The Simon Poultney Foundation

The Simon Poultney Foundation

Part II

Our first stop the second day in Moscow was for food, we had eaten a light breakfast but after the long walk to the Metro from the hostel and the trip back to Moscow’s main square most of us were ravenous again. We were on the way to the Kremlin, which from what I thought was just one building but later I discovered it was much more than that, it’s a giant fortress with parliament buildings and churches and armories etc. We stopped on the way for Russia pancakes and pretzels on the street, my pretzel was so gross I fed it to the little chickadee type birds and a one legged pigeon. Once inside the Kremlin, after security checks and much price haggling with our crafty tour guide we spent four hours walking its streets in the cold, pausing only to warm up as we looked inside the various Churches inside the Kremlin. They were beautiful places, but they were just museums, no longer places of worship. Some even had gift shops and little babushkas which hawked their trinkets like the moneychangers that boiled Jesus’ blood. I could not feel God inside those places. The rest of the Kremlin is very nice, exquisite architecture but it was overcast so I took a very few pictures, the sun came out rarely in Russia so my pictures are sparse. After the tour of the Kremlin we went to another museum and wandered around some of the exhibits, it’s just your typical place, but they had a great Greek section with a replica of the David statue and also a collection of National Geographic pictures by Russian photographers over the years. But by then most of us were feverish with hunger so we didn’t last too long. I knew I was hungry but I also knew that there was no way in all of hell I was going to eat Russian food again. So I broke a vow and went to McDonalds, it’s been four years since I’ve had a Big Mac, usually I just have fries. Russian McD’s is the craziest place in Russia. You line up to get your food for ten minutes (you have to buy ketchup and straws!), get your tray of food and stand around it as someone holds it so you can gobble it down. Sometimes there is a table free, but you have to wait up to twenty minutes for one, or you just split up and join a table of people. Very often I would sit with a Russian family just so I could rest my legs and eat. Russian McDonalds is disgusting, but it’s better than Russian food. I ate there a total of nine times sometimes twice a day. We didn’t have time to eat much in Russia and we were usually in tourist trap areas so McD’s was the cheapest place costing around the same as Canada. Once I had some pizza at an Italian restaurant but I spend around 15 Euros on it. Restaurants as we know them, don’t exist in Russia or else there expensive as sin. McDonalds was my savior, I’d never thought I’d say that, but I hope I never eat there again.

After McDonalds we headed back to the hostel to have a quick rest and gather our bags. Our train to St. Petersburg left at 12:45am. It was a much nicer train than the one we had taken into Russia, mainly because of its cleanliness and ventilation, and we got to sleep thru the night without getting disturbed by border control.

Once we arrived in Petersburg we walked to our hostel, left our bags and had a bit of rest. My room wasn’t ready yet so I slept in a bed sideways between Kevin and Brandon. At 11;30 the group split in half and we went with two guides for a walking tour of the city. It was bitter cold outside even for me and the wind was raging, chilling us all to the bone. My lips were as dry as dust, and three of my finger cuticles were bleeding. Nevertheless I enjoyed the five hour walking tour of St. Petersburg well almost, the city is an overload as it is, and we went everywhere. Peter and Paul fortress, the parliament buildings, the winter castle, the Church of Spilt Blood the list goes on, stopping for five minutes at dozens and dozens of places. It was too much to see and definitely too much to process. I would have like more to slow it down and see less. But there’s always next time. By the end of the tour it was 5:00, I had only eaten a hard bagel all day and had been out in the cold. Needless to say I was ravenous, and we went to a Russian cafe for dinner/lunch. That was a mistake, I ordered what I was told was soup (goulash) and a steak (meat loaf), it was disgusting but I ate, McDonalds beckoned but I would have to wait until tomorrow. After eating we all were expected at an Opera as part of the program. I don’t know what happened during it because I was asleep. All I know is that the building was exquisite and it had comfortable seats. I zonked out cold, many of us did, waking up only between acts and for occasional high notes. I felt rather ashamed at my lack of interest in such a cultural experience but I could not suppress my pressing circadian rhythms after such a long day. After the 3 and half hour show it was close to 11 and again everyone was hungry as wolves. Despite our lack of energy we almost sprinted the 12 city blocks to Pizza Hut which closed five minutes before we arrived, our only option was to drag our feet back 4 blocks to McD’s where we could grab a quick snack before its impending closure at 12.

The next morning Wednesday we woke up at 10:00 and had a good hostel breakfast. Toast and jam with tea, cereal and hardboiled eggs, by far the best hostel food we’ve had. Our trip that day was museums, The Hermitage which is the world’s biggest collection of art pieces, built for Catherine the Great as a place of refuge. I can tell you more about its history upon my return. Before the Hermitage a select group went to the Abnormalities Museum, which is a collection of oddities collected by Peter I in an attempt to culture his people. The first exhibits we nothing special, just collections of Oriental culture, apparently their way of life was rather abnormal in the eyes of the Russians. But in the heart of the museum is where the sick stuff is. Thousands of deformed babies in jars, some with two heads, some with two faces on one head, some with teeth and tumors and God knows what else. If I’d had Russian food in my stomach I would have been liable to vomit a little, the whole place smelled a bit like formaldehyde. There were also two headed calves and early drawings of autopsy patients. I bought a photo pass and I would have pictures but the Russians took away my camera before entering that specific room, you can only take photos in the still life mannequin phases. Next it was on to the Hermitage, the hugest place ever. Again it was an overload, but we spent around 5 hours in there, there’s too much to see let alone write to you about. I did enjoy the section on contemporary modern work. After the Hermitage we went to McDonalds again, I resented being there but was so hungry I didn’t care. We had a good night after that just walking the streets and had an early night. In Russia you always need one of your major physical needs met, either you are tired and need sleep, or you’re hungry and need food, or you’re bursting and need a toilet (which you have to pay to get in and often they are just squatty potties) or you’re cold and need warmth or you can be experiencing any of the following simultaneously. So it was nice to have a relaxing night.