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, Bucharest is largely flat. Which explains why both our hotel and the city offer bikes, and there are also dedicated bike lanes in places. Also, the city’s layout is a little haphazard. Sydney’s suburbs aren’t on a grid but it can be explained by the hills and sandstone. Here, it’s not clear why streets curve and circle like they do. It does make navigating a little more challenging.
Today being Monday means there’s countless more cars parked in the streets around our hotel in addition to everywhere! Yesterday we saw two cars parked a a back streets roundabout. There’s also some curb mounting action to get cars tucked in. It’s definitely closer to the French “devil may care” parking style than other parts of the world (Sydney!).
Our Segway guide was a lanky tanned guy, who clearly was accompanied by his father. His father was the same lanky body, but long blond hair for our guides long brunette hair. The guide mentioned that his mother and sister now live in Spain. He’d lived in London for eight years.
Below are my notes from our two hour communism guide Anita, who drove use around the city in her unairconditioned Dacia, with the other tourist, Vincent from the Netherlands. He seemed incredibly knowledgable and well travelled.
Orthodox: feel god near. Catholic: fell good is big and you are small. So with this in mind there’s a lot of controversy at the biggest church being built near the people’s house. Currently the largest is in Belgrade. They follow the Greek Orthodox tradition not the Russian.
Biggest civilian building in the world, though may be second after pentagon. All materials from Romania. Started in 1984 after his visit in China. Named the people’s house. Almost completed by 1989 – when people are on minimal rations. Rations were often minimal, and due to electricity limitations, hard to store. Also, there was often a luck of the draw with other consumer goods so people called around to take and barter items. Our guide was once taken with her grandma to a store to queue for yoghurt, as there was a per person limit. The little three year old Anita would nap in her chair. Of course with just twelve people in front of them, they ran out of yoghurt. Didn’t build with air con as they were concerned for poisoning. Michael Jackson stood from balcony and said “welcome Budapest”.
Class a : government
Class b: intellectuals, separate living room
Class c: workers – small apartment, 1 bedroom, 40sqm
Class d: dormitories, unmarried people
The Russian style of communism apartments gas workers things previously only wealthy bosses have : private gardens, archways. So they built apartments with these features. And because TV and electricity was only for two hours a day, being a snoop was a good enough past time. Every building had a professional spy for the regime. If you said you drank coffee with your guest, it might suggest you got that on the black market as it was rations in the latter half of the regime after C had returned from visiting China.
Each suburb had its own factory, so that the people wouldn’t need to travel into the city.
It’s clear why this was (or is) called a Paris of the west, with the beautiful tin (?) cupolas and ornate ironwork on balconies. But it’s also gosh darn grimy and a little… disobedient feeling. There is SO much tagging (I think they could work on locking down spray cans a little more). Even on ornate stone buildings you see if not tagging, then spray painted stencils.
They seem very patriotic. There are red/yellow/blue tricolour flags everywhere! But there’s also a fair few EU flags too. And one brand of ATM offers both lei and euro withdrawals. Not that I’ve tested this out, as anz hasn’t allowed my card to withdraw cash here. So Rory’s paying if it requires cash!!
Interestingly here, when you ask for the bill, they routinely ask “cash or card”, cutting out a step in the bill paying dance (ask for bill, get bill, insert payment into folder, waiter checks and either takes the cash away or goes away to bring you the hand held device to pay). It’s ok, until Rory starts hearing things like “quiche or tart”. Admittedly we’d had two drinks a pop and Rory had been channeling a mermaid.
The whole hotel seems to have been built by a sparky or a lighting supply store! Our rooms desk is internally lit. The show head rotated through a range of colours. There’s light panel, thin and running verticals, in our room. The breakfast is clearly a strong stride to their high ranking on TripAdvisor (all three hotels so far have been top rated though all uniquely different). There’s countless bowls of nuts, seeds and dried fruits to make your own museli. There’s bowls of fruit, each bowl for a fruit, but I’d say 10 varieties? There’s freshly squeezed oj.
Wrote this awaiting to meet our Segway guide in a park. Then we went to an awesome bookstore and a super old place for lunch. And it’s now 10:30pm, no dinner and we’ve both napped. Tough life holidays!
I’m pretty glad to have moved from Russia to Romania. Russians are actually taught not to smile in public and to strangers as it’s seen as insincere. So perverse and made me feel self conscious every time I did in fact smile. And the other thing – they are so absorbed into their own language. I’m not sure if it’s the huge population or huge landmass or a sense of “we’re the best in the world”, but there’s so very little written in English (or even our alphabet) and whilst waiters speak English, it’s often the uncomfortable halting type. Our final night we wet seeking vodka (and found a lovely restaurant on the first floor which was clearly a bit fancier than we were dressed but also empty!) at this place, there was lots of Russian just spoken at us with the hope we’d understand! She had some English, but it wasn’t anywhere near “comfortable speaking”. Actually we went to a Turkish restaurant and relished an English speaking waiter – he’d worked on cruise ships.
This all leads me to say – Romanians are FAR better and more confident with English. And they smile. So it’s already nicer to be here. We can semi decipher signage. We’ve yet to speak to someone who can’t understand or reply to us.
And the foods better here! Funnily, we went local last night for dinner, a Spanish place. We walked up the stairs and noticed it was rather full – seems it was some sort of private event. We went to back down the stairs after talking to a waiter, when another came to suggest we could stay if we weren’t bothersome. We weren’t. Though we’d come from a complimentary wine and cheese at the hotel and the glass of red had gone to Rory’s head so he was online pretending to be a mermaid. It was hilarious. At least we both thought so!
We arrived in Bucharest in the early arvo and wandered another direction to a main square to find lunch at a place that may have been Moldovan. I had this filo pastry dish, they were filled with mince. Rory got a chicken salad that was more salady than he bargained for!
The architecture here is very “French” and much more variable between pretty and then utilitarian/communism style. Rory said he thought what he’s seeing here would be more of what he’d see in Russia, but Russia has some very tight Planning guidelines in st P (ie no gaps between buildings in a block) and I think being in the city centre for both, we probably saw less of grotty and derelict buildings. There’s other noticeable differences – we now see clothing boutiques which are very similar to those in Australia, Europe or the Us – right at ground level, walk in (often with the big doors wide open). We just didn’t see this in Russia. In St P a lot was a few steps down into a restaurant or a few steps up. Often walking along a street there were windows at knee level for the basement restaurant or super market. I’m not sure if that’s a function of the canal city or what, but it was difficult to become used to. Instead, all over Russia there are underpasses to cross roads. Some are dark and dingy, others low ceiling and wid we ought that there’s booths with stalls along one wall: stockings, women’s underwear, women’s clothes. It was… Odd. And the a. Few had a bank of vending machines, often mainly filled with Japanese drinks.
It seems that erotic dance is perfectly acceptable in both countries. But it’s far more in your face here in Romania. Our free map is free due all the adverts. Little brochure displays in our hotel and last nights restaurant have flyers for places and we walked past one. On the other hand, there were multiple “human trafficking” posters in Romanias airport, which is interestingly a theme of my novel set in NY.
Today, Sunday, we’re going on a Segway tour/ride which Rory got me for my birthday. Then Monday I’ve booked us a tour of communism. At some stage well go see the old town and the palace and that. We don’t intend to go to Transylvania which may or may not be a misstep.
Over and out – gotta wake the kid as it 9:27 and it’s surely time for breakfast!
**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!
One day in St Petersburg, we decided to go to Peterhof, a palace built by Peter the Great. I could try and recall the details, or you could Wikipedia that! It’s often called the Versaille of Russia, and you can see why.
Back in St Petersburg city, and on another day, we decided to find these pretty gargoyles at a canal pedestrian bridge:
Actually Babushka’s were amazing – and usually call Matrushka’s in Russia. They’re often created by three seperate artists – one for the face, one for the shawl/back, and one for the belly, wich can be scenes from fairy tales.
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.