Thursday 12th September: Moscow to St Petersburg
Ticket: 3rd class sleeper – 1681 roubles bought the day before online.
Scheduled departure/arrival times: 00:44 to 08:48
Actual departure/arrival time: 00:44 to 08:40
The train to St Petersburg was an eight-hour overnight trip, which saved on missing out on daytime exploration time and the cost of a nights accommodation. But not many photo opportunities as it was dark outside and it seemed a bit strange to ask to take photos of people as they were getting ready for bed or just waking up. I will to try to paint a picture with words.
I was booked into an open carriage and it was full. I’d been assured this was the best way to travel. In fact I would be crazy to waste money and buy a second class ticket. However getting on the train I had my doubts.
First off all my ticket caused a lot of angry questions in Russian, accusatory glares and finally a bit of stomping up and down the platform. Finally another passenger intervened on my behalf and explained the problem to me. I had not paid for bedding when booking online. I asked if I could pay now which caused more eye rolling and tuts but 112 roubles in the provodniks’s (carriage attendant) pocket and she calmed down. It all seemed a bit dramatic.
The carriage itself was modern but packed with people trying to manoeuvre luggage round others making their beds for the night. It was certainly a tight fit and the bed was the smallest the trip so far, perhaps a hobbit could lie down fully.
We left on time and I had two young Russian men opposite who seemed in good spirits and kept on hugging. One of them was quite tipsy and was working his way through a couple more beers.
An older gent and I took the other side, with me on the lower berth. He spent most of his time rearranging luggage and making sure his blankets were in order. Otherwise he was flicking through a notebook with phone-numbers scribbled in and occasional slowly typing in the numbers. Followed by some very loud phone calls, obviously not trusting the phone he spoke loud enough for his friend (probably hundreds of miles away) to hear anyway.
Adjacent there was a twenty something woman who ate 3 pears in record time before settling in front of her iPad.
By 01:30 I was wondering when people went to sleep, but others seemed fairly lively, not keen to retire to their upper berths and get off my bed! The older chap finished his calls and his attention turned to me. He kept on speaking to me even though I just smiled, nodded and said “Sorry only English, only English”. This didn’t seem to deter him.
After a while, the woman spoke up in a formal fashion “excuse me this man would like to ask you questions and I would like to translate, is that acceptable?”. I accepted, this seemed to attract the attention of the other lads and I had an audience. The questions began:
“Are you from Ireland?”
“Are you sure? You look like it.”
Then the normal chat about my freckles and red hair, trying to explain English people sometimes have this colouring as well as Irish. They didn’t seem convinced, but we moved forward to the next question: “How much do you know about English history” cautiously I answered “a bit I guess”.
I then faced a quick pop quiz on the Roman invasion and other invaders of England. After that another quick change of subject, lead to this exchange:
“What is the biggest museum in London?”
“London has a lot of museums.”
“What is the biggest one?”
I’m not sure, there’s the science one, natural history, national gallery, tate, V&A . . . . ”
“So please, the biggest?”
” I’m really not sure”
“He would like to know the biggest, please tell him which is the biggest”
“I don’t know the square footage to all the museums”
“He likes museums.”
Turned out David the older chap was also on holiday visiting some friends in Russia from his home in Armenia. Which lead to his next tough question, “Tom, tell me everything you know about Armenia.” It turns out I don’t know much.
Nevertheless I received an invite to visit some very good museums, the mountain where Noah got his Ark stuck and some skeletons of ancient Armenian giants who were over 3 meters tall. I was a little sceptical but perhaps there is some truth to what he was saying. http://greaterancestors.com/modern-armenian-fossils-giants/
This seemed to satisfy David’s questions and I spent the rest of the time explaining my trip and having normal travel chat where people had been, liked and wanted to go. Before I could go to bed the pissed Russian pretty much forced upon me a shot of tequila to help me sleep, I hate tequila.
It might have helped as I woke up as we were coming into St Petersburg. I had a very hung over new friend looking sorry for himself next to me with an explanatory empty bottle of tequila on the table.
St Petersburg looks like this in Cyrillic.
Now for some art in the Hermitage.