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From Russia with Love: Week 1 in St. Petersburg

by Céleste Pagniello
From Russia with Love: Week 1 in St. Petersburg | AIFS Study Abroad

Здравствуйте! (That’s hello in Russian for you!) Already, over a week has passed since I arrived in Saint Petersburg, Russia alongside 29 other students, ready for the adventure of a lifetime. While some of us, myself included, have visited Russia before, the majority of our group had no idea what to expect. Here are some highlights of our first week!


 From Russia with Love: Week 1 in St. Petersburg | AIFS Study Abroad in St. Petersburg

The Winter Palace, now part of the Hermitage Museum

The best way to get a feel for a city is always a hop-on/hop-off bus tour. After our first night in Saint Petersburg, where some of us hit the town and some of us hit the pillows, we hopped on a bus and ventured into downtown Saint Petersburg for the first time. Although I have already visited many of the famous sites, this city never ceases to amaze me. As we crossed the bridge over the Neva, we were all glued to the windows, cameras and phones clicking away. It’s impossible to get used to Saint Petersburg’s beauty!

Some of the sites we visited include the Peter and Paul Fortress, Saint Isaac’s Cathedral, the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, and the iconic Winter Palace, which houses the Hermitage Museum. I can’t wait to return to these mesmerizing sites and learn more about them!


From Russia with Love: Week 1 in St. Petersburg | AIFS Study Abroad in St. Petersburg

The ОКЕЙ supermarket

The ultimate adventure. While I was packing, my biggest issue was “WILL THEY HAVE THIS IN RUSSIA?!” The answer is yes; they have everything. And it is crazy cheap. As my roommate so eloquently put it after we bought supplies for our dorm, notebooks and food, all for under 35 USD, “This feels like stealing.”

Our dorm is conveniently located near a shopping center, plenty of grocery stores, a metro station and a gym (where at least half of us have gotten memberships). The ОКЕЙ (pronounced ‘okay’) where we have been doing most of our shopping is essentially a Walmart. Just about everything you can find in North America can be found here, at a fraction of the cost.

Some examples:

  • Notebook: 48 rubles (74 cents US)
  • A 5 liter jug of water: 48 rubles (74 cents US)
  • 3 bananas: 22 rubles (34 cents US)

Unfortunately (or fortunately, however you want to see it!), most of the cashiers do not speak English. My Russian isn’t terrible, but I have a hard time understanding it when a native speaker speaks quite quickly. During our first trip to ОКЕЙ, the cashier started asking me too many questions in Russian, and I completely froze up. I couldn’t even recognize that she was saying words. It was a deer-in-the-headlights moment, but thankfully my roommate was around to save the day. Turns out the cashier had asked me if I wanted an ОКЕЙ card. We eventually got one, and now we save 300 to 500 rubles per trip to the store! One of the most commonly said phrases when we go grocery shopping is, “I love this country.”


From Russia with Love: Week 1 in St. Petersburg| AIFS Study Abroad in St. Petersburg

Behold: the reason we are actually here! On Monday, August 29th, we wrote the Russian language placement test. I was so nervous about where I would be placed that I tried studying the night before, only to give up and accept my fate. I didn’t practice as much Russian this summer as I had hoped to! Ultimately, everything was fine. I was placed into the Intermediate 1 level, where I had hoped to be placed. Our преподаватель (teacher, pronounced ‘pripadavatel’)’s name is Lena, and she is very patient and sweet. We have a great class! We meet every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for a total of 12 hours of Russian language each week.

This semester, I am taking 3 elective classes: Russian History from Kievan Rus to the Revolution, Contemporary Russian Life, and 19th Century Russian Literature. Each class meets once a week for 3 hours. I am particularly excited for the 19th Century Literature class, as it is a huge part of what I study back at McGill University. We will be reading Pushkin, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Gogol, Lermontov and more!


From Russia with Love: Week 1 in St. Petersburg | AIFS Study Abroad in St. Petersburg

The Peterhof Palace Cathedral

The summer palace of Peter the Great is probably my favorite place in all of Russia. I visited it back in 2012 and was beyond excited to learn that I would have the chance to return with AIFS! We were incredibly lucky with the weather, both during our city tour and for our day in Peterhof—not a single cloud in the sky!

Known as the Russian Versailles, Peterhof Palace offers plenty of breathtaking views: there is the palace itself, the gardens, the bathhouse, and a view of the Gulf of Finland and the island fortress of Kronstadt. During the Second World War, most of Peterhof Palace was destroyed by the Nazis, and its restoration continues to this day. Luckily, before it was captured, many of the statues were buried to save them, so we can admire some of the originals today. The entire palace and the grounds are symmetrical, and there are canals and fountains throughout the gardens.

One of the most intriguing parts of Peterhof Palace is Peter the Great’s trick fountains. Peter was quite the trickster and loved pulling pranks on his guests, so he had trick fountains installed in the palace gardens, which would go off at specific times of the day. Should you be within range of these fountains at that time, you would get completely soaked, and your expensive clothing would probably be ruined! Meanwhile, Peter would be hidden somewhere nearby in order to laugh at your misery. Today, the fountains still work, but they have signs warning guests of unexpected showers!

From Russia with love,


This post was contributed by Céleste Pagniello, who is spending her academic year with AIFS in St. Petersburg, Russia.

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