The next day (Thursday) was our free day, finally a chance to escape the annoying large group scenario we had faced most of the trip. Petersburg is easy to get around, if you’re a tourist the only worthwhile place to know is the main street, which encompasses most of the city is the connection to everything, our hostel was just of the main square by the central train station. Five of the guys and myself after a nice lie in, got up and went for a walk, it was finally our chance to explore on our own, and it was the first time we didn’t have a Russian speaking intern with us. We were supposed to let the interns have a break. Unfortunately Liga, one of our interns got stuck taking a troop twelve girls around (including the three ditzy Californians) the city by herself! Later she told us she spent half the day looking for toilets and the other half trying to lose the girls whose shopping habits proved an awful affliction. I did not envy her situation and asked her how in all of God’s green acres she survived being the mother of 12 tourist Americans in Russia (that would be my own personal Hell). As I’ve already said the city is ridiculously easy to get around but the girls were too scared to go on there own! Brandon and I felt so sorry we bought her a bottle of vodka later that night. But anyways back to my day, we spent the day meandering around the streets taking it easy, popping in and out of shops and spending as much time as we could sitting in coffee houses.
One of the stores we found was a weapon and hunting store. This place was every slack jawed Albertan’s heaven. Besides all the taxidermy, the stuffed cougars, white tigers, grizzly bears and lynx’s, huge butterfly knives, samurai swords, illegal assault rifles, Soviet AK47′s, Armalite AR-180 carbine gas operated semiautomatics and every handgun know to mankind littered the stores massive glass cases. The only drawback besides the guns hefty price tags was the fact that if you wanted to purchase ammo for your gun and go on a rampage to aid Liga in her quest of ridding the world of whiny American girls, you would have to go to another part of town to the Black Market and haggle with a gritty Russian man in his native tongue. Later on the night I wished I had bought something at least to end my miserable life (only jokes for narrative purposes, don’t think I’m suicidal or a psychopath, I just have an imagination), we had to meet with the group again and head off for a Russian folk dancing night. It was held at an old manor built in the 1700′s, the place was again exquisite, large wrapping balconies and mezzanines, high ceilings, polished wood everywhere, really really fancy place. And despite my poor expectations the performance was actually entertaining, much more so than the ballet and the opera I had endure just days before. It started with the band introducing themselves, the leader came our and started to play this giant accordion, then he was brought a smaller one, and a smaller one, until he had on that was so small it was barely squeaking out a tune. Then he whipped out a huge saw stuffed it between his legs and played the straight edge with a cello bow! It was the most beautiful sound I’ve heard a saw make (after my summers at Spruceland I know saws), the wavering metal producing notes that seemed to oscillate throughout the entire auditorium. Next the folk dancers came on; big athletic guys threw small wasted women around and sort of break danced and backflipped there way around. Squats and kicks and cartwheels and splits, similar to Ukrainian dancing I’ve seen on TV clips. I was really a marvel to watch. During the intermission we got to gobble caviar biscuits and gulp champagne, I was hungry and thirsty (as always while in Russia) and enjoyed more than my fair share of both beverage and entree.
After the show we went out for food, it was late and again McDicks was the only place open for business, this time I discovered that chicken salad could be purchased for a nominal fee, till then the only thing we could read was the words Big Mac and McFeast, the only reason I discovered this is because I saw a girl get one before me. I had problems ordering it; I had to say cold vegetables before they understood I wanted ‘sal-lad’, but no problems ravenously devouring it. That night I slept well because I knew the next day would be our last and we’d have to be a large group for travels.
I got up early on Friday and ate breakfast at the hostel, eggs and bread again, I made bread cereal with milk and sugar much to the dismay of some of the people around. I told them it was British and that they should shut-up or try it themselves, I wasn’t that harsh but again narrative purposes come into play. After breakfast just me and Dave and Jurij (pronounced Yuri) went to a coffee shop and relaxed there for a few hours and did some reading. I then walked alone to the souvenir market to get some goodies, none which can be mentioned specifically as they will be delivered around Christmas time. I tried to stay away from the typical Russian mass produced stuff which we’ve seen from Anthony and got a couple neat trinkets for a few rubles. By then it was close to our departure and I met up with some of the guys again for McD’s again. We went back to the hostel grabbed our gear.
In Russia it is customary if you need a taxi to just flag down any random person and pay them a few rubles for a ride to your destination, it’s usually a lot cheaper than a regular licensed taxi. This was a custom I did not partake in, ever, I just didn’t trust it. The train back to Riga was at a different station and it was quite the walk, and also a long metro ride. So to save money and our shoulders, Vilma (our trip coordinator) flagged down a three ‘taxis’ to take everyone’s luggage. I told her I’d rather carry my backpack than have it disappear. But she assured me and everyone else that it would be alright because they we sending one the interns in each car. I still said my bag was staying on my back which it did I just had a weird feeling, I told everyone that and most of the guys with packs did the same. Anyways long story sort, we arrive at the station and Melissa (a girl from Minnesota) doesn’t have her bag. The driver had slipped hers into the trunk, and Yuri the intern that was with the car wasn’t around when the luggage was loaded, so didn’t know what had to be unloaded. So some stinking Russian has a digital camera, a thousand dollars worth of clothes and souvenirs. Luckily her passport was on her and she could leave the country. However I was furious, because I had told Vilma that we had all spent thousands coming here and she could have sprung for licensed taxis. I mean her luggage was gone, her life was in that bag because unlike some of the girls she had a practical wardrobe with her in Lith which she had brought most of to Russia and now we had no way of getting it back, not even a license plate or even a taxi number or company to call. I guess I can’t really blame Vilma, her trip was stressful organizing a bunch of kids, and she thinks different trying to save money when she can but still Melissa had lost all her stuff. I was just glad I kept my bag on because that was the car my stuff would have gone into.
We got on the train at 8:45 and made it back to Lith thru Latvia alive, which was good enough for me. Brandon and Kevin had eaten at a Russian cafe before we left and both got some weird stomach virus. Brandon was okay, he’s a big Norwegian guy but Kevin paid a small visit to the dirty Infection ward of the Klaipeda hospital, we went to visit him and joked that he’d get more diseases if breathed through his mouth. But his stay was short after they gave him a big ass needle (not a big ass needle but a large needle in the ass) and a colonic he was out the next day. As for me I am fine, I survived it all without a scrape I did have dry lips for a week after, And I almost got skewered by a meter long falling icicle in St P’s. But God protected me. God Bless the Baltics. I survived a week Russia with a crew of 20 upper-middle-class Americans! How many can claim that!