Friday, June 28, 2013

June 22, 2013

I woke up a three o’clock having slept my required six hours. Outside the kitchen window, a huge yellow moon shined. I was so entranced by it that I wanted to record its existence and went to my bag to retrieve my camera.

Willoughby had also gotten up complaining that the air mattress had deflated and it was almost touching the floor. We used the electric pump to add some air to it and I tried to go back to sleep, but was unable to do so, I got up around four and did some reading of my own.

I cooked the remaining salami, heated up the bread and ate some of it as I then found the salami to be way to too salty for my taste. I took my shower first and then cleaned up the kitchen while Willoughby took hers. She made the bed and then we packed everything to wait for Zhirdal to come and pick us up at nine.

I was afraid that Alexander might choose to let me keep the set of keys so as not to return the additional money, but at ten to nine he showed up with Irina and put a thousand note ruble on one of the stools and pointed to it. I took the keys from my jean pocket and gave it to him.

Irina tried to say that she was hoping we’d not think that all Russians were mafia type that were trying to get money from us dishonestly. She felt we had made an arrangement for a three-day stay and should have paid for all three days even if we didn’t make use of the flat the entire time. I told her that she could tell we weren’t rich people traveling in style and that we needed every ruble we could save.

I showed them the flat making sure they could tell that every item they had left in it was still there and that the place was spotless as well. Zhirdal met us at the entrance and took us in his car around the city as he wanted to show us where he’d gone to school, the naval academy, and the famous ship “Aurora” where the first blast was sounded that started the October Revolution. We took some photos together, got his email and promised to send them to him.

I was really touched by his kindness and his overall concern about these two foreign women traveling alone with knowledge of Russian so to speak. After driving us around for over an hour, he pulled up at the main train station and insisted on coming with us to check our bags for day while we continued to tour the city.

Once we got our tickets, he bid us goodbye and promised to stay in touch. I had begged Willoughby to change our itinerary slightly as I had read about a famous cemetery where the likes of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy were buried and really needed to go and see it. The cemetery was part of a complex containing a church, a palace and other installations. As usual, a separate fee had to be paid to gain entrance to each one.

Willoughby wasn’t interested in paying 200 rubles, $6.25, to see old graves, so she agreed to sit by the entrance and wait for me while I did a fast run around the small cemetery train in vain to recognize any of the names written in either Cyrillic or Latin to no avail.

Instead, I feasted my eyes on some of the most elaborate tombstones I’ve ever seen made from materials ranging from plain stone to marble and concrete cement. A few graves sported fresh flowers thus indicating people still cared about those buried there. A few of the graves had cracked and some were already sinking into the ground.

Back to the metro it was for the long ride to the proper station so we could get to the Peterhof Fountains. Once at street level, I tried to find a place to eat, but only found something like a pub where a bunch of low lifes were watching a movie on a flat screen TV while shouting at it. I ordered a solyanka soup and a cappuccino for Willoughby.

My soup was tasteless and it seemed to have been reheated and the coffee was so bad Willoughby couldn’t drink it. It seemed as if they had boiled milk and added it to instant coffee. The sun was high in the sky and the temperature had risen considerably when I got in line to get us into the trolley to get to the tourist trap.

We then paid another 50 rubles for the privilege of riding for one full hour; I was standing while Willoughby sat, to be dropped off at the entrance to the place where a long walk, in the sun, awaited us. This time I really questioned my judgment for I had no need to boast about the fact that I had seen the famed fountains.

Willoughby sat at the first bench she could find once inside the property, and I went in search of the ticket booth to pay for my admission ticket since she wasn’t interested in seeing it. When I turned another corner, I found three long lines of people, in the sun, waiting to buy tickets. By the looks of it, you’d think they were giving away something for free.

I turned around and left rejoining Willoughby who was more than happy to see me come back so quickly. On the way out, I’d seen a poster of the place and had to remark on the fact that the fountains looked awfully similar to the ones I’d seen at the Vizcaya mansion in Miami. It almost looked as if someone had seen that same poster and just copied the idea. I guessed I didn’t really miss much by not seeing them.

I had one more wish on my list and that had been to see at least the exterior of the Marinski Theater, but Willoughby patiently explained we didn’t have enough time to return to the main train station, retrieve our packs, get something for dinner, and then ride the metro all the way south where it connected with the bus that would eventually take us to the airport. A taxi would have cost us around $60-70.00 for the same service.

After riding a marshrutka that charged us 70.00 rubles each, we trudged back to the metro with the escalators appearing to be longer than ever. At the main train station, we found an elegant coffee house, Café du Nord, that purported have been functioning there since the 1800s. We had coffee and I ordered a piece of black bread to assuage my hunger since Willoughby wanted to have dinner at the airport.

Backpacks at hand, we boarded the metro, connected with the trolley and got to the airport by 8:00. We found a restaurant that offered Wi-Fi and got to sit in the patio where a cool breeze was blowing. I was finally able to totally relax knowing the hard part of the journey had been completed and that Willoughby and I had not had a single disagreement and still remained good friends. She had a steak and I ordered salmon, and we drank a beer to celebrate.

Finding our check-in counter proved quite daunting as there were no signs in English or anyone who spoke the language. When the flight was announced, we ended up behind a bunch of Kyrgyz people flying home the way Dominicans do, that’s full of packages and voluminous suitcases. When told they had exceeded their baggage allowance, they tried to negotiate or bribe the airline personnel to avoid doing so.

When we were checking in, a woman and her son approached us to beg us to carry their bags as they had no money to pay for them. Willoughby was adamant that she wouldn’t do so as what was the purpose of traveling light if you were going to then carry somebody else’s belongings. The woman was almost tearful as she approached me again, but I told her I didn’t speak Russian and didn’t know the regulations.

She was able to board the plane with just two bags, so apparently somebody else helped her out after all. I sat next to the window and two young Kyrgyz men sitting on the remaining seats talked all the time preventing me from sleeping. Willoughby was able to find an empty row and went to sleep right away.

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