Following are some quick impressions from my first week study and stay in St Petersburg. It is definitely a different world in this big city where I know just a little (Чуть Чуть) of the language.
Sunday: My home stay location is wonderfully central in the city. I went out for a walk along the main shopping street: Nevsky Prospect (Невскии проспект). I’m surprised at how many people are out and about on a Sunday afternoon. I can spot many tourists with their guide books and maps, though the majority is not tourists. A group of hari krishnas is chanting at the main square. Tourist prices also here with a soft drink costing 2.5x as much as in Gatchina. Quite a few stores are open and I find a nice internet café that allows me to upload photos.
I don’t know if the host family expected the bicycle, though the school did realize that I was “bicycling to school” (only from Amsterdam and not every day. My bicycle is stored away in the apartment).
Monday: First day of school, wow overwhelming! There is a lot to learn. Little bits and pieces come back to me such as Russian grammar but I’m also missing a lot of the little connecting words such as “if”, “then”, “only”, “other”, “that’s all” so conversations are halting at best. My host drives me to school to help me find things and because the assessment test is at 8:45am. On other days I will walk (~40 minutes) through the city. After an assessment test where I miss most questions and realize how rusty my Russian grammar really is, I am on to my lessons. Four one hour lessons with a short break in between. Wow, my head hurts trying to remember everything. However we write things down for later study.
I make a leisurely walk back with stops for lunch, internet and window shopping. I also have a few simple things on the list: (1) get a mobile telephone number – done (2) find bicycle shops – several good candidates including Trial Sport nearby (3) see if I can spot an inexpensive second set of non-bicycling pants – nothing yet in my size and (4) take the subway – will wait to tomorrow. After that time to concentrate on my Russian study.
Tuesday: Making slow baby steps and I start feeling a bit more at home in St Petersburg. Other than school, I wanted to (1) take the subway and (2) find a laundry. I found a laundry, and though haven’t yet figured out whether to ask to use washing machine of the host family or go to laundry. The school sponsored a walking excursion after class and I and ~10 classmates took the subway to Nevsky Ploshad (Невскии плошаль) and then make a walk from there. The architecture around this city is amazing mixture of baroque and classical. I’m very close to the Hermitage and hence good place for further visits (one of my goals is to get a student id card so as to get reduced discount on admission to museums).
The host family is ~45 minute walk from school so this morning I made the walk along some of the main streets. During work days it is a busy city with lots of traffic and many pedestrians. I had another four lessons in a row. I’ve picked up a few more of the little words. There is more to learn about verb conjugations (e.g. the different types of verbs of motion) but this is more memorization and regular practice, so those drills are a bit more straightforward. Still a bunch to learn but feel like I’m making some baby steps of progress.
Wednesday: One goal for the day was to see if I could get a student id. I found a place to have my photos taken. I dropped off the photos at the desk at school – I think they get the id for me. It is sometimes a little unclear but I usually go with the flow and figure things out from there.
Lessons were again a little more straightforward. Most of my fellow students are younger and have more Russian language but there are a few older students. I am left with a little less definite list of things to learn next, but probably can also re-review the previous things again. As I walk back, I see plenty of high heel shoes and a corresponding number of shoe repair places.
Thursday: We visited the Hermitage this afternoon. Impressive from several aspects: the building and its various halls and galleries are huge with many ornate features both inside and out. It is also surprising how much variety between adjacent rooms as if each were set up in a different style. Within the Hermitage is an impressive collection of art (e.g. largest collection of Spanish art outside Spain or largest collection of Rembrandts outside Amsterdam) so one can make a good study of art history just within the Hermitage, as well as a large unique collection of Russian art itself. The school organized a guided expedition to the museum. A quick whirlwind introduction but definitely gives a flavor of why one could spend days in the museum.
Some good solid lessons today, I’ve got some more concrete things to learn. I feel like I’m actually picking up little bits and pieces each day, so that is also nice to have a more intense class. Four hours per day is a good block of time and I also find myself working through things going and coming to school, especially going to school. I’ll recommend this combination of language school and tourism together as a different way to see St Petersburg.
Friday: I have an International Student ID Card and I got my laundry done. Small steps but nevertheless nice to keep progressing with these small steps along the way. It was raining, so took the subway to school. At rush hour it seems like the trains come every minute or two but are still packed. After school sun was shining brightly so nice time to walk through the city including this stop at the internet cafe.
Still working though more Russian grammar. Lots of complexities of the genitive plural case though mostly a case of getting some more practice. I sometimes practice my Russian with my host family but then also nice at school to work through the same types of conversations. For example, a different verb is used to wash clothes than to wash a floor, though my pocket dictionary wouldn’t immediately tell me which one to use.
Nice to have a weekend. Tomorrow I’ve signed up for an excursion organized by the school to the village of Pushkin south of town. This is site of one of Catherine’s palaces.