The kindness of strangers and a date with Boris

Trip Start Jul 23, 2009
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Trip End Apr 01, 2010


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Flag of Russia  , Sankt-Peterburg,
Saturday, August 1, 2009

The train for St Petersburg was late. I had mooched about in Berlin and taken my time to get to Hauptmanhof to be in readiness for the off and to give me time to manage the back pack ( AKA: B for  Beast'), so by the time we were off, it was a mad scramble and I had no idea which carriage to get into until a gravelly voiced guard after questioning my visa status, eventually let me on. 

Yuri turned out be an absolutely irrepressible sweetie  - as fat as he was tall-  a 5 foot guardian/guard combined and we got on like a house on fire. He even had me waving to prisoners in a belarussian goal - something he does every time he passes. They waved white flags back. Predictably he does not think a lot of the current Russian government.

At times he'd forget his few words of English and fire Russian words at me mixed up with German. In the meantime, I had been learning a few Russian words and trying to learn some of the Cyrillic alphabet which was a jolly good thing, as I was the only ' foreigner' on what was a very basic train;  thereby gaining a certain degree of cult status. Luckily I had a wagon lit to myself...

The poor old train trundled through desolate Polish and Belarussian countryside taking two nights and a day to arrive with many stops in sidings for unaccountable reasons as well as necessary bogey wheel changing (see rather dark pictures).This is where the carriages are jacked up hydraulically and the bogeys changed to fit a different train gauge - it takes hours with much crashing and banging. 

The early morning visit from Russian Customs and Immigration also took hours and they were very very serious indeed. They even opened cupboards looking for contraband which I thought was a hoot: I found it difficult not to laugh. Later out train joined another from the Black Sea coming from Odessa and it was packed to the gills with carriages of up to 50 beds, each occupied by hot exhausted people. I was told this was 'normal' in the soviet days - an horrific version of Connex rail now mercifully gone - these carriages were a sight to behold.

Meanwhile Yuri had organised for me to be 'escorted' onto a fab station at Orsha in Belarus built in the soviet modernist style of great marble grandeur and columns, complete with a picture of Lenin addressing 'the people'. This was very good of him as I could not make head nor tail of the menu but eventually got some very nice local Belarussian food.

Tatiana and her children Marina and Daniel were returning to St Petersburg and we had a lovely time made possible by her excellent English - she also teaches German at University here and  also finds time to be an Art historian. Daniel learns the violin at the Conservatory with a world class teacher so all my prejudices were re-confirmed about the cultured Russians.

The lovely Mary my guide, also confirmed  this: she is a student of hoping to work in tourism and indulged her passion for Art by taking me to her favourite galleries in the Hermitage today. She is absolutely charming and sweet and an absolute beauty in a blond, Finnish way. We really enjoyed spending time together.

You'll all probably know Catherine the Great assembled an incredible collection housed in the Winter Palace and Hermitage and it has only been open to the public since the Russian revolution

I've taken in a boat trip, walked most of the sights along Nevsky Prospect which is the main drag and have really loved it when I can stop worrying about the reputed famous swarms of pickpockets lurking everywhere. The place is certainly edgy but although I've only been here 24 hours, I  am already beginning to attach to places and friendly people and this has made me think again about mechanisms of attachment et al. I will certainly miss the 'White Nights' here: it's light till midnight so lots of playing to be had and there are no ealry risers. 

At dinner last night the security guard at a very authentic Russian restaurant appeared to fall instantly in love with me: a dark man with gold teeth (I've only seen gold teeth before in Uzbekistan) and he is from  Dugestan - one of those break away republics down south SO, I could have had a date with Boris, afterall!

Off to Moscow in 2 days...
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Comments

lelly
lelly on

Privet!
Love reading your blog & love the way you're attaching the photos too. At what point in Russia do you try the vodka???!!! Just don't be running off with men with big gold fillings. Lesley X

amoeba290
amoeba290 on

phase 3
Hi, Claire. Yes, there are definite 'Grand Adventure' vibes coming through now that I recognise: the striking, grandiose architecture, the oddball 'characters, and the charm and warmth of chance meetings along the way - side by side with the alien 'edginess' of some people and places too. And there's always a bit of humour as well. It's a strange mix, isn't it? Anyway, so far, so good, it seems!

David

slidinjac
slidinjac on

ST. P
Hi mum looks great - glad to see you doing so well and meeting such nice people. Have a vodka or two for me. Any chance of picking me up some sort of small soviet era momento? Bust of lenin or something like that? Jack x

byzantium
byzantium on

from Margot
Blanche Dubois was a character in Streetcar Named Desire, who 'always relied on the kindness of strangers'. Margot says
'I am happy to hear you are enjoying your adventures so far, and meeting interesting people. The gold toothed character sounds a bit scary!
Good luck with the next phase of your journey. I am thinking of you as I carry out the more predictable daily routine.
Love from Margot' (and Andy)

roberc02
roberc02 on

Re: from Margot
Thanks Margot and Andy

These messages from 'home' are what I need as this business of travelling on your own could get lonely.
Luckily for me I carry a load of friends and family with me to encourage. I am being incredibly careful -so much so that I thought I should 'lighten up' a bit - or I'd spoil it for myself. As to the kindness of strangers; so far, only that and it suits my take on things I guess! Take care and stay well.xxxx

roberc02
roberc02 on

Re: ST. P
Might give Lenin's tomb a miss cos of idealogical reasons - he's there against his will, staring out over Red Sq with sewn up eyes when he's not soaking in formaldhyde, now an orthodox 'saintly' relic presiding over rampant capitalism! How perverse is that? Will look for a bust tho' ....XXXX

roberc02
roberc02 on

Re: phase 3
Thanx Dave - really enjoy messages from 'home' . Look out for Moscow days and nights...

tata.gutmacher
tata.gutmacher on

Hi, Claire, great to see you here.
Your foto -it's very funny to see it now.

I wish you all the best. First of all the right people.

Many regards from the children. But they are at the moment also in the way to Barnaul, in the middle of Siberia. Will you stop there?

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