Friday, September 16, 2005

Travel report: Russian impressions

I love it when people want to know more about my travels than which famous monuments we saw or how satisfactory the hotel was. Before I left for Russia, a friend wished me a good trip “with deep impressions and insights”, and another asked me on my return, “What did you learn about the Russian people?”

After my previous visit to Moscow and St Petersburg in 2003, I was keen to see if anything had changed. What I learnt was that it’s impossible to tell: what you see is just what exists in that moment. Perhaps the insight of my mother, a first-time visitor to Russia, that it was a surprisingly normal place, with people who have the same cares and concerns as us, is more telling. I can only agree with her: the more I see of the world, the more I see that we are all the same.

So what’s unique about the Russians in these two world-class cities? To me, they seemed patient: witness the three-minute-long escalator rides up out of the metro system, and you see them either making use of the time with a good book, a cuddle with their sweetheart, or a calm-looking meditative stare. This time round, I found them more receptive to us as foreigners, but I’m sure that having my mother there to use a few simple Russian sentences when asking for directions or advice certainly helped the locals to warm to us. As before, our homestay hosts were sweet, ordinary people with a spare room and a need for extra cash.

Valentina, our St Petersburg host (pictured with my mother), was new to the business so the charm of foreign visitors hadn’t yet worn off, and the stilted Russian/English discussions we had over breakfast or cups of tea were enlightening. How wonderful, I thought, that Valentina visited The Hermitage four or five times a year, and that like all Russians I’ve ever stayed with, her rooms are full of bookshelves containing the full range of classic literature right up to the Lonely Planet guide to St Petersburg. She’s invited me back to experience a St Petersburg winter some time, and I’d really like to take her up on that.


  1. I am planning a trip to St. Petersburg with my sons. I have many questions.
    Would you be alright with e-mailing?

  2. Hi anonymous ... yes, I'm happy to try to help you out - you can get me at amandakendle76 AT hotmail DOT com - look forward to hearing from you. I love St Petes!


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