ST. PETERSBURG: SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL
That song from the Rolling Stones plays in our heads. A stranger on the streets of St. Petersburg helps us locate the MIR Hostel. (We know 5 words in Russian) Our first order of business will be the ominous task of copping train tickets from the notoriously impatient, cold-hearted women behind the counters in the crowded train station. The receptionist at MIR writes our ticket requests in Russian for us.
Exhausted from no sleep last night, we hit the streets to find an ATM in order to get roubles. The first thing I notice…most women in St. Petersburg are gorgeous…with long legs, high cheekbones, and provocative style. Mare agrees.
After numerous attempts, our ATM card will not work. We must break in to our emergency cash fund, and find a money exchange in order to purchase train tickets. Our panic subsides once we have cash in hand. We walk the streets and stroll past the “Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood,” which dwarfs our senses and relieves our exhaustion.
A 2-hour walk leads us to Moskovsky vokzal train station. Our hearts pound fast, while waiting in one of the many long lines that lead to the grouchy women, who reject some potential purchasers. What will we do if we cannot purchase tickets for our Trans-Siberian Railway trip? The ticket ladies walk away from their station at random, for a necessary break, leaving lines standing. What else can they do?
Finally, we reach the window, and hand the written Russian language ticket requests to the “Soup Nazi.” We neither move nor smile. She looks at the request and then glares at us. “Passport.” We hand them under the window. She fumbles papers, and taps on a keyboard. I take out my wallet. She somehow notices and shouts, “No Visa!” Okay, 24,000 roubles later we have train tickets to Moscow, and then on to Novosibirisk!
We celebrate at a street side café with drinks and Country Borshch soup.
I feel like grandpa, dodging the kids in the hostel kitchen in the morning. A gal on the couch, who speaks some English, notices me. She calls me over. “Russians not rude, culture not shake hands or look at you. If you smile at people, they will think something is wrong with their face.” Well, that is good to know.
Back on the streets we pass the Hermitage, which holds unimaginable works of art.
Roam through Peter and Paul Fortress and view the many cathedrals and domes in the city from a river beach, while artists sketch the scene.
Climb the stairs of St. Isaac’s spire for panoramic views of St. Pete.
Eat sushi in a café at midnight, which looks like noon on the city streets.
The Kazan Cathedral is the only one that is not a museum. I light 3 candles, hoping for health and happiness for those I love.
At the train station, Mare receives an e-mail from Joel, our credit union contact. Joel has fixed our bank card! I withdraw roubles from the ATM with glee. Thank you for saving us, Joel, our hero!
While Mare is out in the station, trying to decipher Russian language procedure signs, a young woman from Moscow sits next to me. She wants to show me around Moscow, and practice her English. Mare comes back, and suddenly, the woman cannot speak English. Oh well, time to catch a train… spaSIba, Abundant Universe! Ron Mitchell