St. Pete Day 1

We left Moscow right on time, with our driver managing to cram Alexey, Pitr, Chuck, and I into a Pontiac Transport van. He expressed much displeasure at the amount of luggage we had, as apparently he'd been told that since we has left the video conferencing equipment, we wouldn't have much luggage. In actuality, our luggage occupied the same space, it was just much lighter now. After some creative space management, we all got in, and began the mad dash to the train station. I don't know how fast we were going across Moscow, but my estimate is between 70 and 80 miles per hour, and as I was in the front seat, this was both exciting and terrifying, and I got a strange look from the driver as I was scrambling around for my seat belt, as hardly anyone wears them here. We got to the station an hour before our train was to depart, and spent a bit of time milling about, before we were able to board. Chuck and I wound up sharing a two-person compartment, which would have been spacious, except every single square inch of floorspace was consumed by our Luggage, which wouldn't fit in any of the niches made for it within the compartment. We just sort of had to dive for the beds from the doorway, but, as the train ride was from midnight to 8:00 a.m., we were sleeping almost the entire trip anyhow.

I've never traveled by train before, it was quite pleasant, almost magical to go to sleep in one city and wake up in another. The beds were comfortable, and we had a non-smoking compartment that was pretty nice, all things considered. One of the women who was in charge of our car came along as we departed and collected 160 roubles ($5.45) from us, but we had no idea what it was for. We found out later from Alexey that it was for our linens. Why they don't just build that into the price of the ticket is beyond me, it'd seem to be easier than having to take cash later, but we were fine with it, just didn't know what we were paying for at the time.

The next morning, the same woman woke us agressively. The train had been warm most of the trip, but about 2 hours earlier, I'd had to actually get under the blankets on my bed, as I was cold, and I was really in a deep sleep and didn't want to get up. I thought there was possibly some trouble now, as it seemed far too dark outside for us to be at St. Petersburg already. So, Chuck and I pulled ourselves together, and I reached for my watch. I was surprised to learn that it was 7:50 in the morning, and it wasn't light outside yet. St. Petersburg is quite far north, and it doesn't get very light here until after 8:00 in the morning.

We gathered our things together, and left the train, to be greeted by a breath of fresh cold air as we stepped on to the platform. You know how I said that Moscow isn't cold? St. Petersburg is cold. My un-scientific definition of cold is that if you can see your breath, it's cold. In Moscow, I couldn't see my breath. In St. Petersburg, you have time to make a nice sketch of your breath before it cools and dissipates.

Alexey and Pitr found us on the platform, and we set off to find our driver. He'd brought a Subaru station wagon to get us, and we got to watch another driver attempt to deal with all of our luggage, while still squeezing 5 passengers into the car. St. Petersburg was pretty sleepy at 8:00 on a Sunday morning, and the streets were quite empty as we made our way to the Herzen University Hotel.

Upon arriving at the hotel, we learned that our rooms weren't ready for us yet, so we had to check our luggage with the security guy, and then Alexey took us on a walking tour of the city to kill time. I was cold, hungry, and half-awake, but I learned that St. Petersburg is much more European than Moscow is. In fact, if there wasn't any Cyrillic writing in a photograph, you'd be hard-pressed to identify a scene from St. Petersburg compared to any other European city. After killing an hour, we returned to find our rooms were ready, and we got checked in.

We only had time to drop our luggage off in our rooms before meeting Rimma, who was to take us on another walking tour. I did manage to at least grab a Snickers bar for breakfast from the hotel store before we started out. We walked around the town some more, looking briefly at various cathedrals and buildings before being deposited at a restaurant for lunch.

I'm not sure what the name of the cafe was, but it has a yellow floor that's lit from below, and compared to Moscow, the prices are quite good. I had a caesar salad, a Pepsi, and a pork chop that was at least an inch thick, and was quite juicy.

We were originally scheduled to tour the Hermitage art museum that afternoon, but our guide didn't show up, so Alexey eventually came and gathered us up and took us to St. Isaac's Cathedral, where we climbed all 262 steps to the top for a breathtaking view of the city from above. I wish I'd known there were 262 steps before starting, as I wound up gasping for breath on the last 50 or so, not having any idea of the length of the climb we were in for when we started it.

Chuck and I each snapped off several pictures here before we made the trip back down. Next we walked to a lovely park filled with sculptures, I wish I could remember the name, but by this point my brain was pretty well drained, as were my legs.

We returned to the hotel, where I finally got a shower, changed, and then Chuck and I went to the Zoom Cafe for dinner. I had a ham and cheese sandwich on toasted bread, followed by a piece of orange cheesecake, and Chuck ate about three other things, as he was really hungry. We found out that Zoom had wi-fi, and inquired about pricing, so that we could come back later with our laptops and use it.

We walked back to the hotel and promptly went to sleep, having walked at least 7-10 miles over the course of the day.