St. Petersburg, Russia
After my first night’s late finish (it felt like an eternity but I’d only had one single evening in Russia and it seemed like Copenhagen and Helsinki were long gone) I arose with Katya and Anton. I was on a narrow mattress on the floor, with my head not far from the kitty litter box. Hmmmm. Katya kindly took me to a bank to change my GB Pounds. Apparently everything but USD and Euros are called ‘coloured’ currencies and to exchange them a passport is required. I didn’t have it on me so I returned there later on my own. She went off to work which is actually right under their room in the same building. Anton is a clock repairer. They both work flexible hours I think, as it was after mid to late morning when they were getting off to work.
I headed off toward the historical centre but was substantially waylayed down at the water’s edge where on the eastern edge of Vasilevsky Island I happened upon the favoured spot for just-married couples and their merry drink-toting entourages to light paper balloons and set them floating up over the River Neva. Then there was the customary ritual of the newly weds to drink a glass of champagne together and then smash the glasses on the granite pillar. Later I saw a council worker sweeping the mess up, only to have another nuptial party come and do it all again.
I walked alot today. And I had tired feet at the end. I suppose walking on concrete and cobble stones is different to the clay and slush of Cornwall’s southwest coast path, where I never felt the soreness of feet much.
This is a beautiful place for its people (I must say there is a disproportionate amount of beautiful women in this city and it seems most are smokers – in fact most people smoke if appears) and it’s empire-sized architectural feats and wonders. The multi-onion-domed churches are fanciful and the colours too are vibrant. The view from the coronade of St Isaccs Cathedral is awesome, with 360 degree views over all of the city. Later, I came upon a Military Police training parade on the huge Palace Square in front of the Hermitage and it was reminiscent of those huge parades we’ve all seen during the Soviet-era. I then discovered the many canals that cut through the city. They were invariably plied by tourist barges. But I happened to be standing by a canal when a pod of screaming jet skis tore through on what looked to be a pleasure outing. The drivers reveled in turning and careening in such a way as to send huge crashing waves of murky sea water up over the high granite block walls that framed the winding canals, wetting the cars parked at the edge of the canal walls.
Much like the logic and thoroughness of the Russian language, there are large digital count-down timers (electronic displays) at the traffic lights telling pedestrians and drivers alike how long they have until the lights change. As a pedestrian I find this useful, knowing how long one has left to cross wide busy streets.
By the time I walked home to meet Anton and Katya it was 20:30. I invited them out to dinner and asked they suggest a place. Anton was making his famous Ukraine borsch (beetroot soup). So after he’d finished that and set it aside we went out to eat. The customary vodka was sampled between Anton and I and he, being a proud Ukraine, toasted me in Ukrainian. Katya was the ever ready translator. After a few light plates shared (in a smoke-filled atmosphere I’m afraid!) and some more unfiltered local Island brews, we went on to another late night basement establishment, where locals gather to play board games and a kind of mini shuffle game, played on a special table covered in fine silicate sand grains, upon which the heavy ‘pucks’ slide ever so slowly and gracefully. The aim is to push your ‘pucks’ with the right amount of force so that they slide closest to the other end of the narrow table without falling off the edges or the end into the gutters. We had ‘zakuski’ (food specifically to accompany/follow drinking, especially vodka). And after a couple of small samples of some fine vodka including a honey and peppered variety, I stuck to the fine unfiltered dark ales. We then played some darts.
I was amazed that this place was open so late. We left at 03:30 and it was still open. Katya had taken Anna on ahead. And when we got back to the room, Anna was crashed out drunk on the floor next to my mattress. I think she over did it on the cocktails at dinner. And it was my shout.
It was 4am. I think I’m leaving The Hermitage until last I think!