Worlds apart

Saint Petersburg Travel Blog

 › entry 10 of 10 › view all entries

It seems ages since I last posted a blog, and that is largely because, it was.  And so much seems to have happened since then.  The last time I wrote was on the first day we arrived in Russia all fresh faced and eager eyed (if not also a little unsteady and unnerved also) and now having taken in the two major cities in Russia I leave with a solid view of the county in my mind.

Booking our tickets for the overnight train from Moscow to Saint Peterburg was a complete nightmare of the Russian kind.  Actually, everything to do with this train was in some way a small scale disaster.  The main problem I guess was the language barrier but for me the most irritating thing is the Russian inability to do anything at any pace.  Now Im not asking for maximum efficiency, however even I, a largely patient man, have my limits tested when it takes 3 hours to serve just the 4 people infront of us in the queue.  Every man has limits! So at last we reach the front of the queue and hand the woman our Russian pre-written request that the hostel kindly made for us.  After studying the piece of paper and taping away at the computer keys she had clearly recognised that we were not Russian and in an attempt to culturally reach out to us she recreated that Little Britain sketch, `Computer says no.´ In Russian style she stared blank faced and shook her head repeating the word `Nie´which we so soon discovered to mean `No´.  The problem was however, this was no joke.  We could travel first class at a cost of £100 or kindly leave the queue. After much manic pointing and scribbling down of times, dates, and prices we walked away albeit half an hour later with our tickets.  First stage over.

The next problem part was when we came to actually get on the train.  Russian trains are very effiecient with a tube train every 2 minutes.  Like everywhere where underground railway networks exist the same train station can have a multiple number of lines.  Very normal.  However in Russia depending on what line you arrive on into a station determines the station name.  So if one station houses 3 different tube lines, the same station will have three different names.  Now add in the Cyrillic alphabet and two english only speaking travellers and you create a problem.  Now being the intelligent people that we are (triple distinctions of Btec Performing Arts I´ll have you know) we managed to overcome this problem.  But not content with such a confusing system, they have also built 3 different above land stations, all going different places, all with different names, in an area no bigger than a Tesco car park.  An amazingly confusing situation.  After first going to the 2 wrong stations first our options we´re now considerably smaller and ventured into the last station.  It was 0100 and we actually just had no idea.  I randomly presented my ticket to a woman who turned out to be a little present from God.  She was an angel.  By complete chance she was on the same train as us and in Russian and sign language told us to stay with her.  She guided us onto the train which was on a platform behind the others and one that we would have never found even for all the vodka in Russia.  Without her we would still be in Moscow.  After such an experience with the language and seemingly very unfriendly Russians, this one woman helping us onto a train changed my perception of Russian people for ever.  A small token, but such a big difference.

You never realise just how small the world really is.  But believe me it`s tiny.  We met two people at our hostel named Richard and Vicky who are both teachers in Eastbourne and got chatting to them.  After a few days we were chatting again and it turned out that Richard had been a teacher at Marling - my school!  He left in July 2000 as I started in September 2000.  Hours of gossiping and updating started and it was amazing to think that here I was, in Russia of all places, chatting to a guy who not just lived in the same area, but taught at the school I went to.  He had even been on the trip to Lourdes with the school as I had done twice.  Such a small world.

Moscow was such an incredible place.  I loved every minute of because of what everything sybolised.  All the important events that had not just impacted upon the Russian population but everyone the world over. 

And the vodka isnt bad either!  Actually that is an understatement - the vodka is brilliant!  Well, as brilliant as vodka can get.  Over here it doesn´t seem to have quite such a nasty kick that the stuff in the UK does.  It has a smoothness to it that makes it much easier to drink.  Also, good Russian vodka doesn´t leave you with a hangover.  Which is lucky really seeing as all the Russians are always drinking it! The night I found out Richard`s history was the night they were leaving so we went out and bought some vodka and then went out for a meal.  Incidently, the first decent meal in a while.  After they left for the train station we continued our vodka session with a whole group of other people at our hostel we had befriended.  3 bottles later we all collapsed into bed!  Such a great night.  Obviously this was done as a cultural experience, none of us actually wanted to drink...

And so Saint Petersburg.  Having actually got on the train at last it was a very nice journey.  We were strangely served a meal at 2am and given free drinks throughout the trip.  A very nice way to travel even if slightly more expensive than we would have liked.  Arriving into Saint Petersburg was a complete world apart from doing the same in Moscow.  SP is such a welcoming place for travellers with signs translated into English and with people speaking enough helpful English to enable us ignorant few to get by.  Here you feel that they want you here, that they want you to visit and see everything that there is to offer.  In Moscow there was no such feeling.  In fact you got the very opposite impression from Moscow.  They really didn´t want you there.

Saint Petersburg is such a beautiful city.  It feels warm and friendly and quitely buzzing away and felt much more European than Russian.  At first I was worried that such a physically stunning city would lack the substance that I enjoyed so much in Moscow.  But with a good city guide I soon found that this was not the case.  So much had happened here.  But, I just didn´t get that ´Wow!´ factor that I did in Moscow.  And I really did get that feeling a lot there.  Maybe that was because Russia wasn´t new to me, or maybe it was the city.  Who knows. 

In front of Saint Peter and Pauls fortress is a small beach that goes into the river.  On a very hot day I decided to head down there and chill for a while which was great.  Unfortunately there were a few rather disturbing sights...Speedos are evidently still fashionable here and so are, now brace yourselves, male thongs!  Not nice.  They are clearly taking a stand against the Western fashion of swimming shorts.  I really wish they wouldn´t!  Another very odd event was a group of soldiers in full uniform just arrived onto the beach, stripped off the uniform down to boxers and went in the sea.  So bizarre! 

What was nice was to blend in though - not , I repeat not, with a male thong on or speedos - but in terms of shorts and t-shirts with sun glasses.  No one would have known that I was a tourist unless I opened my mouth.  It felt good.  Beeing in Russia was a different kind of danger than other countries I had been to.  In Sri Lanka and Indonesia I was different because of the colour of my skin and as such became a target.  Here it is your mouth that sets you apart.  I mean, the danger is considerably smaller here, but still I felt slightly more on guard than in other European cities. 

And so now the end is near.  I feel ready now to come home in terms of hostelling and eating the same food everyday, but when I think of the amazing cities that I´m seeing and discovering, I could stay longer.  Needless to say that the next trip is already in the planning stages!

Hope everyone is good and I shall be seeing you all very soon!

Alex x

jamesbell24 says:
Hi Alex, saw your profile through Mercedes. I see you went to Krakow, we loved it too. We seem to have visited a few of the same places and I'm glad to see you've liked them as much as I did! I've been enjoying your blog since I've been back and its really refreshed all those great memories! Its great to see some other young travellers taking in the history and politics of such places instead of just getting pissed in the sun (although we all enjoy the drinking side!). I'm looking to go to Africa next, u got any other travel plans??
Posted on: Aug 14, 2007
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