Friday, September 17, 2010

Russia Half Way Through Day Six

Subtitled: Dead artists, nearly-dead driver and faster than the speed of light

Slept well and slept in this morning. I tell you, that hotel is the quietest I’ve ever stayed in. I didn’t hear a peep any night I stayed there.

I partook in the same breakfast as always. I missed the blini which were a surprise addition yesterday. The nice lady cook wasn’t there today, so they must not do them without her. After breakfast I managed to get all of my luggage closed and locked, so I considered it a win and went off to do something that did not involve adding to my load (aka shopping) in the three hours I had until my driver came for me.

Reading the Fodors guide last night, I saw that they very highly recommended the Alexander Nevsky Lavra, which is the highest status monastery in the country. There are only three that are given this high status, and this was one. It is also where Alexander Nevsky himself is buried but he and I did not manage to come eye to eye, which I’ll get to momentarily.

I also surveyed the map last night and wasn’t thrilled by walking that much to get there, so I ventured off on my first metro ride here. I bought two tokens, dropped one in the turnstile and made my way to the metro lines. This is where learning my Cyrillic alphabet really paid off. I am pretty adept at navigating subways/metros, so I "just" had to identify in Cyrillic the last stop on the line in the direction I want to travel. Then find that line going in that direction. What threw me is that when I got to the platform, all the passengers are standing and waiting at what looks like elevator doors. Odd. So I queued up too. The subway stop behind the doors, the doors open and these elevator doors open, and we boarded that way. I saw other lines where this was not the case, but this particular line was like that. The escalators are long, like in Washington DC (Hello Veritgo!) but otherwise the metro in St. Petersburg was pretty unremarkable.

So I arrived at the correct stop and walked to the monastery which was right across the street. Fodors says you have to pay to get into each cemetery on the front of the park where the monastery is. I wanted to visit one of them because of the famous people buried there. So I paid 200 rubles (about $6.75) to get in there. This was a really quaint pretty cemetery. First grave I found was Dostoyevsky’s. Then I followed the path around the back and found “musician’s corner” where, among others, were the graves of Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov. Call me a geek, but I loved that.

Unfortunately after that it was sort of anti-climactic. Fodors says visiting the rest of the grounds is free, but it’s not. I had to pay 130 rubles (about $4.35) more to get near the churches, which I couldn’t get into without a headscarf. I really should have known better, but I hadn’t used one all week and didn’t have my scarf with me this morning as it was safely, tightly packed into my suitcase. Oh well. No tomb of Nevsky for me. Fodors also says the monks bake their own bread there and direct you to it, but that proved false as well, at least today. So no Nevsky and no bread, it was time to bail on this place. This was definitely not a “Fodors Choice” experience as the guidebook said it would be!

I reversed course back to Nevsky Prospekt via the metro. I came across another Teremok and since I didn’t know how long it would take to get lunch on the train, I had my last blini with cream cheese and pineapple. Very cool.

My driver was prompt and lugged said suitcase from the third floor reception, where I’d carried it, down to the street. What was crazy is that the Muskovsky train station, where I needed to be, was all of two blocks away. Granted I would not have wanted to walk with my load, but it took nearly a half hour in St. Petersburg traffic. And still more strange was the only song I have heard here and understood was on the radio in the car while we were stuck in traffic. It was Erasure’s “Always”, which is a flashback from another trip many, many years ago. I found myself getting a bit misty leaving St. Petersburg. I think what sealed it for me was when the driver said “You go to Moscow?” I said “Yes, but I love it here, I don’t want to leave.” He gave me a big grizzly bear like response “Ahhhhh, Moscow just like big little village.” I’m not sure if that’s a resounding endorsement or not, but he laughed and smiled when he said it.

Then, in another flash of great service, the driver parked in a lot across the street, and schlepped my luggage across a street and a plaza, into the station and all the way to the door of the car of my train. I felt bad because he was an older guy and he kept stopping every so often to catch his breath and wipe his brow. Finally I sent him on his way because I didn’t want his death on my hands. I tipped him handsomely because I was also terribly relieved I didn’t have to manage both of my bags on my own.

So now I’m on the Sapsan train, the faster than Acela version of high speed rail in Russian. This trip used to take over 8 hours. For me on the Sapsan, it should take around 4. We were a bit late in leaving and I think there are two stops on the way. This thing reaches speeds of 260 kph, which is about 170 mph.

I am clearly the only American around me. I’m fine with that but I really did expect more tourists.

My plan for Moscow tonight (I should get there around 5:15 pm) is to drop the luggage and head out to Red Square. It should be light until around 8:00 so I’ll get that wow experience (I hope) and some photos. Then I’ll head to the Arbat neighborhood, get some Hard Rock CafĂ© paraphernalia and dinner. I'll check out the internet connection when I get back tonight.

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