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Russia part 2 - music, markets and more.

Pictures are at the bottom...

After dancing on balconies, roaming a giant old kommunalka (XXXX, wiki link), fetching supplies in full costume, testing out my mad russian skillz in leningrad bodegas, and generally making sure that the transition from all saints to all souls went smoothly, there was much resting to be had.

But after much resting, much feeding is required, and given that St Petersburg is inexplicably smothered in sushi bars, sushi was on the menu for dinner. Unfortunately, the desired restaraunt, a cut above the corner store sushi bar, had recently changed it's prices upwards, and when combined with a sharp reduction in purchasing power for the icelandic fishie, dinner became a delicious sampling, rather than a sumptuos feast. Regardless, I was impressed with the general quality, particularly when compared to the range and availability of sushi in Iceland :)

Still, that left more room for other delicacies, and Kata, gem that she is, had more in store. The night before, I'd been introduced to Kiril, the lead guitarist for a local rock band, Olympiada80, or Олимпиада80 for the cyrillically gifted, and for me to keep my learning up:) Last night he was wearing an Uncle Sam hat, and fantastic red and blue sunglasses, and being one of the slightly saner russians in the room. Tonight, I was on the guest list to see his band at the Griboedov Club, A very cool club in a slightly out of the way location. Kata led the way, showing off some classic sights along the way. (Street fighting between drunk drivers and drunk pedestrians)

We arrived at the club, which is almost unlist, with a quite unassuming cafe/restaraunt upstairs, and some steps leading underground beneath. Turns out the club is built in an old bunker. No cell phone coverage, no light. It's also quite an adventure getting in. Despite being fairly early, the door was closed, and a bouncer came out to judge our character. Kata talked to him, showed her student card, and after calls back and forth to "the inside" we were given "tickets" and allowed inside. Stage 2 consisted of giving these tickets to the cashier, who gave us different coloured bits of paper. (The tickets are all reused) Stage 3 was the cloakroom, where we were given very tasteful acrylic markers. No cheap, easily damaged slips of paper here! But, we're not in yet! Stage 4, more muscled men in tight shirts took our colours slips of paper and gave us invisible ink stamps, and opened another door leading down into the depths of the earth. AWESOME! Black lights and invisible ink door stamps! Rockin in the bunkers!

I really enjoyed the show. Apparently the lyrics are quite meaningful, which seems to be a very common trait in modern russian rock. I didn't understand a word, but the show was great. The black lights made everyone's eyes look rather funny, and the serious concrete box style of the show room, complete with metal barricade separating the stage from the floor lent a really special effect. The lead singer was throwing lit cigarettes into the crowd, and swigging vodka, and played an entire song with his guitar switched off, much to the enjoyment of the rest of the band. For a concrete box, the sound was really well balanced too. I had a blast. Seeing some live local russian rock was on my "to do list" (and was one of the things that I'll mention in public ;) and this well and truly fit the bill. Awesome.

My network of informants in the russian underground inform me that the band is currently recording, and when it's ready, I'll try and update this page with a link.

After the show, we mostly loitered by the bar, where Isaak, last night's host, had arrived, and we proceeded to tell tall tales, make up outrageous drinks, and general carouse as one can only do while lit by fluroescant orange, green and yellow. Very very fabulous.

Still, being so well rested after Friday night, not even glowing bunker techno could wear us down, so we were up early again on Sunday to go to another one of Kata's finds. Kata knows her stuff. We were headed to Udyelnaya, some markets, but these were hardcore fleamarkets, out in the suburbs. We rode the metro for a while. It goes fast, and it doesn't stop very often. A city of 5 million is pretty big I guess, even if you have 20 story appartment blocks all over town.

The day was actually blue and delicious, probably the nicest, if coldest, day we had, but the rain from the previous days meant the field was a big mud pit. This didn't deter a soul. The edges of the markets closest to the station were fairly permanent, selling mostly new stuff, much like the downtown markets, but the further into the markets you got, the stranger things became. First, broken german ww2 helmets. Then a pile of dirty used clothes. 2nd hand tools. Shoes, vintage hi-fi, Military badges, crockery. Soon this gave way to, well, the same stuff, but instead of being on tables, or in small booths, it was now spread out on rags, on the mud. I had the option to buy a mud spattered old 10gig harddrive for 100 rubles. Some stuff was a bargain, some not even close to a bargain, some of that possibly foreigner prices, some of it possibly not. Who knows. Silverware, radios, cell phones, _broken_ records, rusting military hardware dug up out of the ground, anything goes.

A lot of fun to browse, and I made a few purchases, though some of them are gifts, so shall remain forever nameless on these pages.

Sometime on the trip home, after stopping by to see Catherine's lovers, I saw the most delicious icecream, and had sudden cravings. Unfortunately, I never found a store selling that particular one, but Kata and I did have fun experimenting with the goodies in the frozen foods box. We even tried some things she'd never tried before! Yay me! ;)

Unfortunately, this being sunday, meant that I had just one day left. I really didn't want to leave, though at the same time, with no job and no russian, I couldn't exactly stay. Besides, Kata was going to back after christmas, so we just had to make the most of the last day.

Which meant.... St Isaak's Cathedral. This had been on the list, but we wanted to make sure we went when it was open, and had left enough time for it. From the outside it's a quite traditional church, when compared to say, the blood church, but it's still a spectacular church. THe roof has 120 kg of gold on it, and a whole slew of immense marble columns. But inside! wow! Giant cast bronze doors in the middle of each wall of the church, intricately designed, and towering overhead. Icons painted on every flat surface, gilt mouldings all over the ceiling, and to top it off, a dove floating at the zenith of the central dome.

Lots of interesting stories too, my austrlian upbringing really hadn't filled me in on any of the raw details of soviet life. (but did anyone's?) This particular church housed an anti-religion museum, but some others housed schools, or even swimming pools! And of course, general looting of silver and gemstones for state coffers.

We had a short stroll around the park opposite, where a man was exhibiting his pet bear cub, which basically just sat on a park bench slurping fruit juice from a baby bottle and letting people take their picture with it. With a cold nip in the air, Kata left to find us a diner, while I went up to the collonade, to have a look at the skyline. Which, despite not being all that great for pictures, was really really interesting. St Petersburg is amazingly flat, (I knew it was on a swamp, but flat in the built environment as well) with just churchs and, in the distance smoke stacks and container cranes in the harbour rising above the regular environment. Being in such a downtown location, the view really is full circle too, with just _city_ as far as you can possibly see.

Lunch was Samson's Diner, good russian diner food, with a group of gents in the corner swigging vodka like water. Good proper russian food.

Still, all good things must come to an end, and eventually, it was time for my epic journey home to begin. 10pm to riga, 7am to copenhagen, and midday back to reykjavik, chasing the sun the whole way, for a nice long day. No thanks to the stupid book seller in kastrup who encouraged me to put 50aur on my credit card, and when I finally found the final danish kronur, failed to read the price on her own book, and tried to demand I pay the old, pre sale price. Two books for two days travel are simply not enough.

Things that deserve mention, but didn't get woven in, either from forgetfulness, from staying true to my story, and not getting sidetracked (yes, I'll stick to that, it was artistic purity that left these things out!)

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