Monday, 19 September 2011

Midnight in St. Petersburg

We were in Russia for approximately 90 minutes before we committed our first crime.

We started out with the best of intentions. We spent the flight to St. Petersburg brushing up on the Russian alphabet (this being Sammy's first exposure to Cyrillic script). It's really easy, of course - in fact, it's basically a drinking game. You just take an English letter (say, 'P'), then you take a totally different letter (let's say 'R') and then you decide that from now on, you're going to pronounce the first letter like it's the second - from now on P = R. (Never again can enter a church to admire the 'apse'.) Then you drink a shot of vodka.

Refill your glass, and repeat this inversion for as many letters as you can be bothered (B = V, C = S, etc). Drink one shot per letter, naturally. When that gets boring, take some other letters - 'N' and 'R', say - and just flip them around completely. Then assign them a completely arbitrary sound, making sure that it has nothing whatsoever to do with their English equivalent. (и = I , я = 'ya'). Then drink some vodka.

Forming letters is probably getting tricky now, so just take symbols from the game 'hangman' and assign them some arbitrary sounds too (г = G, ж = zh). Open another bottle of vodka.

Finally, because articulating sounds is doubtless becoming a challenge, round things out with some letters of the alphabet which aren't pronounced at all (ь, ъ). Job done. Toast your success.

Our Cyrillic homework paid off at St. Petersburg airport, where we could tell (almost) immediately that the bus to Достоевская would take us to our hotel near Dostoyevskaya. One awesomely fast bus ride later, we were in central St. Petersburg.

Sammy took to Cyrillic like a duck to water, transliterating advertisments and street signs at will. (пиццA хAT = 'Pizza Hut', MAKдOHAлдC = Mcdonald's, etc). Her crowning moment came at around midnight, after we'd dropped our bags off at the hotel and dashed out to find some food (any food, we were starving), ending up in Russia's equivalent of Starbucks (KOфE хAOз, which obviously means Coffee House). This was the moment when Sam discovered that the Russian for cheesecake is 'cheezkeiki'.

I translated it, now give me some cheezkeiki
People would learn languages a lot faster if they were rewarded, almost immediately, with cheesecake.

Fortified with panini, hot chocolate and cheezkeiki, we went for a midnight wander down Nevsky Prospect (Невский Проспект). Simply beautiful. However, having forgotten to bring a camera, we were reduced to capturing the moment by taking cheesy self-portraits using my phone.

You can't see it, but there's a beautiful canal behind us
And it was at this point, at about 1.30 in the morning, that we committed our first crime.

We popped into a store to buy supplies for the night. The Russian essentials - water, biscuits and vodka. The thing is, even Russia has licensing hours, and this was way past them - the store wasn't supposed to sell us vodka. The owner looked pained.

'Amerikan?' he asked.
'Niet, Angliski,' we replied. Apparently this was a good answer. He smiled.
Um... Da?
'What team?'
Uh-oh. This could be a trap. I guessed: 'Um. Arsenal?'
Broad smile. 'Arsenal!'
'Andriy Arshavin!'
He looked suddenly serious and nodded sagely, as if to say 'After Arsenal's dire performance at Blackburn today, you will definitely need vodka.' 

Enough to drive a man to drink

And so it was that he agreed to sell us a bottle of Russian Standard, literally under the counter. He encouraged us (through the medium of mime) to hide it under our coats as we left the premises.

We got back to the hotel at 2am, shattered (but with biscuits and vodka intact). We collapsed into bed. We slept for 10 hours.

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