The soft white fluffy flakes of snow gently landed on the city of St Petersburg. Covered in a dark grey cloud, the day started in a gloomy slow haze. It’s official, my cold has gone from a maybe to a yes, in fact despite any denial I am indeed sick. Given my normal 3-day incubation it would put the culprit as the day in Ivalo where I hiked in the snow, hands and feet damp and freezing, exposed to someone with a cough and sniffles, all combined with poor sleep the prior two nights – it was a perfect storm that even my EmergenC packs couldn’t prevent.
Normally getting sick is part of life, however getting sick in a country very different from yours, with short time spans to see everything you spent a fortune to come here for, is a different story. I knew at the time of exposure it was a risk and the impacts it could cause and proceeded anyway. So here we are. Time to knock down the Sudafed I brought from home and see if we can kick it quickly. Fingers crossed!!
Needless to say being sick has impacted my endurance and ability to trudge around in the snow to see much of anything this morning. I did venture out for about an hour, snow pummeling down, moistening all my layers and decided to duck into the mall for some warmth. Wandering around I admired the gorgeous fur hats and scarves. Probably the pretty fur hats I’d ever seen (likely the most expensive too). This was certainly a high end mall I stumbled upon with men in suits opening the doors and everyone dressed to the nines. I’m not sure my attire made the cut, but whatever, it was warm and dry and pretty. Not being able to go more than a couple minutes without needing a tissue, it was quickly time to head back to the hotel.
Grabbing my ever so full duffel and lugging it down the three flights of stairs and into the snow, sniffling and coughing the whole way, I was bound for the train station to Moscow. No easy way to get there. Back to the subway station and down into the deep deep depths of Russia for what has to be the deepest subway system in the world. Not being able to face forward without getting vertigo, I set my heavy duffle to the side so it didn’t impact my balance and turned around and counted in Spanish to distract myself. Luckily my Spanish isn’t very good so it required significant concentration to get to 100 which at that point I gave up and turned around for the last little jaunt until we were at the bottom.
The subways were fairly crowded for the lunch time rush and I had to squeeze myself and my bag on. It was so crowded I didn’t have anything to hold on to and being sick my balance isn’t great so I swayed back and forth with the train and tried not to fall on anyone until we got the two stops. Down the hall, up the stairs, down the stairs, up the escalator, down the hall to the next subway platform and another packed train. Repeat of swaying, maybe a few stepped on toes, nothing a smile couldn’t remedy. Between the sniffles and the swaying, I was certainly that person you try to avoid on the train so eventually I got a little space to hold on.
Perhaps it was being sick and not fully functioning, but once we got to the main train station for Moscow, I couldn’t for the life of myself figure out how to navigate it. Everything was in Russian of course, but it wasn’t feeling intuitive today. The big board didn’t show the train to Moscow, or it at least all the Russian words didn’t show a departure of 13:08. Hoping the nice lady at the info booth could help, I whipped out my Google Translate ‘how do I please catch the train to Moscow?’ Which was only followed by Russian that slowly escalated to frustrated Russian as I clearly was not understanding. Google Translate ‘can you please point to where the train to Moscow is?’. She pointed off to the left. However, to the left I had three options, through a door, through a hallway, or through a gate. Using Google Translate I attempted to ask which one, but to no avail, I flying blind!
I decided on the hallway, primarily because it looked like the easiest as I wasn’t sure how to get through the door or gate as most those require tickets and security checks and it all seemed complicated when I had no idea if it was the right way or not. There are 4-5 major train stations in St Petersburg and my ticket only said train station ‘G’ which by Google does not exist. So after doing some searches it seemed highly likely it would be the Moskovsky rail station which is where I was, fingers crossed, and slightly uncertain if I’d guessed correctly. Anyhow, it turned out the hallway was the correct choice, as I rounded the corner there it was, a big board with lots of Russian and a 13:08 train. Yes! I checked my train number 767. There was a 767 on the same line as the 13:08. That must be it – yes! So anxious to confirm the train and make sure I was in the right spot, I went through the security check only to realize all the food was behind me. Darn. Guess I’ll learn how to navigate that Russian speaking food coach! Ha!
We all piled on the train, with no respect for a line or who was first, people would just jut in if space existed which meant everyone huddled closely with no regard to personal space. Passports and tickets were checked one by one. The train filled up row after row, seat after seat, this was going to be a packed train. Luggage racks at the front were available, though wanting to keep an eye on my stuff, chose to put it on the rack above my seat and secure it in with my rope lock. All set for the journey!
The train from St Petersburg to Moscow runs a few times per day and leverages a high speed rail cutting the duration from the old 9 hours into 4 hours. Not bad at all. Staff roll what looks like an airplane cart through the aisles asking tea, juice, coffee, snacks for purchase. There was a TV screen in the center of each coach, which unfortunately was directly above my head so unless I cranked my neck back I couldn’t see it. Shortly after we got going I realized since my phone was completely wiped I had no music… My book was locked in the duffle which was a bit like Alcatraz to get into… So what the heck, I spent the 4 hours listening to the Russian movies without being able to see them or understand anything they were saying, but it was at least some form of entertainment. Too bad Eurorail doesn’t allow you to choose seats so I could have got a window to look out at least. First world problems.
The dining car was in the middle of the train and despite the lack of English speaking, they did have an English menu. Awesomeness. Surprisingly decent selection of soups, sandwiches, warm plates, cold plates, and drinks. My chicken and mashed potatoes came in a TV dinner box that they had heated for me in the microwave. Grabbing my TV dinner and cappuccino I made my way to look for an open seat. The coach car was filled with families, business partners, and a variety of people deep in conversation. Off in the corner was a woman who had sprawled out taking up a four person table and looking a bit bohemian. She would be my eating partner for the next little bit. I was just so excited to have a few moments to look out the window. There is a world outside this little metal speeding tube!
Back at my chair enjoying the Russian magazines and other random things in my seat back pocket, I continued to listen to the Russian movies. The first was a black and white movie about a woman who had many large emotional gestures about things, of what, I have no clue. The second movie was a bunch of men on a pirate ship where people kept ending up dead and eventually they were on a deserted island. Given my inability to speak Russian and the limited times I cranked my neck to see the screen, that’s about all I gleamed from the 4 hours of ‘movie watching’.
When we pulled into the Moscow station everyone eagerly bundled by the door so they could quickly get out all at once like one unified mass with no space in between them. Undoing my Fort Knox like security system, by the time I got to the door it was much more easy going. Unlike St Petersburg, this time we were let off into the train station with lights, and people, and food kiosks. It instantly felt much more comfortable despite the fact the sun was setting and dark was quickly closing in.
Finding the subway system was a bit more of a task than I had imagined. Perhaps because I wasn’t functioning well because of being sick or perhaps because it wasn’t intuitive, who knows. Once I got off I didn’t see any signs for a subway, so I followed the commuter trains signs, though they led me to a ticket checkpoint. The security guard there pointed for me to go through and down the stairs, so I did, but it led me to another ticket checkpoint. The security guard there said for me to go back up the stairs – but wait, that’s where I just came from?
Back up the stairs, I searched around, where oh where would a subway sign be until there it was, in the distance. Yes. Heading that direction it ran me into another ticket check point. Um, I don’t see any places to buy tickets anywhere. The security guard there said to go through the check point and down the stairs. When I went to try to go through the check point it wouldn’t let me, not this one, not the ones over there, not any of them. Hmm… The next security guard I found was kind enough to override the system and let me through. Probably easier than continuing the Google Translate + Charades game that had ensued in my attempts of finding the subway and said tickets.
There it was like a beacon of light, a big building with the words Metro plastered all over it. Yes! The doors directly in front of me had a picture of a person with a red line like do not enter. Lugging my duffel and sniffling, I circled the entire building. Not this door, not this door, not this door. No way to get in. Oh my god. This fiasco had gone on for over an hour and it was dark, I was sick, cold, and just wanted it to be over. So I did it, I went in the do not enter doors and my Google Translate begging must have been more compelling because the guy literally walked me outside, around the corner, down the stairs, and around another corner until I was there. The Metro! Hallelujah!
Everything after that was a piece of cake. I’d printed a Google Maps routing back in New York and validated it with the lovely Russian literature on the train and I was set. The subway station had very well marked (in Russian) maps once I got off which I was able to correspond to the Google maps pictures of where parks should be, where the round street should be rounded, etc. to line it up. Three blocks south and one block east – I’m on it. The hotel was right in the center of the historic district with a tiny entrance off the main road that zigzags through an alley. Up the four flights of stairs, and I was finally at my room. Awe…
At this point it was getting to be about dinner time, though being sick, I wasn’t really hungry. It took every once of energy I had to force myself to go out and get something to eat. I was surprised to see what a popular destination it was for the Japanese – there were a TON of Japanese restaurants and apparently sushi is huge here. My sore throat immediately thought that sounded great – bring on the ramen noodle soup! Luckily there were a handful of Japanese restaurants in a short walk from the hotel so I had my pick. However, no English menu… So I pretty much had to order via Google Translate listing off things I’d eat until the waiter said ‘da’ meaning yes we have that.
No late night for me, no night life, no cocktails, this lady is going back to the hotel to read and go to bed and hope the nighttime Sudafed fixes me before tomorrow.