Sunday, July 31, 2011

Vanilla Milkshakes in St. Petersburg

I've been up all night hanging out with Roman, possibly the most hospitable human on the face of the planet. First he asked me where I was going, what I wanted to see, and then he suggested a town I might like. He said it was an old Russian town, not too big. We were looking at train ticket prices and I decided I wanted to go there. I told him "Let's buy it. I don't want to know where it is, or anything about it. Let's just buy the ticket." So now tomorrow I'm going to a town called Вологда, and I have pretty much no idea where it is (pronounced roughly "Bologda"). He tried to point it out on the map to me and I waved my hands and covered my face and said "I don't want to know anything about it!" and he looked confused by this strange American gesturing wildly. The only thing I do know is that tomorrow I will get on a train at 8:40 in the evening. I have a bed on the train. Between 8 and 9 the next morning I will be in Bololgda. And it will be great.

The trip to St. Petersburg from Finland was eventful. The bus driver and I got off to a bad start, him yelling at me in Finnish to put a suitcase on top of another suitcase and me yelling back "I don't speak Finnish! I don't speak Finnish!" But then he found out I was American and tensions eased. I think he's sick of Russians because he has to deal with them all the time and they never speak Finnish and he doesn't speak Russian. But with me could excuse the lack of Finnish.

After about 15 minutes in the bus he offered me a strawberry, and I gladly accepted. Then, when we crossed into Russia, he found out I did speak a little bit of Finnish and the floodgates opened. We spent the next 2 hours having the most broken conversation it's possible for two humans to have. He would speak in Finnish and I would say, "Uh huh, OK, yep". And then eventually he would say "Did you understand?" and would smile sadly and say, "No, sorry."

We did manage to communicate a few things, like how he had lived in Moscow for a year and how I had studied in Savonlinna for 3 weeks. I told him my sister lived in Africa and that I might go visit her. At one point he asked what the word for bridge was (silta) and I thought he had said hedgehog (silli), so I said "Hedgehog! Hedgehog!" and again he looked confused. He gestured to the construction workers up ahead and it clicked for me and I said "Ohhhhhh -- bridge". I thought we were talking about hedgehogs. There's lots of hedgehogs in Finland.

St. Petersburg has been overwhelming. It's a national holiday here so everyone is dressed up like sailors, because apparently the holiday is to commemorate mariners. I honestly thought it was just Russian fashion, but the girl at the hostel set me straight. After checking into the hostel I immediately went and bought a Russian dictionary. The words are of course in Cyrilic but after some work on the bus and some work here (comparing MacDonald's in latin to МакДоналдс in cyrilic, for example) I can sort of read the language. My accent is awful and I have no idea where the stress lies in the words, but I can sort of read it. Which is a good start. Tomorrow my goal is to take a Russian course, whatever the cost, before getting on my train tomorrow evening.

About 30 minutes ago I went to the ATM to get cash and then afterward got a vanilla milkshake at Carl's Junior. I could be in California right now. Instead I'm in St. Petersburg. And will write more tomorrow.

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