Monday, 14 January 2013

Saint Petersburg

I have come to St Petersburg for the canals, the Hermitage, the Bronze Horseman, the ice on the River Neva, for the memories of the Georgian folk musicians in the club wherever it was, for the snow on the streets that ached with the heat when I was here as a gawky and hopeless undergraduate way back in the day.

Then this town was Leningrad; it was this trip that introduced me to my fear of flying. I remember not knowing that I was booked for three weeks in The Soviet Union [absolutely hopeless!], mostly in Moscow with three days in Leningrad. I was told by somebody, I guess at Uni, to go to the Russian Embassy in London and get my visa. He spoke with me in Russian, congratulated me on trying to speak the language, and gave me the visa; I went to the airport, took one look at the plane and decided it was too small to go all the way to the USSR, got in it and decided it was too big to get off the ground. 
was this my club?

Meanwhile, back to 2013, my choice to be here, and I have just over 12 hours. Zoya and I mulled over what to do with the time over our stakhans of chai. 
it's dark when we get in

Our other cabin mate, Galina, who got on sometime before Tver has contributed to the debates on what I should do on arrival and we all agree -go to Findlyandsky Station and leave luggage. Yellow line to Dostoevskaya, then red to Lenin Square. I still arrive at Finland station before the sun does. Am quite unable to understand a word the Luggage lady says, and she guides me through putting suitcase in locker and waving card at lock.

I have seven luggage locked hours in Saint Petersburg and start by walking across the long cold bridge over the Neva. And I find the Three Bridges and some strangely familiar canals. And then on the embankment it looks like the club Where we danced to those Georgian musicians all those years ago in 1970.

I was the worst Russian speaker of our group, but the most likely to stand on someone's shoulders and shout in through the window to ask them to let us in - as the doormen had said they were full. Then I was the most likely to agree to stand out in the street and be the very last in, as the musicians brought us in one at a time. I had no idea where my fellow-students had gone, until they came down to bring me in as well. Police cells for all I knew. Oh how we danced when we got in.

saying goodbye to Z and O

 I walked and slipped for 45 minutes. Queued for a very frozen 50 minutes to get into the Hermitage. I was beginning to wonder if St Petersburg was Arctically beyond a normal daytime, and then about 10.30 am it did finally get light. 

Hermitage did nothing for me till I finally found the cafe, and sat there pretending I was online when really I was just writing up stuff on the ipad.

"What you do Wednesday?"
"Oh, I just went out to the Hermitage for a tea and a bun"
When I got lost I told the lady at the desk I needed to get my towel; she looked doubtful and suggested overcoat - Palto, polotentsa - whatever.

I got back to Finland Station just in time to liberate Suitcase from Left luggage. Seven hours out; I was exhausted but still another four to go before the Allegro to Helsinki . But first and most important a tea and an apple piroshok from Surly Lena in the caff. This does an hour; to deserve more tea I must go out agin in the dark, muddy, icy St Petersburg night. 

Promising myself not to return within the hour and not risking the Bridge again, I take a turn around the block, trying to stay upright. And I'm wondering just how dangerous crossing is, even at green lights,  and pause awhile, and then just where and when  I would have walked I watch a minibus and a taxi collide. Like slow motion. One turning right from middle lane; one going straight on from outside lane. Decide not to cross after all. 

The woman comes off the bus and lights up. I want to comfort her, but with my Russian, no, best not to. I feel the stress of watching has earned me an early return to the station and a tea with mushroom pie.  [Being a vegetarian, I take to my dictionary to check the pirosha contents before commiting]. 

International departures are back into the street and round the outside. [Like the Buffalo Gals].  Unnecessarily anxious about the eticket I check it with Information. It's okay. 

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