My life in St. Petersburg feels a lot more like normal life than in Kazan. Perhaps it’s because I have my own room and personal space once again, perhaps it’s because I actually have to concentrate on my university work here. Either way, it’s taken some time to adapt to the rhythm of life in Petersburg. Some days it feels like my life isn’t as exciting or wild as in Kazan, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Living in Russia doesn’t have to mean crazy hikes collecting mushrooms or huge snowdrifts preventing me from getting to university. I now understand that living abroad isn’t meant to be that way all the time, and is sometimes as simple as living my life as normal, just in a different country. This obvious fact very often escapes me!
My school runs an exchange programme with a school in Velikii Novgorod, and so when I was in sixth-form I hosted a Russian student called Nastya (short for ‘Anastasia’) for a week in Ipswich. I was then supposed to spend a week with her in Novgorod, but due to a sudden illness I had to fly home early after three days of sweating profusely and hallucinating in her home! After this incident we still managed to keep in touch with one another, through Instagram and VKontakte (Russian facebook). She is currently a student in St. Petersburg as well, so when I arrived I sent her a message to meet up.
However, meeting up with a Russian is not as simple as it might appear. These past few weeks all kinds of obstacles have prevented us finding a time convenient for both of us, but we finally managed to meet at a café this week. The last time I saw her was about three years ago, but she ran up to me and gave me an enormous hug! When we were at school her English skills were far better than my Russian skills, and so we spoke mostly in English. Sadly she studies medicine and has less time to practise English nowadays, so we spoke in Russian the whole time. It was so bizarre to see how our language skills had swapped, but it was also great to finally have a proper conversation with her in Russian. Hopefully we manage to meet up many more times while I’m here!
This weekend I missed having the magical 4-day-weekend Easter that I usually get in England, and had lessons on both Friday and Monday. Easter is still very important in Russia, but the supposed separation of the government and the church means that it isn’t an official holiday. Nonetheless, I wanted to experience an Orthodox Easter. On Saturday evening I went to a cathedral just outside the historical centre with my friend Sasha. She had warned me to dress conservatively, particularly because she was worried that skinny jeans wouldn’t be appropriate and we didn’t want to offend anyone there. Donning a long skirt and borrowing a headscarf from her, we set off into the snowy night.
The Orthodox Church has midnight services to celebrate Easter, including a procession of light around the building. We arrived and took our place in the church building – there is no seating in an Orthodox church except for a few benches for the elderly, so it’s worth finding a decent spot! We listened to the chants of the choir and bought ourselves a candle each. As midnight approached, the lights dimmed and the church was illuminated just by our candles. When Sunday arrived the church lights were gradually turned back on and then a procession of monks holding crosses and icons set out for their walk around the church building. Normally the whole congregation joins in, but for some unknown reason they only let a few people join them. It felt exceptionally Russian for it to so quickly transform from an atmospheric spiritual moment to a chaotic jumble of people bustling to get out the church doors and being told to stop pushing! In the kerfuffle I just tried my best not to set anyones headscarf alight with my candle…
On Easter Sunday my flatmate Max invited me and Josh to have an Easter lunch of sorts with him and his girlfriend. It was great to have a proper opportunity to chat with one another, rather than just catching each other in passing. After decorating a few eggs, we feasted on blinis, homemade houmous and traditional Easter cake called Kulich. I also took up the offer of some warm mulled wine, which made it difficult to get back to work afterwards…