Cameron Dryburgh settles down in St. Petersburg for his second semester abroad in the Russian Federation. Fried Chicken isn’t the half of it.

Smolny University

Smolny University

 

I have now been back in Russia after the holidays for almost six weeks, and I have to say – I am loving life out here. This city definitely seems very different to the Russia that I lived in last semester. Petersburg doesn’t feel particularly foreign, and there was less culture shock this time round. If anything, the most difficult adjustment was becoming used to the size of the place. Petersburg is by far the largest place I have ever lived in, and I therefore spent the first few weeks feeling very much like a tourist – though it is not a bad place to feel like one. Uni life is great, especially with all Fridays being free of classes. The lessons are fairly standard, but greatly helpful. The most noteworthy thing about uni, however, is its location at the stunning Smolny campus, which makes up for the hour commute spent pushing babushki for a space on the metro.

St. Isaac's Cathedral

St. Isaac’s Cathedral

 

One of the great experiences in Petersburg is definitely sleepwalking towards the first metro at around six in the morning. I still tend to start the night at eight o’clock though, in line with St Andrews, which means the next day is often just written off. Completely worth it every time though, particularly when it includes a 5 a.m. bucket from KFC. There’s no shortage of places either. Apart from one bar near Mayakosvkaya metro stop (and usually because it’s the general meeting point), I don’t think I’ve been to any bar more than once. If I do have a quiet night beforehand, or manage to drag myself out of bed the next morning, I try to work my way through a list of museums and general sights here. So far the Hermitage, Peter and Paul Fortress, the Russian Museum, the Museum of the blockade (Museum of the Defense and Siege of Leningrad) and a submarine museum have all been ticked off of the list, though there are well over another hundred or so to visit. The submarine museum is quite literally just an old Soviet submarine, which had accidentally sunk whilst still in port, killing the two drunken sailors aboard. Now however, it has been raised and renovated to its original form. Well worth going to see, and if at the right time of year, it is possible to walk across the frozen Neva River to reach it.

 

On a frozen Neva River, with Peter and Paul Fortress in the Background

On a frozen Neva River, with Peter and Paul Fortress in the Background

 

Something I would encourage any visitor in Petersburg to do, despite its being not as traditionally ‘cultural’, would be to get tickets for the city’s ice hockey team, SKA. I went a couple of weeks back to the game against Dinamo Moscow, in leg three of the Gagarin Cup semi-finals, (or something or other) after a friendly tout helped us with tickets.

Ice Hockey 1988

The show begins long before the players are out on the ice. The atmosphere during the pre-game spiel was incredible – and a bizarre feel was added through the blaring soundtracks of Star Wars and Pirates of the Caribbean. During the game, I did feel some sense of allegiance to the home team, but to be honest I wasn’t too fussed that SKA were beaten; though neither, it seems, were the home supporters (which I found surprising against a backdrop of a heavy police presence in the stadium and the metro station close by). The atmosphere was not at all like that of a post-game football game where the home team had been beaten quite routinely.

The singing and merriment continued long into the night until I fell asleep near four in the morning at a bar in central Petersburg. The night was ended by the most welcome bucket of chicken in the world from KFC before another first metro and bed. St. Petersburg really has proved to make semester two pretty good so far. St Andrews is beginning to feel like a distant memory.

Ice Hockey 1997

 

Cameron Dryburgh

 

Images by Cameron Dryburgh