Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Episode 9 (part two): This isn't Paris, this isn't London, it's not Berlin, it's not Hong Kong...

continued impressions of life in a small(ish), Russian town...

The giant orange paw prints painted on the pavement led the way to Cafe Begemot. A cafe named after a giant, ficticious, black cat with a Browning automatic? I'm there!
We edged slowly down the narrow granite and marble staircase towards to front door.

Begemot spots me from a roof...
"Is it open? It doens't look open..."
A man pushed the door open at us giving us a start.
"Yup it's open"
We went in tentatively. Oh wow.

Red velvet curtains led the way through the first room. Bookcases lined the walls, and expensive, black-leather sofas framed polished-wood coffee tables. More curtains tastefully tied back with gold cords, led into the second room - a giant basement, red bricked like the Kremlin with musical instruments in chipped, bronze frames in the walls. A jazz band played cooly on a stage. They wore sunglasses.

If there is one thing Petrozavodsk does well, it's bars. Tasteful interior design, attentive staff and high-class atmospheres somehow come paired with unbelievably cheap pints (over £1.50 you're paying too much). This is still taking some getting used to!

If there's one thing Petrozavodsk doesn't do well its pavements. Giant potholes line the roads and side walks. They fill up with water during the many many downpours and cars regularly kick up this muddy slush, showering pedestrians waiting at the city's very few road crossing. This is hardly the fault of the town and I imgagine it has something to do with the extremities of climate: water getting into cracks, freezing and expanding.

Public transport is great, but it is also a kind of experience in it's own right. At rush hour trolleybuses fill up and steam up. Yes there is always the smelly guy in the corner of the bus in the UK, but could someone please open a window? Ok it's not that bad. The price of public transport and the frequency of services is absoultely amazing and it's hardly a country's fault for it's citizens' ignorance of deodrant. The "one price any distance" system is a blessing for students providing you don't try and pay with a big note and if you can put up with the bumpy ride, the lead feet of just about every driver gets you to where you want to go in no time.

All the cool kids just say " I took the trolley yesterday"

I don't like to complain much - after all I chose to study here and love it but if there is one more thing that stands out as a slight annoyance about life here then it is the degree of scorn that accompanys most monetary transactions. Russians seemingly hate giving change, and even big supermarket cashiers are prepared to start a duel over the slightest overpayment. It must be a weakness of the currency system, but when bankomats (cash machines) only give out 500 and 1000 notes I have no idea how the locals get by...

People here are mostly very friendly. Foreigners are greeted with more warmth than suspicion. I suppose curiosity translates awkwardly a lot of the time and we feel stared at simply for being here. After dark things are a little edgy. Drinking in the street is common place here and big groups of Russian men cluster under lamps on street corners, half empty litre bottles of beer swinging menacingly in their hands. Stick in a group guys.

and now for something completely different...cheers for reading.


  1. ha great - "If there's one thing Petrozavodsk doesn't do well its pavements" they definitely have their priorities sorted..

  2. the roads aren't much good either! - in fact they have a saying:

    "In Russian there are two main problems - fools and roads"

    This is made funnier by the fact that the words "fools" and "roads" are very similar in Russian ('Duraki' and "Dorogi")