Now I’m here. It is pretty humbling, I’ll tell you. Let’s rewind. The train ride was fine. It went by pretty quickly and having free wireless helped. We ended up about a half hour late, which was eating into the time I wanted to spend doing things tonight. To add to the delays, my driver never showed. I waited about 20 minutes and gave up. I figured I could spend the rest of the weekend standing and waiting in the train station (which was pretty Soviet era run down) or I could make my own way to the hotel.
If I thought St. Petersburg was culture shock, I’m glad I did not start my vacation here. St. Petersburg felt like an extension of Europe; it most closely felt like Vienna to me. Here so far looks and feels like no where I've ever been. Buildings are just huge and blocky, all grey concrete, at least where I am. There is absolutely no English anywhere. In St. Petersburg you’d see some translations in the metro or on some street signs. Here there is nothing. There were also dire warnings in my guidebook about taking taxis. But at this point, I really had no choice. I bargained a fare and got here around 6:30. I dropped my stuff and headed right back out.
Red Square and the Kremlin, on a map, are about 3 blocks due south of my hotel. However, streets here are about 8 lanes wide, and tough to cross. I had to walk 6 blocks east to cross and then cut back. But all along I could see the red brick of the walls of where I was headed. I finally crossed over and walked right up to the gates of the Kremlin. I was just so incredibly anxious to see it, I could barely contain myself. Finally through the wrought iron fence of the gate, I could catch a peek at St. Basil’s Cathedral. Holy cow. Then I smiled my face off as I walked across Red Square towards it, passing GUM department store, Lenin’s tomb and a few towers on the way. Honestly I can’t believe I’m here.
St. Basil’s looks completely not real. I feel like I’ve walked on to a movie set. The colors are so vibrant and it is just massive. I can’t wait to get into the Kremlin and see all the churches there. I can catch peeks at some of the domes but not all of them and won’t get to the Kremlin until Monday.
At this point, it was nearly 8:00 so I scrapped my plans to go to Arbat and headed to Yolki Palki, a chain I’d seen in St. Petersburg that Katya said had decent Russian food. It was really pretty good to be honest. I had red caviar with warm rolls. Katya told me to spread soft butter on the warm rolls and then top with caviar, and I have to say it was delicious! Then I had stewed beef with cranberry sauce and honeyed chili potatoes, both of which were good. I finished with cherry struedel, which was tasty. Service here was really spotty but it filled the need.
Back at the Hotel Budapest now, which is definitely leftover from the Soviet times. Never, ever had I felt a bed so hard! This will be an interesting 4 nights sleep! It seems quiet though and is about 10 times larger than the guesthouse I was in in St. Petersburg. I do have a much bigger shower though, so that’s something!
Internet here is 410 rubles for an hour (about $13), so I’ll just log in to blog, post photos and quickly check in with my family.
City tour tomorrow and then Tretyakov Gallery with my guide.