Wednesday, August 20, 2008

St Petersburgsk

.. and with a GIANT change of environment; socially, culturally and architecturally, here we are in Russia. It's grand and huge and grubby and still very communist-like. Far more so than in Budapest, two years ago, where the prevailing atmosphere was one of expanding freedoms. Here, the people are reluctant to engage with us - not many people speak English (we have wondered if perhaps they don't want to..) - and the blank, 'not my problem' face that we knew so well from Beijing, 10 years ago, is highly prevalent.

And, also like Beijing, getting things done takes ages. There's little signage to help (although most street signs have Cyrillic and Roman alphabet), except for rather alarming signs to places like 'The Museum of Political Police' (I joked that it would be empty because of course there were no such police..); or the unnattractive prospect of the Museum of Hygiene! Hygiene in general is pretty basic - the water is undrinkable; the streets are dusty (except for the stagnant pools lying around after the nightly rain); the buildings are grey with smog; the traffic pollution is noticeable (but not as bad as China, thank goddesses); and people spit everywhere, and smoke everywhere, and snog everywhere. Not a very nice mixture really.

We have both felt intimidated here, by the lack of courtesy, and the 'closedness' of things. There's a lot of detail in blog entries which I'm writing daily, but can't yet upload - there IS wireless internet at our hotel, but I can't work out how to enable it. Might have to wait for Estonia, whence we travel on Saturday.

Now, let's have some highlights to offset the grim bits: our hotel room is spacious, with a 4 metre ceiling, a big bathroom, and a huge fan to help cool us. Very comfy. The hotel staff (young women) have good English and are very helpful, not even objecting to us boiling their kettle to make our plunger coffee. And today I spotted a 'Segafreddo' sign on a cafe, and after we ate there was able to mime and point and eventually buy some ground coffee there. Yum. We're close to Nevsky Prospekt, the main shopping street, and there are lots of sales, so I'm hoping for some successful shopping of a minimal kind. We don't fancy attempting the postal system, so I can't buy anything bulky. Souvenir shops have tonnes of things I won't be spending money on - babushkas, etched glasses, mugs with decals, teddies of all descriptions, massively expensive museum amd art books, that sort of thing. I don't expect to find textiles, unless I can identify an actual department store. Many of the shops along this road are boutiques - Chanel, Max Mara, Escada. So we're in the most expensive bit.

I am kind of tempted to have a look at leather clothes, there might be a leather coat with my name on it. .. dunno.

One or two of you have sent me emails saying 'I think I've posted a reply to your blog' - sadly, no. I think you have to write it, then copy the weirdo wobbly text that is some kind of anti-spam device, and then click PUBLISH. Possibly you have to 'select' your reply first. Have another try! And for info, it is as easy for me to check email as it is to blog, so if you prefer email contact, that's fine. Just please DO keep writing, we feel particulary distant from home just now..

Today brought to you by the look on M's face when he discovered the 'margarine' on his toast with cheese and ham was actually condensed milk; gusts of Chanel No. 5 Hair Mist, Segafredo, and cigarette smoke in this internet cafe. Gotta get outta here fast!

1 comment:

Hil said...

Glad to read more adventures - do you feel more like Boris and Natasha or Rocky and Bullwinkle?

Condensed milk/margarine has a great yuk factor, even just reading it!

BTW, I meant to comment when I saw the earlier post that mentioned a blob of vaseline, and then got distracted. Which might just be what happens? LOL!