Thursday, August 28, 2008

Nevsky Prospekt, 20th August

All we did today was walk along Nevsky Prospekt... doing battle with the huge crowds, trying to avoid smokers, beggars, spruikers and the handbag arm-gangs! [The standard position for a beggar is sitting down in the gutter (not the road gutter, the water-draining gutter right next to the building walls); with a scrap of cloth laid out for coins; crying. Awful.

We’re looking for a few specific things, and prospecting (sorry) for lunch. First we pass the cd shop, the Stroganoff Monument (still not looking very tasty, although the kissing couples on the grass are rather sweet) and the Stockman shopping centre. Home of L’Occitane to the House of Moi, remember? We go in to use the Bankomat, M’s theory being that it’s safer to go inside somewhere with a) a guard on the door, and b) a relatively private, non-street location. Fine with me. I manage to resist the L’Occitane by virtue of thinking how much longer my money has to last (and how many countries I will have travelled through by then, let’s see ... five, and I’ll be on my way to the sixth and seventh!).

M is looking for a newsagent that may have English (British or American) newspapers. We trawl the shops leading to the Metro, nyet; various large bookshops on the street, nyet nyet nyet. Then we come to the side-street where M has noted there is a supermarket. We’re dying for lack of fresh fruit (we tried to buy some of the bananas in a bowl on the counter at KaveHaus yesterday; no luck, the woman in charge said firmly “DISPLAY ONLY”. Oh.). We walk around the block, looking for the address which matches the map marker. Nyup. However I note the Segafredo sign on a cafe, aha! - Italian coffee, a brand I know. So that’s lunch taken care of (at 3pm - why does everything take so LONG???)

With M’s help, and the little bit of English the proprietor has, I manage to buy some ground Segafredo to bring back to the hotel. The Helsinki supermarket coffee isn’t a patch on the Illy I bought in Bergen, so supplies of something nicer is good to find. The cafe people (at least three of them) invite me to take a seat while they measure out the beans, grind them up, measure them again, and put them in a little container. It costs me about $A12 for 200g, not cheap, but oh how lovely it will be tomorrow morning (or even in a minute, ie 9pm) when I make my first pot. Mr Proprietor was trying to ask me how I was going to use the coffee: I engaged brain and said “We have a press” (miming pushing down the plunger on a coffee pot) and he recognised ‘press’ (ie French Press, that’s what plungers are called in Scandinavia I noted)). So that’s alright, he’s ground the coffee to the right grundity.

There’s no sign of a supermarket, or anyone carrying groceries in bags, so we go further down Nevsky, getting into seriously expensive Western hotel territory (the Radisson, the Grand Palace), looking for Cafe Max, a big cafe and internet site. And there it is! I posted a short blog entry from here, a bit tiredly I think. It’s the essence-de-communist-state which is getting me down. I don’t know how long it was before Budapest, for example, threw off the grim face of the hard years and became a more optimistic, open city; but St Petersburg hasn’t made it yet. The amount of restoration, renovation, updating, servicing is impressive - there are dug-up roads, canals, and pathways everywhere; it seems every building has some stage of shade cloth or scaffolding attached to some part of it; along our street there are men rebuilding window frames and scraping paint off the old ones; glaziers are doing huge business; and there are cranes making the baroque rooftops look very out of date.

I spent a happy hour at the interwebs... catching up on some email, a quick blog entry, and an even quicker last 15 seconds look at my bank book. Hey mum, isn’t that cheque in the mail yet??? I didn’t have time to answer every email, sorry especially to my darling dorter, but we WILL catch up soon. [Can you put things like this in your blog ... ?]

M’s gone off to find another newsagent where he’s more hopeful of finding a newspaper. He’s had a quick look at, chuckling his way through a few entries; flicked onto the Sydney Morning Herald home page, and checked his email. [We both find it amusing that his university’s site, when accessed from anywhere but home, always generates a warning box saying ‘THIS SITE IS UNKNOWN TERRITORY POSSIBLY CONTAINING NASTYPUTEREATINGVIRALSPAMGOOBIES”... hasn’t his illustrious institution registered itself as kosher yet? The interwebs spy devices certainly don’t like it. He has to choose the box marked “GO AHEAD AND CONNECT AGAINST OUR EARNESTLY GOOD ADVICE”. Heh. I think after all that he didn’t find anything particularly interesting waiting, what a pity. One could possibly hope for something really suss, or really silly .. anyway, just as I finish my webbing, he’s back with the paper.] Next stop, supermarket possible location number two. A bit of back-tracking along one of the canals, and hurray there it is! Full of actual supermarket things, like soap, and many aisles of grog, and FRUIT, and nuts and crackers and cheese and fresh milk which isn’t off and a zillion types of preserved meats. Huzzah.

We re-stock our vitamins-via-dried fruit supply, add milk and cheese, and top it off with wine, tins of gin and tonic, and two large bottles of Evian water. Buying sparkling water, 375ml at a time, to clean our teeth is getting annoying. It’s quite an experience, I know one usually foams at the mouth a bit when tooth-cleaning, but try fizzy water for a really special, up the back of the nose effect. Or perhaps, don’t...

Then all we have to do is lug our purrchases back to the hotel, about a mile away. M wants to take a taxi, but we can’t see any passing. Then a woman, possibly homeless and quite probably drunk or not well, starts shouting and pushing at someone near where we’re standing. We put one hand each through the supermarket bag and start walking. By the time we get back to Nevsky I reckon it’s not worth getting a taxi - will it have a meter? Probably not. How on earth do we work out what a decent price is to haggle with the driver? I can’t be stuffed. We puddle along, taking it in turns to carry the bag or sharing it between two lengthening arms. We can do it. I silently thumb my nose at the curdled milk lady as we pass by..

Since we staggered back to the room, apart from eating up lots of our lovely new food, I’ve been watching the Olympics. I’ve seen a bit of high jump, volleyball, diving (yes! some diving), some interviews with medal winners (it seems we’ll be going to Estonia just in time for them to celebrate their first ever Gold Medal - in shot put), and now some replays of medal-winning races.

I reckon the bit of today which isn’t already on the blog is brought to you exclusively by gin and tonic, with a slight hint of cheese and cracker; to be followed shortly by Tired Foot and Leg Cream dessert!


Hey we’ve cracked the code of the classical music cafe - it’s not the cafe which plays the bassoon quartets, it’s the cd shop upstairs with its speakers sitting over the cafe’s outside tables! So we forgive them for the MTV, after all.

And a little NB for my model-making dear ones: I saw three person-sized costumes today:
- a very poor brown bear, his face was all wrong, even the eyes weren’t level. He was handing out flyers for a cafe I think, purrhaps a regional Russian cuisine serving wild forest animal dishes!;
- a grubby, cheap and battered polar bear, also handing out flyers of some sort (ppl handing out flyers are 10 a rouble along the main road, the majority of them are for restaurants or strip-clubs. If either brown or polar bear had anything to do with a strip-club then the connection escapes me. The photo signs for the strip clubs exclusively feature Spamela Pamderson, btw!);
- a man in an extremely fierce-looking samurai costume, right down to the tasselled cap and black-banded mouth’n’nose cloth, who was, yes, handing out flyers for the nearby Japanese restaurant. His trouble was that he looked so scary I don’t know if anyone was grabbing the flyers!

.... the flyer-hander-outerers also seem to act informally as information guides; I saw quite a few people asking questions - mostly ‘where is KFC?’ and ‘how much further to Target?’ sort of questions. All in Russian, so purrhaps they are a little part of the implicit ‘how to get things done in St Petersburg’ system - you know, the implicit local knowledge stuff that none of us ever see written down; we just know how it’s done. The implicit local stuff (says she, warming to her subject) which is EXACTLY why it takes four hours to buy a bucket, or go to the bank, or find a grog shop (a la Bergen), etc etc. Too basic for the tourist brochures; too informal for the council signs; and too internalised for the locals to think of sign-posting it. Dammit!

No comments: