We know that, traveling like this in unusual places, things aren’t always going to work and I’m trying to achieve a little bit of a Zen approach when things don’t work the way we want them to. I’m still intrigued with the guy on the mashrutka going up to Tomsk who woke up to find rain leaking on him and just closed his eyes to go back to sleep. I want more of that, to go along with all the great sites and great food and interesting people.
So what are some of the things that don’t or haven’t worked well lately? A constant irritant is the lack of laundry facilities across Russia. Essentially there are no laundromats or laundry services. I’m not sure what all the Russians do – surely not everyone has their own washer and dryer? – but there just have not been anything for tourists. And hotel prices for laundry can be insane – $27 to wash a pair of pants at our last hotel in Moscow. Seriously. So Mark & I have become adept at washing clothes in the sink. And while that’s not as convenient as a washer and dryer, I remind myself that there are probably a billion women in the world who would find the notion of doing laundry with hot running water a real luxury.
And now, on our first full day in St. Petersburg, we discover that there are laundromats here. You have no idea how excited we are. Three-hundred-ten years and 29 days ago Peter the Great founded the city to try to orient Russia towards Europe; in this regard, at least, his city seems to have succeeded. Go Peter!
Then there was the whole issue of getting to St. Petersburg. There are a bunch of trains between Moscow & here, so we just didn’t think it would be an issue. Wrong. There are dozens of trains, but the fast trains – four or five hours – apparently get booked well in advance. So our choices were a nine hour train ride at really bad times or a 90-minute flight that was half the price. We wanted to do the entire trans-Russia trip overland, but we rolled with that punch and flew up here.
(We did take a train from the center of Moscow where we were staying to the airport. Oddly, after thousands of miles on the rails where trains were amazingly punctual, arriving and leaving on time, this was the one train that was very late. Left on time, but took 90 minutes for what was supposed to be a 50-minute trip. Trying to get to the airport to catch a flight, my Zen ambitions were notably failing as we just sat with no idea when the train would start again. As it turns out, we made the flight.)
Arriving in St. Petersburg, our hotel was the next obstacle. Prices are just unbelievable here at the peak White Nights period, but Mark found one reasonably affordable place; expensive, but we could manage. The checkin process was horrible, waiting in line for 20 minutes before one of just two staff people were available. We get up to the room and discover that the AC isn’t working. We call downstairs and they say “Yes, we’re aware. It’ll be fixed next week.” It’s at least 80 degrees in the room, probably warmer, and we’re paying a lot. So we go downstairs and wait another 30 minutes to talk with someone. Nothing they can do they say except refund our money. So we check out.
All’s well, it turns out. Mark finds this great little three-star hotel in a much better location that’s available for two nights. Very Old World Euro-feel to it and we love it. And then this morning he finds another hotel available for our last two nights at a great price. So what seemed like a disaster – we thought there was definitely a chance we’d just have to leave St. Petersburg early – has turned out pretty sweet for us.
The exciting news about our stay here is that Mark’s parents got here yesterday as well, on a river boat from Moscow. So we had dinner with them last night on their boat and will find other times to get together over the next couple days. It seemed like that wasn’t going to work so well when we couldn’t find a hotel for tomorrow and the next day, but now all is well. So far, at least…