It will be no surprise to learn that central St.Petersburg (like any other city) is regarded as expensive, even by the locals. I had a chat with ‘V’ who lives way south on the city’s outer rim, near Pulkovo airport. That’s roughly 21 Km or 12.5 miles removed, but enough to add a 100% markup on half a litre of beer, for example (they don’t do pints).
So by his account, that’ll be roughly 200 RUB, 3 USD or 2 GBP in the centre and respectively half as you watch the planes take off and land! The aggregate price I tracked down last week was around 30% less, curiously enough. So what do we extract from that? I’m not sure: carry extra change and don’t drink in expensive bars, perhaps?
In broader terms, assuming that you cannot survive on alcohol alone, living for a day is exponentially higher according to ‘V’. It’s something like 2000 RUB on the fringes and 5000 RUB in the touristy heart of the metropolis. That’s around 30 USD, 20 GBP and 76 USD, 50 GBP respectively.
So what’s “living” anyway? Outside of the obvious philosophical connotations, we are talking about moving around by various means, shopping, eating, drinking, paying for incidentals, having somewhere to sleep. You don’t really need to have the latter just off ground-zero, Nevskiy Prospect, right? It’s reasonable to assume that you are travelling this far to explore a beautiful city rather than the insides of a hotel, no matter how grand.
However, if you are feeling reckless and decadent, hotel rooms costing several hundred dollars/pounds per night await. Conversely, a dormitory space can cost less than ten of the same for an overnight stay: yes, 10 USD/GBP per night! I’ve seen as little as 4 GBP advertised. You’ll probably fit in somewhere between the two.
I also received a couple of insights into the St.Petersburg consumer marketplace. ‘V’ tells me that the last ten years has seen a shift in emphasis from centrally located shops to Russian megastores, outwardly located and with their own parking facilities. “The centre is for the tourists” he said, or was it one of his children? No matter, the point still stands. At any rate it’s a trend that we are only too familiar with here in the West; the seemingly gravitational pull towards faceless out-of town consumerism whilst smaller, centrally located local shops go to the wall.
Maybe in this instance they just switch to selling “I love St. Petersburg” t-shirts instead? No doubt I’ll find out. ‘V’ and his family live in a self-contained area with enough suburban resources to accommodate their daily existence, so why head into 12 miles of traffic congestion?
Steve Hague gives us the Russian consumer experience on his blog: Life In Russia It’s the same as ours, but different. The “serious-looking guards at the entrance who might want to check the contents of your bags” may grate a little.
Second hand, charity or vintage shops are regarded differently in Russia than over here, particularly when it comes to clothing. ‘V’ tells me that Russians consider such items of Russian origin as essentially worthless and to be given freely to the needy – not something that the average Russian would actively go out and shop for. They are around, probably on the outskirts where the rent is cheaper, you just have to search them out. Threads on expat forums are devoted to this very subject.
Yes, there are shops that sell second hand clothes, but these are likely to be imported from Poland, Finland and other European countries because (so I’m told) the quality is so much better than ones from home. That strikes a curious resonance, with long-remembered apocryphal tales of surreptitiously smuggled Western jeans during the Cold War, or is that a myth? (apparently not). Well they did re-cut Western LP records onto used X-Ray plates, so anything is possible.