Once upon a time, I went to St. Petersburg to study for a semester. In May (which by now also counts as “once upon a time”), I had a chance to go back.
St. Petersburg is lovely in late May. Even the cooler days were not that cold, and the whole city is blooming with lilacs. But before I talk about that, I want to tell you how I got there.
Flying out of Ukhta is super expensive, because there’s only one airline that flies from there, and lots of rich businessmen who need to fly… you don’t even need an economics degree to see how that works. So I took a bus to Syktyvkar, and then flew from there.
But friends. While late May in St. Petersburg is lovely, in Komi Republic it is pretty dystopian. By that I mean it can be fifty degrees Fahrenheit, but the air is still swarming with aggressive little vampire-bugs (I would say “mosquitos,” but I have a feeling they’re not the same mosquitos we have here) that will bite your face and hands and feet till you look like a smallpox patient. For this very reason, I was happy to leave for a while… unfortunately, the mosquitos also thought they might leave town.
The bus left at 11pm, so when they shut the doors, closing in 12 passengers and 20 mosquitos, it was too dark to properly squash anything that landed on me. So I sat in mild misery, waiting to be let out.
Then we stopped at Emva for a rest in the middle. It was now 1am. At this stop, we had some others join our happy caravan. And I don’t mean people. No, this time, when they closed the doors, they trapped in 12 passengers and 200 mosquitos, buzzing, whining, feasting on whoever would sit still (we were all sitting still). Luckily, I had some bug spray with me. Unluckily, I forgot to spray my feet, and the mosquitos lost no time dining through my socks.
The mosquitos then followed me from the bus to the airport, and from the airport onto the airplane. When I arrived in St. Petersburg at 7am, barely having slept (see: mosquitos), somewhat crazed, with matted hair and airplane-dirty clothes, I was ready for a shower and a nap, but I had a whole day ahead of me until I could get into my hostel. So I left my bags at the hostel’s front desk and head out for my stay-awake-until-bedtime adventure. It was kind of chilly that day, so I spent a lot of it hopping from one cafe to another. But I also got to see my tutor, Polina, from my Petersburg semester… and my professor/thesis advisor from Notre Dame, who was there with a class group! (I now regret not getting pictures with them, oops.) Polina and I had Georgian food, which I recommend to everyone.
Day two was slightly warmer and entirely empty. I had, I think, zero personal human contact all day. I considered going to a concert, but opted out in favor of loafing around the botanical gardens for hours, and then to Stockmann to buy Western grocery products for my friends in Ukhta (basically, marshmallows and maple syrup).
Day three meant church (the same one I attended when I studied there … people remembered me) and lunch with my friend Masha. Masha and I had Georgian food, which I again recommend to everyone. Then I skirted off to another park where I could be alone with the clover and the dandelions, and in this one I could walk on the grass! So I did. Barefoot, of course. And then I made a clover crown. (The vegetation in St. Petersburg is much more similar to that in Ohio than that in Ukhta… all the same weeds as home.)
Day four was my attempt at being a tourist. I got Soviet-style doughnuts from my favorite place on Bol’shaya Konyushennaya, walked around the Summer Garden with my professor, and then went to the Russian Museum. While in the Russian Museum, I ran into Dana, a fellow Fulbrighter! I’d make a joke about Russia being smaller than we think, but it is actually big. So the fact that I was walking past the entrance at the exact moment Dana was walking in seems like some kind of Providence. After dinner, I got to see my friends Ashley and Jamin for tea, which meant being in the presence of American parenting for the first time in a long time. This was the warmest day, and this was also the day I became my most American self, at one point carrying four water bottles in my bag, to a total capacity of 3.25 liters.
Day five was lovely: I ate Georgian food for lunch (go to your nearest Georgian restaurant, do not pass Go, do not collect $200), and then I headed out to visit my friends Brian and Kandice. We spent a nice afternoon together, debriefing their last years in Russia and my experiences in Ukhta, making chocolate chip cookies, and eating salmon and broccoli for dinner (all of which was so good for my soul, bless them).
Overall, a success of a trip. I loved seeing old friends again, wandering parks by myself, and … wait for it … eating Georgian food. Also, thanks to a cold snap in Komi, the trip back was much less mosquito-y! I’ll be back again soon.