I am currently in Russia and the questions that I have been asked more than once is why go to Russia and isn’t it cold in Russia during the first week of March? The easy one to answer is about the temperature, it is way warmer than Boulder and PA, 30-40 degrees. Wanting to go to Russia was stimulated by the currency situation along with my desire to go to places I might not want to go when I am 60. The ruble for a couple years has been trading 30-35/dollar and this month has been 60-70/dollar. Russia has had inflation of about 10%, but even with inflation it is basically half price. The political situation in Russia is “interesting” at the moment, but there aren’t ill feelings from Russians to Americans. I have arranged with at least one and possibly more people from couchsurfing.com to hangout with in the evenings since it gets dark decently early.
In order to get to Russia I needed a visa, a damn expensive visa. Russia charges $210 for a visa and you need to drop it off and pick it up at the consulate so I used a visa service, my man Zhanna, to get me the visa. When I sent it to him he asked for my electronic visa application password which I gave to him so I really have no idea what my visa application says. I may be a farmer from Idaho for all I know. I have read 2 historical fiction books and am in the middle of a “cultural history” of Russia book which is only slightly more exciting than the title sounds. I have also tried to learn the Cyrillic alphabet. Which I kind of know, it just takes me 2 minutes to sound out a word since I have to think about the sounds each letter makes. Everyone knows my prowess for languages, it only took me 16 years to be able to speak English, and I now know a few words of Russian: bar, vodka, politics, mumps, yes, and no.
I got to the gate for my flight to St Petersburg (SPB) early, like normal. When they announced that the flight was boarding I looked around and was confused because there were only about 20 people in the boarding area. Three of us had “odd passports” and we were pulled aside and they did extra computer work and needed to see my visa. I was the last one of the 23 people on our Airbus A319 to board and each person could have had their own row if they wanted… I learned my 7th Russian word, chey (tea), and we got half a sandwich with 3 cucumber slices, a piece of meat (turkey?), 2inX2in piece of cheese, and some mayo.
I was out of the airport in less than 30 minutes. Walked up to immigration, handed my passport in, waited 5 while she examined my passport and scanned it 7 times, she stamped it and handed it back, no words spoken. Grabbed cash from 2 ATMs, the first had a 6000r (less that $100 limit, 64r/$1) and found the taxi booth (regulated 900r, 45min). My hostel (5500r for 7 nights) is pretty cool. I was given a 15 minute intro into to the city/hostel and headed off to Nevesky Prospekt, the main drag.
Wow, vibrant, the lights of the city bouncing off of clouds, buzz of young people walking, a giant smile on my face. I walked up and down the street for an hour looking at the 100+ year old European architecture until I grabbed dinner. I was lame and went into a Russian food place that had an English menu, but at least I was the only non Russian person there.
Initial impressions of SPB
-Gloom while landing, 5 minutes of descending through clouds and everything was grey once we broke through the clouds.
-The Russian language is pleasing to hear. In normal conversation there are not hard sounds. I was surprised by this.
-Vibrant, the city is moving, lots of people out with smiles on their faces.
-It is 34* and it is a fashionable place. Everyone has their jacket on, lots of fur and puff. Lots of skirts and leggings (not on men) and jeans.
-Whoever writes dictionaries should not put “iy” as a translation, how do you say that? I have no clue.
-I have a big smile on my face.