Friday, June 28, 2013

June 19, 2013

I was up at my usual time, five in the morning, and had a chance to drink my coffee and catch up on my email and FB postings before anybody else was up. I still had a throbbing pain in my lower abdomen and back, but fortunately it was bearable.

I charged my cell phone, just in case, and my tablet as well while Willoughby and Irina got ready. I disposed of all food items in my backpack that had gone bad and repacked everything else. We had some photos taken in the garden and finally piled into her car for the drive to the train station. She had been a great hostess, and we felt sad to say goodbye after just two days of knowing her.

We missed the local train by perhaps seconds as Willoughby couldn’t walk fast enough to make it. The next one was supposed to be an express and it was jammed packed with commuters to point of one feeling about to suffocate. Willoughby lucked out when someone offer her a seat in the area intended for the old and the infirm.

I had to tough it out in the area between cars with my backpack jammed between my legs. I could feel the sweat running down my neck and my back. For someone with a mild touch of claustrophobia, no worst scenario could have materialized. We had to go for many, many miles before enough commuters got off the train before I could find a seat.

Once at the train station, we located the room with the lockers. The ones here operate the old fashioned way with an attendant requesting your passport, which he either scans or photocopies, and then he attaches a tag to your backpack and gives you a receipt. We paid 140 rubles or about $4.00 for a day.

It was back to the metro with its never ending escalators. Willoughby miscalculated the number of stops to the Red Square and we got off two stops too soon. Once on the street, I stopped a very handsome young man to ask him how we could go there, and although he spoke very little English, he insisted on getting back on the metro with us, using his own card, and walking us into the square directly. His name was Andrei and he mentioned he had been looking for a job for the last three months.

I was starving by then, so we returned to the Gum department store and tried out another restaurant, which turned out not to be as good as the first one, but which offered latte and cappuccino coffee. On the first floor, there was the most elegant ice cream cart I’ve ever seen with the servers dressed in formal attire to serve you. We each had a scoop of the pistachio one.

We then moved on to the Municipal Museum where to my disappointment, there were no Faberge eggs to be admired. We were told the Hermitage in Saint Peter would be the place to see those. Their collection of gold ornaments on everything from jewelry to household goods was spectacular enough to leave you speechless.

There were countless other museums around the square and we had a difficult choice to make as the entrance fees were quite steep for all of them and we weren’t really familiar with their contents.We noticed long lines, in the sun, just to get the tickets and then more lines, and a security check for the entrance to some of them, and decided on the spot not to bother.

Instead, we walked around the square admiring the fountains, flower beds, statuary and buildings while I practiced using my tablet to take photos after seeing someone doing the same thing the day before. I will never know how it happened, perhaps the stress had gone away, but by mid-afternoon, I was pain free. It felt so exhilarating to be able to walk about without feeling like I was having the worst menstrual cramps ever.

It was time to go back to the train station to retrieve our backpacks, get a bite to eat before boarding the train, and making it to the Leningraski Station across the street. I ordered plov and a small salad and was charged 416.00 rubles or $13.00 for something that would cost me two dollars in Bishkek.

I checked my email and was relieved to learn that Irina had gotten hold of Tatiana’s brother-in-law and confirmed that the apartment rental had been arranged. She supplied detailed instructions on how to get there from the train station in Saint Petersburg as well as the possible cost of a taxi if we chose to take one. People can be really good.

We rode a really old train, the kind I’d always seen in the movies where each compartment has a door and there is a common corridor outside. We had no luck though in exchanging berths for Willoughby as the lower ones were occupied by a young mother with her daughter, about three, and a portly sour-looking grandmother with her three-year-old grandson.

I had started to sniffle and cough earlier in the day probably because of all the smoke from the coal burned during the train ride from Bishkek, the constant smoking in the city, the dust and the seasonal pollen in the air. The young mother spoke some English, so we peppered her with a lot of questions including how to buy some anti-histamine the next day. She offered me some drops from her daughter’s medication as she suffered from the same condition.

It was too crowded in the compartment for all six of us to stay there, so we stood in the corridor watching the city recede from view and then the ever expanding suburbs came into view. Fortunately, Willoughby discovered that there were pull-up stools attached to the wall, so we could sit comfortably and watch the landscape hoping to catch a bit of the “white nights” spectacle we’d heard so much about.

I was only able to stay up until eleven, but even then it was completely light outside. Willoughby had a difficult time getting up to the upper berth, so the young woman recommended that instead of using the regular metal ladder on the side, she should step onto the table and hop from there. Willoughby has had a hip replacement, and thus her mobility is restricted.

The children were still awake while the young mother read to her daughter from a tablet and the little boy played on another electronic device. I put on my ear plugs and fell asleep to the rhythm of the train.

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