Today I’d decided we’d head north east to a market where souvenirs were plentiful but cheaper. I’d prepped myself on the first few letters of our metro stop (backwards N, backwards 3/e etc) and figured it’d simply be the dark blue metro a number of stops. Conveniently on a Pokemon mission Rory had found an entry to an identically named station to the one we knew, but also completely different line and coincidently, the dark blue line we needed.
When we arrived on the platform we took the awaiting train. 50:50 odds and they’d paid off well coming from the airport. 3 stops later we realised, nope, wrong direction! We initially went to exit the station but seeing the ticket is for any distance, we cautiously looked around and found another overpass. We scoffed it was clear. I’m sure it is in Russian!
Once on a train headed the right way, we noted that there was certainly more passenger heading on this “inbound” train. Somehow I snagged a seat and perhaps countless Russian matryoshka now curse my name. My black ballet flats do nothing to support and soothe my feet. Sigh.
We trundled along, past rather ornate stations at times. Rory proclaimed we were approaching “backwards n, backwards e” which is an ‘il’ sound (go figure) and we got off. But then on the one wall plaque I realised that in fact, no this was not it. This was N A something. So we boarded to following train to go one more stop.
We arrived at the planned stop, alongside a forest. It was actually quite pretty and shady. To one side of the train tracks was a market of sorts. We entered to find meat vendors, cheese vendors, batteries, light globes – everything domestic and nothing touristic! And naturally not a Roman alphabet or English word in site. Recalling the sage advice of the guidebook, I suggested to circle back to that station and seek the prevailing direction of masses. But there was really no masses; no prevailing trend. So we took this path and that in a very scenic forest, not really sure if or when said market may appear. It had mentioned being a 10-15 min walk from the metro. Alas, whilst very scenic, no market was found. Having circled back to the station, we say two police on smoke/phone breaks and decided to ask them. We asked where the souvenir market was, mimeing the luscious curses of babushka. His Russian seemed to indicate: ask my colleague on the phone, he’s much better at English. We stated dumbly at a park map and waited. Eventually Mr minimal English came over and indicated we were t the wrong stop of the metro, we needed to be one stop inbound. Yep, that stop I’d rejected earlier.
Ever frugal, Rory suggested we walk along the track alongside the train line and the forest. ‘Twas a good plan until we happened upon a car path which started to curve away from the train line. Alas we continued. Somewhere along this diet driveway, five people were walking in the same direction as us. Rory eagle eyed their guidebook; then established they were speaking Spanish. After some prodding, I suggested he ask them where the heck our planned destination may be. Pft! They were looking for some ornate fort pictured in their guidebook. Alas, as clueless as each other we continued towards the paved road and traffic ahead.
The main road had a t intersection and bus stops so we reviewed the map and after initial conflict (right at the t or left at the t), I conceded to Rory’s left and he was just more confused. Then we played cross with six lanes of traffic which included an always green light for a right turn and trams! We crossed and reunited with the Spanish in a non verbal way. I noticed ornate roof and spire – perhaps the Spanish destination? We trekked on, somewhat pleased by the road being paved and others walking on the path. We passed a go kart track – empty of any customer. Eventually we arrived at another t intersection, which had a pedestrian underpass, the much sought “other metro”, and a formal entrance to a park that seemed more geared to kids fun (over the natural aspects we’d already enjoyed). There were some babushka symbols on the maps but they seemed little kiosks not a mass market. We decided the other side of the underpass held more promise. If nothing else there was a beat western tower which we could ask for help or a map or a clue! There was also decidedly more people around and more shops and puzzlingly large buildings, which couldn’t all be hotels surely?
As we walked that direction we saw a somewhat aged decorative arch. We decided to follow that path, noting people walking toward us with the typical souvenir bags or stereotypical Russian hats. We started to see decorative roofs, and continued on.
We had found the market, in some sort of decaying fun fair. A Disneyland of replica ornate buildings. Inside, the open air market had wooden hut style stores. Only every second were occupied. The vendors were largely apathetic to any attention paid to their stalls save for some notable exceptions. We meandered through the stalls, aiming to turn left at the “end” into the area marked for the market. Ha! When we got there, all the infrastructure for market hits were there but not a person or a stall with contents. Deflated we meandered back through the offerings. Given the effort and missteps to get here, I couldn’t continue as I had, indecisive about the best babushka to purchase. I found a stall with a whole section of unlaquered dolls, quite different to the usual. The price wasn’t a steal, but after a walk away I returned. The endless browsing of babushka had to end and I fronted up, and paid the asked for price. Most “in town” stores marked prices but pretty quickly were open to negotiate. This woman showed no inclination and I had no energy!
The return journey was not surprisingly expedient! That happens when you travel directly and to the rights stops. To reassure my designated spirits (I mean it really wouldn’t have been too much to TAKE the guide book I’d picked up in our St Petersburg hotel with us for the day), we returned to our “home base” areas for a 4:30pm lunch. Rory, always a willing ‘go with the flow’ guy took my decision to go to Paul. A French boulangerie which is worldwide (well, Washington DC, Dubai airport and Russia are all confirmed locations by this author!) oh to read French! To see familiarly ornate food. Sturdy breads! Yes please!
**so this SHOULDA published, but didn’t 🙁 It’s now outta the flow of posts**
St Petersburg train station – after four nights in St Petersburg, we’d planned to head to Moscow by train. Something we thought would be relatively simple and a well worn path.
Stress to another level that til now I’d not come across despite “worrying” about it before departure. There were countless windows and machines. The machines appeared to what a card, so we went for a line. None of the lines seemed to move with any regularity. The only details on windows where listed time ranges – countless time ranges. No destinations were listed at any window.
After Rory stood patiently at one line and I tried a disjointed line. Two ruski grannies ended up getting in front of me after speaking to me in Russian so I abandoned hope in my line. I then lined up at what could be guessed as information. One person out I noticed young staff with red vests as thought my chances with them and the machines were with the young uns. I inserted my credit card, taking a risk about twenty minutes ago seemed perplexing and risky. Then I asked young man with smart phone to help. Despite selecting the English option, the city names reverted to cryllic (autocorrect suggested cryptic and I’d be inclined to agree). Young dude tapped with reckless abandoned what I would have picked as st Petersburg and Moscow between 13-14:00hrs. There were a number of trains listed and we knew This is advance but I couldn’t buy them on the machine. With the help of his google translate app he made me understand that it was too close to the departure time. I could go to a window. Any window. So I returned to Rory who seemed to have not a care in the world, other than the wifi signal diminishing with each millimetre closer to a ticket counter that seemed at least as far away at 14:00 after which I wasn’t sure there’s be trains.
Feeling the angst rising, I sent Rory to a counter that seemed to not issue ticked but progress. He returned with a slip of paper with 29A on it, which was a ticket counter. It was closed. It was in a corner amongst a handful of other windows and one shortish line. Doing my best Russian I butted in line; knowing trains were plentiful soon and sparse then onwards. There was a skinny girl with paperwork and her BF and there was some disdain when I didn’t speak Russian when she spoke to me! Middle aged rainbow pants was also pretty adamant we weren’t getting in front of her but when she got to the window two men just took over and not appearing in her aid. Damn, that sucks.
And then, on gods will, 29A opened, served severe skinny gal and then we were on! There appeared to be no english but she wrote on paper OAY, though the o looked more like an o with a line through it. After some confusion I established she’d written a D! Day! Today! Much pointing on the spot.
Passports were proffered and keyed into the system. At some stage she keyed a price Into the calculator. I joked to Rory she could put $150 per person and I’d likely have just rolled with it (I think it was that in total). The ticket outlined the train number, which matched some of my pre mission notes (for the safety of hotel wifi), so I was pretty sure it was a four hour train as hoped. At 13:20. It was 13:10. Much hurried walking to what Rory thought was the platform which appeared not to be listed on our ticket. Rory run to the display boards whilst I waited alongside a train on what could have been 6 (6 featured somewhere on our tickets so…) Rory ran back saying it was platform four. We passed through some rather lacklustre security (ie my phone in my pocket was never removed), so a train that looked… Old. Behind it we could see a far swankier train and started to wonder if that was it?! So we wen to exit the secure platform before realising, we coul work out how one got to swanky train – there were ticket gates but not for us to pass through. We returned to the guards at the exit of the platform we’d just been and they said, no, that povo looking train is in fact the one you want. And no, of course we couldn’t pass back through, back to the security cabin, which thankfully have more X-ray machines than passengers. A quick sprint to the first conductor and proffering of our passports and we entered. Then, which carriage. Again, convinced of all things “6” we thought we had a few to pass through but after bustling through two carriages I got Rory to ask the conducteess, who directed us back just a few cabins. Sometimes asking is worth the effort! We made it, there were mere minutes and the train pushed off.
But then came the comedy of food delivery. A lady with a box unloaded six sandwiches into the shelves above our heads. The dapper older fellow then started talking to her. Whilst he was somewhat attractive, she was none too impressed with his sentiments. Later, a shorter, better dressed blonde lady (possibly conductress from act 1), returned with the complete “in flight” announcement. By this stage our six berth cabin had reached occupancy with a more than average sized 30yo woman who appeared to speak English! Winning! Seems dapper old fella does too. He continued a detailed Q&A of the food situation. Blondey seemed a little more warm to his plight. Curvy gal then explained that for the four hour journey we have a sandwich and a snack pack. With great enthusiasm she unpacked her snack pack, item by item: yoghurt, juice box, cake, mini water and chocolate. Yes, I exclaimed out loud celebration for chocolate. So much so when dapper fellow got his two snickers bars (paid for, I assume but yet to see the money change hands), he offered me one. I think my mimed interest in his chatter being about sandwich swapping (he doesn’t like chicken or wheat) for chocolate. Ha! He thought I wanted to steal his chocolate. I mean, I’m on hell’s express entry list due to my pushing in antics, no need to further add to my ticket of sins.
Curvy gal entertained Rory with photos of her two weeks in St Petersburg as she’s from Moscow. She had Korean food. Pft. Not to discount her otherwise friendly and generous neighbour, but us semi Strathfield reared kids aren’t wowed by Korean. Quite the opposite.
I’m now not entirely sure it’s a four hour train with the elaborate feed laid out – this could be the long train to Vladivostok for all I know. Thankfully, the train has phone chargers to this record shall remain… If not on the web at least locked away in an iPhone4 for future prosperity of crazy stuff Aussie kids do in st Petersburg – the only foreigners in a train station, without a clue!
We had a 9am ish breakfast buffet in the hotel – awesome little cheesecakes! Tomorrow Rory plans to try herring. The coffee is tasty too – and we see Cafes every where and vans with coffee machines in the back. So far only seen one Starbucks.
We started the day with a long walk – past the Hermitage with huge lines of tourists, the walked along the Neva to a bridge with very ornate lamp posts, which was a contrast to another more post revolution bridge with sheafs of wheat and stars. The first bridge led us to see an ornate mosque and then a little island which was a tomb for royalty.
It’s hard to feel aware as it seems Russia has had a long history and a lot of stuff in the 1700-1800s which is almost an unfathomable time! We ended up near the admiralty and the bronze horseman statue and took a low boat tour along the NEva and canals. The boat turned just before our hotel so it really feels like we’re quite centrally located. Thankfully our boat didn’t have the continuous Russian we often hear in boats that pass our hotel!
We had another microwave meal for lunch – a comedic point and pick situation! So for dinner I found us an Italian restaurant which seemed rather upmarket for the guy in his colour run t shirt and shorts! Overall Te Russians seems a bit more dressed up than your average American. You see people out walking in high heels and skirts that’d be ok in the office. Actually we saw a ton of weddings and in some cases it seems like all the guests traipse with the bride and groom past monuments for photos. Bridesmaids are less common but large paper medallions were badges on some guests and sashes also seem popular for parents of the couple.
I had an epic nap between about 4-9pm, rest assured Rory didn’t starve (see the photo). I had one! Dad would have called dinner fancy but it was comparable prices to Sydney – I had a octopus dish which was pretty tasty with chickpea purée. Overall restaurants are pretty hard to find – bars seem far more common.
After dinner I took Rory to the spilled blood church which awed me yesterday evening and took another bazillion photos. The dark meant we could see inside the church and it was just as ornate inside.
My holiday started with flying into St Petersburg, spending four nights there with my brother, followed by four nights in Moscow.
The hotel we selected in St Petersburg couldn’t have been better located – it was on one of the many man made canals, within a short walk of the Hermitage/Winter Palace and the Church of the Saviour of Spilled Blood. I’m not sure I was aware of this, but after checking in, I decided to go for a walk around the nearby streets and discovered these wonderful facts! My brother’s flights weren’t due til around 10pm, so I had some hours to kill.
The hotel was also generally lovely – they realised they’d put the two beds together and called to say ‘when you go out, let us know and we’ll change it’ and then when I went to reception to let them know, they knew which room I was in (from sight, and this hadn’t been the lady I’d checked in with!). Their service, the little we used it, was exemplary. We noticed that others asked a whole lot more of them, and I can see why – they would not be disappointed!
The room was rather ornate, and the exterior was of the similar style to most surrounding buildings, ornate. Peter the Great’s city was built to strict guidelines, including no gaps between buildings. That meant our building, and others, had driveways into the heart of them, and interior courtyards. Inside the room, I was impressed by the level of style and detail. Curtains with two fabrics and a decorative trim between them. Mirrored wardrobe, and the mirrors were bevelled and in a criss cross pattern. Lovely wooden floors.
Below is my thoughts at the time:
So both emirates flights have come with moisturiser and the like in the bathroom, but on the Russian flight they are secured down so they don’t disappear. The plane to Russia is 3-4-3 configured but pretty empty behind the segment I’m in. And business class is empty by and large for a day time five hour flight.
Emirates offers a meal voucher for the five hours or so I was in transit – circus given that everyone has them and for limited venues but a nice touch nonetheless.
Whilst lounging I played the “could that person be a passenger on my flight?” Game. Russia is a large country but I did well in my guesses. There’s lumpy scowling old ladies, with often loose scarves over their heads. There’s a certain group of women who need to wear every pieces of jewellery they own. There’s very aryan looking younger people and then there’s the Asian/middle eastern tinge. I say in the lounge beside an Iranian guy who was planning to travel to somewhere else but his age and country of origin meant it was too hard and Russia it was. He offered me smarties. I’m not yet dead. I did see him open the package. Living life on the edge. We agreed smarties are better than MnMs. Not clear if I should feel complimented that he thought I may be Russian.
My first leg was about 14 hours. There was an older parent couple with a nineteen month old blond girl. Adorable (yes even after an hour or two of listen to her grizzle about bedtime). Lucky the kid was small for her size she was as long as the bassinet! The parents ended up tying two blankets together to cover the bassinet and the blankets looped around the common screen. Suspecting one parent maybe a closet engineer! They were headed for Dublin. The (African black) girl to my right was off to Zambia next I think? Certainly isn’t anywhere Emirate doesn’t fly to (Edit: except Sarajevo/the Balkan cities I might have wanted to fly from)! A kid in the airport had Iraq branded sports gear. Heard flights called for Rio followed by Oslo. First flight crew was 21 nationalities and 27 languages, the latter was 11 and a paltry 15 I think. First crew had an Irish woman – wonder if her language is “English too accented to still call English?”
Disappointed not to enjoy the luxury and civility of the business class lounge in Dubai. Having got about nine hours sleep though, I’m doing relatively fine compared to possible other alternatives.
Interestingly for the tech nerds, Emirates now had wifi and phone roaming connections on all a380s and most 777s, ie the planes I’m on. Talk about adapting to trends. I doubt either is cheap, but part of why I go away is to be a little less connected to devices. That being said, leaving on a Thursday meant I did have work emails. Filed most of them, to keep the inbox tidy.
The alcohol mini bottles are out in force on the Russia flight!! Value for money evidently bring sought. And nerdy me just liked that mango juice was an option with lunch!
Smiling seems no longer fashionable – shame cause it’s usually a great way to non verbally communicate in strange countries. One old dude has spoken to me in Russian so I don’t look too foreign?!?
Seems it’s customary to greet arrivals with flowers – often unwrapped. Taxi driver seat belt – optional. Like Sydney taxi drivers tho, the mobile phone calls are obligatory.
Checked into my hotel, and it’s to my standards and a few hours and Rory will join me