St Petersburg Thoughts
When I bought my train ticket in Helsinki to come here to St Petersburg I asked if there was a bus. No bus. I asked if there was a cheaper train. No. Just the new expensive one. OK.
Anyway, the train ride was really good and I arrived here with great expectations. But this is Russia so things are different than Europe. Now let me say that I loved being in St Petersburg, loved every minute, but this was my first experience in Russia where they say this when things don’t make sense: It’s Russia!
First, I wanted to check in and get my official visa verification. I found the place on the fifth floor. No elevator. I’m dragging my luggage up the dark stairs. I find the small office with a young lady ready to help. She can check me in and I can pick up my document tomorrow. 900 rubles. Now I had paid about $250 already to get the Russian visa. This is over $30. I tell her I only have 700, which is true.
Is special discount today, she says, only 700 rubles. She takes all my Russian money.
Now to find my hostel. I’m on the right street but the numbers don’t make much sense. I finally find what might be the right door but it’s locked. It pops open and some people come out so I go in. I find the door that may be the right one, up on the second floor.
No one answers but some girls are going into the room next door. “Is this a hostel?” “Yes, hostel.”
They pound on the door and I see a shadow through the crack. The door opens. A Russian woman allows me entry. She seems to be the only one there and does not speak English.
It does look like a hostel as I look around. The lady offers me some tea in the kitchen. I go through the place and find various rooms with numbers on them. The lady comes up to me and hands me a bunch of keys.
I try them on the doors and find rooms with luggage and stuff. On the fourth try – an empty one! I leave my luggage and a note for the desk clerk (whoever they might be). I keep the key to that room and return the others to the lady. I don’t think she is sober but she was very helpful.
I head out to find some money and food.
Later, when I return, I am interrogated by the guy who runs the place.
Did you have reservation? No.
Who let you in? a lady
Was she drunk? Possibly.
Yeah, she lives here in a room and drinks a lot.
Okay, 1200 rubles (maybe $42)
I saw a lower price on the website.
How much? 700 I say.
Website is out of date.
I just look at him.
Okay, 1000 but don’t tell anyone.
I give him the money and he disappears into one of the rooms.
I never saw him again.
I am looking for an atm as I figure out how many rubles to withdraw for my train ticket. I find one in the crowded, narrow entrance to a bank. A small group is in the tiny entrance area to use the atm. We are all bunched in and people who want to enter or exit the bank must push through our group. Eventually someone points at me. My turn. I jump to the machine and hope that it will speak English. It does but it offers me only certain amounts in rubles. There is no “other amount”! One amount is too low. The next is too high. The crowd is watching me: a deer in the headlights. I say to the crowd, “It doesn’t say what I want!” I press a button – grab some cash – and bolt into the street.
My plan to go through Moscow quickly and try to get on with my train travel without staying over night. I will be using the train to sleep in as well as transportation starting tomorrow. My trip from Moscow across Russia will take four days. This is where the adventure really begins.
your intrepid reporter,