October 18

To St. Petersburg

Awoke early and helped myself to my second, perhaps last, Russian hot shower. Today we left for St. Petersburg. I packed my carryon bag near to the bursting point. We won't go hungry or thirsty or, with luck, cold, though now that I've felt the stinging cold of St. Petersburg's winds, I'm not so sure about that last.

We metroed to the train station where, as at the Tretyakov Gallery and for the same reason, I passed for Russian well enough to fool the conductor, though that was more due to the number of people boarding than to any skill on my part.

The train was occupied by a predominantly older crowd. A white-haired man in front of us was wearing several military medals. To our left sat a policeman, who slept through almost all of the journey. So much for security!

As we passed out of the Moscow region, away from the plots of identical run-down summer homes (many of which, I guess, are at least as large as their owners' primary residences!) I was struck by the unspoiled nature of the countryside. People haven't bothered settling in much of the land between Moscow and St. Petersburg, at least not in places visible from the train.

What settlements there were, aside from the dachas, reminded me of pictures of rural America in the late 1800s. Dirt roads (when there were roads at all) and large, cozy-looking houses. Which, granted, have no running water or toilets, and sometimes no electricity from the look of things. I found myself looking out the window and thinking, _this_ was a superpower? I suppose rural Alabama or Mississippi look similar, but I can't help thinking that these houses are in much poorer shape, the yards more strewn with trash and covered with weeds. Of course, this is all superficial, since I met none of the people living in the houses.

We arrived in St. Petersburg an hour behind schedule thanks to some repair work on the rails. Olga's friend Andrei met us at the station, and we proceeded to the adjoining metro station. I quickly noticed that the people here are, for lack of more accurate language, much nattier dressers than Muscovites. They seem more relaxed, though I still stick out as a foreigner.

Andrei clearly hadn't often been to the part of town near the apartment we're renting. We left the tram several stops early and walked in the near-freezing cold and biting wind for at least 2 miles, me without any extra clothing beyond my jacket and lugging a heavy suitcase. I didn't complain, and it's not such a big deal in retrospect, but by the time we reached the apartment, I was not in the best of moods.

We're sharing this place with another Olga, who speaks no English. Andrei seems to know her. Andrei and Olga (the original) and I had some tea, and I headed for bed.

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