Another grey day in St Petersburg, and the sore throat Rog has been nursing for a couple of days has now progressed to a heavy cold. But it doesn’t put him off his breakfast, and we also take the opportunity to make some rolls to take on the train. Never raided a hotel buffet before, but apparently Maria had suggested it to one of our group, and it made sense. George turned up with the coach on time, and dropped us off at St Petersburg Railway Station.
First problem was getting heavy cases up the flight of steps, but our new guide, Alexander, was on hand to help out. The station was heaving with individuals of all nationalities and tour groups, so it was a struggle to stay together through security. We arrived at about 11.20 and our train did not leave until 1.30 pm, so we were hanging around for quite a long time. Alexander had brought another guide with him, not nearly as attractive as Maria, but she took charge. ‘Those of you who want the toilets, you will come with me now!’ We were escorted into the station cafe toilets, and she waited outside the cubicles and escorted us back. Perhaps this was to fend off any protest from the cafe owner.
Weary of standing so long, I attempted to sit on my smaller suitcase. It has four wheels and a mind of its own, and rolled out from underneath me, depositing me unceremoniously on the platform, to the amusement of passers by!
At long last we were off again, a huge crowd of people trying to push through a small opening onto the platform. The train had a very pointed front (or back) designed for super speed.
We knew we were in coach 14, what we didn’t know was that there were two trains linked together, and No 14 of the second one was a long walk! There had been some concern on the coach that the group tickets only added up to 24 seats, and there were 31 of us. However the conductor checked our passports (woe betide you if you didn’t have yours open at your photograph page, you would be shouted at) and let everyone into the train. Then the fun started.
Having settled into what we assumed were our seats, a large Japanese group got on, and indicated volubly and with somewhat forceful gestures that some of us were in their seats. Twenty minutes later, after a game if very unmusical chairs, we all found somewhere to sit. The seats had plenty of room, large tray tables and footrests, they put airline seats to shame.
An announcement came on the tannoy in English, but we could not hear a word due to the noise the Japanese group was making. There were some Americans in the carriage too, and they started noisily shushing the Japanese, who pointedly ignored them. It was getting a bit fraught, but eventually the chatter died away just as the tannory announcement finished – oh well……
The scenery from the windows was mile after mile of forest, with a very occasional little wooden house, though there was the odd lake
After two hours we pulled into a station and were firmly instructed not to get off the train unless this was our stop!
After four hours, we noticed we were travelling through a forest of high rise blocks, the suburbs of Moscow.
The population is 15 million official residents with 6 million more unregistered, working as cleaners and other poorly paid jobs. Of these 2 million are illegal immigrants from states such as Ukraine, Uzbekistan, and other parts of the former Soviet Union.
The train arrived, we unloaded everything, and a helpful porter turned up with two long trolleys and put all the large cases on these and strapped them down. This was a relief, as taking just hand luggage through the throng was bad enough. We found our coach and our new guide, called Irina. She assured us that 50% of the female population of Russia was called Irina. She provided helpful commentary whilst we sat motionless in the usual Moscow traffic jams, apparently it is one of the worst for traffic in the world, probably second only to Shanghai. Although our hotel, the Courtyard Marriott is not that far from the station, we must have taken over an hour to get there.
Once inside, we asked Irina about getting to the Bolshoi tomorrow, as we have tickets for the opera in the new theatre. She told us it would take 20 minutes to walk, or an hour by taxi, because of the traffic!
A group of us set out again to find somewhere to eat, but we were turned away from most restaurants, ending up in the food court of the local shopping mall. It was fine, we had fish and chips, freshly cooked, not typically Russian, but we have two days to try and find that! Tomorrow we will have lunch at a Moscow restaurant specially reserved for us.
Outside again we found some illuminated fountains, and learnt that these are just a step along from Red Square, which we will see tomorrow. Couple of other sites worth photographing too.
Wifi here is incredibly expensive in the hotel rooms, but apparently free in the lobby. It might be, but we spent twenty minutes battling with the system, which insisted it would have to send us a password by text message before we could log in, and no text message ever arrived to our UK numbers. By chance we happened to mention this to another member of the group, who had heard from someone else there is a separate one we could use called ‘Terminal’ This worked, with the most insecure password you could imagine, being the first eight numbers in increasing order!