A Swiss in Petersburg – more Russian grammar

The aspects –  I keep on confusing them and my Russian partners

Oh yes, I have been working at controling the aspects for many years, but I keep on confusing them, despite the fact that they are so crucial to understanding Russian. Here are some samples:

  • With Larissa I attended the opera “the flying Dutchmen”. I liked the opera, and I later said to Tatjana, my Russian teacher, that I liked it very much: “спектакль “Летучий Голландец” мне нравилась.” Tatjana rises her eye brows: “oh… so  what happened? You do no longer like it?” – Hm, no-no, I liked it and I still like it. “Well, she says, so… you have to say:  спектакль понравилась. Otherwise every Russian would think that you do no longer like it.”  Okay, I understand, I have used the imperfect aspect and should have used the perfect aspect to make it all clear that I still like it and that the result has not been “canceled”.
  • Tatjana and I sit at the table at home and practice the aspects. The door bell rings. I open the door. The neighbor looks for Elena, but as Elena is not at home, she leaves. Shortly afterwards Elena comes home. “Elena”, I say, “your neighbor came and looked for you…  соседка пришла и искала тебя”‘. Tatjana frowns. “Where is the neighbor? Is she waiting in the kitchen?” – Hm, no-no, she is no longer here, she went away  – она ушла. Conclusion: Result canceled, she left again, hence I have to say  “она приходила”. Will I ever get this right?
  • Tatjana and I practice the words “dress” and “put on”. Another trap here. I put on my trousers in the imperfect aspect means a scandal, if I left the house now. Because “надевала брюки” means that I put them on and then took them off again. I have to say “надела брюки”  in the perfect aspect to express that I put them on and I am still wearing them. Did I make this clear? I think you have to be a native slawic speaker to understand this.

The “canceled result”

Tatjana calls this concept “the canceled result” or “аннилурованный результат”. For Russians this is all easy, they just ask themselves: делал или сделал? (perhaps to translate like this: Did he process this or did he complete it”), but for me, this is still not straightforward. Larissa and my Russian friends are always puzzled, when I hesitate about using the correct aspect. Larissa remembers that she heard about the aspects at school a long time ago… and now corrects me as well.

Another challenge – how to form the aspects?

When I have decided which aspect to use, there is the next challenge… how is it formed? Often the verb is “stronger” in the perfect aspect, e.g. the conjugation is irregular and it is more regular in the imperfect aspect:

  • плавать – плыть, понимать – понять, давать – дать, начинать – начать

Often I can just add  the prefixes “по” or “с” to derive the perfect aspect:

  • просить -попросить, делать – сделать, желать – пожелать, петь – спеть

but then there is покупать – купить which I always confuse. Then there are many irregular verbs in the perfect aspect and often the Russians use two totally different verbs:

  • брать – взять, ловить – поймать, сказать – говорить

To remember that брать is incomplete I needed a ladder… My brother is not perfect. I do not have a brother and hence I am not offending anyone.

Well, I try hard to get these aspects under better control, and I hope that my Russian friends forgive me and understand nevertheless, what I am trying to say.

A Swiss in Petersburg – visiting some more museums

Yes, sooo many museums

So many museums in Petersburg, and so far I have only talked about three of them: The two “musts” which are the Ermitage and the Russian museum and then the enticing zoology museum – an eldorado for biology teachers and families on Vasiliyevsky Island. I visited three more museums that are not the main target of tourists: The Vodka Museum, the Museum of Communication and the Museum of Political History.

The Vodka Museum (Музей русской водки)

The Vodka Museum is a very Russian institution and it is only a ten minutes’ walk away from Raskolnikow’s house. It is close to the Admiralty. The Lonely Planet promises to me that “this private museum tells the story of Russia’s national tipple in an interesting and fun way from the first production of “bread wine” to the phenomen of the modern international wodka industry…”

Whether I want a vodka tasting, I am asked at the entrance, this would cost another 300 Rubles. I am not so sure, what a “vodka tasting” is… it must be somewhat different from a wine tasting, and I decide not to buy the tasting.

I follow the vitrines from how bread wine is brewed at home, then learn that the vodka we now know of has been invented in the middle of the 19th century (not such an old tradition) where they normed the alcohol content. Vodka became cult with small Vodka glasses (стопки) and pretty bottles.



The museum also documents, how government and social organizations tried to fight the alcohol problems and how vodka was present in the Sowjet times.

There is a vitrine where visitors can buy a t-shirt (футболка) with the Russian proverb “водка без пиво – бросишь денги на ветер” or “vodka without beer- you throw money into the wind” (Larissa, I hope I got this proverb right this time. When I heard it the first time, I got it all wrong, something like “beer without vodka, you through money out of the window”, and this must sound so strange to Russian ears that you and your friends laughed to tears at our rybalka (рыбалка) in Finland).

While I am smiling to myself about the t-shirt, a dynamic lady directs her way to the bar for the vodka tastings and shouts at the waitor: “we have no time, we have no time, where are the glasses and the snacks”. Then she shouts at her group of four men in English: “Come here, no time, no time, this is your vodka tasting… clink your glasses… no,no… all together in the middle… then exhalate, then drink the shot, then take a snack – and now again… no time, no time… clink your glasses, exhalate, drink, eat… come on, we have to leave, no time, no time…” And off they rush and it is quiet in this room.

Again I smile for myself: I am happy that I am not part of this group. The waitor had prepared very nice plates with snacks and would have deserved more attention. Vodka drinking needs more time, as I experienced last year with Juri on our bike tour and this year at the Rybalka with Larissa’s friends, enjoying the vodka with white-white bacon and some dark bread – and everyone accepted that I drank the vodka the Swiss way – sipping it – because I am Swiss and not Russian. I find that this white bacon and the vodka are a good match and the bacon reminds me of my father who prefered white-white bacon to the bacon with meat strips in it. Enjoying vodka somewhat less in a hurry makes a good time with friends.

Popov’s museum of communication (Музей связи Попова)

I am always astonished, how well the Russians succeed to hide away their excellent museums, and how inventive the potential visitors are in finding them… I knew the address of the museum of communication is in Potschamtsky pereulok 4 (Почтамтский переулок. I see number 6… then I stand at the end of this pereulok, I walk back to number 6, again to the end of this pereulok, again towards number 6… ah, what is this? I saw someone disappear behind this wooden door with the transparent signboards and the blue letters. Yes! This IS the Popov museum of communication, named after the inventor of the radio in Russia. Well, so far this has looked like another office building to me.


The museum starts with mail being delivered by coaches and sledges, and it ends with mobile communication. This must be an eldorado for teachers of physics, as there are many interactive hands-on experiments to understand electricity, the propagation of waves, telegraphy, radio (first samples, transistor radios etc), telephony (from old switching systems to mobile phones) … impressive also how communication  worked in the war and during the long blockade of Leningrad. A nice toy is the tube post: Grand-pa and his grand-son love to send the entrance ticket back and forth through the transparent tubes. I regret that I did not spend more time at school or later to study physics. Yes, Ernst, you are right, a few Latin lessons less and a few physics lessons more would have been useful.

Unfortunately, fotos are not allowed in this wonderful museum. I say hello to the civil communications satellite LUCH 15 in the large atrium and leave this wonderful place to tackle another Russian lesson.

The museum of political history (Музей политической истории России)

The museum of Russian politicial history is in the beautiful modern style Kshensinskaja palace not far from the Peter and Paul Fortress. My Lonely Planet tells me that Lenin gave speeches from the balcony of this palace. I agree with my guidebook – this museum is well curated and tells history from the Zars over the revolution, the Soviet times and the disintegration of the Soviet Union up to  Jelzin, proving an objective attitude. I read about the Zars, watch Lenin’s revolution, then follow Stalin, study the five year plans and the advertisement of a kolchos (proudly announcing that they have electricity and radio – with huge loud speakers), the second world war, then Chruschtschow with the thawing period, followed by Breschnew (the Russians called him the Eyebrow Carrier or Бровеносиц). The museum also shows, how the people lived in the kommunalkas (коммуналки) – here is a sample of a kitchen shared by several families.


Also the singers and poets have a place… I find my favorites, Boulat Okudjava and Vladimir Vissotsky. Whenever I am on one of those long long escalators to the metro, I have to think of Okudjava’s song: Stay on the right, walk on the left… this is like in real life (in Soviet times). And in the fitness center I think of Vissotsky: What a great thing is the morning sports, all are moving and no one stays behind.


On the top flloor, I find the late 80’s and the 90’s. I am impressed, how the collapse of the Soviet Union is illustrated. There are caricatures and samples of Western newspapers like the Spiegel or the Economist, describing the events with critical headlines such as “a man without a country” or Jelzin at the chasm (Abgrund). And I find the allusion to Ilja Repin’s Wolga trawlers: Союз нерушимый or the union that cannot be broken.






Back at the entrance, I buy a small brochure about the exhibition “the collapse of the USSR: historical inevitability or criminal conspiracy?” This is an excerpt of their analysis: “As long as the Communist Party which served as the ideological and politcal backbone of the Soviet Union, had absolute power, the nationalities problems were subdued and depressed… also by the use of force or threats to use it… In the context of glasnost and democratization initiated in 1985…, the accumulated controversies grew into open conflicts.” The brochure tells the events in August 1991 where the State Committee of the State of Emergency tried to save the Union, but were perceived as a coup d’etat by the democratic forces. The Communist party was then dissolved, and as these were the ties that cemented the Soviet Union, the Union also collapsed… this is the basic reasoning of this brochure.

I now take the metro to Sennaja Ploschtschadj, buy some cherries (черешню) and tackle my next Russian lesson, sharing the cherries with Tatjana.

A Swiss in Petersburg – sooo many museums

Petersburg has museums for everything, and most of them are well curated

The gems of all museums are the Ermitage and the Russian Museum. These are the first attractions for tourists. And there are many more museums – more hidden gems – like the zoological museum, the vodka museum, the museum of communication, the museum of political history, the railway museum, the museum of ethnology, and each poet from Puschkin over Dostojewsky to Achmatova has his/her museum – just to mention a few of them. Time did not suffice to visit them all. I did the Ermitage and the four exhibitions of the Russian museum, the zoological museum  and I also checked out the museums for vodka, communication and political history.

Today I plan to visit the Russian museum that is spread over four places. On Thursdays, the museum only opens at 1 PM, but for that it is open until 9PM. I plan on a long museum day starting with the central building.

The central Russian museum – in the Michailovsky palace

Enjoying the original Russian “standard ice cream” (it comes in a softish waffle), I wait in the Michailovsky garden on one of the artists’ banks (a special open exhibiton) until the Russian museum opens.


At the entrance I buy a ticket for all four museums. My first target are the Russian icons. I say hello to Boris and Gleb (yes, Ernst, I remember that you always recognized the two martyreds that are related to the origins of the orthodox religion in the Kiewer Rus – The Russians prefered Christianity to the religion that forbids alcohol). I also look for Andrey Rublow’s Peter and Paul and for the good mother that successfully defended Novgorod against Susdal. Here are my favorites  – it is great that taking fotos is allowed in this museum.




Then I  find some luxurios palace rooms and paintings of zars, nobles and battles as well as scenes from the Greek and Roman mythology… and my next target are the Peredwischniki that documented the social problems on mobile exhibitions in the the 19th century. Great, Ilja Repin’s Wolga trawlers area here  (they often travel).


This museum is a maze – I hardly find the exit. I go back home for my Russian lesson at 4 PM, and after the lesson, I walk back to the Newsky Prospekt to continue my marathon through all the palaces of the Russian museum.

The Stroganov Palace

The Stroganow Palace is located where the Newsky Prospekt crosses the Moika channel. I know that pink building. But, where is the entrance to the Russian museum? In the courtyard I ask. Again this very Russian experience – the official lady at the entrance to another museum does not know! I find someone who directs me to the Moika. But then I still  oscillate back and forth, until I decide that it must be this absolutely unostentatious wooden door at the corner. Yes, right! My ticket is valid and I enter a vast and luxurious palace. The first hall is “separated” by a mirror. The mirror doubles the lustres and the columns – in reality there are only half-lustres and half-columns.


A lady jumps at me – fotos forbidden in here. Well, the lustres are in my camera and remain there, but Stroganovs remaining rooms are no longer in my camera. This is a great palace, as is his boeuf Stroganov. I have shared this dish at many Christmas Eves with Ernst.

The Marble Palace

The next palace on my ticket for the four Russian  museums is the Marble Palace. It is in Millionaja Street, and I start to walk. And I walk and I walk – more than I expected – about half an hour. Eventually I enter a courtyard. No, what is this? Such an ugly monument? Quite a strong  man on quite a strong horse? Alexander III? Who died early and then Nicolas II , the last Zar, took over from his father?


In my Lonely Planet I read that Nikolaus wanted to send his father to Sibiria, as he did not like this monument. Rumors then emerged that he wanted to ban his father to Sibiria… and hence the monument remained in Piteri. The sculpturer said that the he is not interested in politics and just modeled one animal on another animal.  Larissa and Tamara told me this rhyme for this monument:

Стоит коммод / на коммоде – бегемот / на ъегемоте – оъормот /  на обормоте – шапка.

There is a commode / on the commode there is a hippo / on the hippo there is a fool/ on the fool there is a cap.

Elena made it all clear to me that she thinks Alexander was a good Zar – he did not fight big wars, but tried to bring order to the country and to develop it – his time was too short, she says, and bringing peace is not valued as being “great”. Well, I think he would have deserved a more handsome monument.

From one window in the palace  I hear music. There is a concert going on in the Lapislazulli room. A young man enthusiastically sings poems, accompanied by a fortepiano and a cello. This group has no name – they might just be students from the music acadamy that also Anna graduated from.


I walk through the luxury of this palace that also hosts exhibitions – the Ludwig museum of Cologne has displays. There is a temporary exhibition of Mihail Chemiakin, called “sidewalks of Paris“. The artist took photos of things thrown away in the streets of Paris and transformed the photos into drawings by adding colored lines with a pen that can be erased again (if I understand this right). There is also a hands-on room, where visitors can do their own drawings and erase them again, if they wish.  This is an interesting concept: Take, what you find in the street and add your phantasy to it.  I think that one of my favorite writers, Pascal Janovjak (son of a good friend of mine), would like this, as he is working at a literary project based on interviews with people in the streets of Rome.


Michailovsy castle

This is the fourth palace that belongs to the Russian museum. From the marble palace I have to walk past the Mars field and follow the first block of the Sadowaja street to find it. Yes, my ticket is valid, And, yet another palace that does not allow to take pictures. There is an exhibition of the Romanows that 400 centuries ago took over after the turmoils with the Polish and the false Dimitrij… until 1917 (almost a hundred years ago). I am always impressed by the portraits of Peter the Great… he was a leader with a vision and at the same time he was so cruel – he killed his son.


It is now 9 PM and the museums close. I walk back to my home and take a rest – my head is exploding from all the new impressions and my feet are tired-tired.

A Swiss in Petersburg – with Anna in my heart

My Russian teacher and friend for many, many years

Anna is in my heart. She also is no longer with me. She was my Russian teacher for many, many years, and she became a wonderful friend. She completed her education in Leningrad, lived in Switzerland teaching Russian to a small group of enthusiasts that stayed together for more than 30 years, and she told us about her roots in Leningrad – now renamed to Sankt Petersburg:

  • Her grand-father was an artist specializing in tiles and ceramic. Anna told me that he made the blue tiles on the mosque, when the mosque was built in the beginning of the 20th century. Under Stalin he then could no longer work as an artist and earned his living by making the ceramic isolation bells for the electricity power lines. (Later I find the German journal “DU” from Dec 1998 and it confirms that it was the workshop of P. K. Vaulin that made the ceramic decoration of the portals and of the cupola, and – yes, Vaulin is the grand father of my friend Anna Vaulina).
  • Her brother in law was the composer Andrej Petrov. She participated in the festivities for his 70th birthday. The Russians built a small violin park for him.

I visited the mosque and the violin park with Anna in my heart.

Visiting the mosque – for ladies, only when wearing a scarf and skirt

The elegant cupola and towers of the mosque with its blue tiles are a landmark that can be seen from far in Petersburg. When there are no prayers, the door is open to non muslims, and ladies have to wear a skirt and a scarf. Trousers are not allowed, and hats are also not suitable for ladies. At my first attempt to enter the mosque, I only had a hat and I was wearing trousers and was not allowed to go in. So I acquired a small scarf to cover my head and a large scarf to cover my trousers (which also counts as a skirt), and gave it a second try later. I liked the interior with only few ornaments and kneeled down on the carpet, keeping myself to the back of the mosque, as I did not want to disturb the men praying peacefully in here.


The violin park of Andrej Petrov

My wishes guidebook tells me that near Kamenoostrovsky prospekt 26/28 there is the small park with violins devoted to the oeuvre of the composer Andrej Petrov. The violins take the form of a swan, a woman, a high heal shoe, a sphynx etc and visitors can get inspiration for music. I find the small park – no tourists here, just children on the integrated playground and some Russians taking a rest next to the violins. My favorite violin is the slipper – скрипка на каблуках. Not being a musician, I just enjoy it and do not expect any inspiration.



I am not sure, Anna, whether you have still seen this park, but I know that you would be proud of it.

A Swiss in Petersburg – doing body keeping in Планета Фитнес

Four weeks in Petersburg – is there a fitness center not too far away from where I live?

The Russians have a nice expression for people who are in constant movement; they say that these people have an “awl” at a specific location of their body (шило в …). Larissa points out that we are both gemini and this might be the reason, why we both belong to this group of people.

To get control over my “awl”, I look for a fitness center in Petersburg, as close as possible to the place where I live. And I am lucky. “Planeta fitness” (Планета Фитнес) is just a two minutes’ walk away. Elena supports me to get an entry pass for one month for about 2000 Rubel or 60 Swiss Francs. The center is in an old gymnastics hall, as I remember them from my school days (a long long time ago) and it is located in a small dead end street at Kasanskaja Uliza.


Dimitrij shows me all the body keeping machines

Body keeping is what I do in a fitness center; as a baby boomer, I can no longer call this body building. First I try the elliptical trainer and watch what is going on around me.  The equipment in this fitness center is not as new and as highly polished as I am used to from Switzerland, but it perfectly serves the purpose. Young Russian are working at the machines – with success. Also Dimitrij, the fitness consultant, is a walking example of what you can achieve here. He has reserved an hour for me and introduces me to all the machines of the various brands. I like the diversity –  it is not just Nautilus, and there are also barebells, weights and mats around. A room separated by a glass wall is for group events such as Pilates, “total workout” or Zumba. Dimitrij tackles muscle building with more flexibility than our Kieser. Also he warns me not to use one of the machines for the back. I think he might be right. “Do not use weights, when you already have problems with your back,” he says. He carefully adjusts the machines for my body  and reduces the weights, before I tackle them.

To round it all of, Dimitrij proposes that I work out a program for myself that he then would check out with me. He always observes me and confirms what I am doing. A second trainer, also called Dimitrij and also very strong, shows me later, how to use the barebells instead of the machines to train the same muscles.



Now, I am a regular visitor in Planeta Fitness, and I like it

In my four weeks at Petersburg, I am now a regular guest in this fitness center. I go there every other day and work at the machines – as Dimitrij has trained me, make my heart beat faster on the elliptical machines (which have a tendency to clatter, and I like them for that noise that accompanies me rhythmically), watch groups dance and bend in the hall behind the glass wall, once observe two acrobatic ladies dance elegantly under the roof in two red  ribbons hanging from the ceiling (what a pleasure to watch them) – and then I take a refreshing shower in the wardrobe. On my last day I say farewell to Dimitrij who has supported me with his enthusiasm.

Yes, I can recommend this welcoming fitness center.

A Swiss in Petersburg – enjoying the hospitality at the datscha


The gate opens, and I am in a small paradise

On weekends, I am now a regular guest at the small and cosy datscha of Larissa, tucked away in the forest. The garden is taken care of by mum. There are hydrangea and lillies, and there are herbs, salad, red currant, black currant, strawberries, cucumbers and more.  A great Karma to own this paradise, and this is also the name of the cat.


This village is also a skiing resort

Larissa loves skiing, and many of her friends are alpine skiers (горнолыжники). Skiing here, where I can see no mountains? I can hardly believe this. But Larissa’s favorite photo shows her as an excellent carver. It must have been possible to acquire these skills here somewhere. And, true, there is a valley nearby with ski lifts that are open until May. Alexander has founded the golden valley  and managed it for many years. Now his daughter has taken over.



Cosy evenings with excellent Russian food 

Larissa and her mum make sure that I can enjoy all the specialties that Russian cooking offers, be it сырники (hot cheese), пироги (pies with blueberries or mushrooms), marinated  mushrooms, вареники (dumplings with blueberries) and more. I particularly liked the blueberry dumplings, and on my plate there was one without blueberries… “this will bring you luck”, Larissa says. This empty вареника is called  пустышка (it is “empty” or пустая). Later I hear that sometimes there was not enough filling for all the dumplings, and this is why the Russians invented the empty dumplings that bring luck –  a nice idea!

One evening, Larissa prepared a lovely шашлик (Schaschlik) barbecued in the garden, while it was pouring with rain. With this Schaschlik, we shared a tasty, dense Zinfandel from California (The Prisoner 2011) that reminded me of dried plums. A Russian-American marriage that I enjoyed much.


Стихи or poems, a Russian tradition

One evening, Larissa and her mum surprise me with Russian poems. I am just always surprised, how many poems Russians can cite by heart, without having to stop and think. I already admired my Russian teacher and friend Anna that had grown up in former Leningrad, when she shared poems with friends at her parties. And here the same, Larissa and her mum do not stop… this is a short example – it is more a fun poem, but there were many, many longer poems starting with Puschkin and ending with modern poetists.

чижик пыжик
где ты был
на фонтанке вод(к)у пил
выпил рюмку, выпил две
закружилось в голове.
Fluffy siskin (in German: Zeisig)
where have you been.
At the Fontanka you drank water (or wodka),
you drank one glass, you drank two,
everything now turns in your head.
(This siskin is actually a tiny statue that brings luck to those that throw a coin at it).
Yes, thank you, Larissa and Tamara, for your hospitality, and I hope that I can soon give back this hospitality in Switzerland.

A Swiss in Petersburg: Spending a great Sunday in the Datscha


Arriving at the datscha at sunset (and at midnight)

We leave Petersburg after the opera performance of the Flying Dutchman, at 10:30 PM. The sky is still bright and the sun shines. First we drive north on the large road to Finland, then we turn towards Ladozhskoje Ozero. The streets are now narrower, then bumpy, and at midnight Larissa’s mother welcomes us in the Datscha nicely tucked away close to the forest. The sun is slowly setting and we share some strawberries from the forest nearby (земляника) and from the garden (глубника).

Into the woods looking for berries and mushrooms

On Sunday I join the Russian tradition to stroll through the woods and look for berries and mushrooms. Larissa explains the difference between “look for” (искать) and collect (собирать) mushrooms (грибы). While I find just two red mushrooms (красный гриб), Larissa and her mum find about 10 red mushrooms, 10 chanterelles (лисичка) and 2 сыроежка (Russula in English or Täubling in German). We had to look for the mushrooms, we could not just harvest or collect them.

On the way we also eat and collect strawberries and blueberries. The fluffy dog Raily loves blueberries and chews them away from the bushes.

Our menus: Beljaschi or Ъеляши and a risotto

For lunch Larissa’s mother prepares Beljaschi. This is beef and lamb meet packed into little sacks made from white paste, and they taste great. Larissa prepares a fresh limonade with lemon and ginger. The Wodka is spiced with juniper berries – I will have to remember this.

In the evening we have a risotto spiced with the mushrooms we found today. A white wine from Tuscany accompanied the meal (La Pioggia). A salad caprese is the entry and strawberries from the forest are our dessert.

I learn that in Russia the mushrooms are first cooked in boiling water. This is what I watch Larissa’s mum do and this is what Elena confirms, when I was back in town. Only the сыроежка is not cooked in water, and this is where the name comes from (eat them raw).

The village is also a skiing resort

The village is a skiing resort; Larissa says that here you ski on hills rather than mountains. But the hill looks nice, there are several ski lifts and several ski resorts here.  The lifts start at 9 AM, when it is still dark  in winter; the sun  rises around 10 AM. Well, we are quite far north here.

A Swiss in Petersburg: Looking for a hidden bookshop

image image

Златоуст – Slatoust: A governmental institute for the Russian language

Every day I take lessons with Tatjana. She works me through Russian grammar: Gerundium, participle, difficulties of Russian verbs etc.

Today I decided to buy more grammar books, some of them Tatjana has written herself. I take the metro to Gorskaja, and I stroll down Kammennoostroveskij prospekt to find the address 24/24. It is easy to locate the house 24.

Through the подъезд (passage) I enter a messy courtyard surrounded by several buildings, some under reconstruction. There is only one office with a business sign to the right. I go in and ask the direction to Slatoust. “We do not know,” a lady tells me angrily, not looking at me.

What now? There is another door to a building wrapped up in blue metal. Obviously a serious ремонт (reconstruction) going on here. Eventually I notice a very small piece of paper in a plastic bag hanging on the blue metal wall, with Slatoust on it. I follow the arrow, find a hidden door and behind it there is an office with book shelves. Here it is. Why did the neighbor just across in the same courtyard not know?

Slatoust has a wonderful selection of books that support learning Russian. With a heavy plastic bag I leave this friendly place to return to the Graschdanskaja and continue with my studies.

A Swiss speaking Russian in Petersburg – Швейцарка говорящая по-русски в Питере

Дом Расколника or the House of Raskolnikow

As I leave the house that is my home for 4 weeks, I see a large group of tourists around the small monument of Dostojewsky at the edge of Graschdanskaja Uliza. Raskolnikow, one of the heroes of Dostojewsky, lived under the roof in “my” house, and a guide explains the story standing in front of a plate with the number “4”. As she waits for the next group, I ask her in Russian, what this is about. She is confused, aswers in English, hands out a flyer to me that shows all the posts that tourist groups are looking for today and turns to the next group. There seems to be a special Dostojewsky day,  but neither his birthday nor his day of death. I also heard that the code to enter “my” house had been published in tourists’ guidebooks and the house switched to an electronic contact system later.


Они все читают карты, я зто делать не умею – they all read maps, I cannot do that

Now at Sennaja Ploschtschadj, I am looking for the metro line that would take me to Ploschtschadj Alexandrogo Newskogo. I intend to visit the convent that Peter the Great built for this hero of the 13th century who conquered Karelia for the Republic of Novgorod (which in the 15th century became part of Russia).  I hear a voice say in Russian that they all read maps here and that she cannot do that. It is the woman selling ice cream. I answer that reading maps is not so difficult She opens her eyes wide: Do you speak Russian? Oh, I am sorry… where are you from?…

Вы Русская? Вы проваславная? Ну, входите! – Are you Russian? Are you Orthodox? Well, enter!

At the gate to the Newskij Monastyr or Convent, tourists now have to pay an entrance fee. I approach the cashier and ask: Сколько стоит (how much does it cost)? He looks at me and asks, whether I am Russian. No,  I answer, я просто  Швейцарка говорящая по-русски (I am just a Swiss speaking Russian). He asks me: Вы праваславная (are you orthodox)? No, I am not, I answer to him. He looks at me… and says: Ну, входите (well, enter). So I enter this convent without paying, as the Russians do, and, in the church, I light a candle, before visiting the cemetaries.


Tam – вам – фото or there –  you – foto

My next stop is the Kusnetschij Rynok, a nice fruit, vegetable, meat and fish market. Between cherries and abricots, there is a young chap selling his fruit. He approaches me in some sort of pigeon Russian: “There – you – foto”. I do not understand him. He repeats his words. “You can speak normally”, I respond in Russian.  Now he explains clearly that he wants to take a foto of me with his cherries… and for the foto, I also buy some cherries from him.


Дом Быта – Dom Beat

To round off the afternoon, I try the Dom Beat. The waitor serves a tasty Cappuccino with cinnamon. I look for Anna that I had met in the plane. She has her free day and is not there. The charming manager already knows and Anna. We arrange to meet next week.

Летучий Голландец or the Flying Dutchman by Richard Wagner

Larrissa has acquired tickets for the Flying Dutchman in the Michailovskij Teatr. A great setting for this tragic opera. The actors sing in German, and I follow the Russian subtitles to better understand the German words. Young artists, a young stage director and a young conductor have set up this opera with a lot of creativity, placing it into our times with rolling suit cases and mobile phones. The singers were excellent, especially the flying Dutchman and Senta, his angel who saved him.

Why do they call the Flying Dutchman “летучий”and not “летающий”? Tatjana explains to me that it is a characteristic of the Dutchman that he flies – he permanently flies (letutschij) and he does not just happen to fly right now (letajuschij). Well, Russian has a lot of nuances, and I know, I still have to learn a lot.

На дачу or to the Datscha

After the opera, Larissa takes me to her Datscha north of Petersburg. Another Russian experience ahead of me.

A Swiss in Petersburg: Дождемся or do we wait to get anything?

A loft in the south of Petersburg

Рарк в небе or a park in the sky, this is what этажи лофтрроект (etaji loftprojekt) promises. There are also galleries and an exhibition of Dutch artists. Larissa and her friend Marina want to meet there and take me with them.

Dutch art in the dark

In the loft we find the exhibition “Shadow Boxing”. It turns out be not “shadow” boxing, but boxing in the dark. We get small flash lights and dive into a totally dark room. We set out with our flash lights to uncover what might be there. We find large pictures, one showing Adam (he is black and strong) and Eva (she is white and fragile). what might this mean? The white race dying out? The pictures look threatening and are hard to decipher. There are also sculptures, one of them a wooden roof and a dead body hanging over it, with his brush still in his hands. Hm… Larissa and Marina mumble about Dutch humor and that Petersburg has a special relationship with the Netherlands. Right, since Peter the Great.


Now we are hungry. There is a terrasse with tables made from cable reels. We order some drinks, spaghetti, salad and okroschka. We wait for half an hour, then we receive our drinks. We wait for another hour, and then receive spaghetti… there is no okroschka left. in Russian дождемся means to wait until the very end and then get something. Well, I waited and did not get anything. This is less than “дождемся”. Larissa and Marina shared their Spaghetti with me, how kind.


The park in the sky – парк в небе

But, where is the park in the sky? We see people on the roof of this loft building.  We find a cashier, who makes us pay and sign a document. We find a balcony, and from there plain iron ladders dauntingly poiniting to the roof, here on the fourth or fifth floor, with the streets below us. This is why we had to sign! We carefully climb up those ladders, and find an extension of the restaurant on the roof (the food travels in a lift). Young people around us, stretching on matrasses. Cables on this roof – good that I am small enough to fit underneath. We are by far the oldest guests, particularly me, the baby boomer – being frowned at by the younger folks around us. The view of Petersburg is spectactular, sure – but… this experience seems very Russian to me.





Thank you, Larissa and Marina, for this very Russian experience.

Later I read that the Lonely Planet recommends the Loft Project Etagi as “one of the city’s coolest galleries”. Oh yes, it is surely cool and unconventional. And it does not come without adrenalin.