Sunday, 6 July 2014

Russia: St. Petersburg

Things have been pretty crazy busy lately, getting back into the swing of things at work. But I do want to finish up my blogs about Russia before I forget how it all happened! It’s crazy to think that just a month ago I was packing up all my stuff and moving out of the flat. It seems so long ago, but at the same time I feel like it just happened.

So to continue with my Russia trip in St. Petersburg… (note: the next two days were some of the worst I’ve ever experienced due to the fact that I was still sick.)

June 14: I spent most of the day willing myself to feel better, which I didn’t. I was able to go and buy some tea (recommended by one of my friends from Belarus for these infections) and get some food and cranberry juice and water from the grocery store. I also got Cinnabon because there was one 3 minutes away from my hostel on Nevskii Prospekt and look at all the fucks I give. However, I finally decided that I was not feeling better and needed to go to the doctor. Again, note: one of the most traumatic experiences of my life. I went to the EuroMed clinic, which has English-speaking doctors (thank god). Side note: on the trolleybus on the way there, my proudest Russian-language moment happened—a woman asked me how much the trolleybus trip cost, and I responded with the correct amount in rubles (25). That’s right, I used numbers in Russian in real life!!! To continue with the story of being sick: first I had to sit (and cry) in the lobby since they wouldn’t let me see the doctor until they worked out my insurance stuff. Unfortunately, the European coverage I had bought through Luther expired a week ago (it began 9/9/13 and ended 6/8/14 and this was written American, not European style because my life sucks) so I ended up having to pay $431 up front. Luckily all they did was a urine sample and blood test, and Dr. Andrei was a very nice man who held a cup of my pee in one hand and my hand in his other hand when I got my blood drawn and was crying and said I wanted my mom. I got a bunch of different prescriptions, paid my $431, and got to the apteka and bought all the stuff. I would love to say that my horrors were over, but one of the medications was the most painful thing I have ever experienced in my life.

June 15: Due to being in extreme and unbearable pain, I was up around 5:00am and met an angel named Yulia at reception, who hugged me as I was crying and gave me her water and sat me down and talked to me and did my laundry for free so I could have clean clothes and made me a bed on the couch in the hostel common room so I could sleep. Needless to say, I did not feel well enough to start doing tourist things, but I was able to walk to the grocery store and buy more cranberry juice (since I was chugging a carton a day). I took the painful medication for the last time this night, since as I was lying in my bed I realized that it hurt to cry, since my chin was slightly trembling and that hurt. So since I’m not masochistic I decided to be done and stop taking it since nothing that is supposed to make you feel better should put you in that much pain. In case anyone is reading this in horror, I would just like to say that the worst is over from this point on.

June 16: My amazing Yulia came in that morning with tons of different things and medicines for me, which worked and I felt significantly better. I knew I needed to take it easy, so I only planned on doing one thing: the Peter and Paul Fortress to see Nicky and family’s graves. I walked along the Neva past all the palaces and got onto the fortress, which is on an island. The fortress itself is free, but I got a ticket for the cathedral and prison. I saw Peter the Great’s creepy as fuck death mask, and then went to the cathedral. It was weird, since I felt like I had already been there, since I’ve watched the Romanov funeral (more than once…). It is a beautiful cathedral, with all the Romanov tsars buried there—Peter the Great, Catherine the Great, Nikolai I, Alexander I, II, and III (Alexander III and his wife, Marie Feodorovna have a beautiful grave), along with so many others. The Romanov family, my family, is buried in a separate chapel which is roped off. I could tell that they knew I was coming though, since there was a break in the tourist action just long enough for a nice Asian lady to take my picture there. I felt really calm, and I barely cried—I was just at peace. I have spent so much time waiting for this moment and dreaming of the day it would finally happen, and being able to finally be with my people, especially after having been so sick the past few days and feeling like I’d never make it, was incredible. To sum up the experience with my favorite Martin Luther King Jr. quote:

"Occasionally in life there are those moments of unutterable fulfillment which cannot be completely explained by those symbols called words. Their meanings can only be articulated by the inaudible language of the heart."

Other things that happened on June 16 after this: I started on my most important task, buying every single Romanov souvenir possible, went to the prison and learned a lot about the conditions of prisoners and the jail itself as it switched hands to the Bolsheviks, as well as seeing Gorky, Trotsky, Lenin’s brother, and Anna Vyrubova’s cells. Also walked and got to see a lot of St. Petersburg (Rostral columns) on my way back to the hostel, where I was taking it pretty easy. Crazy small fucking world: one of the friends I had met at my hostel in Moscow turned up this night in my hostel in St. Petersburg AND in my room. Small. World. Absolutely crazy!

June 17: Guess who was finally feeling better and then got to stand in line at the Hermitage for an hour and a half?! Me! It was totally worth it though, since I was able to get in for free (after some disaster trying to buy a ticket and no one in Russia accepting/being able to read my Notts id). FO FREE!!!!! They didn’t allow water bottles, which was bullshit, so I had to check it in the cloakroom. BUT I finally made it in and got to wander around the Winter Palace pretending I was Anastasia from the 1998 20th Century Fox animated movie and singing Once Upon a December to myself. Yes, that happened. Best surprise of my life: they had an exhibit that had the clothes of the royal family!!! My family’s clothes!!!!! Nicky’s jackets, Alexei’s uniforms, Alix’s dresses, dresses belonging to the girls, tons of beautiful dresses belonging to Marie Feodorovna (Nicky’s mom—she was such a stylish lady!), and stuff Catherine the Great wore too. It was amazing! You know you’re a Romanov nerd when you walk into a room and recognize Alexei’s coat from pictures before you even read the description… Besides that, I bypassed a lot of the art shit there because I hate art, but just being in the rooms was amazing. They were all so beautiful, I can’t believe how many there were. And even the ugly rooms were pretty! I saw Da Vinci’s “Madonna with Child” since apparently that’s a famous painting…it was just incredible to be there. Next up I went to the Church of the Savior of Spilled Blood, which was beautiful! From the outside, I kind of feel like it was St. Petersburg’s answer to St. Basil’s Cathedral. It was totally different inside though, all these beautiful mosaics covering all the walls and ceilings and tons of marble/stone. It was so tall! They had a canopy roped off where Alexander II was assassinated and a red cross of flowers. It was hard to blink! I hit up the Kazansky Cathedral on my way back to the hostel, which was gorgeous and really interesting, since it’s actually a working cathedral. So I got to observe Russian Orthodoxy at it’s finest, which was great.

June 18: Saw the statue of the Bronze Horseman (!!!) and hit up the Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography in the morning. It was cool and interesting—they had displays about the peoples of China, Mongolia, Korea, Japan, India, Malaysia, Native Americans, etc. The major attraction is the exhibit of Peter the Great’s collection of “monsters,” which was gross and creepy but the main reason I went. Lots of deformed fetuses with a variety of different problems, animal fetuses, skeletons of deformed animals, etc. Gross but really cool. I walked around Isaac’s Cathedral (beautiful!) on my way to my next stop, the Yusupov Palace. In a basement room in this palace is where Rasputin was murdered, but unfortunately they weren’t doing a Rasputin tour that afternoon. BUT the palace is absolutely stunning, wow. So beautiful, every room was something different, and they even had their own theater!!! Started my hardcore souvenir shopping, and finally went to the greatest place on earth, a fast food chain called Teremok where I ate blini and gave zero fucks. It was clutch. I took a nap at the hostel and then went out to go do more souvenir shopping and try to buy a shapka (fur hat), and ended up buying 14 postcards of Nicky and fam instead. #lookatallthefucksigive

June 19: My last full day in Russia! Started the day off right by ending my shapka quest—I am now the owner of a beautiful rabbit gray-colored shapka! I headed to Moskovskaya Metro station, where I successfully got the right minibus taxi out to Tsarskoe Selo. Let me just say, minibus taxi’s are sketch as fuck—it’s basically a big van that you hop in, pay the driver (if there are no seats in back you just hop up front and sit with the driver) and whenever you want to get off you just go tell the driver. #russia I got to Tsarskoe Selo (“tsar’s village”) and waited in the queue for the Catherine Palace for TWO GODDAMN HOURS (IN THE RAIN!) to get inside, but it was definitely worth it. I didn’t get a headset thing, and was able to go on the next tour group but it was all in Russian. So I didn’t understand what the lady was saying, but damn is that a nice palace. It was gorgeous. Even though we were there for less than an hour and constantly shuffled around other tour groups (and I felt like we barely saw any of it), it was amazing. The rooms were just all so beautiful! Gold everywhere! Wow. I wandered around Catherine Park for a bit before making my way to the significantly less crowded (aka there was no queue at all and there was probs a grand total of 10 other people besides myself there) Alexander Palace. Nicky and fam always loved the Alexander Palace way more, since it was smaller, more intimate, and less crowded. I agree. They only have 3 of the State Rooms furnished, since the other rooms (the Romanov Suite--!!!!!!!) didn’t have any surviving furnishings. It was just incredible to be there and stand there and walk there and know that these are the very rooms that all my people lived in. Alexei’s Bedroom, Alix’s Mauve Boudoir (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!), Nicky’s Library, Nicky’s Garderobe, everything. In the last room (Nicky’s Study), they had a photograph on the wall. It was my picture, the one of Nicky and George in their matching sailor suits with their boys. I cried so hard, it was just like my entire life had come full circle. I’ve had a copy of almost this exact picture framed on my desk for years, and then I was standing in this room where they had this same picture on the wall. Wow. Anyway, the rest of my day after sobbing my way through the Romanov Suite: got back to St. Petersburg and ran around on the Metro to two stations that were used in filming Stilyagi (Стиляги). Ate more blini and bought more expensive souviners. I got this beautiful scarf, it was really expensive but I just don't care. Then I packed all my stuff to get ready to leave the next morning!

June 20: I got the Metro to Moskovskaya to get a bus to the airport. Now, here is a nice story called Vanya Tries to Go to Pulkovo Dva: when my dear friend Vanya visited me in England, his (international) flight was supposed to leave from Pulkovo 2, the international terminal. Instead, he showed up to find out (to his horror), that there was no airport and no flights were operating out of Pulkovo 2 and that he had to get to Pulkovo 1. Now, wouldn't it have been helpful if I had remembered this story before I got on the bus to Pulkovo 2?! Yes. Yes it would have been helpful. So to sum up, this is the reason why I plan on giving myself 3 hours at the airport before my flight leaves. I got on a bus to Pulkovo 2, and got off at Pulkovo 2 only to realize, to my absolute horror, that there were no planes, no airport, and no people. (And wouldn't it have been nice if any of the 50000000 Russians crammed on the bus with me had mentioned that no flights were leaving from Pulkovo 2?!) So, stranded alone with my backpack in the rain in the middle of literally nowhere Russia, I managed to get on a bus. However, it was not going to Pulkovo 1 or back to the city center. Luckily, by some miracle, a very nice man and/or angel who spoke English told me that I could take this bus and then switch for another one back to the city. So I got on a minibus taxi back to Moskovskaya and then took the correct bus to Pulkovo 1. I arrived at Pulkovo 1, waited around for fucking ever, then this AirBaltic bitch tried to scare me about my bag. It fit into the sizer just fine, but since only one item of hand baggage was allowed she said I would have to repack my bag and put my purse in my backpack. (She also tried to give me shit about my plastic bag with my shapka in it which I obviously said was airport shopping, and she asked "duty-free airport shopping? " to which I responded with a resounding "yes. ") So basically I got through security and passport control with no problems (they let me out of the country! Yay!) and then panicked, and went and took tons of shit out of my backpack so that it would look smaller, because the AirBaltic lady said that if it still looked big she would ask me to put it in the sizer at the gate and if it didn’t fit she’d charge me 60€. Now, ain’t nobody got money fo’ dat. Anyway, she was messing with the wrong person. I used all my favorite tricks (took tons of shit out of my backpack and instead put it in the pockets of my jackets and there was barely anything in my backpack now, put my purse in my “airport shopping” bag, threw out literally everything I didn’t need, had my shortalls on top just in case I would need to wear them on the plane, etc.) and then I finally get to the gate and this AirBaltic bitch is letting EVERY SINGLE PERSON ON WITH TWO ITEMS OF HAND BAGGAGE. Like seriously?! SERIOUSLY. Every single person in front of me had a purse/bag and a backpack/suitcase. Seriously. I had a quick flight to Riga, where I had a 3 hour layover (I spent 2 hours of it freaking out that the bus to switch terminals wouldn’t come and that I’d miss my next flight), and then had my flight to London. It was so beautiful, coming back home to England for one final day. Flying over the country I love most was incredible. I made it safely back through passport control (a country where people are nice!!! And chat with you! And are nice!) and to my friend’s flat where I got to finally shower and then repack all my stuff. Again.

I’m going to leave it off here for now, because this blog post is insanely long and I can’t really deal with it. I think I’ll do one more about my last day in London because it was just incredible and amazing and perfect.

I still can’t believe my trip to Russia happened. It was something I had been dreaming about for so long, a big part of my life. I faced so many setbacks, especially as a woman traveling alone. People said some pretty horrible things to me, things to try to scare me and convince me that I couldn’t follow my dream because I was a woman and women can’t go to Russia alone. (For the record, I would just like to say that Russia was the only country out of every country I visited this year where I was not catcalled or harassed on the street at all. Not once. I wish I could experience more cultures and places where I don’t repeatedly experience street harassment and sexism every time I walk outside the door. Anyway, moving on.) But, I knew that I was a good traveler, a safe traveler, and I’ve been blessed with a lot of street smarts and common sense that have made me a very confident solo traveler. I’m officially that girl who goes off to Russia by herself for two weeks, and I couldn’t be prouder. It was a trip for me to be with my people, who will forever be a part of my life. I’d just like to thank everyone who supported me and help make this dream possible! I couldn’t have done it without you and your encouragement. It means everything to me. Okay! Here are some pictures :)

Cathedral in the Peter and Paul Fortress
Finally at the Romanov graves :)

Winter Palace
Inside the Hermitage!

Church of the Savior of Spilled Blood
Kazansky Cathedral
Bronze Horseman
Isaac's Cathedral
Yusupov Palace Theater
Catherine Palace in Tsarskoe Selo

Alexander Palace
Alix's Mauve Boudoir
My picture :)

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