October 20

In St. Petersburg

Another restless night. This time I kept kicking the stool with the phone on it, which was up against the foot of the bed, and waking up enough to notice but not enough to figure out that I should move the stool. Sleeping in shorter people's beds is not a great idea.

Today was Hermitage day, and a suitable one as there was a drizzle visible out the apartment window. This time I managed to spill only a little water on the floor while showering. I have no idea how it got past the shower curtain.

Despite the drizzle, it was a relatively warm day in that it was noticeably above freezing.

The first order of business was to meet Andrei at his office. He's the head of the computer department at a medical school and research facility. We started at the wrong metro station (during the tail end of morning rush hour, no less) so arrived about 15 minutes late. The medical school, as can be expected, has a Lenin statue among the birch trees in front of the main buildings. There are more likenesses of Lenin here than there are of Jesus in Jerusalem, it seems.

Andrei has an office as big as the two bedrooms in Olga's apartment combined. Next to a desk with a decent 386 box is an armchair in which Tsar Nicholas II apparently sat. We had tea and talked about computer stuff. He says they are still not allowed to buy Suns or even good VAXen because of US export restrictions [interesting, since I have talked to Sun users in Moscow] so they get by on Asian PC clones instead. Andrei showed me a couple of classrooms not so different from the smaller terminal labs from those at my alma mater. They use Borland C++ and Turbo Pascal, somehow distributed out to many terminals even though Andrei says they use only DOS. He let us send some E-mail from his Glasnet account -- it seems his school doesn't have a net connection of its own -- and hurried off to a meeting.

We metroed to Nevsky Prospect and caught a private bus to the Hermitage nearby. The private buses are old tourbuses which drive around picking up passengers and dropping them off at desired locations. Cost is 200 rubles per passenger.

One entrance to Palace Square

The Winter Palace, where most of the Hermitage is, is a work of art in its own right. The wealth of the Tsars is almost inconceivable to the likes of me. To build such a tremendous mansion just on a whim... Well, I would have to be rich beyond any fantasy to even consider it. One of the ways onto Palace Square is through an archway in the middle of the General Staff building; that route is pictured above.

We didn't try to cover everything. We saw the Egyptian, 19th-20th-century West European, Dutch and Flemish, and a couple smaller exhibits. Some really amazing stuff. I was burned out after a couple hours of wandering around, besides which my feet had begun to ache like crazy. None of the bookstores we looked at later had a decent book on the Hermitage, surprisingly.

We had late lunch at a small cafe, the last of several we looked at and the only that had any soup. Not good soup, mind you. The accompanying kotliete made Olga slightly sick to her stomach.

Then we decided to head home. It was about 5:15, and if I'd had my brain turned on I'd've realized that half the city would be going home from work. The bus was no more crowded than usual, but when we got to the metro station, there was a huge mob of people pushing their way through three doors. It was like one of the big funnels fisherman pour fish into. We entered the crowd and just let it push us forward.

Then, after we'd arrived at Prospect Prosveschenya (Enlightenment Street), the metro station nearest the apartment, we took the wrong tram. It turned left about three blocks before our stop. We decided it would be faster to walk than to wait for another tram or a bus.

On the way, we stopped at a Universam store, a small Western-style supermarket, and bought some bread and cheese. The place was well-stocked, with less variety than a similarly-sized store in America, but a good selection nevertheless. The checkout lines crept slowly forward as usual, but as this wasn't a Russian-style store with three lines to wait in, it wasn't too bad. We also bought some pasta shells with meat, sort of thick raviolis, but we had no container to carry sour cream in, so we ate them with butter when we got home.

We ate and talked, then watched a couple of news shows on TV. One of them was interesting in that it obviously used unedited CNN footage for almost all the foreign news. A few times the sound from CNN was audible, and we got English speech under the Russian voiceovers. The weather report said that the next day would be a toasty +4 to +6 degrees C, perfect for our excursion to the St. Petersburg suburb of Pushkin.

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