So it would seem that I've been getting a little behind in keeping you all in the loop. I shall try to rectify the situation now!
Kairsten left St Petersburg for London the day after my birthday and I spent the rest of weekend alone, very sad I know. I was fairly tired so didn't bother venturing out much, ordered room service for dinner and packed my bags whilst watching peculiar Russian dating shows on TV. I thought I had the room to myself that evening, but oh no, in fact I was sharing with a mosquito who took pleasure in biting me 34 times all over my body including getting me once on the eye - excellent, exactly the look I was going for for my first day at school!
I was picked up by a driver from the hotel on Sunday who took me to my acommodation for the next fortnight. I arrived at an aparment block, was buzzed in and went up the stairs where I crossed paths with a lady coming down the stairs with another girl, we swapped - she went with the driver and I went with the lady who babbled away in Russian and took me into her tiny apartment. She introduced herself as Maria and showed me my room, which was quite large considering how small the rest of the aparment was and she introduced me to her cats - Clara and Norris. I'm definitely a fan of cats, but these two were fairly ugly. Norris always stared at me with his yellow, beady eyes whenever I left my room. Dinner on the first night was at 10pm, so I was pretty starving by that point, but it was really tasty, some sort of dumplings and Russian pancakes - blini. Yum.
Monday was my first day at school and after breakfast Maria took me in to show me the way. We walked from the apartment to the metro station, caught the metro then walked from the other station to school. All up it took about 40 minutes and then she left me at school. Other people were starting to arrive as well and then after about 20 minutes or so they assigned us classes and we began! There were initally 3 others in my class before 2 more joined us, 1 left and then another 2 joined. So, in the end, my class consisted of Ela from Italy, Benjamin from French speaking Switzerland, Monica from German speaking Switzerland, Bastian from Austria, Irem from Turkey and Alec from Azerbaijan. Lucky for me, the common language for everyone was English despite myself being the only native English speaker in the group. I definitely felt inferior knowing that everyone else was learning there 3rd or 4th language!
The vast majority of those doing the course were from a European country and I was the only Australian in my cohort, although I met the only other Australian at the school, an older lady doing private lessons, in the bathrooms mid-week. Turns out she is a public servant from Deakin - what are the odds?
I had 4 classes a day starting at 10 and finishing at 2 with a 10 minute break in between. I caught the metro in and back every day by myself (I impressed myself by actually working out how to get home, after taking a small scenic route home on the first afternoon) and it cost the equivalent of 27 Australian cents for 1 ride on the metro - compare that the about $4.20 for a return ticket on Sydney trains and its hardly anything! Plus the ticket for a single ride is actually a little token or coin so you can stock up on them and don't have to wait in lines every morning to get one. Only on the first day did I join the peak hour commuters and it was intense! People eeeeverywhere moving at incredible speeds, usually in 1 direction, so god help you if you needed to go back for something! It was like being in a rip, you'd have to swim sideways or just wait it out otherwise you'll get exhausted and quite possibly drown or in this particular scenario get trampled.
The breaks in classes were a good time to get to know the people in my class but also people in the other classes. Ela was there with one of her friends from Italy, Katharina and we hung out together a bit. We would often go for lunch after school and a bit of a wander. On the first Friday there was the fortnightly 'Vodka Party' and we all went. We met a number of different people, most of them very nice and it's always interesting meeting people doing this because we all seem to share the same curious, often unexplainable, fascination with Russia. Out of the people that I met, none of them are doing it because they have to but just because it interests them. It was perfectly acceptable to answer the "Why Russian?" question with "Not really sure".
After the party, Irem and I went with a couple of people from another class to an English themed pub with the intention of watching the opening ceremony for the London Olympics but it wasn't going to start until something like 11pm and we were concerned we were going to miss the metro which stops running at midnight, and although it was suggested we just stay out all night until they started again, I was getting sick and Irem wasn't feeling up for it so we both bailed and let the others party the night away.
Unfortunately I was right about coming down with something and I spent the entire weekend in bed with a horrible cold - what a waste! I didn't have any drugs and wasn't sure how to say 'pseudoephedrine' in Russian or have the energy to go to the pharmacy so it's probably a good thing it was over the weekend and not during school days so I could spend the time in bed sleeping.
Week 2 - more classes, thankfully I was well enough to get to them. I really enjoyed going to class, it was pretty hard but because we spent all day doing it, we were able to move quite quickly. I feel like 2 weeks wasn't really enough time but it was excellent to be able to get an idea of what it's like to know whether or not I'd like to do it again some day and I think I would. Perhaps 3 weeks or a month next time. On Wednesday of this week at about 10:30, mid way through a class a siren started to go off. It was outside the building and not just any sort of siren but the proper air raid siren. When we opened the window we realised how incredibly loud it was and it just kept going and going. We all just stared at each other and had no idea what was happening. It was when our teacher didn't know either and we could see people in the streets looking up and around that we really fell in to nervous laughter and joked about a repeat of the siege of Leningrad. I honestly was thinking though "Just my luck to come to St Petersburg and have something like nuclear war breaks out. This is karma for having only relived the fun parts of The Bronze Horseman!"
Anyway, turns out it was a practice alarm in case of flooding as only a few weeks ago there had been major flooding in the south of Russia where people had needed to evacuate the city.
On my last Friday night a group of about 12 of us organised to go see Swan Lake at the Alexandrinsky Theatre. We had seats waaay up high but could still see really well and it was a great show. It didn't finish until about 11:20pm and we headed to a pub afterwards where we got a late dinner and drinks. Seeing as Irem and I had bailed last time to get the metro, this time we committed to staying out. We moved on to a few different clubs over the course of the evening and ended up back at Ela's apartment around 5am, where a Finnish girl cooked pasta and forgot about it much to the several Italian's horror and discussion turned to the world's financial crisis where the poor American guy received the brunt of blame from the combination of German's, Swiss and Italians. No one was particularly concerned about Australia's participation or situation and I was quite ok with that, it got fairly heated!
Irem and I eventually headed home at roughly 7am... and crashed. We got up again in the afternoon and met up for some shopping and dinner for my last night in Russia.
I really enjoyed going to school and meeting lots of great people so I felt bittersweet about leaving Russia because it was a pretty fantastic experience but next stop Paris!!