St Petersburg: Flapping both elbows
Trip Start Mar 13, 2010
62Trip End Dec 31, 2010
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She doesn't like the pink and peach, and she has been saying so since Vilnius. "It looks like icing on a cake." --- "You like cake," I remind her.
In front of the Hermitage, which is green, there is a roller-blade hockey game in progress. "At least it's not pink," Frances says, "but it still looks like cake." Instead of saying, You like cake, I say, "Look, they're playing hockey."
The bus from Vilnius was the most advanced I've encountered, with a coffee machine offering a dozen options, for passengers to use at their leisure, gratis (but no cake, alas)
We arrived at the Baltic Station at 3 pm. Our start was not so smooth here. We did manage to get a cash advance at an ATM and buy some metro tokens. There was no tourist information office at the station so we headed for Nevsky Prospect, St Petersburg's principal thoroughfare. The metro was short on maps and we were often face with cyrillic lettering, but we did manage to change trains once and emerged on Nevsky Prospect. An arrow pointed to "main information board" 120 metres away, but when we found it, it was identical to the information board at the Baltic Station, and we later realized that every information board in the city is the "main" information board.
The map indicated tourist information near where we stood, but the people selling tours didn't know anything about it, so we decided the display board was the tourist info. Later we found out there was an office nearby, but the metro has so many exits spread out over several blocks, you'd have to be lucky to chance upon it. Compared with most underground systems, the Russian stations are huge and much farther apart.
So we resorted to just walking around fairly randomly. We found Eurohostel, across from Kazan Cathedral, for the low price of 10 euros each, but without private rooms. The hotels in this central area are naturally pretty pricy, and the best rate we found was 99 euros. One assumes there is something in between, but we couldn't find it. By this time we had acquired a guidebook which led us to another hostel, but it was about the same, for more money, so we went back to Eurohostel and re-climbed the 106 steps. Frances counted this time.
When we eventually tracked down a tourist information office, the next day, outside the Hermitage, they were very helpful. To help us buy our tickets to Moscow, the girl wrote our request in cyrillic, we took it to the station, and it worked. One thing about Russia, though: When you queue up to be attended at a wicket, people will come right up and stand at your elbow as if they are part of your group. Hard to tell if it's a legacy of socialism, or if they are just nosy, or getting ready to rob you. I had to flap both elbows to find space to sign my credit card slip.
On our second day we also went in search of a private room around the area north of the Moscow Station, but the one address we had proved illusory. It was interesting walking up the dark, dank, crumbling staircases, long overdue for a sweep, past heavy rusting doors which might have sheltered Raskolnikov, and back down into the street not without a sense of relief. But even here, there were more than the usual number of men standing around in pairs. Also in parked cars. A 12-year-old kid stared back at us, disappeared, and after we turned a corner there he was again. "Let's just stay at the Eurohostel," I said.
It actually worked out pretty well. The first three nights we were alone in a 4-bed dorm. The last night we were joined by two friendly guys from Yaroslavl, but they went out at midnight and returned at 6:30. And as I write this, at 5 pm on our last day in the city (train leaves tonight at 10:20) we are having coffee in the hostel kitchen, which you couldn't do after checking out of the 99-euro hotel.