17 January 2009

Cautions for Visitors to St Petersburg

I am happy we came to Russia to retire in 2000. Life is good here or anywhere if you have a positive attitude and focus on the many things you can do, at least within range of an English language library or bookshop and an internet connection!
But, before I write about the pleasant aspects of life in Russia, I thought you might profit from what I've learned about daily life...
Many foreigners come to Russia with the idea that everything important is pretty much the same as in their countries. After living in St. Petersburg for the last decade, I can assert this assumption just isn't so.
For instance, you must look very carefully where you walk in St Petersburg as Russians just don't see the need for safety measures you may take for granted. It's common to see open manholes, ditches, with little if any tape or warnings. It's up to you to protect yourself. I was at the polyclinic yesterday and noticed the new stairs had a shaky railing and no white marks on the edge of the badly spaced steps.
St. Petersburg is safer than Moscow for pedestrians, which is like saying a gun is safer than a grenade... they can both be plenty dangerous. You have to be more alert than in New York City. Russians view traffic regulations as a rough guide to which they can apply improvisations. People frequently drive and park on the sidewalks in our neighborhood, and sometimes are irritated by you being in the way when they want to zip down to the supermarket. From the moment you leave your apartment you must be ready for the unexpected... things left in the darkened halls to stumble on, a chancy elevator, and uncertain steps. Once on the sidewalk and crossing the street, I look both ways and stare at the oncoming traffic as I cross, because I know many cars will cross my path even if I have the green light.
We have extensive public transport... a big advantage over many cities in the US. My favorite is the tramway which runs on rails in the middle of some of the roads. You must be extremely alert getting on and off at stops as car drivers don't always come to a halt at that time as they should. What`s great about the tram is that it's unaffected by traffic. Next best in my mind is the trolley, and then the autobus.
The mashutka is a route van which you can wave down, and sometimes it`s the only way to get to parts of the city. I hate them because they are 26 rubles now (16 for the others) and you are packed in with lots of potential infection. At least in the others you can get away from someone who is donating his flu to everybody. The metro is the quickest, if noisiest way, to get places efficiently. It feels as safe as the bus and it runs till around midnight.
So, be extra vigilant when you come to Russia. Remember safety first, and then have a wonderful time!

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