The last morning in Saint Petersburg was upon us. Not just that, it was our last day in Russia. The morrow would find us on our way to the airport to take our flight back home. So it was in a somber mood that we woke up and packed our stuff. Once we checked out of the hotel, we’d be taking in the sights at the Peter and Paul fortress before catching the train to Moscow.
Imagine our surprise on descending to the lobby to find overcast skies and falling rain. The mood of sunny Saint Petersburg seemed to have changed overnight to one of brooding darkness. Having been busy packing in the morning, we had omitted to look out of the window, so missed the fact that rain and wind was the order of the day. But, smiled our guide A, this is how our days here are like throughout the year, and the sunny days like the one you saw yesterday are exceptions.
Soon we were all pulling out our heavy jackets and donning them. Thus suitably armed against the inclement weather, we set off on our morning jaunt. Destination, Peter and Paul Fortress. A quick look at the place before we headed to the railway station and to Moscow.
The P&P fortress was established by Peter the Great in 1703 on small Hare Island by the north bank of the Neva River. It served as a base for the city garrison and also as a prison for high-ranking or political prisoners. In 1917 it fell into the hands of Bolsheviks. Though it was portrayed by them as a hellish place where prisoners lived in filth, in overcrowded dungeons, and that they were routinely tortured, it was far from the truth. Writer and former Peter and Paul inmate Maksim Gorky would later state that the political prisoners apparently considered it their holy duty to bestow on Russia memoirs of their exaggerated sufferings.
Inside the fortress is the Peter and Paul cathedral surrounded by a few other buildings, including the Saint Petersburg Mint building. What? A mint? But where are the guards with rifles and stuff guarding the building? How are tourists being allowed to wander close to it? We couldn’t imagine such a situation back in our home country where we’d have been definitely forced to leave our mobile phones and cameras behind. What the heck, we are not allowed to take them to places a lot less in importance than a mint!
The cold wind was a lot bracing as we stood on the banks of the Neva and stared across its expanse to the other side. It was drizzling still as we left the fortress to make our way to the railway station. We reached Moscow by evening after an uneventful journey and went straight for dinner at a… fancy Indian restaurant. It was there, while waiting to pile my plates with sabzi, roti, chicken curry, dal and such that I had the misfortune, nay “honor”, of making the acquaintance of Mr. Cockroach. But he and Mr. Take it Easy need a post all to themselves. So I’ll keep it for another day.
So, yeah, we had our dinner, went back to our hotel and slept.
The last morning found us ready and waiting for the coach to turn up to take us to the airport. Moscow also had suddenly turned cold, as if it resented us leaving. What a different welcome it would be to the next batch coming in today! There were fabulous looking thick dark clouds in the sky just waiting to burst and cry their heart out.
We waited and waited and waited and waited…. But there was no sign of the driver or the coach. When he finally did arrive it was so late that there was just about time to reach the airport, IF we didn’t get caught in one of the infamous Moscow traffic snarls. Yikes!
I assure you, I have never ever reached an airport as late as we did that day, or had to rush through the formalities like I did that day. Nor did it help that everyone at the airport, including ticketing staff had such severe faces, as if we were imposing on them in some way. Not one pleasant face or a cheerful greeting! Really, Russia?! What does it cost to greet visitors with a smile?! After all the hurrying (the running from the coach to the airport counter pulling along the bags had triggered a mild breathing issue for me), we found our flight was delayed by almost two hours. Sigh. That meant a longer wait to see Luci. I was already impatient to get back home and be welcomed by her.
Now for the pictures:
© Shail Mohan 2020