Well Debs, I am back on terra ferma, but I am dreaming of trains elsewhere and everywhere. Also, obviously, I flew to Moscow; I guess I could fly again.
And now it's Russian Christmas at our night-class. I forgot about bringing food; but I did bring my guitar, and played both chords for the Volga Boatman.
The rest of them brought champagne and wonderful vegetarian pirogi and the rest. I almost didn't get back in time for Lewis, and then it only takes a two-minute phone call and you lose the plot there. As Galina said, "What about i-player?" In the end I had to do Plus-One, and watch it all over again. [Not entirely a sacrifice]
Here's two pics of me and Gig on the Otley Road wondering where we left the car.
Tuesday, 22 January 2013
Sunday, 20 January 2013
I spent most of Sweden trying, but failing to book London-Leeds.
Now I am in Koln Station before the ticket offices open. I find you can buy ticket on the train, and so I do.
|Building in the mist, Brussels|
|building with paintings, Brussels|
At Brussels Station I stop and think about when me, and Judith and Daisy and the rest of the gang went to the Steel Pan Conference in Sete; then remember that that was Lille Station. Thought it didn't look familiar. Meantime I have, yes, you've guessed it, two hours to kill in Brussels.
|church in Brussels|
Well, it is the Last Lap, and now I'm drawn to thinking of home. From St Pancras to I dash over to King's Cross, up to to York to change for Leeds.
Walt gets me then I sink into the waiting arms of the sofa in the front room.
|Stockholm house on an island|
The ladies on the escalator:
|dog statue Stockholm|
|the new and the old|
Apart from the comic element, there was a desperate sense of a misogynist community behind these comic public scenes, something shameful [saw the women a bit later talking to what I took to be their menfolk, who were definitely not carrying heavy bags]. This is just supposition, by the way.
Take bus to Stockholm main station; have two hours to explore town centre in. It is however ridiculously early, so shops open as I walk round. I find souvenir shops and buy a plastic Viking helmet and some small things with reindeer on, as you do in Scandinavia.
Stockholm: a weird contrast with the beautiful old and awful new. Architecture and concrete; bridges and rivers. At ten I get the tilting train, where I have pre-booked wifi and a meal. So organised! Is this really me? And we get to go over the bridge [as in "The Bridge" Scandinavian super-drama] - all too exciting, though, of course, from the bridge, you don't actually see the bridge.
Copenhagen: As ever, I have two hours to explore this city in; however I am still missing on sleep, so it's hard to get out there and get going. But I do, and like the pub in Helsinki, and meeting Zoya on the Moscow-St Petersburg sleeper, it's another little magic moment with the organic cafe opposite the station. At first I think I am feeling dizzy and maybe about to faint when I realise that the cafe is over the train lines and everything and everybody is vibrating.
|train over Bridge|
This cafe, whose name I didn't take, is a little sanctuary in a busy journey. And from here I had my first Skype moments which Walt set up for me from the UK [was trying to get him to book a train from the UK for me].
|the bicycles outside Copenhagen Station|
It's six forty-six, get the night train to Cologne/Koln. Here I experimented with the no couchette compartement, and that will be the second and last time. However it had its wonderful surreal moments. First it's just me and Dutch girl travelling from Malmo to Amsterdam. Then an African trader man comes in, looks around, looks irritated. I ask if I can help, and he comes right up to me, sticks his face in mine and asks what I mean. I stick my face in his, and ask again if I can help.
He meets a mate and disappears down the corridor for a drink with him. We are whizzing through the night stopping at these stations: 7.11 Roskilde, 8.05 Nyborg [passing through, not stopping], 8.27 Odense, 9.06 Kolding, missed the next one, crossed the border into Germany, 10.40 Flensburg, 11.15 Rendsburg [not stopping here], 11.17 over some big rivers, 11.37 Neumunster, 12.26 Hamburg, 1.43 Celle, 2.05 Hanover, 3.55 Biefeld, 4.25 Hamm, 4.50-ish Dortmund, 5.40 Wuppertal, and lastly 6.14 Koln [Cologne].
And Debs, do you know how I know all these times? And why?
|between Copenhagen and Koln|
Because it dawned on me quite quickly, say by Odense, that there were no announcements on this train; and also there were no electric sockets, and by early Germany my phone and ipad had long since lost their charge and their power to alarm.
Next on is a French woman complete with two fluffy white puppies in dog-baskets. I speak English with the Dutch, French with French woman, and then when the Odd Couple appear in the early hours, some sort of pigeon German. The Odd Couple, a mother and son with some sort of skin deformity I don't need to go into, but it made them look odd. And it sure as eggs irritated the African traderman when he re-appeared into the six-berth compartment.
I tried to explain to them that 22 was the guy's seat, and when he reappeared and started on them about it, I told her to come and sit next to me, but then he wouldn't sit with us and went off again.
She was upset not to be next to her [grown-up] son, and asked my permission to go back to 22. By now I was absolutely determined to be their champion, as quite evidently were the French and Dutch ladies. And we had dogs. Well puppies. Who were by now out of their baskets. So cute.
The man in Seat 22 came back a couple more times and he and the German mother exchanged cross words in German. She looked like she was used to abuse, and just gave back as good as she got.
In the early stages of this journey I was nipping down to the cafe wagon for tea; this helped me stay awake, and was a little adventure in itself, and it did advertise that they did breakfasts, but in the early hours of the morning when I went back, firstly the English-speaking Danish staff had been changed into monoglot German staff, and secondly the Restaurant car seemed to have disappeared.
The Odd Couple got off at Dortmund. Dog Lady and me, we get off at Koln, which is not easy to call Cologne when you're actually there.
Thursday, 17 January 2013
This modern train is as lovely as the overnight sleeper was, but in quite a different way. And passport control and customs - they don't just look at your passport and say "Next". They look at it; they look at you; you think this photo was taken five years ago, well before Michael Gove got to be i/c UK education. I will have aged, but hey my visa for Russia expires in four hours. And I have a hotel booked in Helsinki with a real bed in it.
Hotel Arthur is so close to the station that I walk past it. Ten minutes later. It's great; it's clean; it comfortable; it's near a lovely little pub. I have two extra hours to drink and sleep in; so I do. I decide to live in Finland.
Travelling on my own means all photos with myself in situ are necessarily in mirrors, backwards [and generally hideous] or of me drinking tea in a train [from willing fellow-traveller]. This is me in hotel lift mirror.
Day Five: to get from A to B, ie from St Petersburg to Helsinki to Turku to Stockholm etc etc, I am follwing the advice of the excellent Man in Seat 61 website, and now I have a day in Helsinki before I take the evening train to Turku Harbour.
This is a double decker train; am in heaven on top deck, first class [not much more, thought I would treat myself], little help-yourself-to-tea cabinet, more free wifi. But it's dark, so a few snowy towns and stations, and not much else to see. By now I have stopped fretting about the etickets.
This ferry terminal is a bit on the clinical side, and a two hour wait here takes longer than rushing through the snowy night in a train. My boredom threshold lowered, I am very pleased to be on M/S Isabella finding my cabin with portholes, and then taking to the decks for food and lager, people-watching and music. These are definitely a few of My Favourite Things.
Have bought shampoo and conditiner; set phone alarm for 5.30 to shower and wash hair. Have not appreciated the time zone change! Again!
Monday, 14 January 2013
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.
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.
Sunday, 13 January 2013
|last view of Moscow|
Her colleague told me to take the Metro to Komsomolkaya, and a lady there turned my eticket into a regular ticket. E voila. My route home is certain. And all the trains and boat booked in sequence after that. I can't break the chain.
Sit at Leningradsky station and drink tea for a hour . .
And spotting Krasnye Vorota from the other side I realise how close I came to finding the station yesterday. I find this very comforting.
Also discovered a similar passion for tea and the samovar. But by now I have also bought my own little carton of moloko. Above is my last look at Moscow in the January snow. And now I am on the sleeper train to St Petersburg, drinking the tea, and drinking in the dictionary.
passing station at night
|Zoya, Olya by samovar|
Here we have snow, freight trains, snow, dachas, snow, tea, snow, stations, snow, a setting sun, a train corridor, snow, Zoya and Olya by the samovar, snow, railway tracks, snow, tea, snow, tea, snow . . .
And then this slow sleeper train which has stopped at sidings all night en route now gets in half an hour early. We tumble into a cold and very dark Saint Petersburg at 7 am.