воскресенье: of subways and mink coats


Yesterday was quite an adventure. It started very well, I woke up early on a very cold morning, posted my second blog about this trip, did the groceries again and met up with my practice buddy Sasha in the center. It was my first time to take the public transport and I was very afraid that I’d get lost. You see I have a history of getting lost everywhere I go except when I take the cab like what happened to me in Venice.

Taking public transport

According to the information guide given to us by the organization, it takes about 20 minutes to walk from the apartment to the metro station. For first timers, they recommend walking so that they can get acquainted with the surrounding areas.

Twenty minutes?!!! Are you kidding me? I don’t even like walking from my house to the train station which is only about 7 minutes away. Luckily I saw a woman waiting under the lamp post which it turned out was the bus stop. There must be a sign somewhere which might have been buried in the thick snow.

“есть автобус в мэтро?” I asked her in my broken Russian. That should mean “Is this the bus stop to the metro?” But of course that’s laden with grammatical errors. She said yes and said some more words but I immediately cut her, “I’m sorry my Russian is not so good.” Of course she answered that as well but all I can say in the end is “спасйбо”. Thank you.

I managed to get off at the right station, bought metro coins and experienced the longest escalator ride of my life. The Russian subways are some of the deepest in the world, designed to resist bombings and serve as shelters during the war. Riding the escalator to the train’s platform takes three to four minutes.

During rush hour, there is a massal of people using the subway. If you have seen how it was like in the subways of Japan, the image is not far from that.

When I reached the meeting place in дом кнйги or House of Books in Nevsky Prospect, I invited Sasha for lunch. I have not eaten yet. I had my first Russian meal, meat soup with framboise beer and coffee. I tried ordering food in Russian but being my first time to actually have a real Russian conversation, it didn’t work out well. After lunch, we headed to the nearest shopping mall because I needed to buy a beret. The weather here is very cold and surviving with only your coat’s capuchon is almost impossible.

Sasha took me to the biggest (and one of the most expensive) mall in St Petersburg, the Galeria in Vosstaniya Square.  You would be surprised at the number of English and American labels being sold here and most items are selling at a higher price than at home. After buying my pink beret from H&M (of all stores) our feet took us to a store selling mink coats.



A whole aisle of mink coats

In the fall of 2010, while on a business trip in Tallinn, Estonia, I passed by a boutique in the Old Town and saw the most beautiful black fur coat. I thought, maybe I should buy one since winter is coming. In my rugged denim pants and rubber shoes, I walked inside and asked for the price. The lady there looked at me from head to toe and only when I saw the price that I understood why.  That coat cost more than €3000 and in the Philippines that’s already a downpayment for a 3-bedroom condominium unit. While walking away from that gorgeous mink coat I was telling myself, one day I will buy one where it is not so expensive.

Within my first three days here in St Petersburg, I probably saw the most mink coats I will ever see in my entire life. Russian women are proud of wearing their fur coats and I have read somewhere that every Russian girl desires to have one. I noticed though that those wearing fur coats are mostly middle-age and older women. If you ever see a young lady wearing one, she will also be carrying a Louis Vuitton or Chloe in her arms.

Sasha and I continued window-shopping, spying on prices (which are on 40% discount), touching the soft fabric and selecting those that we would like to  buy. The average price of a decent mink coat here, on sale, will not be less than €2000. With the average salary of young Russians, it will take years to buy one.

Sasha works three jobs and rents an apartment in the city which she said is very expensive. Two of her biggest goals are to visit Europe and buy a fur coat. This winter she will have her first plane ride and is very afraid of it but she is going anyway.

We talked about hobbies, the books that we read (she reads Nietzsche too!) and having a career. She reminded me of myself when I was her age, ambitious, determined and brave.

In terms of speaking Russian, I barely managed but inside the mall she taught me how to identify colors in Russian. We even collected some flyers to read when I got home. Like any young girl, Sasha likes shopping. “Maybe that’s why I don’t have money,” she said.

I certainly know what she meant.

Getting lost again

I was already so proud that I managed to go to the meeting place without being late and without getting lost but unfortunately, on my way back to the apartment, I got off at the wrong station. I only realized that after walking around the same block for one and half hours. I managed to ask directions in my broken Russian and almost broke down to tears when the lady told me, “Oh but it’s on the other side of the island.”

It was already very dark so the most logical thought for me was to stay near the metro. And there I saw that it was station Vasileostrovskaya, not Primorskaya. Luckily after getting off the right station, bus number 162 was already in the bus stop waiting for passengers. I  made it home safe and hungry.