I’m in the plane. I have the window seat. The seat next to me is empty. What a relieve. I switched on my music and watched how this little country became even smaller. The flight to Munich went smoothly but because of the small delay in Amsterdam, there was little time to make it to my next flight. I had no idea how big this airport would be because I have never been here before. Well…it was big. That meant no time to take it easy. I grabbed my stuff and ran to the next gate. Every step hurt. My feet were protesting against the new shoes I was wearing. I missed one of the signs which I found out later. Grumbling and swearing I made a quick U-turn. I took what looked like a subway and arrived at the gate just in time. Time to board. Again I had the window seat. The man on the aisle stood up. He looked like a businessman. The seat in the middle was empty. Without saying a word, we agreed to share it. I closed my eyes but I couldn’t sleep. Three hours later the plane landed in Saint Petersburg, Russia. The sky was grey. The businessman asked me to take a picture. It was a very ugly picture but that didn’t matter. He was excited. It was his first time in Russia. He was here for a congress. I told him it was my first time too. He smiled, stood up and left. I looked at my watch. It is 16:00. I’m about to meet someone I have not seen in two years. I met him on board when I was a cadet. He is an electrician and for some reason electricians are funny people. Once I arrived at the arrival hall, I couldn’t find him. I realized I was early. I looked around for a few minutes until I saw a familiar face. It was great to see him again and I was very glad that he offered me a ride to my apartment. The apartment I booked was situated in the middle of the city centre, close to the famous street ‘Nevsky Prospekt’. It took us 45 minutes to get there. A Russian lady, who supposed to speak English, supposed to meet me there. She was not there and when she finally arrived, I noticed that she didn’t speak English. Not even one word. Even though my Russian was just as good as her English, I understood that there were some issues. Five phone calls and two hours later, everything was settled. Thanks to my Russian friend. I was exhausted. Time to catch some sleep.
Many of my colleagues are from Russia and Ukraine. They told me November is the worst time to visit this city. Although it’s not so cold, the weather is grey and rainy and the city looks depressive. But I spent last summer on board so November it is. Luckily, I have more to do than only sightseeing. I told myself it was a good idea to study Russian. After my experiences of the past weeks here I have to say it’s the best idea if you want to travel in Russia. There are few people who speak English. The struggle is real. I didn’t know if I bought cookies or dog food, I had no idea if I ordered kebab with vegetables, chicken or lamb and the metro card I bought was rejected. Nice try. The first words I learned were: ‘I don’t speak Russian’ and ‘I don’t understand’ because it took me almost two weeks to pronounce ‘Здра́вствуйте’ (means: hello).
It got better. The hours of study started to pay off and I started to get used to life here in the city. I know how much my favorite bread costs, Google Translate prevented me from washing my cashmere sweater at 90 degrees and not having internet was a good excuse to find a bar with free WIFI.
In the morning I walked to school while listening to my Russian playlist, trying to read the signs of the shops. After the lessons I had lunch with my two other classmates. Ivo, a smart and friendly guy from Switzerland and Richie, a typical American from Texas. I called him ‘little Trump’. He is ten years younger, has a different culture and a totally different mindset. Call it interesting or annoying. One day I went to have a drink with ‘little Trump’. It was on a Tuesday around 16:00. He looked at me as if this was the weirdest proposal he had ever heard. I said that there is no time or date on the label of a beer bottle. While we were in the pub we decided to do our homework there. While many of you might think that a few drinks help to learn a language, I can assure you that (unfortunately) this is not the case. After two beers I called for backup. With a live stream connection from the North Sea, my best friend from Russia, who was on board, helped me finish my homework. The next day in class I couldn’t read my own handwriting. It was a mess. Anyway, we had a lot of fun. And that’s more important than having a beautiful handwriting.