The kindness of strangers and a date with Boris
Trip Start Jul 23, 2009
25Trip End Apr 01, 2010
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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
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'
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...