September 19, 2008
Sleepless to St. PetersburgI didn't sleep well on the overnight train to St. Petersburg. I was too excited to be back in a berth on a sleeper car.
The train left on time. I shared the four person kupe with two older Russian men and a younger Russian girl who told me she was a photojournalist. She had just come from shooting a story in the south. She said it was running in this week's Russian Newsweek but she hadn't had a chance to buy it (later her friend would call and tell her they altered her captions, much to her obvious displeasure).
I asked her if she went to school for photojournalism and she said no. There were no schools in Russia for that. Instead she had obtained a regular journalism degree and then asked people and taught herself to shoot. She had been shooting for three years, first for an agency and now freelance.
I mentioned to her I had hoped to ride third class platskartny to St Petersburg. She professed a preference for the same, but told me that they were few and far between on the route between Moscow and Piter. Since there was such demand, they removed the platskartny service to make more money on the higher end cars.
When we reached the city, I mentioned that I had hoped that Piter would be warmer than Moscow. She looked at me and then said, "Hm. Interesting." Her father was meeting her on the platform and we exchanged information and bid each other adieu.
I dropped my bags at the hostel and took the metro to the center of the city. I walked to the Hermitage from there, crossing canals and admiring the very European suroundings. From the metro stop, I could see the arms of Kazan Cathedral stretching out towards me. Looking down a canal, I could see the Church of the Savior of the Spilled Blood, looking very much like St. Basil's in Red Square.
I arrived before the museum opened and ended up waiting in the cold. The line behind me began to stretch across the plaza. When the gates opened there was a mad dash to the ticket counters.
I spent most of the day there. It would take dozens of visits to truly se the museum and so I contented myself with merely experiencing it. The rooms in which the galleries were located were opulent and immense, at times overshadowing the art contained therein. Upon entering I was caught up in the waves of tour groups speaking a melange of languages. I let myself be pulled in their wake, finding myself lost in the galleries.
An hour later, I stopped for a snack and, with map in hand, finally began to make sense of the museum. I charted a path that I determined to follow only as long as the glimpse of another gallery didn't tempt me from it.
Leaving the museum, I walked to the Mariinsky theater in hopes of seeing a ballet. I passed it before re-discovering it, originally mistaking it for a different theater. The box office attendant told me the season wouldn't start until the 24th. I was out of luck.
I ate a late lunch/early dinner at the Idiot restaurant, partially because I seem to smile like one in this country, and partially because it was vegetarian. The decor was on the cozy side of stuffy and I was just happy to sit in a warm room and let my legs rest. I ordered trout stuffed with vegetables with a side of boiled potatoes and set about writing postcards and updating my jounal.
This morning I was up at 8:#0 after a cold night's sleep. The electric heater wouldn't start, and the radiator offered meager assistance. I stole a blanket from an empty bed, but couldn't stretch out. The blankets left my feet hanging out.
I showered and shaved and left my bags in left luggage. I took the metro back to Nevsky station and toured the much more manageable Russian Museum before peeking into the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood. From there I walked across the river to the Peter & Paul fortress, partially for the views back towards St. Petersburg and partially to seek out the final resting place of the former tsars.
I took the metro back to Nevsky. In the station, an officer tapped me on the shoulder and after determining what language I spoke showed me a laminated piece of paper written in at least six languages. I was guilty of taking a photo in the metro without a proper license and was to pay a fine of 100 roubles. We sat down on a bench as he wrote out the ticket. Instead of feeling chided, I was excited to add another piece of Russian ephemera to my collection.
I ate dinner at the Zoom cafe, a cool cafe near one of the canals. My smiling waitress didn't understand English and she went to fetch the unsmiling hostess to take my order. Though tempted by a seafood risotto, I remembered D's original order from a few days ago and ordered pork medallions with a mushroom cream sauce with a side of vegetable fried rice. It was tasty.
The place soon filled up and so I paid my check and got up to leave. I was tired and went to take the metro back to my hostel but the station was closed. A line of people waited outside. I decided to walk.
En route, I stoppd to buy cookies. Remembering the caviar Teresa bought, I was under the impression the cookies were being sold by the 100 gram. I asked for 50 roubles worth. She started filling up a bag and I had to ask her to stop. It wasn't until later I realized they were probably being sold by the kilogram.
In three more hours I'm taking the overnight train back to Moscow. In three days I'm off to Irkutsk, third class. The train takes three days and nine hours. I think.
Posted by eku at September 19, 2008 12:43 AM