December 31, 2008
We who are in the motherland salute you.
It has snowed. The buildings are magnificent. The fur coats are startling in their abundance and sometimes frightening in appearance. The alcohol is fine – Russian beer is good, we have bought vodka at a ridiculous price and it wasn’t antifreeze, the hotel has given us champagne to celebrate tonight. This is a brilliant start to our trip.
I am trying to avoid stereotypes but we met several as we arrived…..from the stern, grim officials at the airport who refused to sign the form we needed for going on to China (the one that the Rough Guide said we MUST have signed)..we got it eventually; to the fierce bus conductress in a long fur coat (you would not mess with her, get her on school buses I say) ; to the underground man who didn’t want to let us through the turnstile because we had bags (he measured them with a tape measure, tutting loudly and sighing heavily before reluctantly letting us through to a concourse which we apparently had to circumvent twice before it disgorged us onto the street); to the babushkas guarding toilets with scowls; to most shop assistants who have got to have the least job satisfaction outside Stalybridge; to the hordes of young soldiers in long coats who salute each other with alarming regularity.
Having said that we have also met delightful young people who have translated for us with interest and enthusiasm when Eddie’s hybrid Polish/Russian hasn’t been enough (which is not often, he even correctly ordered veggie blinis!)
We have seen the most fantastic Christmas decorations ever, they defy description…trees, fountains, huge Santa Claus straddling a main road etc…the lights are all wonderful and change every few seconds and everything beautiful is illuminated (there’s a book title there somewhere).
We have heard 65daysofstatic on that advert on Russian TV!!!
I was somewhat startled as I stood next to a drainpipe while we checked the map….the pipes are all very, very wide and suddenly it rumbled, rattled, screeched and an iceball bigger than a football hammered down the pipe and exploded at my feet, shards of ice in all directions. Wow. You don’t get that happening in Mossley.
We have visited the Hermitage which was amazing. Amazing.
We have seen the Onion Church at night..it’s my favourite building, it’s so ridiculous and gorgeous and it’s proper name is The Church of the Saviour on Spilt Blood which is clearly a heavy metal band name if ever I heard one.
We have seen real eagles.
We have seen Rasputin shopping. Really.
And at breakfast this morning we met 2 Americans – she was a teacher (wouldn’t you know); he worked for the government “Nothing exciting” he said. A little later he said he spoke some Russian. I laughed..”Aha” I said “you work for the government and speak Russian…now I know you are a spy”. We laughed. Then she told us that he worked with the department that dealt with any incident involving guns and fire arms and his job was rather exciting. We had just breakfasted with Jack Bauer!!!!!
Things for Wolinski/Peakes not to mention to Babcia.
1.That we went on public transport. (We won’t again.)
2.That gangs of pickpockets roam this area, particularly the Underground looking for tourists with big bags. (Promise)
3.That the St Petersburg Traffic Police are the most corrupt in the country and if you don’t stop your car when they challenge you they can shoot your car! (Good job we aren’t driving I say!)
We are resting now in preparation for tonight’s festivities…..hope yours is a good’un. Did I mention that it had snowed?!!
December 27, 2008
And post their prettiest of pictures;
This is them.
On Khalapattar in Nepal.
Everest Base Camp is behind them.
Dyllis has 7 layers of clothing on.