(Don’t) Throw Mama from the Train

Catherine the Great’s Summer Palace was magnificent! Despite the gilt everywhere, it was in fact rather more restrained than the Hermitage/Winter Palace. Summer over- the-top as compared to winter-over-the-top, if that makes sense.

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Initially we did get off at the wrong metro station – but in our defense, the name of that station and the name of the one we needed were very similar. When we couldn’t find the landmark statue of Lenin that was supposed to indicate our bus stop, we asked a nice lady…who naturally didn’t speak a word of English (very few people do) and to boot, was incredibly confused about why we were asking about a statue that clearly didn’t exist where we were standing. When we said Pushkin (name of the town), she attempted directions…in rapid and long winded Russian. Even though it was clear we understood not one word, we finally had to stop her or I feared she might never stop talking! We shortly figured out we couldn’t find the statue as we were at entirely the wrong station. Problem solved, back on the metro.

And then, like a beacon of light, I spotted another woman carrying a guidebook. As we got off the metro at our correct stop, I stalked her to see what language her guidebook was in….English! Lonely Planet! Turns out she got great instructions on negotiating the metro and the mini bus system that would ultimately get all four of us to the Summer Palace. So we latched on to her and her husband.
Incredibly, the mini bus that would take us the 40 minutes to the town of Pushkin cost 39 Rubles, or just over $1! The “guided tours” I found on the internet run into the hundreds of dollars.

I’m learning though that if you can sound out the word, you can say it. There may be 33 letters in the Cyrillic alphabet, but once you get the sounds down, there are no linguistic tricks. No silent letter q or anything.

The Summer Palace was gorgeous, full of light and mirrors and the requisite gold, and I’m sure in the summer the grounds are magnificent. Owing that is was neither the blooming season nor snow covered romantic vista time, and that it was chilly (although I think rather unseasonably warm for this time of year in this part of the country) we didn’t wander through.

The Summer Palace

The Summer Palace, in winter

Getting home was equally interesting. We took a different numbered mini bus and it seemed to arrive at the metro station in much shorter order than the outgoing one. Not being ones to fuss, we got off. Turns out we ended up at a totally different metro, but one that was on the metro line we needed. Providence looking out for us once again.

Last night we made our way from St. Petersburg to Moscow via the Red Arrow overnight train. The Red Arrow was originally the train that ferried the Russian court and nobles to and from their summer dachas. Today it’s one of the fancier trains, resplendent with plush red curtains, red carpeting and a stirring musical interlude that plays as the train departs and enters the station.

Overnight train car. Holds four.

Overnight train car. Holds four.

I’ve never been in a train compartment before, let alone slept in one overnight. It was actually quite pleasant to be lulled to sleep – especially lying down, rather than slumping on the window drooling, which is the only other way I’ve ever slept on a train!

When we arrived at our 4 person (all female) berth, there was already a woman snuggled into the top bunk. How to actually unfold the bed, and where the bedding was stored, was not immediately apparent to me, and although she tried to explain, her Russian and my English didn’t meet in the middle. Turns out, the bed was neatly tucked behind the seat and pulling the back of the seat forward revealed a perfectly made bed. Brilliant!

The train departed at almost midnight from St. P and one hour before our 7:55 am arrival an announcement was made and soft lighting turned on and breakfast appeared. Same boxed food as the last train, pate included. Mmmmmm, breakfast liver….

For some reason Mother and I had to pay for our tea and coffee, but the other 2 women in the berth, both of whom had tea, did not. In many instances I’ve found there is posted pricing for Russians  and a different posted price for Others. The price for others is essentially subsidizing the cost of the admission or whatever for the Russians. To add a little insult to injury, my coffee was THREE TIMES the price of Mother’s tea!!! (99 Rubles for both).

And after a cab ride with a really surly cabbie who crashed his cab against the back end of a stationary van…that was exciting… and who wanted to let us out in the middle of a busy intersection because it was easier…we declined (and a policeman yelled at him) …we’re back in Moscow at the Hotel Vega. Home sweet home in Russia! We’re on a renovated floor this time. Complimentary fluffy robes.

To top off our Russian adventure, we’re taking an evening cruise down the Moscow River to see the city lit up from the water. They do know how to illuminate buildings to their best effect in this country.

Moscow at night, from the Moscow River

Moscow at night, from the Moscow River

Fingers crossed that our Aeroflot plane will be of a slightly newer vintage on the way back…or that the movie will be something other than The Wedding Singer, although the selection of movies you can still find on a VHS tape is, admittedly, limited…

We’ve had a wonderful time in Russia. It was definitely a culture shock….but I think we’ve managed very well. And so das vi danya, Mother Russia. Thanks for the memories.

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