So this is one that will be funny in a few days but at the moment hits a relatively sore spot. This is everything that CAN go wrong, other than arrest and deportation, on a year abroad.
So last night, being Friday, meant that two of my friends went out for a drink. As they were getting ready, the State Police Narcotics Department started searching the room adjacent to theirs and showed their badges to them.
This was bizarre enough until I woke up this morning to a text message, from another friend, saying “Watch out, there are two Russian men in the corridor looking for (the two friends who went out last night)”.
Tricky, I thought, and passed on the message to the two friends. I then received a message from them saying, “OMG THEY’VE FOUND US”. Concerned, my roommate and I went out into the corridor to find our friends in fits of laughter at this whole situation – which was actually rather dangerous. These two guys had walked them home after buying them lots of vodka and had returned to the hotel with a pineapple (of all things), strawberries and champagne with the intention of giving them breakfast and possibly to see them again. Dodgy stuff – two random blokes found out where they lived and had made it past our (admittedly rather lax) security. The receptionist hadn’t questioned their motives when they asked for the room number and one of the guests here attempted to point out their room, without them having been consulted. Really dodgy.
So we recovered somewhat from this and proceeded with our plans to go the Peterhof palace.
All was fine until the very bumpy mashrutka (mini-bus) we were on took a detour through a forest, when suddenly my friend (one of the girls had gone out the night before) turned very pale, proceeded to stick her head out of the window and threw up. This involved leaning over the lap of the poor sap sat next to her! As I was sat on the other side, and luckily we were both at the front of the bus, I somehow, in awfully bad Russian, told the driver to stop as she was ill – he was reluctant at first but I persuaded him. To add insult to injury, the poor girl, a full-time glasses wearer, lost her glasses out of the window when she threw up. I told the driver to let me off so that I could see if I could find the glasses on the roadside. A needle in a haystack, I could not find them anywhere and the driver started hooting at me to get back on the bus as he wanted to move off.
When we arrived, we decided to grab a bite of lunch as we were all feeling a bit wobbly at this point. We found a small café and on entering, everyone in the place stared pointedly at us. By the door, a completely inebriated gentleman was slumped, face down, on the table. Bear in mind that this was 12.30 pm on a Saturday!
As we ate lunch, our attention was drawn to the man at the next table, having a casual conversation with his companion. Complete with a live, real handgun that he fiddled with as if it were a mobile phone. We soon left.
We then arrived at the Peterhof, having decided to stick to the grounds as we could visit the palace itself on a rainy day. On attempting to buy tickets at 2.30, we were met with the sign saying “Ticket Office: Closed 14.00 – 17.30”. We were then faced with a 3 hour wait that was filled with some disappointing hot chocolate, but a rather more pleasant stroll around the St Basil’s Cathedral-esque church not far from the palace.
At 16.45, we noticed that people were already starting to queue to buy tickets, so we figured it would make good sense to join them while they were still short. This led to further waiting around in the cold.
We finally entered the grounds and were hoping to see the 140-odd fountains that the Peterhof boasts – only to discover that they had been switched off for the winter the day before. We were instead met with empty pools that had black sludge on the bottom – the actual fountains themselves appeared rather tacky without water coming out of them.
Today marks the 200 year anniversary of the 1812 war, so we were met by a military parade and the 1812 overture coming from loudspeakers. Which was then followed by military style horn music. Which was then followed by dubstep. Naturally.
Oh, and then we briefly got followed by a group of overly-macho Russian guys, but that may have just been me being overly careful – unsurprising given my previous Russia track record!
The journey back was, thankfully, uneventful – except for the fact the same bus conductor and the same bus took us home.
Things I learned from this:
1) Never accept pineapples from random men
2) Always remember to take your glasses off when vomiting out of a moving vehicle
3) Check the times before attempting to enter anywhere in Russia
4) Pretend to be French as English carries in the street and attracts attention
5) If a Russian has a gun in his lap, it is more than likely to be real.
Oh and despite the faff it takes to get there, the Peterhof itself is gorgeous – I’ve been telling people I saw all the way to Finland, which probably isn’t true but it makes for a more interesting anecdote than “yah, so I totally saw a power station and some tower blocks”.