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Published: March 19th 2006
Unlike our longer train from Riga to Moscow, getting any substantial sleep on the journey from Moscow to St. Petersburg was hopeless. We arrived sleepy and dazed, but only had to trek a short distance to the hostel. Counter to any guess we would have put forth, the hostel had the most elaborate security system that I had even seen at a travel lodging. One code for the door, followed by a corridor monitored by camera, and then a code to get to the stairwell plus the code to enter into ones floor. It was far more trouble than it was worth, but the redeeming factor was that the showers must have been installed by firefighters due to the amount of water that gushed out. Half cleansing, half message, the showers were the highlight of the place and most of us put them to use multiple times a day. One person taking a shower was enough to turn the whole room into a sauna. Especially after my trickle trickle action back at the LCC dormitory, this was a real treat. But, there was more to St. Petersburg than the shower at the hostel. While most of the group decided to sleep
for the better part of the morning, those of us with the yearning to see everything possible ventured forth to see some huge monastic complex about 30 minutes away. Sam, Justin, Chad and I swung by a café for some power-juice and then experienced the bus system to get over to the Orthodox monastery. The whole place was being renovated, but one could appreciate the influence the church had back in the glory days by the sprawling size of the place. The whole place was painted light blue and white, a nice combination to brighten up the long winter.
Once everyone got up and ready for the day, we headed out with local tour guides for a walking tour of the city. The answer to the ‘elephant in the room’ questions is as follows: yes, the Mafia is prominent in St. Petersburg, but is not as violent as in the past. Back in the early ‘90s, there could be shootouts multiple times a day. It is much quieter now. Interestingly, not one of our tour guides (student from LCC or local) had any hope of the country making a long term turnaround. They feared that the tendency for Russia
to tolerate totalitarianism for stability would lead to leaders like Putin running the country indefinitely. Speaking of Elephants though, the Czars did receive a few as gifts. They kept them alive during the harsh winter by giving them massive amounts of vodka. They may have died during the summer from liver failure, but at least they made it through the winter! We walked from out hostel over to the winter palace (about 2 miles) and then over the river a bit to look at the opera house and St. Petersburg University, returned to the original side to see the basilica and then back to the hostel. I was now official ready to go to bed. But Chad, our program director, coaxed my out of the hostel in order to go to a Russian cultural event. The event itself didn’t get me to leave the bed, but rather the free vodka aspect of the ‘culture’. The event was really fairly decent, titled “feel yourself Russian.” We saw all kinds of dancing from different eras and, as promised, felt ourselves Russian during the intermission with Caviar and Vodka. The Caviar was not a major sell for the group; many people ventured over
to the rubbish bins after ‘trying’ it and made telling hand movements between their mouth and the bin. Personally, I didn’t think it was that bad, just didn’t get how this stuff could be that expensive. I think it gets better when you have vodka to wash it down. Being a Christian group: some ‘puritans’ didn’t partake in the complementary liquid form of feeling Russian, thus leaving the caviar taste going unchecked. Fine with me, that meant more for the realists in the group. After a good eight shoots, the second half of the program was even better. Nothing like going back to a great hostel after a fun day like this, getting quasi assaulted by the fire hydrant shower head, and falling to a vodka induced sleep dreaming of the shower in the morning. Yes, I thought I was going to enjoy St. Petersburg.
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