Airport/Hotel Adventure, Masterful Concert

Trip Start Jul 10, 2008
Trip End Jul 15, 2008

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Where I stayed
Prestige Hotel

Flag of Russia  , Sankt-Peterburg,
Thursday, July 10, 2008


Taking off from Boston, started at 5:30 Wednesday and after reaching Paris and then onto St. Petersburg, I gained a whole day or lost a day, depending on how you look at it. Kathy was already there, having been on an official business trip. She left home July 2, stopped in Versailles for three days and had been in St. Petersburg since Saturday the fifth. She was ready to have me accompany her on some sights. As I soon learned, communication between the Russians and us would be difficult. Their alphabet is totally different and hardly anyone speaks English their. In some of the restaurants and some of the museums, but in general they cannot converse with us.

I was so nervous about having my wallet taken or having to stop taking photos that it took me a few days to realize that I could pretty much shoot what even I liked. You have to obey the rules in the museums, but even then, the amateurs with their point and shoots, often shot regardless.

The trip was long, about ten hours flying time and three and half hours wait at De Gaulle airport. I would have to pay for my travel, but we had reasoned that this “a splurge trip” was a once in a lifetime opportunity and since Kathy’s stay and airfare was paid for, we should just go ahead and do it. We had planned this trip 6-8 months ago. We had to get a special, time limited visa, and so the long term planning was necessary.

Pulkova 2 was the airport of arrival and about 15 miles outside SP (St. Petersburg). My first impression of this landing place was how small it was. In previous weeks, we had landed at Dallas and Vancouver airports, which were considerably larger, especially Dallas with its shuttle trains carting us between terminals. I noticed some spare helicopter parts lying near the edge of the airport. This recalled photographs of mothball fleets of the remains of the Soviet Empire that I have seen in various publications.

Lugging my relatively small luggage case with wheels did not become difficult until I caught a bus and then worse, battled my way through rush hour crowds and turnstiles in the Underground.

The initial wait in the line through customs was a prelude of long lines to come. After an hour and fifteen minutes, maybe longer, I made it to the lobby and prepared to use an ATM machine to get some more Rubles.

Luckily, I had befriended a younger Englishman (dark skinned Indian) with a terrific sense of humor and his girlfriend, an attractive Czech named Teresa. We rather joked our way through the red tape and onto the #13 bus. I thought I had lost them, but after collecting some money from the machine, I heard a shout, my name that is, coming from the curb where the bus was stopped. We fumbled our way, no English spoken, just “Moskovskaya”. That was the designated Underground stop about a half an hour away. The fare was only one amount for all stops, so that was the easy part.

The three of us, smiled back and forth, while we were jostled by the passengers on this crowded and hot bus. No air conditioning here. Actually, I had been used to the sweaty feel because Boston was in the mid nineties when I left.

We joked about being able to actually read a word we recognized on one of the buildings, Coca Cola. We viewed the landscape and double lane traffic from our standing positions on the bus. I noticed first that many of the cars looked liked they had never been washed. Some of the cars were new and similar to the ones in other parts of the world, but many others had the “eastern European look”. Simple and small and with a cloud of smoke trailing. No emission standards in Russia. Trucks varied in conditions of slow decay. Lots of rust and dust here.

We passed a War Memorial. Later I was to trace this monument that was located on the island between coming and going traffic lanes, as Monument to the Heroic Defenders of Leningrad. We never made it back there. I read that inside was a great film and the sound throughout the exhibit was the ticking of a metronome. This was the only sound on the radio that was constant during the two and half year siege from 1941 to 1944. What an experience that must have been. A few days later, Kathy and I would visit the Blockade Museum that would help explain that difficult time.

Now the fun began. Getting into the Underground became cumbersome and annoying. The crowds were moving fast and of course, we three were the only non-Russian speaking and only baggage pulling people in the station. My friends had to return to the token window for a second time, and “get through” the turnstile.

We were on the Blue Line and heading for the Green. They would be staying the opposite direction from me. I hated to lose them. I would like to have traveled around the city together in the days to come, but that was not to happen. I was now on my own and had to navigate a change to the Green Line alone. This time I had to figure the first three letters of the stop I needed to get out. The alphabet said “bac . . .” I was able to determine that it correlated to Vasileostroyskaya. This was only one stop from Gostiny Dvor which would become our pivotal station when returning from the Island we were staying on, Vasilevsky Island. The English names were not outside the trains and only shown on the inside of the cars. This was a tricky place to maneuver. Thank god, Kathy had written a manuscript via Email that prepared me for the intricacies of this first travel section.

When I got to the hotel, she was worried. It had taken me about three hours from my scheduled landing to get to our room. We had no telephone connection which would have made it easier to contact me. I did not think of had both international channels that would allow her to talk with me. Turns out, I did . . . . too late.

I made it and she was wrapped around me. I felt that I had just survived a KGB interrogation. No sooner than walking in the door to our modest although historic hotel did, we head for the center and a marvelous concert at a Lutheran Church on the Nevsky Prospect. A colleague of Kathy had organized and participated in this small ensemble combination. They played organ solo, organ and flute and a string quartet. The church was simple compared to what we would see in the next days. White walls and a large painted canvas of the Crucifixion behind the altar. The acoustics were fabulous. I kept fading in and out due to jet lag. We finished the evening at a restaurant on the Prospect called Valhall. A simulated Viking environment. Walked home and slept well.
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