Meet the Local Program in St. Petersburg, Russia
So you've been few days in St. Petersburg, enjoyed the city, toured obligatory museum and sights, but have you ever thought about spending a day or part of your stay with local Jewish person?
Now you can! Although not a licensed guide, but well educated in art and history, and who can tell you how life was in Soviet Union for Jews and how it is now, talk about almost any topic which interests you - culture, music, art, share their city with you. Meet Lena Prudovskaya.
She is born and bred St. Petersburg resident, from cultured intellectual family, with perfect fluent English and you will enjoy time talking to her. Lena by profession is an engineer, graduated from St. Petersburg Polytechnic institute.
After 1991 when Russia became a democratic country, she was working for adoption agency, hosting American families who came to adopt Russian children. Some of them even lived at her apartment, and she took care of them from hosting to translation, to taking them shopping, sightseeing, and various chores. As she recalls, these very interesting times.. While waiting for adoption documents, these Americans became accidental tourists.
Some of them wanted to sightsee and were fascinated with museums and palaces. Others wanted experience Russian food and drinks. Some wanted buy Russian furs. One of the clients got quickly bored with sites and was looking for sport facilities. At that time there were no golf clubs in the city. So the self made gym was set up in the apartment building yard and the client was running rounds and doing pull ups at bars while older "babushkas" cheered. Once babushkas spotted a rat and together with client they were chasing it. The American got it and become a hero in the eyes of locals :-) .
Lena reminisces: We had 3 Americans living with us, one of them was a sniper by profession. First, my teenager son was shy and would not leave the room. But he could not keep himself away from listening his stories how he ad to shoot the attacker and save the hostage. My son was fascinated and they became good friends. Even my cat started to sleep in guests room/bed.
Then there was an older lady who took pity on my worn winter coat (I did not have money to buy a new one).
She sewed the lining on and my coat and I still wear it. She became like my mother.
Lena smiles when she recalls the way she saved her clients money - in Russia, there are different prices for museum and theaters for foreigners and locals. But it is difficult for Americans to pretend that they are local. The trick was to organize a crowd - small group of people. With her few friends and American guests, they went to museum. Americans were instructed not to smile and do not say anything.
This way, they entered Mariinski theater almost for free (for our American standards).
Many of Americans became as part of the family and Lena still has contacts with them even now when the company stopped doing adoption and Lena found another job by teaching English. She still loves to share a love of her city and Jewish history with other travelers from USA, Israel and the rest of the world. She takes people to Metro, which stations are pieces of communism art. She knows places where to shop and where to avoid tourist traps.
She knows all locations for good toilets, where you can get a brief stop with tea, coffee, show rooms, porcelain factory, etc..
She can arrange hard to get tickets and she is a wealth of local information on music and cultural life in the city.
Her ideas for a good day in St. Petersburg or nearby countryside (going by taxi) are:
Dinner with friends in Jewish or Russian Orhtodox family
Shabbat in St. Petersburg with Jewish community
City walks Metro tour and architecture
Visit smaller less known museums, exhibits
Obtaining tickets to theaters and exhibitions
Trip to nearby cities with a driver: Pskov, Novgorod, even Helsinki.
Organizing Boat trip on Neva River
Renting summer house (dacha),
"banya" (Russian bath/sauna),
catch your fish and cook it
Any concierge services - anything client wants (nothing unethical, illegal and immoral)