The wind chill and the dampness here are bone chilling.
Russians are simply wearing head to toe fur in a concerted effort not to freeze to death. Clearly PETA has met its match here. And so I am likewise bundled in my (faux fur) hat, which leads me to wonder, what’s Russian for “hat head”, ‘cause I’ve got it. And why do I seem to be the only one suffering from it? I’d love to get my hands on the miracle hair product that allows other women to wear all manner of shapes and styles of hats, and remove them to reveal a perfect coif underneath. I, on the other hand, desperately run my fingers through my hair in a vain attempt to fluff up my fine locks and coax some volume. I’m thinking the medieval hotel hair dryer is not helping the issue.
The fear of hat head does explain the elaborate braids I’ve seen on some women Big, wide braids plaited down the backs of their heads, belying a thickness of strand and mane I can only dream of.
It’s generally rather more dark than I expected, but of course it’s the opposite of White Nights. By 10 am the streetlights finally turn out. And it’s rainy… and NOT SNOWING. No gentle dusting of powder to give everything a romantic glow. It’s not quite the Russia of my imagination…but the upside is no salt stains on my boots.
Today we traveled by train to St. Petersburg. There are 2 ways to get from the capital Moscow to its younger rival, St. Petersburg. You can take the arduous journey back to the airport and board a flight, or take a short taxi ride into the city centre and catch the train, a far and away more civilized way to travel. Depending on the train class you select, both can ways can be similarly priced.
But that’s where the similarities end.
We purchased 2nd class tickets on a high speed train that guaranteed we would arrive in St. Petersburg four hours later and on time. And we absolutely do. Like Mussolini and his obsession to ensure the Italian trains would run on time, so the Soviets have ensured on time arrivals. To. The. Minute.
Train travel is clearly the preferred way for Russians to travel between their largest cities, because the train is packed, and save for the Vietnamese couple beside us, we are the only non-Russians in the train car.
Our tickets include a boxed dinner (I did not partake of the pate provided, but I am bringing it home for the cats…they need a souvenir too…), sleep mask and ear plugs to wear while very comfortably reclining.
I close my eyes and imagine this is what air travel in the golden age must have been like… Moscow is a city that never sleeps, and like Las Vegas the lights never really go out. As we hurtle deeper into the countryside, it becomes very clear that outside the city limits is a very different Russia (and because we’re travelling both ways on the train at night, one we’ll never see!). This is the first time I’ve experienced what it is to be in the pitch dark outdoors. The darkness literally envelopes us and I’m certain our train cutting through the night is far and away the brightest dot on the landscape.
As we alight from the train, it becomes immediately apparent that although Moscow suffers from the architectural blight of Stalin and the Communists, they appear to have left frothy St. Petersburg largely untouched by brutalist architecture.
And that’s just what I can see in the dark. Then suddenly, without warning all the beauty and awe crash down around our feet. Because our hotel is only one metro stop followed by a 2 minute walk from the station, we elect to use the metro.
There are stairs EVERYWHERE. Even though the extremely deep metro stations provide escalators to ground level (the one from our metro station to street level probably took about 3 minutes to travel the distance, and at a fairly severe pitch). And that’s helpful. But then we have to manipulate and manoeuvre and coax and struggle very heavy bags up and down countless stairs through overheated buildings to finally get out onto the street.
By the time we locate M-Hotel (down a side street, through an alley and into an interior courtyard of an old apartment block), we are done. The ease and joy of train travel a distant memory (and a case of hat head so severe as to not even bear thinking about again), we literally collapse in our tiniest of rooms, our home for the next 5 days.