the notion.  Because as I’ve mentioned before, that’s America’s war—right?!?

Speaking of thing which are and aren’t wars—sanctions.  (Yeah, loosest segue ever, sue me.)  When I was the guest Australian in Naz’s class, I was asked about whether people really eat kangaroo.  I said that yes, and that Russia is—was—one of the biggest export markets for it, if not the biggest.  Everybody’s face pretty much showed an accepting chagrin, if there can be such a thing.  Lack of kangaroo imports is hardly the biggest deal!

Apparently one of the first things to disappear was blue cheese.  Other things which disappeared really quickly were Ikea goods (apparently there are just heaps of bare shelves), electrical homeware such as stoves and fridges, and electronics.  People just started going to the stores and buying all of this stuff which they couldn’t afford, and perhaps didn’t really need.  They were anticipating price hikes—which have since happened, and it’s surely nothing to do with massive demand.  But why?  Just, why??!

More visible are things such as the price of imported foods and drinks.  A bottle of cider is far more expensive than a bottle of vodka (~300 rubles versus about 200 for a ‘normal’ bottle), and fruits and vegetables are crazy.  Naz has told me that tomatoes are more expensive than meat, and in making dinner the other night, two small zucchinis cost me just under 200 rubles (so around AUD$5/US$4).  Yup, living like a rich lady, obviously.

Happily however, books are still cheap.  As such, I’ve been gathering a little collection for myself, mainly focused on improving my (now awful) Russian.  I went to my favourite place, Dom Knigi (Дом Книги / house of books) and picked up some graded readers (and a book about pirates haha), then a couple of days ago trekked to the State Uni’s bookstore.  Now, this bookstore isn’t exactly in-your-face.  I only know about it because I had to go and pick up a textbook or two for my course when I was studying here.  Basically, you go to one of the uni buildings, pass through the turnstiles, and it’s in this little nook down some stairs to your right.

Man I love that book store though.  I was there for quite some time, picking up some useful grammar and revision books, and some focused on politics and global issues, for fairly obvious reasons.  Anyway I finally headed to the counter with my stash, and there was a tall bearded guy standing there.  He saw me buying ‘Russian for foreigners’ books, and so spoke to me in English.  He commented about the hecticness of learning Russian, and I replied that I was just revising and hoping to improve my level.  Then he started saying something else, at which point I rudely interrupted and said “I’m sorry, but don’t I know you?  Your face, I’m sure…”.  The guy and I stared at each other for about ten seconds as I tried to place him, then he goes “aren’t you Laura?”.  Yup.  He’s now grown a beard, but it was a guy from Eclectic Translations, who I’m sure I’ve mentioned before.  Wtf?  A city of nearly 5 million (legal) residents, and it took me three days to run into someone I know—and in an obscure place, no less.  Either way, he mentioned that they’re always on the lookout for freelance translators, and said to come to their Tuesday drinks.  So that’s happening!

What else?  Well, I had a traumatic frisbee experience on Saturday.  Yes, that’s right—traumatic.  Basically after my most excellent CouchSurfing-based adventure the other night, I thought I’d give it another go.  I could see an ‘ultimate frisbee’ event happening, so thought I’d check it out.  Ultimate frisbee is like a cross between frisbee and rugby, and we used to play it on the beach all the time when I worked in the UK.  It’s a damn good time, is what I’m saying.  Anyway the event ad read “If you’re looking for some exercise, fun lively chat or making new best friends – look no further.  We are friendly bunch and welcome everyone, no matter if you’ve never touched a frisbee before.”  AND IT WAS ALL LIES.

Now, I realise that I’m truly and catastrophically awful at conventional sports.  Throwing, catching, teamwork—things I am just not capable of.  Unless we’re talking ‘throwing myself at somebody’, ‘catching a cold’ (yeah, that could have gone other places), and teamwork in the sense of the workplace and/or baking.  But none of these latter even mildly relate to frisbee.

As it turns out, these people weren’t playing ‘ultimate frisbee’, they were just playing ‘frisbee to the ultimate’—it was a total dick-measuring contest in which there were myself, one other girl (briefly, before she was relegated to watching and taking photos), and four burly Russian guys.  And they were fucking serious about their frisbee.  They were all standing a long way away from each other—we were in a star shape, and the guys furthest from me were around 40 metres away.  There’s no way I can throw anything that far, and certainly not accurately.  So sometimes it stopped short of them, sometimes it careered off in random directions, and one time I threw it behind me (I did mention the ‘bad-at-throwing’, right?!).  Or there was the time when I fell over my own feet, tumbling to the ground, or didn’t catch the frisbee properly so it smashed into my face.  And that’s neglecting all of the times I just straight-up dropped it.  Yeah.  But whereas I guess normally people would laugh it off with me (because it’s a social, non-competitive game… right?), or give me some tips (as per the couple of times I played rugby with the guys from school), these guys looked at me with complete derision.  Honestly, it was awful.  I ended up so ashamed of myself that I just left—I lasted about 40-45 minutes then just couldn’t take it anymore.  “Friendly bunch” my ass!

While waiting for the frisbee guys that afternoon, I’d been taking a nap on the grass.  I’d walked from Naz’s workplace, via an open-air Viking festival at Peter and Paul’s Fortress, to the Field of Mars—and I was sleepy to boot.  The grass was too much to resist.  Anyhoo, as I was lying there I overheard a cacophony coming from the road.  I propped myself up, only to see an escort of flag-flying cars and a big Zenit tour bus full of shirtless guys.  Yup, Zenit—the SPB football team—was in town, and they wanted people to know about it.  The city, in turn, went a little bit nuts.

Post-frisbee I was waiting to catch a bus down to Mayakovskaya to meet Naz, when a car pulled up at the lights.  They started beeping, and I glanced up.  It was one of the freaking escort cars and they were staring at me.  I was extremely fucking confused.  I mean really.  The whole street was full of Russian women for goodness’ sake—but there was no doubt about it.  Haha differences between me and the other women on the street: (a) I don’t look Slavic, (b) I look healthier, (c) they’re crazy beautiful, (d) I was wearing hiking shorts and a t-shirt, whereas they were all in heels and looking like they’d stepped out of a catalogue.  So yeah, maybe these guys were tripping.  Or maybe they saw the dirt on me from where I’d fallen over, and assumed I spent a lot of time on my knees.  (Yes, yes I definitely snickered as I wrote that.)

2015-05-30 19.32.05Finally, because this is getting a bit out of control and I need to get to work.  Probably the two most ridiculous things I’ve seen so far happened in close proximity the other night: firstly, I saw a window painted with dolphins and an internet explorer logo (wtf and why?!), and secondly, there were a couple pushing their baby in a pram.  Oh, wait—that’s not what they were doing at all.  Their infant was in a remote control metal Jaguar-looking car, and the dad was driving him down the street.  Because Russia.

http://images.sodahead.com/polls/000691117/polls_usherheart_3947_468316_poll_xlarge.jpeg

Breakaway

I have just spent two hours listening to a man spouting some of the most hateful bullshit I’ve ever heard in my life, without being permitted to say anything or give an opinion in return.  He was good-looking and I’m an idiot, which is how I ended up sitting down.  Forgive me.

This man is from South Ossetia (ie the breakaway region of Georgia), pro-Putin, an avid hater of gays, convinced that Jews are running the world and playing politics as if it’s a game of chess, and fairly distinctly anti-Arab Muslim.  I don’t even know where to start.  I’m actually overwhelmed.  ‘Flabbergasted’ would be the appropriate word, if it wasn’t so ridiculous-sounding.  It probably goes without saying, but none of the below reflects my opinions in any way.

I guess I’d better start with gays.  He told me all about how:

  • Being gay is a choice.
  • Nobody in Russia gives a fuck because it’s sick and barbaric, and these people are monkeys who ‘care more about someone fucking their asshole’ than about their parents, heritage, brains or future.
  • Girls can choose either way at any time, but when a guy chooses to become gay, there’s no going back. He’s doomed.
  • A lot of guys in Russia choose to be gay to make good money. Because you see, if someone is good-looking but has no brain, their best option is to become a prostitute.  And these stupid, good-looking young men want money, so rather than do the ‘right’ thing, fulfil their ‘main role’ in life, they instead choose to fuck fat old guys in exchange for cash.  Because iPhones and travel.
  • Nobody in Russia would want their child to be gay. Gay isn’t normal, and the ‘gay movement’ is ruining Europe and the West and causing massive demographic problems.  That’s right, low Western birth-rates aren’t due to high levels of education or the availability of family planning, but to people choosing to be gay.

On women:

  • Russia’s main export is women, because they are top quality. The stupid ones become prostitutes, and the other ones wives all over the world.  This is because, despite the drinking and drugs in Russia, they just have good genes.

On life and love:

  • People’s main jobs are not to kill anyone, and to have a family. A guy is supposed to meet a girl, be in love for a year and long enough to have a kid, then can move on or whatever.  Love never lasts longer than 2-3 years, because that’s all that’s necessary to have a child.  Then if the parents stay together, the feeling mutates into something else.
  • Incidentally, I told him that I’m not having kids and I’m pretty sure that makes me a deficient monster in his eyes.

Children and heritage:

  • We don’t own ourselves, we are owned by our forefathers. Because, you see, they expended the effort in having sex and then protecting their lands, so that we could be here.  So that I could be here and ‘not look Chinese’.  They gave us genetic material and their knowledge so that we could be here, so we are theirs—and as such, being gay or not having children are not choices that are permitted to us.  It is our job.
  • Incidentally, apparently all of our forefathers were laughing at the ridiculousness of gay people, they were a joke. Because that’s historically documented (this was the point at which I just couldn’t take any more, and yet again he wouldn’t let me speak, so I left.  We will be having no further conversation, one-sided or otherwise).

On politics in general:

  • The US starts a lot of conflicts throughout the world, and ‘Cold War #2’ was caused by the Russian refusal to be dependent on the Federal Reserve.
  • Europe is the US’ bitch. So is everywhere else, for that matter.
  • Putin is awesome, 95% of the country agrees, and everybody else is a self-serving criminal.

On Jews and Muslims:

  • Jews are way smarter than everybody else, and it’s them in the top positions in Russia and the US and the world in general. Thus it’s them in charge of the world, it’s all one group of people having petty spats which appear to be political conflicts.  Instead it’s all a game of chess played from within the same ‘family’.
  • The Quran asks that people have as many children as they can, and Allah will protect said children. Meanwhile Jews only have as many children as they can afford.  So while Muslim children are raised at home by ‘monkey’ uneducated women, Jewish children are ‘high quality people’.  Europe should be concerned about all of these Muslim killers immigrating as they escape from US-started wars in the Middle East.
  • Muslim (?) men like to fuck sheep in the street in the name of their religion.  (Yes, that’s an actual example he gave.)

Interestingly, at one point he said that ‘you Europeans’ think we have some kind of moral or inherent superiority, but that’s not the case.  Later on he said that those who were going to be barbarians like gays or what-have-you aren’t good enough to be in Russia, and can try their luck elsewhere.

I can’t believe I made it to 5 weeks back in this country before hearing this shit again.  I guess it’s because I avoided speaking to Russian men.  I feel sick.

No Dill

(13-Jul-15)

Well here I am, back in vertical Germany, and finally starting to catch up on my Russia posts.  Needless to say, they’re completely out of order—but what are you going to do about it?!

Staying with Naz reminded me of all the little details about life in Russia.  She and her Belorussian bf live in an old Soviet apartment, in the Primorskiy District—partly developed, but still quite old.  There’s this ubiquitous grime covering everything, as though you’re seeing the world through a faint coffee stain.  There are the little old ladies selling flowers, the stalls with baked goods at the start of the day, the fruits and vegetables being hawked, and people wearing loudspeakers which broadcast ads at you, while their wearers bear indifferent faces.

After walking past the crying sounds of a harmonica one day, we got on the marshrutka (bus) to head into town—only to be greeted with a mouth full of gold teeth.  Not that the driver was smiling.  I think his teeth were just uncomfortable, meaning his mouth had to be propped open.  He then took us on quite the adventure—I’ve never been on a bus which did a u-turn in the middle of the street before!

It’s always quite interesting to have Naz’s South African perspective to be honest.  She describes Russia, even the cities (themselves a world away from the rest of the country), as being like the undeveloped parts of South Africa, or akin to the more dilapidated and uncared-for cities.  We started talking about different countries’ equivalents of bogans, about the trashy clothes, the bad hair, the grab and run attitude that you can’t go a day without seeing in Russia.  Incidentally, at this point I think I have to establish some kind of bogan scale, because nobody ever knows what the hell I’m talking about.  Basically, ‘bogan’ is Australian for a non-violent, opinionated person of typically low education or socio-economic status.  But I’m an idiot and didn’t make this graph 3d in order to incorporate opinions:

On a very much related note, someone peed in the lift to Naz’s flat.  The only way into the building, and someone decided it would serve better as a urinal.  And not even once, but multiple times in the week!  Eventually someone cracked and wrote “НЕ ПИСАЙТЕ В ЛИФТЕ!”, “don’t piss in the lift!”.  The next day, someone had rubbed out the не/don’t.  Next step in the battle was someone rewriting in the не, and also adding the same text in bright red on the other wall of the lift.  Who the fuck has a piss-battle over a lift?!

Anyhoo.  One of the few inconveniences associated with living in Russia is the fact that the water gets turned off in summer.  Usually just the hot water, though it could go either way.  And we’re not talking about an especially balmy country here—there are no palm fronds in sight.  Of course, the most inconvenient part is the fact that you’re not told when the water will be turned off, nor how long it will be turned off for.  Usually it’s a few weeks to just over a month, but it could really be any time.  And we don’t understand why—it’s not like other far-northern countries do this, though the Russian explanation seems to be something to do with checking the pipes.  How and what and why?!  Either way, it led to our  spending a couple of hours each day heating pots of water on the (ineffective) stove, then sploshing around in the bath scooping water over ourselves.

On one occasion Naz and I decided to go in search of a hairdresser, because washing your hair takes a fair bit of water, and doing it with freezing cold water isn’t that much fun.  After rather a number of hairdressers, we eventually found one that would wash our hair for under 1000 rubles (total rip-off), and who would let us go into the street with wet hair (though they thought we were crazy).  They were lovely, though Naz’s hairdresser was apparently pretty fond of booze, and smelled it.  Professionalism ftw!

I’m going to skip talking about dill and my hatred of it for the nth time, because it can really be summarised with (a) I hate dill (b) I always request ‘no dill’ (c) food always arrives with goddamn dill.  DILL IS DISGUSTING.

As mentioned in my post ‘Вернуться‘, I bumped into one of the managers of the brilliant Eclectic Translations in a book-store in Piter.  Eclectic is the company that did the English subtitles for Leviathan, the Yolki films, and a bazillion more—they’re brilliant.  Anyway I went to ‘Trannie’ (Translator) Tuesdays at their in-house bar a couple of times while in St Petersburg and had a fairly brilliant time drinking far too much wine.  The first time I went, I got rather unplannedly tipsy, and pretty much announced as much when walking in the door at Naz’s apartment.  She’d been expecting me, so had had water heating up on the stove for my bath.  I therefore found myself, post-vodka, sitting in an old rusty Soviet bath, washing myself in an inch or so of water, and happy as Larry.  Really all I needed was a rubber duck to complete the scene.  Naz then proceeded to take the piss out of everything, to my hysterical reaction.  My favourite line was “Fuck Zurich; I’ve never been to Switzerland, but I don’t think I like it.  Zurich poo-rich”.  Yup; much maturity was had.

I did learn one thing of particular interest, in relation to Russian border security.  One of Naz’s friends was due to come in on a cruise ship, and generally customers on a cruise apparently don’t need visas, as they are under the ‘captain’s cloak’ (ie the captain’s authority).  Not for Russia, though.  Recently the country decided to withdraw that privilege, in a fairly unprecedented (from what I gather) fashion.  So now there was a big ship full of people stuck in port.  However, in Russia there’s always a way, always a rule to be broken, always a way around.  In this case, passengers were told that as long as they booked a particular tour with a particular company (at an exorbitant price, no less), they could enter St Petersburg.  You couldn’t pay directly, though—you had to pay in euro, to a bank account in Norway.  Not sketchy.  Not sketchy at all.  (Russia never is.)

Melbournisation

(23-Aug-15)

Alright, so it’s nearly two months since I left Russia.  It’s probably just about time to finish writing about it!  This time, I’m writing not from Vertical Germany, but from sunny Italia, where I’m not allowing myself to do anything fun until I get a solid amount of work done on the new anthology.  We’re just over two months from release date (ohmygod ohmygod panic attack), and there’s rather a lot of editing to be done.

Since leaving Russia, I’ve been a very busy girl—first it was summer school, then a model UN at the EU External Action Service (turns out I make a great Juncker), then being very sick.  Following this was a trip to Amsterdam, my 30th, and party prep and recovery taking nearly a week (I was a mermaid of the variety that drinks like a fish—I had a Disney theme ;)).  Then editing, then the book club went viral and I had to build a shiny new website in double-time, then I quit the book club in a torrent of flames, and then suddenly I was here.  Of course, I’ve had quite a few adventures, both in Brussels and now here in Italy, so it’s about time I kicked into the back-log… and stopped procrastinating via opening paragraphs.  Also, this post will touch on my one hour in Latvia down the bottom 🙂

After working far too hard in St Petersburg, I decided I needed a holiday from my holiday, and booked trains for another long weekend back in Moscow.  On the way there, I elected to take the day train, and was seated opposite a man who smelled distinctly of beer.  This only increased as the trip went on, given the amount he was consuming with his friends.  I was quite tired and aiming for a nap—but, as it turns out, my seat had the powerpoint for the 40-person carriage.  So after a number of times being shoved out of the way so that people could plug things in, and people getting a bit feisty with each other over whose turn it was, I decided to apply some organisation.  I arranged a queue, and guarded people’s stuff while it was there.  Yup.  The carriage named me “наша девушка на розетке”/nasha devushka na rozetke/Our Girl of the Powerpoint.  Glamour, right??

The train paused at one point at a work site, presumably so that goods could be loaded and unloaded.  Looking out the window, I saw that everyone was brown—and I don’t mean tanned (though that, too).  Everybody working on the site, ie doing manual labour, was from the Caucasus.  There were no ‘white Russians’.  It made me ponder something Arthur said when I was in Moscow a few weeks prior, that in Russia everything is equal—it doesn’t matter what your race is or what your gender is, you will still have the same work opportunities.  I absolutely maintain that this is complete and utter bullshit, but hey.  Whatever sees him through the day.  Being at this random site some few hours outside Moscow really hammered it home: you get used to seeing black Russians in lower-level and manual labour roles, but here it was just somehow stark.

Again on this topic, at Gostiniy Dvor station in St Petersburg, there are these big security archways.  They’re off to one side, and I’d always figured they were broken, like a lot of the stuff in that metro station seems to be.  I’d always just cruised through the station, gone to buy my zhetony if necessary, then walked through the barriers without really thinking about it.  Until one time on this trip, when a Chinese-looking dude walked into the station just ahead of me.  A cloud of guards descended upon him, yelling at him to take off his bag, turn out his pockets, and walk through the security barrier.  They then took him off to some room for goodness-knows-what.  I mean this was just some random, harmless-looking dude, and there’s no way they didn’t do that because of what he looked like.

I think I’ve mentioned it before, but I once invited a Korean girl to a party I had in Piter, and despite her having been living there for over a year at that point, she said it was the first time Russians had actually spoken to her.  Or again, I kissed a distinctly non-Russian guy in Moscow, and the looks of disgust and abhorrence on people’s faces.  One guy mimed spitting on the floor, while others shuddered and turned away.  It made me want to passive-aggressive the shit out of them, to be honest.  We weren’t doing anything horrible.

I spent this trip to Moscow hanging with some people I’d met the previous time, eating far too much Japanese at Две Палочки (as always), watching comedy, and SEEING JURASSIC WORLD 3D!!!  TWICE!!!!  YEAHHHHHH!!!!  Man I love dinosaurs.  After the first time watching it, I didn’t think I’d ever be able to speak in lower case letters, ever, ever again.  I went the first time with Arthur and his Kiwi friend Lisa (who will reappear in this blog later on… hello, foreshadowing!), then that night at the bar, was so excited about it that I ended up going with someone else from there the following day.  I must say, I felt a little queasy the first time I saw raptors (those familiar with my other work will know why), but then it was just 5000 kinds of awesome.  And THERE’S GOING TO BE TWO MORE FILMS.  Yes!!!

Following my trip to Moscow, I ended up working for a lovely tiny school just south of the centre for a couple of weeks.  It was called English Effect, and was the first company I’ve worked for in Russia where everybody was nice.  And normal.  It was completely stress-free (:o!!!).  I also continued editing, and of course, attending Translator Tuesdays at Eclectic.  On one occasion, I went to coffee with a Russian girl who goes to Eclectic’s drinks.  She was talking about her travels through Europe, and how shocked she was by the children in France.  She couldn’t believe how happy and free they were, compared to what she described as ‘grumpy Russian children’.  Another classic line was when she told someone off because she described their ideas as “so Stalinist, so bourgeoisie”.  I’m not totally convinced this is a consistent insult, but in what other country would you hear that?  Hysterical.

Overall, I definitely saw some changes in Russia over the course of this trip.  I mentioned in a previous post that people seemed way happier than last time.  But in addition to this, they were even dressed differently—Stalinist-bourgeoisie girl explained it via the ‘hipster movement’.  I’m not really sure what this is meant to mean, given people dress neither like the ‘hipsters’ in the hit Russian film Стиляги/Stilyagi/Hipsters (watch it, it’s brilliant), nor like the modern Australian version.  But whatever it is, it includes a lot less fur coat + high heels + a bucket of makeup.  And the 80s-ness of fashion seems to have cut down a bit, too, at least in the (admittedly major) cities I went to.

Next, there has also been a massive improvement in food.  I’m far from a foodie, but this time it didn’t actually taste like crap.  THIS IS HUGE.  And not only that, but there are increasingly vegetarian options!  It’s like people might actually want vegetables.  Of course, there’s still freaking dill on everything, but I guess you can’t have everything.  One place that embodied this change in culture, cuisine, and arguably sophistication was a place called “Pitas Street Food” by Ploshad’ Vosstaniya in St Petersburg.  It had plentiful vegetarian food, everything tasted good, and it had freaking cider.  Cider!  In Russia!  And on tap :o!!!  Plus it had powerpoints at each table, an instagram printing booth, and park benches for people to sit at which lent it a somewhat art deco feel.  The crowd was very diverse, and overall it felt like a place that could easily be in Melbourne.  I couldn’t believe we were still in Russia, it was crazy!

I do of course have plans to return again, though my visa has now expired :(.  At this point I’m guessing I’ll spend next summer either in Russia (likely Moscow) or Ukraine, so we’ll see what happens.  Someone asked why I don’t look at doing my PhD in Russia rather than in Europe, and I pretty much laughed—living in Russia again is completely off the cards, in part because of ongoing intolerance, and largely because of man-woman relations there.  *Shudder*.  But it’s definitely a place I’ll continue to return to, be fascinated by, study, and write about.

Here are a couple of random photos:

My final two days in St Petersburg were spent at an EU-Russia conference, then I had to fly back on Sunday before starting summer school (on Post-Soviet conflicts… theme, anyone?!) the next day.  Well, technically that night, but I skipped it.  Such a rebel.

As it turned out, my professor was on the same flights as me, so the poor guy had to put up with me all day.  It was super handy actually, as we had a 4-hour stopover in Riga (the capital of Latvia).  He was staying in the airport to do some work, but I figured I could spend an hour in the centre and not miss my flight, so I gave him a gigantic stack of books to carry around for me and headed off.  He said my pile of books made him feel ‘intellectual’, which I found pretty hysterical, given he’s an academic.

After negotiating with a somewhat grumpy bus driver, I arrived in Riga itself.  I looked around for the nearest promising location, and spotted a gigantic building towering over the city.  I started walking toward it, given I had no idea where I was or what I was doing, and as it turned out it was a science faculty of a university.  And it was ginormous.  As such they let tourists up onto the top floor, for panoramic views of the city: win!  What’s more, from there I could see something which looked suspiciously like scenic, UNESCO-listed old buildings, so I now had my mission.

Leaving the tower I walked into the Old Centre.  It was very sweet—actually it reminded me somewhat of a cross between parts of Prague and Helsinki.  I went moseying through, stopping for some lunch (strawberry icecream—I understand nutrition!) and to browse at some of the stalls.  I also checked out some old castles and things (albeit very quickly).  Then it was back onto a bus, the finding of which was probably not so much due to my bad-ass travelling skills as to some kind of miracle, and to the airport.  With souvenirs.  It was really a power hour!

Back at the airport I tracked down my professor quite quickly, whereupon he bought me a coffee and I distracted him from work by chittering on about dinosaurs for a really protracted period of time.  Poor guy.  Poor, poor guy.

After that it was just a hop, skip and a jump, and I was back in Brussels, to my flatmates and my garden-which-was-now-a-jungle.