My Russian Soul Woke Up
It has been quite a while since I’ve been back to my Motherland. The last time I traveled to Russia in 2004. I was young, traveled there with my American high school friend and was staying with Ira, my best friend who lives in St. Petersburg. During the 2004 trip I was very young (19), carefree and relied heavily on Ira to show us around. That trip involved quite a bit of partying as you might imagine given the lower drinking age in Europe.
This 2012 visit was completely different First, Ira was not in St. Petersburg as she is working abroad in Germany currently. Ira and I met in Russian school as kids and were inseparable until I had to move to United States. She is the only person in Russia I’ve kept in regular contact with and we try to see each other every 2 years somewhere in the world. I consider her to be my other soul mate and hope that we live close again in our lifetime. St. Petersburg didn’t feel quite right without seeing her there.
Second, I didn’t have her or my parents to rely on – I was the Russian tour guide for the trip and Aaron was relying on me to show him around and plan out our time in Russia.
Third, I am older and wiser. While that second part is questionable, I have struggled and questioned my Russian – American identity in the past few years and decided to use this stop on our trip to understanding myself, my homeland and get a glimpse into what it would feel like to live in the land I come from as an adult.
As soon as I sat foot in St. Petersburg, I felt like fish in the water. I started leading Aaron all over the city center showing him the sites I remembered by heart. It just came back to me and my worries dissolved as soon as I was strolling down Nevskiy prospect. My Russian soul woke up!
What my Russian Soul enjoyed the most from the trip:
I felt loved. I expected that probably seeing my aunt, my cousin and his wife, my second cousins to be rather uncomfortable after all these years, but apparently a Russian souls just don’t worry about that – I was greeted with kisses and tight hugs. Immediately we were in and making plans to go to my cousin’s Dacha (Russian summer house) on our way from the airport.
My Aunt took such great care of us: stocking the fridge with food, cooking for us, asking about our stay nearly everyday. No, we were not staying with her.
I can go on about seeing them for days – every minute of it was awesome. Here are my loved ones:
My cousin and his wife:
Us with my aunt and her new boyfriend:
Multiple Russian Parties
If you know a Russian, you are probably already familiar with wonderful Russian hospitality. That is the main reason Russian house parties never disappoint. Once our extended family and family friends heard that we are visiting, we had invitations to be honored guests and I knew exactly what to expect.
The party revolves around a table, which stays full of people, food, vodka and loud conversations involving mostly politics for about 6-7 hours. Russians are clever when it comes to their culture of drinking. We mainly stick to pure vodka throughout the night avoiding mixing as much as possible. People pair vodka shots with hearty foods like bread, mayonnaise-based salads, potatoes and meat. Typically there are 3 large courses: numerous salads, then warm dishes, tea and sweets are served at the end of the night. The hosts are typically leading the shot intake and never slow down throughout the night. Everyone keeps up because they are continuously eating and hardly anyone gets too drunk. I realized how much I missed this culture of partying.
End of the night:
Following the Breadcrumbs of Childhood
I took a day to go back to my stomping grounds as a regular kid growing up in newly post-soviet Russia. My family was quite poor even by Russian standards so we lived in the outskirts of the city – nowhere near the gorgeous buildings you see in the city center.
I couldn’t wait to show Aaron the reality of my world during childhood so we got on the subway at the city center and traveled to the nearly the last stop on the line. Then I showed him my school:
and the Center for Extra Curricular Activities, which I religiously attended after school. I used to be quite the singer and a dancer as a kid:
Then, we got on the bus I would always take to and from school with my sister or with Ira – bus #93, I remember to this day:
In fact, I remembered everything about getting around in that area so Aaron was just following me. He just kept saying that the outskirts of St. Petersburg all look the same, which is true. They are mostly ugly, soviet-style buildings. The building I grew up in is not an exception.
Entrance to the building:
Our flat was on the fourth floor (the new owners updated the windows to the new, nice white ones you see here):
Seeing where I grew up was bitter-sweet after all these years (I didn’t come here in 2004). No matter how small your flat is, how rusty the playground is, how dirty the front yard is, every kid wears pink glasses. I played in large dirty potholes in the road, pretend that bushes are a castle, bury “treasures” around the front yard. They are somewhere here:
I had the time of my life as a kid. Now, the place looked sad, dark and nearly falling apart. Sigh.
Rendezvous with my First Love
Those intertwined streets lined with architectural works of art, endless canals with 342 unique bridges embracing them, white nights with not only sun staying up but almost everyone in the city, playful sunlight dancing across your face as it reflects from the tips of golden rooftops of cathedrals, calming sounds of the fountains that decorate green parks of St. Petersburg. It struck me without warning: I love this city, I miss it and I am drawn to it. They say that those who are born in St. Petersburg never forget it and feel an internal need to come back. “I do! I do! I do!” screamed my Russian soul. Till we meet again, lovely St. Pete!
I am so happy that you were able to find this part of your journey to be a deeply fulfilling experience, especially with Aaron.
What a lovely post. It’s so true how we see the world through rose colored glasses as children. Ah, the innocence. You and your sister (and Mama & Papa, of course) are the only Russians I know and from what I’ve experienced with you all, it’s certainly true what you said about Russian hospitality.