I clearly remember the day, 24th August 2012, when I arrived to Saint-Petersburg to complete an exchange semester at the faculty of management. On that warm and sunny day I was traveling with a fellow student, and we were both curious and excited about having a fantastic experience in Russia. At the airport a nice fellow student, Sveta (university representative „buddy”) welcomed us and humbly handed over our Russian sim-cards and invited us to take a taxi to the dormitory (cost 800 rubles). Unfortunately we did not have a decent level of Russian language knowledge back then, this way our participation was limited to absorbing the melody of the exotic mumbo jumbo going on in the front seats. The taxi drove us to the accommodation at the speed of light, so fastening my seatbelt instantly became second nature to me.
The dormitory staff was helpful, plus they could perfectly understand the self-invented pantomime gestures. Student dormitories would deserve another section, but it should be written by Hitchcock to describe those extreme conditions (note: hostels and hotels in general are modern, nice and clean). As one would expect it from hungry travelers, our first way led us to the closest shop called Diksi (Дикси). Again, there was no need to worry about our Russian, when they asked something at the cashier, it could mean only two things: they offered us bags or products in promotion (offers were shown with gestures as soon as the cashier saw the blurry tourist eyes). It is always a good idea to have some spare cash on you, but Visa and MasterCard are widely accepted.
The university took care about our registration, we just had to do a chest fluorography, which seemed particularly useless due to the simple fact that we knew we were tuberculosis free, but the examination granted 100% surety in this matter. There were times when I pondered on why we always had to satisfy the beast of the Russian bureaucracy, but looking at the bright side, the system made me develop a great virtue I lacked earlier: patience. Eventually things happened as they had to happen, of course, if you had friends in the right places, things could certainly happen faster, but it was not worth worrying about it. A little cultural secret related to this thread: Russians love to give and receive gifts, it is highly appreciated if you give a small, but meaningful present as a symbol of your future friendship. However prosperous the “gift-giving and accepting” environment is in Russia, I would not recommend bribing anyone, as you might find yourself at the wrong end of the deal.
With some exchangers we went together to the university by bus and through the block of flats in the outskirts I was trying to memorize where we turned left and right and counted how many blocks we passed. The university had modern classrooms and equipment, strikingly motivated professors and very welcoming Russian students. After classes I decided to find my way home alone, but I ended up drawing a big circle, hoping that I would find the needed bus stop – nevertheless I thought about it as a little tour in a new city. In case you would rather skip this intermezzo, you can go ahead and ask anyone on the streets. Some of them will throw at you a polite smile (they do not know English at all), but some will make the effort, even with their mediocre foreign language skills and will not let you on your way until they made sure you found what you were looking for.
Finally, the time had come to set eyes on the monuments downtown — and it was worth all the waiting. Walking down the Nevsky prospect (main road in Petersburg) we were shooting photos left and right and our Russian companion supplied us with the history and secrets that were hiding behind the walls. This is what I always got from Russian people: enchanting stories about the Russian culture that they honestly want to share with whoever is interested in hearing them.
For a downtown tour in Saint-Petersburg, please continue reading the Wonders of Saint-Petersburg.
Attila Mucsi (visit Attila's FaceBook page)