St. Petersburg, Russian Federation
Up! Made it! Two early starts in two days, tomorrow’s train a little later, 6:45 against 6:12 though the station may be a bit further away. Today a total success, though, on to the St Petersburg train before 6, off and flying and still not disconnected-free wifi throughout. I am spoilt.
The journey is interrupted by regular announcements, first in Finnish then Russian and finally English. I find myself listening in for fear of missing something crucial, only to find the same things repeated after each station; be ready for a passport check, essentially. Once only, it was an appeal for our feedback.
The Wikipedia page for the allegro train promises a Dickensian experience: “On board the train, each passenger is visited by four officials” but there’s no past or future revealed here, just customs and passport checks for each country.
Before 11. Or 10, as was; lost another hour. Russia! Yeah mofo. First thing I notice, which is confirmed as the day goes on, is that crossing roads is a question of confidence. Where crossings are not controlled by lights, it’s a case of making sure there’s no one coming at high speed, then going with enough commitment to make sure of it. The car or bus will keep coming, you must keep going. Sometimes they slow before you move, though that can be through weight of numbers, the right eye contact, or because someone else is moving with intent. He who hesitates; well, I’m not sure of how great the sanction might be, but he’ll be honked for sure. Plenty of traffic honking here, the old ‘definition of a nanosecond’* shown to good effect.
I walked from station to hostel. It’s an easy walk, straight out of Finland station, to the river, across and down one road. Quite long, though, a couple of miles or so, and crossing to the sunny side of the street was a mistake. Still, if I can manage a backpack for a distance in 30degrees I’m not doing too badly. The hostel was reviewed as hard to find, so I really should have made sure I was confident of the last bit. It it were as easy as checking the map and going to the right address, it wouldn’t count as difficult, would it. I duly found my way to 17 ulitsa rubinsjheya, but had already spotted that these are enormous blocks, not individual houses-15/17 must house over 1000 people. The hostel is apt 259, to give you an idea. I tried the code in the iron gate and went in, though had a sneaking suspicion it was open anyway. The description didn’t match up, either-um, this long yellow building you say I’ll see..? I walked through and out, none the wiser, read the directions again which said to turn onto the street perpendicular to this one and then ‘follow the map’. That’s the crucial bit, then, so even though I had now found the right road to start from, I was none the wiser. Eventually, having asked a gate guard and had a description using a tv remote (us, currently standing at number 6, go round to number 4) I got there and could drop off my bag. That’s after I’d stood around for a while, ignored, as they were busy. Turns out they were on a deep clean and didn’t want anyone back till 6.
Right then, one day in St Petersburg, thought I was ready for bed but forced to be out for 6 hours. Get on with it then. I wandered, thinking belatedly that asking for a map, or checking it whilst on wifi would have been a good idea. I found lunch in a shop, reassuringly cheaper than Finland and checked where Moscow station is for tomorrow. I wonder what our stations would be called on the same basis? Kings cross as Scotland station? Liverpool street Southend? St Petersburg is thronging in a way that Helsinki isn’t, so I was deep in people and pretty if unprepossessing streets, no real idea where I was headed. I’d found no tourist info at the station, either. But heading for the water seemed a good idea, and so it proved, with Smolnyy cathedral looming in the distance. There I found a map, and plotted a route. Not for me the ‘in or not’ decision at any juncture. No time, I’m off. On that basis, and with a couple of stops, after each of which I felt stiffer and took longer to get going, I walked and saw, at least;
Kikin’s mansion, Tavrichevsky palace/garden, Summer palace of Peter the Great and Dummer garden, Eternal Flame, Marble palace, Peter and Paul fortress and cathedral, central Naval museum, Rostral columns, Winter palace, Alexander column, General staff building and finally, just when I was meandering back along Nevsky prospect and not far from the hostel, Lutheran church of St. Peter and Paul-glanced left and there it was, lurking. It doesn’t pay to walk around with head down, especially here. A few other sights were off in the distance, but I went at least past if not round that lot.
With today being a day for not planning, apparently, I found myself walking the streets, knowing exactly the direction in which I was headed, third bridge down then follow the road on the right, and along there is the top ranked restaurant on trip advisor. I set off, though, without the actual address, or name. I was partly distracted by leaving at the same time as two others from my room, finding myself in my first conversation of the day. They guessed I was British and I got their nationality at the third attempt-Slovenian, “what gave it away?” they asked, in a tone that suggested it was obvious, but my Eastern European accent spotting is not that good, I was patting myself on the back for a lucky guess. Back on the street I realised my lack of knowledge; trip advisor does not work without wifi. Hence I find myself in a different, if still bargainacious, cafe, tempted by the house beer for under £2. Plus a second one. Of it. In a mo. (Free wifi tells me no. 1 is a little further along, so maybe I would have recognised it, though given that I have already spotted a name and decided that was it, maybe not.) I have also found that I cannot pick up a visa for china whilst in russia, which theoretically closes off a trip to Mongolia, unless it is a quick one, or one from which I fly out. That does leave open the Vladivostock ‘proper’ trans-Siberian and then ferry to South Korea.
Yet the train trip to China is only theoretically off, as Real Russia, who I have already trusted with my Russian visa and train St P-Moscow, can fix it, for a fee. So the question, with no answer for now, becomes; Vlad-Skor, or visa fees and Mong-Chin? As for my progress in Santa Peter, not bad for a day, so long as you want to experience a definition of ‘whistlestop’. Helsinki is a compact, unhurried city. This isn’t, and nor have I been.
* length of time between lights changing to green and the first honk from behind. Orig. Ital.