by John Kuti

Our journey started in a minibus to Lomonosov underground station. In the open area behind the station we could see about 30 people waiting for a bus to the IKEA shop. This bus is unusual for two reasons – it is free, and it is one of very the few buses in the city that has a timetable.

We got onto the bus and it drove over the bridge across the River Neva and out of the city. One passenger had her dog with her. We saw the big yellow letters IKEA on a blue background from far away, they are on a sign which is higher than the trees. The same design is on the side of the building, a very big blue box with a car park all around it. We got out of the bus and walked along a special route to the entrance with a roof over it. We went into the shop through a big door that turned like a wheel. About ten people can walk inside one section of the wheel. IKEA shops are very popular everywhere in the world, and they are made to serve very large numbers of people.

Most places in Russia have a cloakroom where you can leave your coat. On this day there were too many people, so only children could leave their coats. I had a rucksack and they said that I should leave this in the cloakroom and carry my coat. If you have a child aged 3 to 6 you can leave him or her in a play room…usually for 2 hours or just one hour on busy days. They give parents a piece of paper with the time of collection written on it so that they don’t forget. I don’t know what people with dogs do.

The first place we went was up the stairs to the café. Here everything is self-service. You take a tray and ask people to serve you food, for example traditional Swedish meat-balls. If you want coffee, tea or a fizzy drink you pay for a cup and afterwards you fill it from a machine. While you eat and drink you can study the catalogue. They say that 160 million copies of the catalogue are printed all round the world – where I live, they delivered a copy to each flat. People who want to buy a lot of things can take a big yellow plastic bag to put them in. There are also different sorts of trolley. One has a seat for a small child and a place to hang the big yellow bag.

The area next to the café is for special offers. Then, there are a lot of pictures in frames and mirrors. After that, you come to a place where there are different rooms which you can walk into and sit down in. When you know what you want to buy, you have to look at the code on the price tag. This code tells you the place on the ground floor where you should go to collect the pack with the parts you want inside it. All Ikea furniture is in cardboard boxes and you have to put the parts together when you get home.

One of the main problems of life in Russia is the small amount of living space that people have in their flats. It is very unusual for a family to have a room that nobody sleeps in. So the idea of a “living room” or a “sitting room”, as we call it in English, is a bit different. Most people have a room with a sofa-bed that they open out in the evening to sleep on. I think it’s quite a good idea for Russian flats to have the bed on tall legs with enough space for a sofa under it. You can buy one in IKEA for about £200. On my visit to IKEA I didn’t buy anything because I live in a rented flat with lots of furniture in it. I just like looking.