Some funny, some serious, some touching…all are personal memories of former students who spent time studying in Russia.
When I went to Russia in 2018 on the Colby in St. Petersburg program, I was the only student that went in the Fall. This, in addition to my happy-go-lucky/smiley disposition, made me slightly apprehensive that I would be a loner in Russia or have a hard time connecting with people. This isn’t because I thought everyone would be gloomy, I just didn’t want to be perceived as insincere/fake. When I got there, however, I was pleasantly proven wrong.
Colby provided me a great host family close to Gimnazia and Marina (the Russian program coordinator) took really great care of me. I also befriended Zhenya (who would later be Colby’s Russian Language Assistant) and went on many short trips around St. Petersburg and to Moscow. All of my courses were one-on-one, and instead of feeling overwhelmed I was challenged, encouraged, and spoken to; not at.
Admittedly, when I went with the Gimnazia students on their trip to Naples and sat next to Marina on the tour bus and constantly went over either 20th century abstract poetry or participles, I was a bit exhausted, but we balanced it out with fried shrimp and gelato.
Being a lone American forced me to connect more with my Russian hosts and awarded me many vivid memories. Touching ones like the time Marina saw that I was sad/lonely so she canceled my classes and took me on a fieldtrip to Nevski Prospekt. Actually touching ones like the time I was squeezed so much in a train back from Pushkinskaya that my feet left the ground for 45 minutes because it was the last train to St. Petersburg. Funny ones like dancing to the pi song at 2x speed with my host brother while the repairman fixes the fridge at 10pm. Comforting ones like remembering all the honey I ate from the kind babushkas at the rinok. And bitter sweet ones like being thrown over my host father’s shoulder as he said bye to me.
I included a picture from my trip to Moscow with Zhenya inside the Rimskaya metro station with the demonic cherubs. It’s emblematic of the energy Zhenya and I always had together and just makes me smile.
See Emma’s photos here.
During our trip to Novgorod, we wanted to go ice-skating at the local rink. We left the hotel and took a bus across the city to the sports complex, only to find that the employees there refused to rent skates to people who didn’t live in Novgorod.
A bit discouraged, we decided to walk back to the hotel and figure out what to do from there. Along the way, however, we found an empty Coke bottle and started kicking it around in a deserted parking lot. Not long after, we had set up goals and boundaries and had just started to play some “soccer” when a dog came out of nowhere and stole our ball. We cursed our bad luck again and once again started walking down the street back to our hotel (we didn’t know where the bus lines were) when we spotted some huge hills nearby.
It turns out that these hills were city’s oldest fortifications; they were intended to make would-be invaders tired after running up such a steep slope so that “dispatching” them on the other side of the hill would be easier. Covered in snow, these hills provided the perfect sledding hill for the four of us. We must have slid down the hill ten or fifteen times before we had to stop because we were covered in snow and ice.
We continued our journey to the hotel along the crests of the hills, and eventually reached the banks of the river. The snow was falling lightly and the city lights across the water reflected beautifully in the droplets of water hanging in the air. In the distance we could even see the dark outline of the city Kremlin, which loomed on a hill across the river.
On our way back, we passed by a beautiful church whose bells were ringing through the still air as the Saturday evening service let out. I can still remember the children running excitedly to the soft slopes of the fortifications, just as we had done earlier, enjoying the simple pleasure of sliding down an icy hill in the wintertime.
It must have been the first weekend or so when my host brother took me and another student out with his friends to a place off of Kamennoostrovskii to try out hand at Russian Billards. I enjoy an occaisonal game of pool, so I was looking forward to learning a new style of billiards, but I never would have expected the Russian incarnation to be as difficult as it was.
The biggest differences between the two games are as follows: the Russian billiard table is about 33 percent bigger than the ones we are used to playing on in the states. The pockets are much smaller, and the billiard balls themselves seemed about twice the size as the standard English billiard balls. And finally, there aren’t different colors, solids, or stripes. You have one red ball and a bunch of white ones. Honestly, I can’t remember what the official rules of the game are but you can hit any ball on the table with any other ball, so there’s no such thing as a cue ball.
Misha, Kiril, Adil, and I ordered a beer from the bar and watched some of the more talented players as we waited for a table to open up. From a spectator’s perspective, the game didn’t look any harder than shooting “regular” pool. But once we got our chance to try the game firsthand, we realized the challenge. The size of the pockets didn’t leave much room for error when you took your shot, and we must have missed thirty shots among the four of us before anyone scored.
After about an hour of missed shots, unlucky rebounds, and scratches, Team Not Russia finally scored, making the game 2-1. The game was far from well-executed; I think the score ended up being 5-3 after playing all evening. I still laugh at the my utter inability to make a single shot in Russian billiards, but eventually, all of the frustration payed off. The next time I played English billiards, the game seemed a whole lot easier!
Grom Grom Grom. What is this noise? A thunder? An earthquake?
There’s no way this is Japan where earthquake strikes once a week. What if it really is an earthquake? Better wake up and run for my life, just in case.
Such thoughts are swirling in my head in a flash of moment. I push away my blanket and open my eyes. The whole ceiling flashes with golden light. I turn my head to the window. The most beautiful.
February 23rd is Men’s Day in Russia. Fireworks are dedicated to all the brave soldiers who defended the motherland.
I feel quite shameful to admit that it is the first time I have ever seen fireworks in my life. I mean real fireworks, not fireworks on TV screen. In Hong Kong, seeing fireworks from the window of your bedroom is out of the question. The only thing you can see from your window is probably either your neighbor’s room (lucky if you have a pleasing view), or a narrow spot of the sky if you are really lucky. That’s how things are in a concrete jungle where everyone wants to jump higher only to realize that even if you live on the 20th floor like I do, doesn’t guarantee you a decent view of the blue sky. That’s how things are in my birthplace.
Who could guess that, at this moment, I am lying on my bed, seeing fireworks from the window in the bedroom of a hundred-year-old apartment in St. Petersburg?
The most beautiful hits you in every unexpected way.
When you were little, have you ever thought that the world exists just for you and rotates just for you? I want to say, now I feel the same. The most beautiful exists just for me, and I witness it.
As sparkles are falling from the sky, I wonder what brings me to Russia. Why am I here? Everything seems so unreal now. Is this some kind of joke? Do things happen, because it’s at the right time and at the right moment? Or things just happen to be so? Do things happen for a reason?
There’s no need for an answer. I am alive, truly.
Restaurants and Cafes
Here is a list of restaurants and cafes that former Colby in St. Petersburg Students and Language Assistants have recommended.
Located at 22nd Gorohovaya St., in the core of St. Petersburg and near the Admiralty and the Palace bridge, the cafe attracts members of the new generation of creative intelligentsia. If you are walking on Nevsky prospect turn toward the Kazan Cathedral and go past it along the pavement of the Griboedov Channel. You will see stunning historical buildings and tourist boats in the channel on your way to Zoom. The cafe will charm you with its European democratic atmosphere. The walls showcase the artwork of contemporary St. Petersburg painters that one can purchase. Board games and books are also available throughout the cafe. In addition, the prices at Zoom will delight you. “Poor students” often order Fried Vegetables and Rice for only 90 rub ($3) and Red berry drink for 60 rub ($2). Everyone will enjoy a piece of cake with a mysterious name Call Your Parents Pie, which costs 120 rub ($4) and a cup of Cappuccino for 90 rub ($3).
Another small cafe located just off of Bolshoi Prospekt on Ulitsa Lizy Chaikinoi, Kvareli specializes in “Gruzinskaya Kukhnya,” or Georgian Cuisine. Although the cafe’s seating is limited to six tables, the atmosphere is quiet and laid-back, unless you happen to be dining after a Zenit match. The hachipuri here is marvelous, and the shashlik is some of the best you’ll find in the city. But the real kicker is their eggplant sauce- mild but tasty and delicious over fried cheese. Show up a few times and the head waitress/proprietor treats you like family. Prices range from 200-400 rubles per person. Don’t be afraid to spend a few more rubles on house wine; you won’t be disappointed.
This Greek restaurant is a bit more expensive due to its center-city location on Bolshaya Morskaya and its status as the only Greek restaurant in town, but the food here is plentiful and tasty. The colorful walls and Mediterranean decor make Oliva a nice place to pass the time on a cold, dreary day. The baklava are a welcome change from the creme-filled cakes that are so popular to the Russian palette.
A bar at 9th Belinskogo on the Fontanka River, about a 10-minute walk from Nevsky prospect. Even though The Hat is a newly opened bar, it has already become a legend. The owner of this bar is Billy Novik, a rock singer and the front man of the group Billy’s Band, famous throughout all Russia and behind its borders. Almost every night sounds of live jazz come from The Hat: Jazz Philharmonics musicians or other invited quests, including international jazz stars, play music, sing, and improvise. The entrance is free, the only limit is the size of the bar. The drinks are rather expensive: a tall glass would cost 400 rub ($14). However, the drinks are absolutely unique: you can explain to the barmen what you want your drink to taste like, as in “I want it to be sour, with mint, and some sweet liqueur,” and the barmen will do exactly what you imagined it to be, or even better. It is a place of pure creativity in every way. Come and find lots of interesting people there!
This chain of coffeeshops offers high-end coffee and pastries and is popular with business travelers and students. Although the mochas are excellent, the hot chocolate is by far the signature drink. The two locations most convenient to Colby in St. Petersburg students are on Nevskii Prospekt (between the Hermitage and Gostinii Dvor), and near the Peter and Paul Fortress at the Gorkovskaya Metro.
Located throughout the city, usually outside Metro stops, blini (Russian crepe) stands offer a quick, inexpensive snack for under 50 rubles. Try the chicken curry blini, or, if you are looking for a sweeter treat, chocolate banana.
Internet cafes in St. Petersburg are quite popular now, due in part to higher levels of tourism. You can usually find a few reliable internet cafes close to city’s high-end hotels, but expect to pay Western prices. An hour of computer use at a moderately priced Internet cafe should cost somewhere from 60-100 rubles, depending on the time of day.
A recent student favorite, the 5.3 GHz Internet Cafe is located on Bolshoi Prospekt on the second floor of the Mirage Theater. The movies attract Noviye Russkiye, so expect to see a couple of burly security guards watching the Beamers out front. Upon entering the building, turn left at the information desk and climb the stairs. The internet cafe is a modern, clean, and friendly establishment that offers high-speed internet as well as the latest games and word processing software. If you’re planning on spending a lot of time here, buy a club card at the front desk. The college-aged staff speaks some English (although some are near-fluent) and are generally quite friendly.
Conveniently located on Nevskii Prospeckt near Gostinii Dvor, this bustling Internet cafe offers basic service for a decent price. This place is frequently loaded with tourists from neighboring hotels, so the staff speaks excellent English. If you bring your ISIC card, you can save up to 20 percent.
This small but elegant movie theater on Bolshoi Prospekt is home to “Hot English Movie Nights” every other Friday, where you can watch American movies in their original language. Because the movie nights are geared toward students of English hoping to improve their language skills, the films are usually followed by coffee and an informal discussion. Check out the fliers in the front window for the monthly schedule.
The city’s premiere arthouse cinema, Dom Kino is located in beautiful building close to the Circus. The three-story climb up the stairs to the showing room is well worth it, due in part to the beautiful architecture, which is strangely reminiscent of Catherine’s Palace at Tsarskoe Celo. You will find independent English-language movies here every now and then, subtitled in Russian.
For additional fun places to visit see Top 10 Hidden Gems in St. Petersburg