From Helsinki To Russia (or Monday part 2)
Trip Start Jan 31, 2011
298Trip End Dec 15, 2011
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Where I stayed
20:24 So I'm off again, just boarded the plane for Russia. It's a Russian plane. They clearly like to pack people in, although the plane was not totally full you can tell by the knee room-my knees were touching the seat in front and I'm only 5'6! Hmmm, the lights keep flicking on and off. I don't like that much. I'm on an airbus A319-100 this time. Just behind the exit. I have an immigration card to fill in. Filled most of it in. No sure what patronymic is yet - and that's the translation! Will have to ask. Took off feeling more nervous this time, probably because it's a Russian plane
Bah, so much for tea. Everyone appears to be having tomato juice. Well, not me, oh no, that's the last thing I'd dare pass my lips. I opted for.... Apple juice. Sorry, can't face alcohol yet. I was also given a cadburys 'Tomno' bar. I have a photo, for an awful second as it was places in front of me I thought I read tomato. I was relieved to read otherwise. It's 4 layers of wafer with a layer of chocolate between each and all round. Not sure it goes with apple juice, but that's why I ate it first!
Sorry if I'm boring you with silly detail, after a day of mostly travelling and waiting I needed to occupy myself somehow and I have a nice little app on my iPhone called Momento which is essentially a diary and allows me to write when I want. I read that the train doesn't have power so if the sun doesn't shine (thereby powering my many solar chargers) I might have to resort to pen and paper.
As I type, there is a remarkable amount of accelerating and decelerating going on. An unusual flying style indeed as my apple juice comes sliding towards me across the table top. Ah, that's what the observers drinks hole must be for in this case. Don't normally need it on normal flights as they tend to cruise at a consistent speed. Not sure what this pilot is doing. If he's a trainee he needs to learn not to chase the speedo!
21:26 Flying in to St Petersburg, we emerged through low cloud and what I saw initially was lots of council blocks and high rises. Everything was covered in snow, and then I started to feel a bit sick- with worry I think more than anything else. There were several Chinese people on the flight, 3 of whom were wearing surgical face masks, which just looked a bit odd in amongst everyone else
After first finding a toilet which was a mission in itself as the signs were useless as nothing is written in English, I asked for a taxi to the hostel. 960 Roubles it was, which I decided was less than the $40 the hostel said it charged, so I accepted and got into the taxi with the driver.
As we sped up the main road at about 50mph on very snowy roads, I clung to my rucksack in the back as it was the only thing wedging me. In fact if we'd had an accident on the road the rucksack would be the only thing stopping me hurtling around in the back of the car!
We whizzed briefly past many points of interest, I did attempt to take the odd photo but the speed, the fact it was dark and bumping about in the back just meant the pictures were blurred. There was a 2nd world war memorial with a big needle (similar to the one in Washington DC) with some very Russian looking bronzes around it. There were trams that also travelled up the same road, the buildings all appear very ornate and my initial impression is that it seems to be a cross between Edinburgh and London. We drove over several frozen rivers (using bridges of course) and I also started to notice a large number of very old looking beaten up cars being used. To my amusement about 50% seem to be those awful old Ladas. I vaguely remember them in England, I also remember the incredibly bad reputation they have for being totally crap. I have to say, that if these cars are STILL going here, amongst the deep snow, salt, wet and array of awful speeding drivers, I'm not sure how they got such a bad rep. I mean, they still work!
Anyway, eventually we arrived on quite a dark slushy street, the driver informed me that we had reached the destination, because he got out of the car and started trying to help me unwedge myself. I looked left and right and couldn't see anything that looked like an inviting front door to the cosy hostel that would welcome me in and bring me vodka. No, Mr Taxi pointed me down a small alley and gestured right. So with blind faith I ventured round the back looking for, I dunno, a red and white awning with sparkly lights? Indeed not, I found a dark alley, several uninviting steel doors and no signs at all.
I trying buzzing a few numbers, nothing. I turned round and went back a bit and found an old lady going back into her building and said "is there a hostel here?" I was met with a full on one sided conversation from her in Russian, which is where you stand there look blank, and just say out loud "I have no idea what you're saying, I don't think you know what I'm saying either, I'm just going to go now..." as I raised my hand, stepped backwards and started to sort of wave and smile.
Shit, this wasn't good. I had no idea where I was, I had 24kg on my back and it was 11pm on a fairly quiet road.
I went onto the main road again and found the number I was supposed to be at, phew I was just too far up the road. I buzzed the buzzer and got let in through a gate, disappeared round the back of another alley, found a door and went in. It was a stone reception area, I was relieved to have arrived at my destination even though it looked horribly unwelcoming. I plonked my kit down, said I was here and I had a reservation, she looked confused, I showed her my paperwork and she said no, this is the office. Confused I again pointed at my itinerary and said look - reservation for Na Sadovoy hostel. Again she said no, it was the office. I rooted though some other stuff and found a voucher with apple hostel written on it, AND Na Sadovoy. She said wait a minute, made a phone call and said I was at the wrong place I was at the office. BUGGER! She called a taxi, I stood in the hallway and watched several seedy looking people come in and out. 10 mins later she said I should go out as it would be here. So I got laden up and wandered back into the cold.
About 5 mins later after looking blankly up and down the street, a taxi arrived. Again, I wedged myself in, the taxi driver seemed to know where I was going as the lady told him. We drove a while and turned up somewhere else. I was determined this time not to get out until I was sure I was where I was meant to be. We arrived on a street, the taxi man didn't seem to know exactly where I was meant to be as he started making calls then reversing down the street. At last, a picture of an apple! It was the hostel! I got out and staggered over to the gate through a pile of snow. Another gate, 2 sets of doorbells, no instructions. Argh! Thwarted again!! I stood randomly pressing buttons hoping to get in. It was about 1145pm now. Throughout the last hour I hadn't been cross, upset, worried, tearful anything, because let's face it, the last year has been more traumatic than being vaguely lost in Russia with 24 kg on my back. However now, I was just tired and a bit pissed off, not much, but I wasn't a ray of sunshine by any means as I tried to work out what I might do.
Fortunately I was rescued from throwing a tantrum by the arrival of another person who did know how to get in and attempted to talk to me. All I gathered was that he was called Alec, appeared to be Chino-Asian and knew where the hostel was. He offered to carry my rucksack but it was late, I was paranoid and fobbed him off with it being good for me to carry it. I climbed 2 flights of stone stairs a door opened and I had the biggest most surprising welcome that I had totally not expected. Inside a lovely women, called Alla, must have been about 65, welcomed me in, opened her arms to embrace me, gestured me into the hostel, took my daysack off me and got me to sit down. Ramon checked me in, Alla took me to my room then made up my bed for me and gave mea towel before ushering me into the kitchen to see if I wanted a drink. I met Irene who is a Russian doctor studying in a psychiatric hospital and living in the hostel in the same room with me.
We chatted a while, I told her where I was going on my trip and we went to the kitchen and she gave me half an apple, half an orange, 2 pieces of fried bread and some yoghurt with something weird derived from milk in it. I still have no idea what it is. It is White and crumbly and seems to have the consistency of feta. It doesn't smell amazing and is apparently made by boiling milk until it separates into wateriness and this weird crumbly stuff. I tried to mixed with yoghurt which was how it was served. I did not like. If anyone knows what it might be let me know. They seemed surprised I didn't know.
It was midnight by now, I had a quick cup of the trusty decaf Tetley tea you all know I love, which I brought. Everything seemed familiar and good. Maybe that's why when trams crash in corrie or planes land on emmerdale or half of eastenders cast are killed off on a freak killer monkey escape from the zoo, that the first thing everyone offers is a cup of tea. Because just for a moment, everything is alright again (despite the mass carnage that has just occurred and will be forgotten in 2 episodes time), it's just British.
Going back to it being midnight, half the hostel arrived in the kitchen both to see me and eat their supper. I was informed that a lot of Russians ate at this time and went to bed late and still got up early. I made my excuses and went to bed. Ear plugs in, eye mask on I tried to sleep. I woke up briefly when my fellow room mate came in and got into the squeakist bed I've heard and opened the window! I got rather chilly rather quickly, but fortunatly she closed it after a while. And I managed to sleep on feeling really quite settled.