russia: day 3

as with the first night, i was in bed for a decent amount of time, but my sleep wasn’t very deep and i woke up quite a bit. because there was still no hot water, i decided to skip the shower in the morning. of course, i also i got up a little later than i’d planned. my train was leaving for st petersburg at 1:45pm, and i originally was hoping to get there a couple of hours early.
a week or two earlier, in houston, i’d bought the train ticket online, on a russian-only site – – because it was cheaper to buy it directly than through sites that were in english but charge a commission. i had created an account on the site, then i was concerned about filling out everything correctly and i forgot russian calendars start on monday. so when i picked the day on the calendar, i accidentally bought a ticket for monday instead of sunday. it was until about 10 minutes later when i was emailing the school in st. petersburg my info that i realized my mistake. unfortunately, on the rzd site you can’t change or cancel a ticket once you’ve bought it. you have to buy another, then get a refund in person. so i had to buy a second ticket for the right date. the tickets were about $78 each. you can also choose to print a ticket at the station or do an electronic ticket – if you do an electronic ticket, you just show your passport. although not having a physical ticket seemed a bit risky, i thought just having to show my passport would be nice if it worked, so i chose electronic ticket format. but to return a ticket, you can’t have it as electronic. you have to print the ticket, and take it to the return booth. also, if it’s electronic then it’s no good as soon as the time for the ride passes, even if you didn’t use it. if it’s a physical ticket, then you can return it for a refund later if you didn’t use it (at least that’s what the site said). this ticket was for a day express train, seats only (no sleeping compartments), which takes about 4 hours instead of the standard train’s 8 hours.
anyway, i got up and had some breakfast, thanked olga, gave her the keys back, and took off. i went into the metro and bought a one-trip ticket, then took the purple line to the red line, then the red line out to komsomolskaya station. i got out there and ended up in a courtyard area.
there were “ржд” booths, but i didn’t need to print a ticket. i also dropped my shades at some point, so a guy came up and gave them to me. i got out my receipt with ticket info i’d printed out, and started trying to figure out where to go. i looked at some big train schedule boards, but none of them had the train number i was looking for. i walked over to some other stations, but i couldn’t figure anything out. i’d left later than i’d hoped, so at this point i had about an hour. i started getting nervous, and i immediately decided i wasn’t going to try and take the time and effort to return the extra ticket right now…i’d be happy just to not miss the train. i walked further: more schedules, nothing that matched. finally i got out my phone and hit google maps. at this location there are actually three train stations. with the map, i could tell where i was, and could see the station i wanted was around a corner from where i’d originally walked in, but i couldn’t see it. so i walked back that way. (again: thank goodness for google maps and gps.) at this point, a lady walked by me, and in russian told me my jacket (which i had through the handles in my weekend bag) was dragging the ground. *sigh* i thanked her and pulled it up.
i walked into an area and a guy was there helping people. i showed him my receipt number, to see if i put the code up to the turnstiles he was at and he looked at it and said “st. petersburg?” i said “da” and he said in russian, and pointing, to go that way and to the left. so i walked that way. i still couldn’t see signs or trip numbers to help me. i walked by a really long line, wondering if maybe that was a line i should be in, but cut through it and into a big station area. i walked through some kind of detector (i’ve noticed a few times i appear to set things off, but no one reacts or stops me…or anyone else i have seen), and on. but i could tell it went down and then out onto the street. i finally saw a sign with my train number on it and which gate i should go to, but i saw no gates or anything. i decided to walk back to the big line. i walked back through and walked up the line, then i could see there were two entrance doors for platforms 1 and 2, and my train was leaving on platform 1. at this point i had about 30 minutes. i got in the line. it took maybe 20 minutes or so to get to the door, where there was an x-ray scanner i had to put my bags through. i picked them up and walked to the train. i made it! or so i thought…
my seat was in car 7. the cars started from the back, so the first car i came to was 10. the door was open and someone was taking tickets in front of car 10…9…8…but the doors on 7 were closed. someone was at door 6. i stopped walking and went back. i wondered if maybe the odd numbers were boarding on the other side of the train maybe? but eventually i decided maybe the door to 8 would let you go to 7, so i went there. the guy scanned the barcode on my receipt, checked my passport, and let me on. (yea for the electronic ticket thing not failing to work for some reason!) i found my seat and sat down.
the train was very nice, new, and clean. the seat next to me was empty until right as the train was leaving, when a lady showed up and sat down. she asked me to help her put her handbag in the overhead storage space, then sat down. after a bit, we started talking. her name was sveta. she knew a little bit of english, i knew a little bit of russian. we used google translate on my phone, i used my russian-english dictionary, and we drew pictures and wrote words. it was actually nice talking with her. she lives in moscow, and was traveling to st. petersburg for one day to visit her brother. after she went back to moscow, she was going on vacation for two weeks (to spain, if i recall correctly). we got up during the middle of the ride and went to the food car and ate some food there. i had olivia salad and some apple/cranberry blini, with some apple juice, and she let me try the borscht she’d gotten. i was a little wary of it, but it actually was good. other than a pleasant conversation with someone new, the train ride was comfortable but uneventful. when we got to moscow station in st. petersburg (around 6:15pm) she walked with me to the exit and showed me the direction i should head to get to where i was staying. i thanked her, wished her a happy time in st. petersburg and vacation, and started off for my new residence.
i texted svetlana, the lady whose apartment i am staying in, to let her know i had arrived. she texted me back and gave me the gate code. although i didn’t know it because she wrote the special signs in russian words instead of typing them, part of it was flipped from what the school had told me. i walked to the apartment building, figured out for sure which gate i should be using, then had some trouble with the code. i texted her to verify the gate code i had from the school, and she resent it with russian words. i looked one up and realized the special characters were flipped, then it worked. then i walked in the gate to a courtyard area, then around a while trying to figure out which door i needed to go in. (most places here are like a collection of buildings in one location, with multiple separate entry points to the various sections, and interior courtyard areas.) i didn’t understand any of the numbering conventions. (i still have very little clue how in the world they number stuff…i think you just have to get to the general vicinity of things with an address, then search and/or ask people where it is. this goes for businesses as well, which a lot of times are very small shops that are below ground, at ground level, inside courtyard areas, inside other stores even.) i finally decided which entry door it probably was, based on the bare directions the school gave me, but it was locked. there was a keypad, but i had no idea what to do to call svetlana. about that time she opened the door and said “terry?” and i said “yes.” i entered the stairway and she said it was all the way at the top. my feet weren’t too happy, especially since i was still wearing the motorcycle boots and they had blisters from them from all the walking i’d already done in moscow. (i brought some vans sneakers, but i’d worn the boots every day so far.) we got to the top and she opened a door, which went to another door, which went into her apartment. she showed me my room and i put my bags down. the room seemed okay: maybe 10’x15′ with a decent sized window, a futon, and some ikea furniture (desk, cabinets, dresser, etc.). she brought me four or five coat hangers, and i hung a few shirts up and started putting the rest into drawers.
no one had told me when i was supposed to show up for school on monday, so i asked her if she knew. she said there wasn’t a fixed time. she gave me a set of keys and started showing me how they worked. one for my bedroom door: turn twice to lock and unlock. one for the inside door: turn two turns to lock or unlock. two keys for the outside door, but three keyholes: top one is two turns to lock or unlock; bottom two are the same key, top is a half turn, bottom is a full turn. from inside, the outside door top lock has a sliding mechanism, while the inside door has a lock that a key can’t open. all good? oh yeah, and some weird metallic disk thing (maybe with a battery?) that’s used at the main entry gate to exit, as well as to enter and exit the stairwell door. i asked when i was supposed to pay her by, and she said today. today? i was planning on doing it the next day. *sigh* she also said i could use her wi-fi, although i’d need to pay for it. (she said 150 rubles (~$5), and i said “per day?” and she said yes. which seemed crazy expensive, but i really want high-speed internet access. i later learned she meant 150 rubles for the whole time i am here, which is much more reasonable.) and i could do laundry, but it would cost 150 rubles…also about $5). (i think she did mean per load on that one. i don’t think there is a dryer, just a washing machine. and a fairly small one at that.) but i’ve also learned that russia doesn’t seem to have laundromats. or dry cleaning places either, really.
i had gotten a bank of america card so i could hopefully use atms here with no fees, but there are no bank of americas here. there are citibanks though. all others i’ve seen are russian banks. however, bank of america has an agreement with deutsche bank, so you don’t have to pay an atm fee. google showed two deutsche banks in st. petersburg, although one said it was corporate offices, so i didn’t trust that one. svetlana told me i could take auto bus 7 or 24, or trolley bus 10 or 11, but i didn’t know how much they cost, how you pay, if you need a card or have to have exact change, etc. – and had heard stories about how it can be challenging to ride them…and i don’t know hardly any russian – so i decided to just walk. i also wanted to get a new sim card, but the mtc store near me closed at 10pm, and it was just after 10pm. the deutsche bank was at least a couple of kilometers, at the opposite end of nevsky prospect. i got there and…there was no deutsche bank. just a new department store that wasn’t opened yet. damn. and every mtc store i’d seen was closed too.
it was probably around 11pm at this point, so i needed to find 24-hour atms. i walked and walked. i saw a couple, but i had no way to be sure about them, and i was nervous about getting robbed from all of these horror stories i’d been told. i kept walking until finally i was back at moscow train station. in other words, i walked all nevsky prospect and back. i must say, i saw some canals, some big official buildings, a park or two, some churches, some very impressive buildings, and lots of people. i should also note it was still light and dusk here during this time. it doesn’t get dark until very late. i then started walking toward the apartment, but i found nothing. it was after midnight now. and dark. i walked back to moscow train station, figuring i’d find something around there. i finally found a 24-hour cberbank atm station and walked to it. i didn’t care about fees anymore. i put in my card and told it i wanted 30,000 rubles (~$1,000). it balked and said it couldn’t and ended my transaction. so i put my card in again, entered my pin, and dropped the desired value to 20,000. it balked and ended the transaction. so i went to 10,000. it balked. at this pointed i noted the hundreds, or maybe thousands, of printed receipts on the ground around the machines…so maybe lots of people were unable to get money out of them. so finally instead of entering a number myself, i picked the largest value it offered: 5000 rubles. it gave me a 5000 ruble note. so i did it again. and again. and again. 4 transactions for a total of 20,000 rubles. that should be great fee-wise. and it still wasn’t as much as i needed to have. i walked back the apartment, dead tired and somewhat defeated. that was probably at least 6 kilometers in motorcycle boots with feet that already had blisters and hurt. not so good.
and by then the landlady had gone to bed, and so i didn’t end up giving her the money anyway.

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