After my rather emotional Christmas walk from the the Church on Spill Blood, I headed towards Nevsky Prospekt, passed the brightly-lighted Lutheran church and headed to the Christmas market at Ploschad Ostrovskovo (Ostrovskovo Square), a five-minute walk from the right side of Gostiny Dvor metro station.
Ploschad Ostrovskovo is a small square dominated by the huge, bronze monument of Catherine the Great and behind it is the Alexandrinsky (Pushkin) Drama Theatre. This is where the annual Christmas market in St Petersburg is held since it opened in 2006. The market opened on December 21, 2012 and will close on January 14, 2013
The market cannot be missed. It’s sparkling blue lights and a big arc attract attention of passerby’s and commuters alike, even from a snow-shaded window of a crowded bus passing Nevsky Prospect and loud sound of the performances can be heard once you get out of the metro station.
Although smaller compared to European Christmas markets, the one is St Petersburg is not any less festive. A temporary stage was set up beside Alexandrinsky for nightly entertainment, including a performance of Russian folk songs.
Stalls of different products encircle Ostrovskovo Square, mostly typical Russian products like wooden kitchen utensils, woolen clothes, socks and scarfs, crystal decorations, dolls etc – items that you can also buy from souvenir shops or at the nearby Gostiny Dvor metro station. There were also a lot food stalls selling Christmas market staples like sausages and gluhwein and Russian meat breads and pastries.
I was immediately drawn to the stall with the glittering Faberge eggs fashioned in different articles like pendants or designed religious icons. During my visit to the Hermitage Museum I bought one of those pendant and I was very disappointed to find out that the price here is 30% lower, considering that the one from Hermitage was already on a special Christmas discount.
My lessons on products and numbers proved to be very helpful in shopping at the Christmas market where almost all vendors only speak Russian.
сколька стоит? (how much is this?)
я ето хочет. (I want this)
These are the two sentences that I used most when I went to the market which led to several sales from one friendly lady.
I even tried to haggle with her with my broken Russian:
“можне ето пакупают двести пятьдесят?” (Can I buy this for 250) I asked her while holding a tiny, red pendant with gold lace and crystal stones. Thankfully she understood me but this did not get me a discount. She said her prices are the maximum she can get but she was so nice that I bought a couple of the pendants.
I went to several other stalls, particularly the ones selling woolen items. In the sub-zero winter weather of St Petersburg, wrapping yourself in these items sounds like a warm thought. But they do not sell for cheap and I already have two scarfs and two bonnets so I abandoned the idea and contented myself on looking around.
There was also that intimidating fear of having to talk Russian with the vendor and not be understood. It’s dreadful especially when you are talking to a grumpy babushka. At the end of the market I had to overcome this fear again to buy two mugs as souvenirs for my father in-law and my colleague. They are really much cheaper from the regular souvenir shops.
Eventually I went back to the lady who sold me the pendants and bought two engraved mirrors for my friends back in the Philippines. She was very happy when she saw me again, chatted me up a little bit on buying more pendants and Faberge eggs.
“студентка?” she asked me at one point, probably wondering why I keep on asking for a bargain.
“нет я не студентка п я изучают по-русскя.” (No I am not a student but I am studying Russian). I told her and she smiled and wrapped my gifts.
What I enjoyed most in my short visit was the shows staged by the four Russian singers. I found myself singing and dancing with them despite the cold and the snow, along with several Russian scattered in front of the stage. It was a perfect Christmas experience, dancing in the middle of a festive market, the snow gently blanketing your coat and singing in a language that you don’t understand. Ironically, that’s also the moment that I feel so close to finally understanding Russian.
Tomorrow, January 17th Christmas will be celebrated in Russia according to the Julian calendar which the Orthodox Church still uses. Orthodox faith is the widely practiced religion in many parts of Russia but you would be surprised that several other religions including Buddhism and Islam is also practiced here.
Merry Christmas Russia!