St. Pete Day 7

I got up Saturday to find I had no hot water, though I'm sort of getting used to this. I managed to get the trickle of lukewarm water collected in a glass that I could slowly shampoo my hair clean, and used a washcloth to tidy up the rest of me as best I could. I then went downstairs to meet Chuck and Rimma for a shopping excursion. We walked through several stores that sold hats, scouting for Dr. Vajpeyi, as he told us earlier he wanted to buy a Russian Hat, but not the crappy kind that they sell to tourists by the major attractions. One of the Russians told me that many of those are made from dog fur. Yuck.

We also walked into a store called 505 that sells all sorts of multimedia, such as CDs, DVDs, and Computer Games. This store advertises on TV, and is located just off Nevsky Prospect, but it's completely filled with pirated goods. They're generally clever fakes, with all the DVD cover art and the discs are even pressed, not burned, but they're all pirated. You can get movies for 120 roubles ($4), and computer games cost roughly the same. Audio CDs were 75 roubles, or about $2.50, and they have a pretty good selection.

I don't know how the movie studios or music publishers can sell their wares when the pirated goods are so cheaply available. You can buy legitimate DVDs in Russia, but they're about $20, so you can see why most people don't do it.

After 505, we went to a shopping mall of sorts. It's a bit different from the average U.S. mall, or the big mall we saw in Moscow. It's all one giant building, but all the shops are sort of combined. Take a shopping mall, empty it into a Wal-Mart sized building, then make it so that you have to pay for each section at a different register, and you'll get the idea.

I purchased a few bottles of Vodka and some chocolates, as well as a couple more postcards. Chuck did some souvenir shopping as well, and we wound up waiting at one counter for about 15 minutes, as the keeper of that area had left someone else to watch her shop, but that person wasn't actually authorized to sell us anything. Ahh, that Russian Customer Service experience.

Shopping in Russia is unique, even in grocery stores, most of the goods are kept behind counters, so you have to get the attention of the clerk, and then point out every single item you want to buy, as they gather them all for you. While this certainly prevents theft, it is far from efficient, and results in long lines even when goods are plentiful. One morning I wanted to buy some more water in the grocery shop adjacent to the hotel, as the St. Petersburg water is not safe to drink. I had to wait about 10 minutes while the woman in front of me did her grocery shopping, one item at a time, and the clerk scurried about the store retrieving the things the woman called out.

Many shops also have "helpers" who follow you about the store spying on you to make sure that you're not stealing something. They can help answer questions too, but that seems to be a secondary function, as they're obviously watching you the whole time, craning their necks to look around columns to make sure you're not pocketing something. Theft must be a major problem, as even things costing relatively little are often tagged with the anti-theft devices that we normally only see on expensive items in the States. For instance, each of the little 250-ruble bottles of Vodka I bought had to have their tags removed before I could leave the store.

After some more shopping, the three of us clink-clanked our way to an Italian restaurant on Nevsky prospect. We supressed a giggle when a young guy named Alexander promptly came up and announced to us in English that he'd be our waitress during our meal.

Chuck ordered some spaghetti with shrimp and black noodles, and I ordered a pepporoni and bacon pizza, which was quite good, they bake them there in a brick oven. We bought Rimma lunch too, as she'd put up with us dragging her everywhere, and we knew that if she had to pay herself she probably wouldn't be able to afford much to eat in this place, though it was pretty reasonable by U.S. standards, costing less than $10 for each of our lunches indvidually.

After lunch, Chuck and Rimma did a little more shopping and I returned to hotel, as I was already hauling enough stuff around. I then caught a quick nap, and was woken up by a cell phone call from Chris. He said that he was going to meet Katherine and Chris at a place called Patio Pizza to eat dinner and asked if I'd like to join. I said that I had a late lunch, but that I'd go have a coke or two, and maybe an appetizer or something, so we met up near Kazaan Cathedral a few minutes later.

Much to my surprise, Patio Pizza turned out to be the same place I ate lunch, I just hadn't tried to translate the Cyrillic at the time, and it was more upscale than a place called "Patio Pizza" sounds in English. So, I ordered a Coke and some garlic bread, and chatted with the others while they ate. For dessert I ordered a vanilla mousse, which turned out to be a cake topped with various berries, and it was quite tasty.

After dinner, Katherine and Chris wanted to go to 505, as they'd heard of it, but didn't know where it was. I guessed wrong on the cross street a couple of times, but eventually managed to lead them to it, where they added a few titles to their personal movie and music collections too.

I then said goodbye to them, and returned to my hotel to watch a movie on my laptop, and fall asleep at a reasonable hour.