When in doubt, ask a babushka.

Today, I got lost. Really, really lost. I highly recommend it.

I’m only being a little facetious – to be completely honest, I may have actually had fun in the process. Well, maybe not. I lost feeling in my toes for a while, but I saw things that I may never have seen had I not gotten lost.

On Wednesdays, we don’t have class, as these days are set aside for excursions. This week’s excursion, however, was last night . We went to the Alexandrinsky Theater to see Boris Eifman’s ballet, Onegin. I loved it – some parts were classical, other parts were modern and experimental, and the whole experience was wonderful. The ballet was based on Eugene (Evgeny) Onegin, the  masterpiece novel written entirely in verse by Alexander Pushkin. Russians refer to him as “это наше бсё” – our everything. I’ve read only a few of Pushkin’s works, but I can assure you that he lives up to the hype, though, not literally – he died in a duel a long time ago.

Anyway, because our excursion to the ballet was last night, today was a free day, though my program director would rather us think of it as “a day of independent work”. I decided that as a lover of art, museums, and art museums, I would begin the day with a trip to The Hermitage. Located on the bank of the Neva River, The Hermitage is home to one of the world’s greatest art collections, and also contains The Winter Palace, which was once home to tsars and their families. Following the 1917 revolution, it briefly served as the headquarters for the provisional government. Pretty cool, right?

I took the metro to a station not as familiar to me as others – it’s the newest one in Pete, Admiralteyskaya. As I walked toward the Neva and The Hermitage, I occasionally stopped to admire my surroundings. Petersburg was beautiful today – the icy breeze kept circulating last night’s dusting of snow, and in the sunlight, the air looked like it was shimmering.

I passed this monument to Emperor Nicholas the First.

Then, I came across a street sign that told me I was only 150 meters from the Vladimir Nabokov Museum. I decided it was too good and too close to pass up, so I trudged down the slushy sidewalk to see the apartment where the famous author was raised. Once inside, I spent most of my time on the first floor, where I examined his extensive collection of butterflies, as well as his typewriter, library, a wall of Lolita posters, personal drawings and paintings, and some chaotic, hand-written outlines for a few of his novels. Pretty neat.


I left shortly after I arrived, as I was determined to get to the Hermitage before it got any colder. Fate had other plans for me! Somehow, I set off in the wrong direction. Totally incorrect. I’m not even sure how it happened, so I’m just going to chalk it up to a fluke occurrence. As I walked, perplexed, across one canal, and then another, I had the sinking suspicion that I was very lost. I turned around in a circle. I stared at St. Issac’s Cathedral for a while.

Here, I decided to turn left (I think this is where I went really wrong). I walked for another ten minutes or so. Even more unfamiliar. So, I pulled out my cumbersome map in an attempt to correct my path, but after a few fruitless minutes, I decided to try my luck asking for help. If you ever come to Russia, keep this in mind: if you’re going to ask for directions, ask a babushka! The direct translation for babushka (the accent is on the first syllable, contrary to popular American belief) is grandmother, but the word babushka can refer to any older Russian woman, and they are often seen wearing head scarves. Basically, any woman who looks like she could be a grandmother is a babushka. They are often sweet and helpful and will occasionally offer to accompany you to your destination (this happened twice today). Sometimes, they aren’t so sweet, but hey – you win some, you lose some. Anyway, I finally figured out where I was, which was somewhere very far away from where I needed to be. So, I got on the metro and went home. No Hermitage for me. But, I’ve decided that today wasn’t so bad. I saw an awesome museum all about an author I’m growing to love, and practiced my Russian skills with many adorable older women, many of whom who chastised me for not wearing thicker gloves. One complimented my rosy cheeks.

As for the Hermitage –  maybe I’ll try again on Saturday.

One Response to “When in doubt, ask a babushka.”

  1. Jeb Bird says:

    Hi Alex,
    Glad you were able to take this adventure in stride. I can relate to getting lost many times when in Moscow and not having your language ability, just kept going to ice cream vendors in order to soothe my angst. I kept thinking that sooner or later one might speak a bit of English. I never found one, but eventually something familiar would appear. Great blog! We’ll talk soon.


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