Monday, September 9, 2013

Sleepless in Saint Petersburg

We take the red-eye from MAD to LED. It's the only flight there is - leaves at midnight, gets in at 6:30. Four hours in the air is not really a night, and I can't sleep. It's so hot I can barely breathe, and the headrest can't be adjusted. Tall Guy is asleep. The Russian to my right is asleep. I can't find a flight attendant for a glass of water. I sleep for a bit with my head on the tray, and my neck gets stiff. Read or cry? Read.

peter and paul cathedral
We land and get through customs quickly. Tall Guy gets riled up when one bank machine is out of cash and the next one has a broken number pad, but the third time's a charm and we get some cash.

Ditch the taxis - 3000 Rubles for 10 km? No way, Jose Vlad! We hop on a bus, and the ticket seller motions to us when it's our stop. We transfer to the metro. Down, down, down. Functional. We walk to our bed and breakfast, past St Isaac's church. It's beautiful. It's too early to check in, but I gratefully accept a cup of coffee from our hostess. I am revived. "St Petersburg, so interesting", she says. "So many things to see". 

voting for the russian pope?
We start by walking along the embankment and checking out the Hermitage, and the enormous palace square. Huge! Impressive! Ornate! Gold! Historic! We haven't slept enough to converse, one word at a time is the limit. We keep walking and cross a long, long bridge, at the end of which, beckoning to us like a lighthouse in a storm, is a Burger King. Breakfast. I chalk that decision up to tiredness, and now I'm wired: 
We walk through the Fortress of Peter and Paul. The sky is so blue, that intense, autumnal shade of blue, and the church is so, so yellow, and the gold so bright. We see people swimming on "the beach" and I kind of want to join in, despite the wonderful, crisp air.

We wander back across the bridge and through the Mars Fields, where Russians are leaving flowers by the eternal flame. We see a flock of sparrows descend upon a hedge, and  then we're at the Church of Our Saviour on Spilled Blood. The colourful domes do not look real - I've stepped onto a movie set, but no, this is Russia. We are serenaded by a guitarist. We give him some change as we hurry along the canal to Nevsky Prospekt - all of a sudden I'm desperately thirsty. We find a mini-mart. "Market? Barely a Chino!" scoffs Tall Guy, but it will do.

church of our saviour on spilled blood
We stroll alllll the way up the grand street to the train station, which we check out for Friday's trip to Moscow. It's busy, but not too crowded, and definitely manageable despite the Cyrillic. I'm glad I memorized the alphabet.

Down, down, down we go again to the subway, and we get out at an enormous Catholic church. It's warm in the sun and we don't need our sweaters. We walk back to St Isaac's - closed, according to the sign, but from a distance we see people up on the observation deck. We circle back and find an entrance tucked away at the back, from where we can access the lookout. We pay a small fee and climb 267 steps, both worth it for the views. St Petersburg is sprawling. Ten, fifteen, I loose count of the cranes in the port. Fifteen, twenty, Tall Guy looses count of the church domes.

so very, very tired!
Somehow, we're at our B&B. We crash into bed and are dead to the world for two hours. I can't wake up, but I get up and a cold rain shower with jets invigorates me, not fully, but enough for an evening tour.

My stomach is growling, and we see a pie shop. It's closed. It's after nine, but still so light. Hungry, we take more pictures of St Isaac's against a streaky pink and purple sky. We ride on a bus and get off in front of a recommended restaurant. It doesn't convince us, and we go for nice Chinese instead.  My tea is hot and fragrant, the noodles are plentiful and the beef dish is enormous. We can't finish. As we leave, an entire Peking Duck is brought out for one man.
sunset over st isaac's
By now I'm so exhausted everything seems pretty funny, so we pass on evening views of Spilled Blood and ride a tram almost to our door. It's not how we imagined it - well, not exactly. It is definitely Russia. There are Soviet vibes, blatant in architecture and subtle in fashion and public transport. People are friendly and proud of their bright, clean city. I don't know - I'm tired. We sleep.

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