Sunday, November 22, 2009

Russia - Day 1

Wow, it is dark outside! I ended sleeping in, until 7 am, because the“day” outside was black. Not until 8 am did some light filter in, as Iwas having breakfast. Given that it is Sunday I decided to go to thezoo, figuring out that I would be able to see Russian families going for a stroll. I was ready to take off, when I remembered to ask the receptionist if she had heard anything from the Kobbergers. “Oh, yes.They came in at midnight.” Excellent! So I called Gustav up in hisroom, woke him up, and we arranged to meet in an hour or so.
So there I go toward the zoo, walking quickly. Unfortunately I underestimated the distance, so it took me nearly an hour to get there. Nice walk, though, with the company of early risers walking their dogs, and great looks at the canals. St. Pete is built where theNeva River meets the Baltic Sea, and there are canals everywhere (a little like Amsterdam, although Rotterdam would be a better comparison).
I got to the zoo just as they were opening, so I didn’t get to see alot of people. Clearly a visit to the zoo is reserved for later in theday. I enjoyed myself quite a bit, however, looking at European and Asian animals. The zoo, like the rest of the city is being renovated from its Soviet era neglect.
On the way back I realized that my time was running short, and my left foot was hurting, so I jumped in a tram that appeared to be heading inthe right direction. I had to negotiate buying a ticket from the ticket man, who after the transaction asked me where I was from (Ithink that was what he asked). I told him I was Mexican, and he mulled about it for a moment and then broke a big smile and asked me where was my big hat. I told him I was traveling incognito as the Russian Anatoli, and pointed to my fur cap. He though about it for a moment and then made a joke about the Russian Mexicans at which we both laughed. I have has my first conversation! My new friend tried to explain to me where we were going, I realized I was going the wrong way, and got of the tram with the sympathy of both my fellow passengers and the ticket man, who wished me good luck by rising his closed fist (something like signaling “go get ‘em, tiger!).

Fortunately for me I spotted a metro station, and dove into its deep interior to take a short ride to the center of the city. The metro in both St. Pete and Moscow runs really, really deep, so after I negotiated buying my 10-ride pass I took the longest escalator down. Then confusion set in, because the instructions on what train goes where are almost impossible to decipher (they don’t use symbols forthe stations, so I had to decipher the Cyrillic alphabet in the best way I could). Finally, I decided to gamble, thinking that the worst that could happen was that I would have to backtrack. This time I guessed right, however, and in a few minutes I was in downtown, and from there a short walk under a hesitant sun brought me back to the hotel around noon. Alas, I had been too late, and the Kobbergers were already gone for a midday stroll.

I used the opportunity to take a nap, so I was ready to party when Gustav called me around 2 pm. We met in the bar (as is usual with us), and it was with great happiness that I said hello to my dear friends Christine, Gustav, and their 19 year old daughter Anna. After acopious libation and a cheese platter we decided to make use of this broken day by spending the afternoon in the Zoological Museum, famous for its collection of mummified Ice Age mammals (mammoths, horses, andrhinos). It is a grand, old-style collection, but by the time we got out, at 6 pm, the sun was long gone, and the night was well settled in.

From there we went to a fabulous meal in a ship moored along the banks of the Neva. I had the Russian soup “borsch” (a beet soup) and rabbitragu; Chrissy had caviar and Solyanka soup: Gustav had chicken Kiev,and Anna had beef Strogonoff. As you can see we were being typical tourists :)

After dinner we walked for a while along the banks of the Neva, enjoying the lights, and eventually came back home to a fierce game of triomino (a new version of domino played with triangular pieces). I must add here that the Kobbergers enjoy games, so it is an oldtradition among us to play something every evening while we deplete Gustav’s stock of Bordeaux wines.
And so ended the first day.

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