"Nyet, no. Don't go there. Dangerous." The typical response you receive when asking anyone in St. Petersburg about the residential areas, the vast sleeper districts that surround the famously European city and house much of its 5.3 million inhabitants. You hear tales of gopniks, squatting Russian teenagers ready to bloody your nose and rob you blind, of cheats and thieves at every corner, the ones that smell a tourist from miles away and come to take advantage. Yet you decide to go anyway, with shaking knees and chattering teeth for the entire subway ride, until you get to the infamous last stop, the point of no return. And it is true, once you exit the station and stand on the monumental concrete roads, staring at highrises so huge they seem to house a hundred thousand people, so run down that they might not survive the next gale, you feel all eyes on you. Everyone knows that you don't belong.
And everyone is welcoming. The people are proud, friendly and respecting. They are approachable, despite the language barrier they do their best to communicate, to express their joy at meeting someone willing to transcend the trodden tourist paths and venture outside of the city's comfort zone. This is where people live, these are their homes, their stores and their lives. This is where you get to know them, and fall in love.