The Day my Leather Jacket Broke and General Tips on Surviving the Russian Winter

This is another post of my Life in Russia, and I will talk a bit more about living abroad and dealing with the winter and the snow around this part of the Soviet Union  Russian Federation.

It’s winter again in Saint Petersburg, and that means that no one will see the sun until May. Only a few weeks ago, right before the actual start of winter in Russia, we got a temperature of -25 °C (-13° F) with heavy snowfall. 

By the way, a bit of Trivia: whereas in other parts of the world the seasons officially start on the 22nd day of a certain month, in Russia, they officially start at the 1st day of the month. For example, whereas winter starts December 21 in the Northern Hemisphere, in Russia, the first day of winter is actually the 1st of December.

Winter in Russia: Expectation

Back to the main topic, though. Most foreigners who leave their home country are not prepared to deal with this kind of cold, and you will have to if you want to survive the winter in Russia. If you come from a warm country, you might marvel at the snow for the first two weeks, but thereafter, the cold somewhat loses its magic. That’s why I decided to share a few tips with you on coping with, and surviving, the Russian winter. I might also have one or two funny stories, though. 

How to Break a Leather Jacket

This happened when I was still living in Belgorod, a small town near the Ukrainian border, during my first winter in Russia. One beautiful wintry morning, when the temperature was around -32 °C (-25.6° F), I decided it was a great idea to walk to the university wearing a leather jacket. Of course, I wasn’t wearing only a leather jacket. I am not that crazy to venture outside with a leather jacket and nothing else. I am just a bit mentally challenged, which is why I was wearing a sweater under it too. And my jeans, of course.

It was only a 5 mins walk, anyway. What is the worst that could happen?

Well, it turns out that at a temperature of -30 °C, leather can actually freeze. Would you have imagined that? I certainly wouldn’t. I am, after all, only a Brazilian which had never seen snow before moving overseas that same year. Maybe if I had paid more attention to my history classes on the Napoleonic wars, I would have known that leather is not the best choice for the Russian winter.

Reality

So, I walked up to the door and took my university pass out of my pocket, only to feel the leather jacket breaking down around my arm. I looked at it in disbelief, not understanding what was going on with my clothes. I quickly realized the obvious: the jacket was ruined, and I had to wait inside the building to show my pass to avoid breaking any other parts. 

Yes, I am dumb. Thanks for noticing. At the same time, if you were considering doing the same thing, take my story as a cautionary tale. Even though a 5-minute walk finished out as a simple awkward experience, it is definitely a dreadful reminder of how quick cold temperatures can kill someone without proper clothing on the streets. And it happens more often than you think.

Dressing for winter

If you can’t count on jackets for the winter, what should you wear, then?

Thermal wear. They sell it in every SportsMaster (A sportswear store chain) around Russia, and you should totally get at least one set of thermal pants if you intend to walk around in negative temperatures. 

Me, enjoying the winter

Of course, there’s no need to mention that you also should have a proper winter coat and a few thick sweaters. The more layers, the better. Have a look around clothing stores and get the biggest scarf you can find as well. Keeping your neck region properly insulated is critical. This way, your body heat stays inside your clothes.

You also won’t regret having shoes lined with fur. If any vegans are reading this, synthetic fur is a good option, and it’s normally cheaper than real fur. An extra measure of caution is to get tall boots. You might be stepping into 20 or 40 cm of snow on the first few days or weeks of winter, and you really don’t want that snow to get inside your shoes. Really.

Overall, even if you are well-dressed for a severe and cold winter, you might want to stay inside more often. And don’t use a leather jacket.

That’s it for today, I guess. If you want me to write about anything in particular in Russia, let me know!

Moscow X Saint Petersburg. Fight!

    Hello, dear readers! 

    I hope you are doing great out there, and I really, really hope you are not reading this because your city is in lockdown again, and you are bored to death but can’t leave your home now, so you decided to read whatever shitty blog you could find on the internet and ended up in this page. I feel so sorry if accurately described your situation right now. 

    Anyway, I feel inspired these last few days, so I have been writing a lot. Hopefully you won’t get ODd with bad jokes. 

    Today I am going to write about a topic which is not polemic at all! We are simply going to decide which Russian city is better: Saint Petersburg or Moscow. If you have ever spoken to someone from either cities, you would know how serious this discussion can get. There are jokes and stereotypes from both sides. At one point I heard this great outrageous quote, “When someone decides to move from Saint Petersburg to Moscow, the average IQ increases in both cities.”

    Obviously, this is someone from Saint Petersburg. I will keep their identity anonymous, so no Muscovite will beat them up. 

How should we compare?

    Well, if you have been reading my blog for a while, you probably know I have no respect towards fancy things such as statistics, facts and objectivity. You can get these things in fancy places like Teleport.org or Expatistan. Fine, I will add a bit of facts in my text, but not too much. I don’t want people to get used to it.

This article is all about my subjective experiences from both cities, plus common opinions both Muscovites and Petersburgians have for both places. Believe it or not, I googled the word Petersburgian and found at least one online dictionary that mentions it. I have been living in Saint Petersburg for almost 2 years now, and I spent 4 years in Moscow, so I can say proudly that I know my shit what I am talking about. Mostly.

Saint Petersburg

Hero-city Leningrad. The Venice of the North. The Cultural Capital. Russia’s Window to the West. The Imperial capital of Russia. This city goes by many names, and I have heard all of them in less than 2 years spent in the city. They all remind us of the importance of Saint Petersburg in Russian history, and this city certainly delivers as the main stage of the country’s history and culture in the 18th-20th centuries. 

Saint Petersburg is home to all things baroque and imperial

Home to Hermitage and the Russian Museum, it has an immense number of activities for nerds culture lovers. The architecture of the imperial capital is a treasure in itself, as you would immediately find out after a quick walk in the city center. If you are a fan of Russian history and culture, you will love being here. Even in a quick trip you can enjoy the museums and city walks, but by living here and getting to know such cultured people, you will feel the full immersive experience of the cultural capital. 

By the way, the bar streets in Saint Petersburg caught my interest, this “bar street” culture is not very widespread in Moscow, but it thrives here. You will find many very comfortable places in Nekrasova and Rubinstein streets, which are ideal for a pub crawl and talks with artists, musicians, and pretty much anyone related to humanities. They all know that Saint Petersburg is their place. If you are into something more intense, you can also walk around Dumskaya street and find… Unique… Establishments. Don’t mind the occasional drunk fight.  

And let us not forget the white nights, these are certainly a natural beauty that Moscow cannot boast. Coming here by the end of June or beginning of July will ensure that you have 24 hours of natural light divided by only a small sunset or sunrise, depending on how you look at it. You can walk around the city, go to a bar, have a shavuha shaurma for breakfast after partying all night long, and then walk more. 

Moscow

Because who cares about the alphabetical order anyway?

Moscow requires no introduction. Anyone with a minimum knowledge of geography and history knows that Moscow is where all Russian roads lead. Not only it is the political center of the country, but it is also its financial and economic center, home to headquarters of all biggest Russian and international companies. 

By the way, I have also written a small and unusual tour guide earlier in my blog. Have a look if you are going there soon!

Let’s not be unfair, Moscow is undeniably the economic power in Russia and likely in all of Eastern Europe, but it is no less of a cultural giant. You also have lots of museums and art galleries around here, and of course, the worldwide famous Bolshoy Theater. The best universities, such as my alma mater Higher School of Economics, also have their main campuses in Moscow. 

Did you say “Financial Center?” 

If you are into charming small streets with bars and cafés, though, you will likely be disappointed. Except, perhaps, for Old Arbat and the Lyubyanka subway area, you won’t find lots of these small bars in Moscow, or at least not as many of them as you would find in Saint Petersburg. Some might even say that Moscow is overwhelming with its large concrete squares, wide concrete highways and massive concrete buildings. It was designed to show the greatness of the Soviet government, after all. 

Conclusion? 

Despite my friends’ best efforts to put me in a delicate position by asking which city is better, I always give a safe answer: it depends. Moscow offers the best when it comes to career opportunities, although Saint Petersburg does not fall behind when it comes to IT companies. If you like a quick-paced big city life, certainly choose Moscow. If you prefer a calmer life with cultural talks in small bars, Saint Petersburg is the place for you.  

Belgorod will always be the best anyway. Don’t even try to convince me otherwise. 

4 Places Where You Can Go in St. Petersburg’s Countryside

If you have been to Saint Petersburg, you likely already know which are the most obvious places and activities, and you may want to look outwards, instead. Or visit Moscow. The near region of St. Petersburg, or Leningradskaya Oblast (Lenoblast, for intimate friends), is quite full of surprises as well. We will cover a few of the places. 

1. Vyborg

Vyborg is a small medieval town, about 1h away from Saint Petersburg, and right next to the Finnish border. The city even belonged to Finland at a few times in history. You can easily book a train from the Finlyandskiy Railway Station and spend the day walking around the cute little medieval streets in the historic center. 

A personal tradition of mine is having lunch or dinner at a great medieval-style restaurant called Taverna. If you are randomly walking around the city, you will certainly notice this place because of its unending lines of eager guests. Yes, the food is worth the waiting. Nowadays, you can book tables there, so if you plan beforehand, you will be able to enjoy the great Russian medieval food without having to wait in the cold for over one hour. Having a menu in English might be not possible, though.

Other than the great food at Taverna, though, there are a few different places to visit in Vyborg, such as the Vyborg Castle. The fortress is located right in the center of the Vyborg Bay and is likely the first medieval building you will see while walking along the banks from the Railway Station. It was built in the 13th century by the Swedes, or so says Wikipedia.

The design looks great. The realization and logistics, not so much.

There is also the Monrepo Park, with great views of the Vyborg Bay and Ludwigsburg. Ludwigsburg, in this case, is not a city in Germany, but a small castle nested over a rocky cliff at Vyborg Bay, barely seen between the trees.

You can also walk by the historic city center and visit the Hermitage Museum in Vyborg. A personal advice, though, is that if you have been to the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg, you might not be impressed with the size of this one. 

2. Tsarskoe Selo, Pushkin or Catherine’s Palace and Park

If you ever heard of Catherine the Great,  you probably associate her with all the grandest buildings in St. Petersburg. You don’t? Oh, well, maybe you should read more about Russian history then, no? 

Tsarskoe Selo is just a train ride away from St. Petersburg. You can go there from the Baltiskiy Railway Station and pay less than 100 rubles for the ticket. These are prices from 2021, just in case.

The park near Catherine’s Palace. The entrance fee is really worth it.

Be prepared to spend the whole day walking around the palace grounds and admiring this beautiful park. Entrance is paid, and beware of the huge lines! Those are for entering the palace itself, not the park. 

If you are not into paying for visiting parks, not far from the palace there is a totally free of charge park with a few historical buildings that you can look. The park with paid entrance is totally worth it, though, especially during the summer and autumn. 

3. Peterhof

One of the greatest landmarks of Saint Petersburg, together with the winter palace. If you have ever looked at some tour guides for St. Petersburg, you have seen photos of its beautiful golden fountains. By the way, they were quite an engineering marvel at the time they were built.

Doing it tsar style

You can go the cheap way by bus or train and then walk around the city, which is quite beautiful and comes with lots of parks. Or you can go the expensive way via one of the Meteora boats and get there quite quickly. You’d also enjoy a great view of Saint Petersburg from the Neva River and the Gulf of Finland. 

Either way, if you want to see fountains working, make sure you go to Peterhof by late spring or no later than the first weeks of autumn. The fountains really add to the imperial atmosphere of the palace gardens, and it would be a shame to go there only to not see them working. Also, it gets very cold, windy and wet in the Gulf, so choose a warm day to go there. If you are not local, keep in mind that warm days are a rare sight in Saint Petersburg.

4. Repino and Komarovo

This one is for art lovers and beach lovers. Repino and Komarovo are two districts not far from each other, in the northwestern outskirts of Saint Petersburg.

There isn’t that much to see there, but you can still spend a good day at the beach after seeing Ilya Repin’s Dacha and walking around its grounds. A Dacha is a country house in Russia, but for some reason, Russians don’t translate it to country house, but simply say dacha, and so should you.

Komarovo and its many forest walkways

There are a lot of trees at Repin’s Dacha grounds, and they make for beautiful autumn images. I have even published a few shots from there in my Instagram. By simply crossing the street and walking a bit through the woods, you can go to the beach. If you are there during the summer, the water should be warm enough. Don’t bother to swim during the autumn, though.

Komarovo is quite analogous, as in you can look at rich people’s dachas, dream about being a millionaire, and go to the beach. Unless you are a millionaire reading my blog right now. In that case, please send me some money. And then go to the beach.

Thanks for reading! I hope you liked my suggestions for destinations in St. Petersburg. If you think I haven’t covered something, write in the comments, so I know what to talk about next!

A Trip Through Polemic Dishes and Russian Cuisine

 I decided to share a few things about not so Russian cuisine that you might encounter during your travels to the Motherland. This is actually a very polemic topic, since things I once thought were entirely typically Russian are actually not, like Borscht. 

So here we go! A few Russian or maybe not really Russian foods that you are going to see in any restaurant!

1. Borscht

If you are visiting Russia during the winter, you will certainly want some warm soup in between walks on the outside chilly weather, and eating borscht is the best way to get warm. Of course, you can simply drink some tea, but that wouldn’t really be a complete meal, would it?

Smetana: check, black bread: check, dill: check

Borscht is the famous Russian food that Russians keep telling me it’s from Ukraine. I still call it Russian because I have eaten it in Russia, and I haven’t eaten it in Ukraine. I haven’t been to Ukraine, but that is beside the point. 

Borscht is a beetroot soup, sometimes cooked with meat, sometimes without, and normally served with Smetana, a Russian sour cream. While it might sound horrible and taste horrible in the beginning, it’s actually very tasty, even more so during the winter. 

2. Pelmeni

The traditional Russian equivalent of instant pasta. It is not pasta, and not instant, though. You will find a large selection of frozen Pelmeni in most stores, and they come with various fillings, such as potato, cabbage, mushrooms, but mostly beef or pork. 

Asian cultures, such as Korea, Japan, and China, have their own versions of these foods, with variations in the dough used or on how it’s served. Georgia also has Hinkalis, a delicious mega-pelmeni, which you are supposed to eat with your own hands, but I never do. 

A particularly horrendous atrocity personal touch that I like to give to them is my famous “Pelmeni à Parmigiana”, where I basically add tomato sauce to the cooked pelmeni and sprinkle Parmesan over it, like a true Brazilian. 

Needs some tomato sauce and Parmesan, right?

Brazilians do love to ruin perfect other culture’s dishes. You should compare Brazilian and Italian pizzas, by the way. It doesn’t matter how many Italians tell me that something went wrong with our pizzas somewhere along the way. I won’t believe them.

3. Shawarma Shaverma Shaurma Kebab Shavuha 

I already talked about Shaurma before, as you might remember, but of course you don’t, do you? Like any good street food, it didn’t come from Russia. Joking. It’s just that most Russian food, except, perhaps, pancakes, isn’t really comfortable to eat on-the-go, so shaurma is the solution.

The simplicity… The perfection…

Shaurma is the blood that pumps Russian cities. It gives us energy, and sometimes food poisoning. The point is, there is always a shaurma place nearby. No matter where you go, there will always be a shaurma pace near you, offering cheap, tasty food that you can eat anywhere, even standing up or walking home at 6 am after partying all night in Dumskaya.

4. Chicken Kiev (with the Obligatory Side of Mashed Potatoes)

Which might or might not be Russian. Can you believe that? You might be saying “Well, it’s Kiev cutlet and not Moscow cutlet, duh”, but it seems that neither Russians nor Ukrainians can figure out who invented it and who should have the credit for it. 

While they discuss the origins, I suggest you enjoy the taste. And try not to start a fight with some Ukranian by saying the food is Russian. 

“What is Chicken Kiev, though?”, you might be wondering. Do not worry, I will give you a tempting description of this dish’s pure deliciousness. It’s a cutlet made of minced chicken, rolled over an absurd amount of butter, and then coated in breading and deep-fried. Sounds quite healthy, no? Yeah, I know.

You are certain to find this dish in student cafeterias. Likely they’ll serve it with a side of mashed potatoes. I know this, because this dish sums up my 4 years at the Higher School of Economics cafeteria. 10Kg later, I graduated. Yay! 

5. Beefstroganoff (Stroganoff)

You likely know what Stroganoff is, but in case you are not acquainted with this delicious dish, I will give you an idea. Stroganoff is basically a finer sort of beef, ideally filet Mignon, cut in tiny slices and served with a variation of Smetana or white sauce.

All Brazilians that eat Stroganoff have the Russian, or maybe Ukrainian, immigrants to thank for it. Though, I do have to warn viewers that, if you google Brazilian Stroganoff recipes, you might get a stroke. We made an aberration improved it like we did with Italian pizzas.

Another curious thing is that, whereas in Russia Stroganoff is served as a sauce over pasta, such as tagliatelle, or, again, mashed potatoes, most frequently, in Brazil it is commonly served with white rice and french fries. And it’s delicious. I am sure my Russian friends will now stop talking to me.

Thanks for getting all the way down here! I’m happy to see you! Do you have any wishes on other kinds of food you’d like me to make bad jokes about comment on? I think I’ll get into Syrniki and Pancakes next time. I’m so hungry now. 

Life in Russia during the Covid-19 Pandemic

Hello there! I was supposed to write something about coronavirus in October 2020, but you know how responsibly I lead my blog. In any case, since I am now infected with — guess what — Covid-19, and can’t leave my apartment for the next two weeks. I thought it would be a good time to write on my blog about it. 

In case you are worried about me, I am fine. Although, why would you worry about me anyway? I’m fine, mostly. I am coughing a bit and bored to death, staring at the ceiling in my own apartment, but other than that, pretty ok. 

How has the Russian government been dealing with the Covid pandemic?

That is a very good question! Almost as if I asked it myself.

As of the writing of this post, by mid-July 2021, the country is facing a third wave of infections. This could possibly be worse than the previous waves because of the Delta variant, which is much more contagious. The number of cases has been rising quite quickly, but the government is not repeating the measures imposed in similar situations in the past. In Moscow, not long ago you could only go to a restaurant if you were vaccinated or could present a PCR test made in the last 3 days, but these measures have already been dropped. 

I am currently living in Saint Petersburg, and the situation here was quite different from Moscow. There were no measures enforced by the government when the pandemic first started, back in April 2020. Then, there was a recommended social distancing policy, but nothing actually forbidding businesses from operating. It was the beginning of Spring and the weather was finally stopping being depressive and gloomy. If you have been to Saint Petersburg, you know how rare this is. It’s no surprise that, at that time, everyone was freely walking around the city center, often without masks, and going to bars and restaurants.

During the summer there was a temporary closure of venues and public gatherings. Other than that, people in Saint Petersburg were mostly ignoring social distancing and self-isolation measures. Businesses closed again for some time during the winter, but that was quite it. Up until now, masks are required in most closed spaces, but not on the street. 

How has the pandemic affected you personally? 

Well, at the moment I can’t travel outside of Russia. I do not have a temporary or permanent residency in the country, so the border security might not let me back in the country. I haven’t seen my family in 2 years almost, which sucks, really, so I can only keep dreaming of the time when I can take some vacations and travel somewhere with exotic food. My Russian friends can travel to a few countries already, so normally I check their Instagram stories in Bali, or Georgia, or Turkey, and then I cry myself to sleep. 

From April to September, I had to work from home, since the company decided that it was too risky to keep all employees working from the office. Oh, how fun it was to work from home during the summer with no Air Conditioning at home. Why no AC? It’s Saint Petersburg, after all. You don’t expect Saint Petersburg to be warm, not even in the summer.

By autumn, my office reopened for employees willing to take Covid-19 tests every two weeks. I thought I was done working from home, so applied to go back to the office. And then I regretted that I couldn’t work from home when the temperature reached -20 °C during the winter.

This spring, most restrictions regarding working from the office were finally lifted, and more employees started to go to the office more often. We even had a corporate party not long ago, as it was considered safe to gather large numbers of people again.  These small things, such as seeing coworkers personally, and having parties, even small ones, provide some relief from the fact that we are still living in a pandemic and most borders are still closed.

I would love to get travelling again without risking losing my work and apartment, but for now that is still impossible. 

Russia registered the first Covid-19 vaccine. Why hasn’t everyone vaccinated yet?

The vaccination campaign is going quite slowly in Russia. Unfortunately, people are too distrustful of the government, and don’t take seriously any information about the Covid-19 Pandemic or the need to vaccinate. People are so distrustful of vaccines in Russia that they’d rather buy a fake vaccination certificate. It does not help that Sputnik V has not been recognized by the World Health Organization. I am aware that it was already analyzed by national and international organizations. Many countries, including European ones, are importing it in order to vaccinate their own population. 

Russians, though, still fear that Sputnik V might have side effects that somehow are not worth the benefit of immunity against a lethal virus. Some believe the vaccine is completely inefficient. You’d think that only uneducated people with a minimal knowledge of science buy into anti-vaccine conspiracy theories, but that is not the case in Russia. Many of my friends, some of them even work colleagues, with master’s degrees or PhDs, do not want to get vaccinated, and for several reasons.

One not so funny story that I experienced last year showcases this. I was talking to an acquaintance about the pandemic, which was something unknown and scary at the time. This “woke” guy tried to explain to me that the Russian government was just trying to portray a common flu as a serious pandemic in order to keep people obedient and fearful. He went as far as to say that his aunt got sick with a flu and was registered as being sick with Covid-19. After that, he said, his aunt managed to somehow win a court battle against the hospital that listed her as sick with Covid-19. Therefore, in his mind, everyone who was being registered as infected with Covid-19 was just actually suffering from a common flu.

I don’t know who his aunt was, but I am quite confident that you don’t drag someone into court just like that. That is not to mention all other logical flaws in his argument. I guess that if I had listened a bit longer to him, he could have just started shouting “Wake up, sheeple!” at random crowds in the street.

Why haven’t you vaccinated?

Here comes one of the most foolish stories I ever had to write about myself so far. 

I was going to. I really was. First, I consulted my insurance about it, but they said that the vaccine was free and therefore not offered by any insurance system at the time. But I am a foreigner, so I can’t get vaccinated for free. I would have to pay almost €100.00 for each dose, so I decided that maybe I’ll wait a bit longer. If you think that paying €200.00 isn’t that much, keep in mind that I am living in Russia, not in the European Union. The salaries here are much lower. And everyone else is getting the vaccine for free, so I felt quite like I was being tricked into something.

A while after that, a friend recommended another clinic where the vaccine was “free”, but required a paid consultation after receiving each dose. Because, of course, you need to have a paid consultation for each dose only if you are a foreigner. Anyway, the price was much lower, so I signed up. The very same day I was about to get vaccinated, I got the information that my company was going to organize a massive vaccination campaign for all employees, for free. Obviously I canceled the appointment and signed up for the office vaccination campaign. 

Then I got sick. Yay. 

While I recover from Covid-19, I do realize I should have vaccinated earlier, and I totally would have done it if the vaccine were available for foreigners. There will never be a perfect time, so better to vaccinate earlier, rather than later. 

Thanks for reading all the way down here. Stay healthy, vaccinate if you can! 

Russia after 8 years: How does it feel like

It feels weird. 

I will get into that a bit later, but first, let me start talking a bit about why I have decided to write about this today. This will be an on-the-run post, more serious than normal. On May 4th, 2013, 8 years ago, I traveled to Russia for the first time. You can read all about those first impressions here, but in short, I landed at Domodedovo airport and felt what a 15 °C cold feels like, possibly for the first time in life. 

The sun was barely visible through thick clouds, even though it was the middle of the day. The agency responsible for getting me and my new colleagues to Kursk and Belgorod had rented an ancient, soviet era bus that would take us through over 700 Km of highways. 

The next memory is already at night, after long hours on that lonely highway among tall Russian pine trees. We stopped at a small diner along the street to use the bathroom. The lady behind the counter looked at each of the students with a severe, almost hateful face. Those were my first impressions: cold, cloudy skies, old buses and highways, and severe gazes from Russian ladies.
But I digress. Back to the main topic.

Why does it feel weird?

It feels weird because after 8 years living in this country, I have so much to be thankful for, and yet I cannot really say I would like to live another 8 years here. I loved pine forests even before coming to Russia, and I got used to soviet era buses going around old highways. I even started to see the smiles behind the initial stern looks people give in the streets, so in the end, none of the first impressions really stuck.

The things I feel truly thankful for are the scholarship and the job opportunities I got in the country, and above all, all the friends I met along the way. Every one of them contributed to changing my life into a remarkable, at times crazy, adventure, which is so much cooler than the life path that waited for me in Brazil. I multiplied my worldview by infinite the moment I got to Belgorod and met all these students from all parts of the world. And even that was multiplied million-fold when I got to Moscow and became friends with people from so many backgrounds!
For all of that, I am forever grateful.

Why not continue living in Russia, then? 

The reasons why I came to Russia in the first place are no longer that important to me. Back then, I was a teenager hungry for some kind of adventure, and going to Russia for studies seemed like a pretty straightforward way to achieve that. Not that I didn’t want the other achievements. 

Now I am already an adult. Look mom! I’m a grown-up now! My priorities in life are a bit different and I can’t say that I feel comfortable living in this country, despite having so many friends and so many dear memories here. Of course, no country has an obligation to meet my expectations, but lately the situation with the rule of law is becoming grim. Recent news about a possible war with Ukraine are also worrying. I don’t expect things to change for the better in the short term, which is why I have been thinking more and more often about moving on to new opportunities, and perhaps having new adventures. 

Though this time I won’t decide on the country because of Age of Empires III

The Roommate from Hell – Part 3: “The Fridge Saga”

    It took me more than 6 months to actually write this. Wow. Much article. So discipline. Anyway, this time I will write about how the crazy roommate saga ends! 

    You might be thinking “But, Leandro, I thought you already had finished this story after he got kicked out of the apartment in Part 2!” Well, no. There is still one great final act in the mad theater of a mentally ill roommate’s mind. Not as great as being hunted by gopniki in a park, of course, but still worth telling. 

    So here we go. Part III. The comeback. The end of the saga! 

You will never look at a fridge the same way after this article

Why are you talking about a fridge?

    Let’s recap the last part of my post about this guy. He had been kicked out of the dormitory apartment, and we were living our happy lives in the freak-free world. Yay! There was just one teeny tiny detail. Remember what I wrote on Part 1? Probably not, but anyway, we had to invite him to a rehab-fashioned meeting, with the whole purpose of convincing him to pay for part of the fridge we had bought for the apartment. This was, of course, so he could keep his food from rotting and all that.

    Nonetheless, he did pay for part of the fridge in the end. And we didn’t give his money back when he was kicked out, of course. I guess when there’s a police officer threatening to arrest your roommate you don’t just go like “Oh, dear, the fridge! We must return the fridge money!”. 

  Just out of curiosity, tell me in the comments, what does a normal, sane, reasonable person does when someone owes them money? Maybe you can knock at their door and give a friendly reminder that you spent some money on a fridge that you are not using, right? Or, in case you are not really talking to the person because you tried to beat them up, and they didn’t really like it, maybe ask a mutual friend to talk with them about it?

How does an insane person say you owe them money?

    Of course, only a sane person would try to talk to you, or let a mutual friend know that they want their money back, since the paid for a fridge they are no longer using. Although, if he were a normal person, he wouldn’t try to get some random people to beat you up in a park.

You know what is a much better option when there are no limits to your sense of bizarre? You can accuse other people of stealing money from you. But since the police officer that had threatened to arrest him some 2 weeks earlier, he decided instead that it would be a great idea to spread accusations among my other students and teachers in the university. Isn’t that awesome?

This couldn’t go wrong, of course.

    On a beautiful morning after my Russian class, as I was trying to get myself a snack, my Russian teacher found me in the university cafeteria. She asked me, with a very dire expression, to come with her to the dean’s office. On the way, I asked what was going on, and she told me that one of my colleagues had accused me of stealing money from him. You can probably imagine my reaction: I was quite surprised at first, that I thought it had to be some kind of misunderstanding. I didn’t speak Russian very well back then, after all. The teacher’s face, though, showed that I was in trouble. Maybe she had already decided that I am guilty. I tried to explain that I have no idea what she was talking about, but she replied that I would have the chance to explain myself to the university dean.  

    Indeed, he didn’t try talking to me, or to my roommates, or even to the dorm director. Nope, he made these accusations to my colleagues, and everything went straight to university administration. Because, of course, the dean has nothing else to do or worry about, like managing a department of over 200 students.

Trying to reason with unreasonable people

    There I was, in the dean’s office, attempting to clarify the situation, with the crazy guy and the university administration in front of me. It seems he was not expecting that course of events, because when he was asked to explain himself in front of me, he couldn’t say anything at first. Then he started talking. Guess what? It was about the damn fridge money we had to convince him to pay in the beginning. Of course, I promptly explained that he didn’t simply lend me money. Instead, he had paid me for part of the fridge that I bought with my own money for the apartment. He was not able to use it anymore because he was kicked out of the apartment for trying to punch me and then trying to get some gopniki to hunt me in the city park. 

    So the dean understood that the whole story where I stole money from him was just a lie and let me go. Of course not. Why would things ever be so simple? It’s never that simple. Never. He insisted he wanted his money back. All of it, right away.

    We stayed in that room for more than 3 hours. The dean was determined to find a solution that would be good for both parties. So, the three of us started discussing exactly how much I should pay back, since he did use the fridge he had paid for. Technically he couldn’t use it now because he didn’t have the keys to our apartment. Not that I would agree of continuing letting him use it. I didn’t want that crazy guy to have access to my apartment. Defintely not. No, sir.

We had tried to calculate in a thousand ways how much I was supposed to return him. By the end of these 3 hours, both the dean and I were just imploring him to accept my offer of returning 5/6 of the price he paid. But all he could do was cross his arms and said blatantly that he deserved to receive all the money back for his share of the fridge. That is, even though he bought his share with a huge discount. Why he had a discount in the first place? It was the only way we could convince him to buy a share of the fridge. As in, he would rather not use a fridge and let food rot instead of buying a share of one, unless it had a huge discount.

Yes, that makes no sense, I agree. It didn’t stop him from calling his girlfriend on his phone to explain the situation to the dean. You might be asking yourself, “What did his girlfriend have to do with that? HE HAD A GIRLFRIEND?”, which is exactly what I asked myself back then. In that exact order.

“Why did I buy that fridge? Why, Lord?”

    At this point, the dean threatened to call the police to sort this out, saying we would both have to write reports about what happened. But, if you might remember from Part 2, the police officer responsible for the dormitory already knew him from that other day when he called the gopniki to beat me up in the park. He not only refused to listen to dean about having the police officer handle the situation, he accused me of bribing the police to threaten him.

This was getting so ridiculous that I could not even be angry about it anymore. I started laughing, but maybe this was a kind of despair laugh, because this guy’s mind was wandering far from reality. The dean’s patience, though, was already over a long time ago. She decided to call a fridge rental company to find out daily fridge rental costs. I kid you not, she actually found a company and called them to find out. Base on their answer, she calculated how much I should pay back. In case you are wondering, it was ₽375.00, or a bit less than $5.00.

    Ever thought sharing a fridge could be this complicated? I certainly hadn’t. From then on, I don’t share fridges with anyone, not even loved ones. They can buy their own fridges if they want to, or leave their food in the balcony, it’s as good as a fridge for half of the year in these parts.

Could it be? It finally ends? 

    I wish I could say he just took these $5.00 and disappeared, but not really, though thank God, he didn’t try to harass me or accuse me of anything else. After all, his reputation with both the dormitory administration and the faculty administration was finished after that. Eventually, our community of Brazilian students that lived in the dorm found out about everything that had happened, and he basically got banned, so he had no support from anyone, at all.

    He kind of laid low, I guess, and then moved to Crimea at some point. I don’t know where he is now, I’m just happy it’s likely far, far away from me. Look! Behind you! AH!

    That’s all for today! I am sure you had plenty of stories from your university time too. Anything as crazy as this?

The Old and New Christmas, New Year pines, and Other Weird Stuff about Russian Holidays

    Hey there, folks! It has been a while, right? Have you missed me? I’m pretty sure you didn’t, and yet again I’m writing another article full of bad jokes only for you! You should admire my tenacity.

    We have just been through the New Year holidays in Russia. God, am I glad we have over 7 official holidays! There are a few traditions in the end-of-the-year celebrations in Russia that differ from any other part of the world, in the sense that they are sooo weird. For example, they have two dates for Christmas and New Year, and there’s no gift-giving on both Christmases. Russians, amirite?

So I decided to dedicate some time to write about them. After all, I got a lot of free time this week!

The only right way to celebrate New Year in Russia
(photo: eadaily.com)

The Old and New Christmas 

    It all changed when the fire nation attacked with the Romans, or to be more specific, with the Gregorian calendar. The western world switched calendars, one thing led to another, and a few thousand years worth of history books later, we got the western Christmas on the 25th of December. The Orthodox Church, however, still uses the Julian calendar in order to celebrate all of its significant events. Only God knows why. Did you see what I did there?

    So the Russians still celebrate Orthodox Christmas, which happens to be on the 7th of January, according to the dates set by the Orthodox Church. If you think the weirdness stops here, you are quite wrong. Despite the fact that the official New Year’s Eve is on December 31st, Russians also celebrate an “Old” New Year on the 13th of January. Are you mind-blown? I was mind-blown when I found out.

    Now, I know what you are thinking. How can you celebrate Christmas after the New Year? That is simply not how things are done. You are totally correct to think that. I don’t understand it either, but different from our Western traditions, the Orthodox Christmas is more of a religious event, and not really the Christmas party westerners are used to have. No Christmas dinner or gift-giving, only praying the whole day and night. Boring as hell, I know. Did you see what I did there again? Boring as hell. Christmas.

    I should note that celebrating Christmas on the 25th is getting more popular in Russia, specially between those who don’t follow the Russian Orthodox Church. 

Speaking about gift-giving

    Well, if Russians don’t exchange gifts on Christmas, when they get to do it? Never, because gift-giving is only for capitalist pigs such as you and me. Oink-oink. I’m kidding, they give gifts on the New Year’s Eve. Which is also weird, but I guess it’s better than never giving any gifts to each other. 

     Just like in the western countries, Russians put their gifts under their Christmas Tree. Except it is not called a Christmas tree, but a New Year tree. Yes, you read that right. In Russia, you have only New Year Trees, or “New Year pine” to be more accurate.

You might be asking yourself how come they call it a Christmas Tree a New Year Pine and why exchange gifts during the New Year’s Eve. This is because of the religious repression Russians suffered during the Soviet Union. Because of all that atheist religious-is-the-opium-of-the-people stuff, lots of traditions with religious origins had to be changed or adapted as to not offend the state. Christmas was no exception, so for a long time Russians simply transformed it in a New Year event, and I suppose now it’s just useless to go back to how things were.

What about the 7 Official holidays? 

    That’s one of the best things about New Year in Russia! At least, when you are not in a desperate need of government services, because you are out of luck if you need documents done in the first half of January. All the days between the 1st and 7th of January are official holidays and therefore if you are a regular employee, you don’t have to work. If you do have to work, assuming you are not a poor freelancer, you get double-pay for working these days, according to Russian labor laws.

    And it gets better! In Russia there is also a law that transfers holidays that fall on weekends or in the middle of the week. What does this mean? It means that, for example, in this year, 2021, all 7 official holidays plus weekends makes for 31st of December through 11th of January as non-working days, which is totally amazing. I love Russian laws. Never criticized them. Please keep adding holidays.

    Well, for today, that’s it. I don’t like to think too much. I have a terrible hangover, and it hurts to think. 

    Have I missed something about holidays? Should I rant about the Russian Salad? Or list all the reasons why there’s no need for a presidential address on the New Year’s Eve? Give me some feedback in the comments! Maybe next week I’ll share some crazy stories of my New Year celebrations in Moscow as a student. Those were pretty fun times.

The Very Obvious Places You Should Check Out in Saint Petersburg

 Yo, my people! What’s crackin’? 

Just as I finished writing this article, I’d like to announce that this old bastard here has already been living over one year in Saint Petersburg. And wrote less than 10 posts for the blog this whole time. * C o m m i t m e n t *

Since I am almost a local now, and I have taken upon myself the task of visiting all the famous, and not so famous bars in Saint Petersburg. Now I can share a few pieces of advice about what you can do while visiting the cultural capital of Russia. 

When I wrote an article about what you can do in Moscow, I avoided talking too much about the main attractions. I will take a bit of a different approach this time. Here I’ll dedicate the whole post to St. Petersburg main sightseeing points and how to enjoy them, which will be specially useful if you are short on time. No need to thank me for it, I know I’m awesome. 

Maybe next time I’ll write about my favorite bars. There are many of them.

Hermitage and Russian Museums

If you are into art, culture, you should totally visit Hermitage and Russian museum. If you are not into art and culture, you shouldn’t really have chosen Saint Petersburg to begin with. Seriously, why else would you come here? 

Hermitage is incomparable if you are looking forward to experiencing all the gold and opulence you will never have in your life as a filthy peasant, so I do recommend going there. Make sure you look at all the detailed artwork and try not to cry at the white marble stairs when you realize how you suck at painting. That did not happen to me, I swear. 

I can assure you that Hermitage is definitely worth going at least once in your life before you die and let’s face it, 2020 is really trying to get you killed. However, if you are not looking forward to standing hours in lines, then Russian Museum is a great choice, often with smaller lines and I assure you: you will not regret exploring their exhibitions, although you might have an existential crisis there as well if you pay too much attention to the details in the paintings. 

Wow. Much gold. Very marble. Many Corinthian.

Both museums are in the city center and not far away from each other, so you can always go around between walks along the main streets.

Peterhof

If you want to get impressed with some outright decadently opulent architecture, a beautiful garden and a f*ckload of statues, you should totally visit Peterhof. It might sound like I am exaggerating, but man, Peter the Great went to town on that project. I wonder why would anyone even decide to build such a frigging huge palace. I guess he was trying to overcompensate something.

“Please kill me. End my suffering.” 

It is possible to get there by boat if you are a rich bitch and enjoy the view of the Gulf of Finland. I’d say that taking a cab for a family of 4, or just going by train if you are alone, are smarter choices. Make sure to enjoy the walk from the train station to the palace itself as well. It’s a very nice neighborhood.

Peterhof is a large territory, so you can be sure that you’ll spend the whole day looking at all the places there. Don’t forget to wear some very comfortable shoes and maybe pray your feet don’t hurt by the end of the day. Or use band-aids if that’s your thing. 

Also make sure to post a selfie with the weird lion statues. 

Canals & Bridges

Getting an excursion around the city canals is a lovely activity. If you want to freeze to death on those boats because damn that wind is cold enjoy a lovely view of Saint Petersburg’s main touristic attractions without having to walk, this is the perfect choice. An excursion through the canals of the city will certainly leave you wishing you had brought a warmer coat completely amazed at all the exquisite architecture of the city.

Be sure to take some photos of the Saint Isaacs Cathedral, the Peter and Paul Fortress, and Trinity Cathedral. Please don’t drop your phone on the water.  

An even better opportunity to die a chilly death enjoy the Petersburg atmosphere is to watch the drawbridges opening, specially during the white nights. That happens not earlier than1am though, so you might want to prepare beforehand to make sure you are completely awake and rested when the excursion starts and bring a bigger coat, for God’s sake.

A beautiful pain in the neck

I have a funny personal story when I was still a tourist in Saint Petersburg. Some friends and I decided to go to one of the many local bars, and then to a club. After a few drinks, we decided we should definitely see the bridges lifting. We thought that, by leaving the club right away, we would get to the river Neva in time to see the last bridge opening up. We got there just in time. It was a good view, but not that impressive, to be honest. We were ready to go home now. Then we realized that all the bridges are open, and we can’t get home because we were staying across the river.

So take care. If you find yourself on the wrong side of the river after 2am, you might have to stay awake until the bridges are down again. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Just walk around and enjoy. Also, bars. 

Saint Petersburg has a city culture that is completely different from Moscow. Here it’s commonplace to simply enjoy a walk around the city center, looking at all the cute finely planned tidy streets. That is very contrasting to Moscow, where the only people walking around calmly are tourists.

Try to get lost in the city a bit but make sure you have Saint Petersburg Google Maps downloaded, you don’t want to actually get lost. You will find many monuments, squares, streets lined imperial era buildings, churches and museums.

The Cultural Capital of Russia boasts many palaces, and hispters, of course

While you are at it, make sure you have a walk along Rubinstein and Nekrasova streets. There you will find many unique places where you can sit and taste all kinds of cuisine and drinks. This bar culture makes Saint Petersburg look much more like Europe than Moscow as well. If you are lucky enough to visit the city on a warm day and that does not mean summer, sit outside and enjoy the view. 

But bring a bigger coat. And an umbrella. And sunglasses. You might use them all during your walk. 

The Roommate from Hell — Part 2

Hi again! I hope you are enjoying this Saturday as much as I am not.


In order to distract myself from my existential anger and frustration, I decided to come back to one of the moments when I experienced anger and frustration towards someone else, not myself. That’s basically my secret recipe to cope with life.


Where were we? Ah, yes, the fateful day when all hell broke loose in the apartment. If you haven’t read the first part, here it is.

The frying pan

During a beautiful winter morning, I happened to wake up a bit later than usual. This fine gentleman, that is, my psychotic roommate, was preparing some coffee with milk using a frying pan. Why was he using a frying pan instead of the perfectly good microwave? He refused to help us pay for the microwave, and for the electrical kettle that we had bought for the apartment, so he could only make coffee with the frying pan.

I know this might sound very outlandish if you are living in a university dormitory, but in our apartment, we used to wash dirty dishes right away. Crazy, right? This was specially useful in the morning, since everyone needs clean dishes to make breakfast. Since I needed the frying pan in order to make my student breakfast, I decided to nicely ask him to wash the pan after he had finished using it, so I could cook my breakfast.

He somehow thought that the most appropriate reaction to this request was to run towards me and grab me by my t-shirt, preparing to punch me in the face. Luckily he had a glimpse of sanity, and I managed to push him away from me, screaming “Get away from me, you mental!”, which all other roommates heard and promptly woke up. After he realized that the other 4 people were looking at him, he acted as if nothing had happened. He didn’t even try to explain what was happening.

He simply went back to the kitchen table and had his breakfast without washing the damn pan, for god’s sake. The other roommates and I were just looking at each other, scared. No one really understood what the actual f* just happened. I was obviously even more scared at how someone could snap and unsnap like that.

A bit later the same day, I had this conversation with the other guys from the apartment where we decided it was time for this gentleman to grab his stuff and hit the road. We promptly wrote a formal request with all our signatures to the dormitory director, which she accepted and asked him to come speak to her.

And I was supposed to tell him that. Being the coward I am, I was panicking just at the idea of saying to his face that we were kicking him out of the apartment. Surprisingly, he didn’t try to kick me or beat me. He was going to do something way worse.

Coward’s 6th Sense

One day had passed, and he didn’t speak with the director. He didn’t seem in any hurry of getting his stuff out of the room, either. That night, I didn’t sleep, afraid he would try to poison me or throw all my clothes out of the window. We are speaking about a not really stable person, after all. After much thought, I decided to go speak with the director again, and she asked him to come to her office. I gave him the message again, but he just pretended I wasn’t there. It was useless to talk to him when he was ignoring me, so I didn’t really insist. Hopefully one of the other roommates would manage to talk to him normally later.

After a few very uncomfortable hours of him cutting some meat in the kitchen with a knife and giving me some creepy stares while I was sitting in my room, I decided it was time to take a walk outside. It felt like a great idea, getting far away from the creepy guy holding a knife. I got ready, grabbed my coat and prepared to leave the apartment. He then suddenly got interested in me and asked if I was going to the store. I thought it was weird, but shrugged it off and just replied, “No, to the park. The director still wants to talk to you”. That reply was a true mistake.

As I walked through the park, I decided it was no way less stressful to walk alone in a park, fearing that a maniac will stab me with a kitchen knife. When I saw a woman walking with her child, I introduced myself in Russian, explained I was learning the language and asked her if she wouldn’t mind helping me practice a bit. As absurd as it sounds for a Russian person, she actually talked to me! We had some small chat until we were out of the park, then I said goodbye and came back to the dorm.

As soon as I stepped inside, the director came running to me, screaming “Oh my god, Leandro, are you okay? No one hurt you?”. I was shocked, really, but answered that yeah, everything was fine with me. I was just thinking again, “What the actual f*?”

She then took me to her office, which was too small for a group of seven people. All my roommates were there, including the maniac, accompanied by a police officer rough-talking to him about deportation. And again I thought, “What. The. Actual. F*?”

“What a beautiful day to call my gopniki friends and beat up my roommate for asking me to wash a frying pan”

My roommate’s roommate’s tale

I’ll call this third roommate “John” in order to make things easier. That’s not his name. You might remember that our apartment had 2 separate bedrooms, right? Ok, if you don’t remember, it’s my fault, because I haven’t published part of this story for 2 months already. Anyway, “John” lived in the other bedroom and had the prudent and life-saving habit of locking his bedroom door whenever he left the apartment. That same day, he locked the door not because he left the apartment, but because he was taking a nap.

That same day, after that crazy guy asked me where I was headed, he thought he was alone in the apartment. He checked the door of the other room, which was locked, waking up John. John went to the door to open it, but then he overheard a phone conversation between this troubled young man and someone else. In this phone conversation, he was describing how I looked, how I was dressed and where I was going. And then he asked someone to beat me up in the park, and left the apartment.

John, thank God, decided to run to the director and tell her what happened. Then he and the others tried to search for me. Luckily for me, my coward’s 6th sense had worked. And so we go back to the conversation with the police officer, where he was promptly requested to move to another room and never ever cause any trouble.

And we lived happily ever after!

Of course not, part 3 of this hospice escapee saga is coming soon, bitches.

Have you ever had a roommate ask a mob of gopniki to beat you up on the street or some other crazy stuff? Share your story in the comments!