Experience non-tourist sites of Saint Petersburg (Day 7/14)

It’s been a week since I started my trip to Russia, and whenever my friends and family ask me about Russian tourist sites and their pictures, I was disappointing them. I didn’t even hear the name of some famous places in Saint Petersburg that they asked for. One of my friends asked me to take a selfie beside Dostoevsky’s grave and wanted me to knock on his tombstone with a small stone.  (An Iranian ritual to inform the dead person that we are there to visit them and it’s not polite to sleep while we are there), which ended with the sentence “Sorry, I never read his books”. It’s not like I don’t like Russian literature, no! I read some of Chekhov’s plays by chance.

In short, every time my friends and family who were looking for their favorite culture and history from Russia, see my photos and videos; It was not clear for them; what the hell I am doing in Russia!  Not even visiting the Hermitage Museum!

What are these boring pictures you keep sending us? There are only unimportant things in your photos. I should go there myself and teach you how to take real pictures!

My brother once said

Actually he was right. I only posted photos from some ordinary food, refrigerator doors, and selfies with my friends which had no particular sights in it. Honestly, one of my stresses was that during my trip, my friend Diego, who knew even off the beaten places in Russia, talks about an important historical place while I hadn’t even heard the name. Fortunately, when the mother tongue of both sides of the conversation is not English, it is easy to escape and say, “Oh, did you mean that? I pronounce it differently”.

Did the fear of getting embarrassed in front of friends for not knowing Russian tourist sites and having no photos with famous places overwhelmed me and I started to behave like a tourist?

Of course not!

I picked up the phone and started looking for a new friend to hang out with on Couchsurfing and walk the streets again without any purpose. This time, I was seeing a girl of my age, Daria, who came from a lunatic asylum. I mean, she was working as a psychologist in a mental health center and had come to visit me from her work. The first thing we did was to go to a lab together. In order to test my mentality to see what my problem is? I went all the way to Russia and instead of going to tourist places, I went to a clinic and lab and took pictures of refrigerators! However, since it was lunchtime, we could only get her blood test result.

We entered the lab building, instead of showing me the beautiful city of St. Petersburg, we came to a boring environment like a lab, Daria apologized for taking my precious time while my eyes were sparkling with excitement asking about their insurance system and if they are satisfied with their medical services or not. Hopefully, the medical system and the cost of treatment and insurance was okay, and I was relieved. There was no secretary, and a lady was going from room to room trying to ignore Daria until after half an hour Daria could catch her and get the results. 

We walked down after the lab. We passed the front of an old house with two Egyptian statues standing beside the building. The whole architecture of the house was Egyptian, and there were only two buildings in the alley that preferred to stand out with the Egyptian culture rather than keep the same Soviet-style. We went into the yard and Daria showed me the window of her childhood room; we both wished they were still living in this house so I could see inside the house and she could play in the yard and live her memories again.

When we were walking around with Daria as a child, we came across a park she used to go alone. She mentioned, “how my mom would dare to just send me to the park all by myself”. She didn’t even have a watch to know the time to go home.  Considering the St. Petersburg white nights a few months a year, when it gets dark after 10 at night. Parents nowadays, don’t even dare to leave their children at home. Was it safer before? Or we were not bombarded with bad news like today and had fewer fears.

If Daria was like me, she could guess the hour with hunger, I would have gone home if I had been starving, and because I get hungry quickly, the danger of not returning home in time would not threaten me. I was starving and I asked Daria to suggest a good restaurant with a special meal, preferably Russian. When we saw the restaurant’s café sign, we went downstairs to the dark café. The only sound heard in the restaurant was from us. I looked at the menu and, with the help of photos and Daria, ordered a drink with wild berries, a bowl of fish soup and a shared potato pizza.

Eating potato pizza was like eating a potato sandwich. Carbohydrates plus carbohydrates! It was good only in terms of the money we gave. The fish soup, despite its thick smell on the mind, was very tasty, and after that, I addicted to fish soup.

While charging my phone, I continued to chat more so that I get a more green battery percentage on my phone. Daria was whispering the restaurant’s music and doing chair dance while sitting down. In these situations, when my friend is a music lover, I seize the opportunity to ask for their favorite music. This time I find out that Daria is not only a music lover but also a professional dancer.

She formerly was a dance teacher in South America and that was when I realized why she spoke English so fluently. That night, I really wanted to join their dance party with her friends, but sadly there is always an opportunity cost for every decision you make and I didn’t want to miss the chance to meet my Italian friend. 

Francesca, the charming Italian girl I met at Diego’s wedding night, texted me to go and see her. On the wedding night, Francesca was two tables away. I don’t remember what happened until we started laughing together.

I was saying how cool she is and she was saying “no! you are cool” and imagine how many times we repeat that and informed each other how drunk we both are. After appreciating one another, it was time to nag about why they are not dancing a lot at the wedding? Why the sky does not get dark? Then it was time for an unstoppable laugh at a glass we broke while saying cheers! We took a selfie and shared contact as we were sure we will not remember any of it the day after. We hoped we see each other again while still in Saint Petersburg.

I followed the location she sent to me and went by subway near the lush spot I saw on the map. I told myself it must be a pretty park. It was about half an hour’s walk there. As I got closer, the view became greener and more secluded. I went into the green, there was no one there, it was a narrow dirt road that I thought I should follow. I was starting to get frustrated with finding Francesca because she still hadn’t seen my message. I was in the middle of a dirt road with a railway crossing. There was grass growing in the railway and seemed like no train had passed there for many years. Little by little, I was on my way back until I heard  Francesca calling my name from a distance.

With a smile, I tried not to look scared and went to Francesca and finally, two cool girls met each other again. We continued on our way to reach Francesca’s friends. Little by little I saw that I was trying not to walk on the graves! Yes, we were walking in a cemetery, not where Dostoevsky was buried, but a local cemetery in a jungle. Seven or eight young boys and girls were sitting on chairs near one of the graves and playing guitar. They also had a bottle of wine sharing and enjoying the sound of the instrument. I greeted everyone and later found out that only three of them were friends of Francesca. 

Slowly, we separated from the rest of the group. Francesca spoke English to me and Russian to her friends. One of the girls had a beautiful Asian face, but I wasn’t sure if I should ask her where she is from. She was speaking Russian, and I was totally confused about who her friends were and how does she know them and why we are in a cemetery.

Until Francesca explained that because of her university degree, she learned English, Russian and French, and when she came to Russia for a Russian language course, she met her boyfriend who did not speak English and I had a vague picture of him in Diego’s wedding. Now she was in Saint Petersburg for Diego’s wedding and two other friends were both Russian, the girl was a second-generation immigrant who her family came from Korea many years ago to the easternmost point of Russia, and now she knows herself Russian, not Korean. The boy was also Russian and they were a cute couple. 

We stood by one of the graves, which had Einstein’s photograph. He was not a scientist, of course, he was a famous Russian rock singer(Mikhail Gorsheniov), and I asked them to play one of his songs and I listened to a Russian rock song next to his grave with no idea what he was saying.

digital rituals

There were a few other singers in that cemetery, and that’s why young people gather there and have the wine and music ritual. If Francesca’s friends weren’t Russian and I didn’t get to know them, I certainly wouldn’t have reached this cemetery by searching Google for St. Petersburg’s tourist sites at least on the first one hundred page result.

Next to the rockstar, we shared a reminder to our dear friend, Diego, and since we thought we were so cool, we sent him a video asking him to invite us to his wedding again in Chile. We hope Diego also understands how cool we are.

It was getting dark, it was about ten at night. Glad to be the first Iranian Francesca’s friends meet, I told them a lot about Iran. They also spoke about living in Russia and believe that in Russia they are free despite the propaganda that exists. On the way back from the cemetery, we had a nice talk and I wanted to hang out more. How many people in the world will laugh taking pictures beside a trash bin?

Let’s take a selfie with some trash 🙂

When I got sure that they are hospitable and have a place for me to sleep, I went with them to their friend’s house. The boys went shopping to find more wine and we went into an apartment that looked small in the big town around us. The house smelled of fresh plaster. There was a bed in the room that was the only tidy place in the house. It was a big table with a lot of tools on it and a lot of things were still unpacked. Beside their books and personal belongings were a few plates and spoons, and on the other side was a frying pan. The kitchen sink had not been connected yet and the dishes had to be washed in the bathroom. 

They had just bought a house and they were trying to make it a lovely home gradually. I remember the time we wanted to immigrate to Beirut; we were selling all our furniture and appliances in Tehran and had a messy home, but at the same time hosting  two Brazilians in our home and they were helping us to move the furniture and on the last day we even sold the furniture and they didn’t have a proper place to sleep.  

They liked to hear about the Iranian lifestyle and culture and every now and then we were surprised about the cultural differences and similarities. I tried to learn some Russian, which I didn’t succeed, and I taught some Persian, and when they saw me writing from right to left, got surprised. Occasionally, they would play the guitar and unveil the songs that they had made and explain the lyrics to me. I also tried to teach the only Iranian guitar chord I knew (sad six and eight) and they tried to imitate my amateur rhythm, unfortunately, we couldn’t create an International Music Band.

All these conversations took place alongside the Sad Man with a Rolling Cat, the name of Francesca’s friend on Instagram. The cat was sitting on a chair all the time, and it seemed to be listening to us. For me, who didn’t like the unpredictable behavior of cats and the way they crawl between your feet, this cat was much more sensible and older than his age. There was no need to bring an excuse and leave for my original host (Luba). Especially because I had the experience a few years ago at my friend’s home who happened to have a cat. She put the poor cat in another room so I can sleep on the couch without the stress of waking up with a cat jumping on my belly.

They were really confused when I said about my feelings for animals. I told them because as in Iran we don’t have the culture of having pets, we never learn how to communicate with the animals and in our religion, it is believed that dogs are dirty and you can’t pray to God if you touch a dog. I could see the lips of the sad man stretched downwards. He asked sadly: “how can you not like this lovely creature?” and I found out that having an international band is really difficult!

Francesca was flying to Italy in the morning so they left after a while.

They brought me a metal bed and I lied down after a long day and pulled the blanket over myself. The sad man said, “Is it okay if I put my cat on your blanket?” I said, “of course“. I thought I was going to cuddle his cat and say goodnight before he sleeps, but he said “good night” and turned off the lights and I was there with a cat on my feet. I had to sleep with it till morning. The good thing was that this cat was not very keen on moving. Following the discussions we had about pets I couldn’t say no to this smiley cat.

Rofling cat

Long story short, I could happily sleep with this polite cat through the night without any stress. When I woke up in the morning, he was trying to come close to say good morning, but I gently told him: “dear, it’s not you! I’m just not a cat person”.

My friends were asleep in the morning, and since I was going to meet Luba and Mila in the morning to visit Kotlin Island, I left without saying goodbye. I just texted them on Instagram, said goodbye and thanked them for the great day they made for me. I walked to Luba’s home with a smile on my face, remembering all the unbelievable experience I had the day before. Finally, I ended my seventh day with a gentleman cat and with new amazing friends.

If you are interested in Russian rock music 🙂

Mikhail Gorsheniov