Posted tagged ‘Leningrad’

“Life is an adventure, it’s not a package tour.”

July 22, 2017

When I woke up, the day was bright and sunny, but it isn’t any more. Clouds have blanketed the sky. The weatherman claims those clouds will be intermittent, but I’m skeptical. A little rain would be welcomed, forecasted or not.

The spawns of Satan have mounted a new assault. They are chewing my outside lights. The gate had a trail of white lights coming from the giant star near the back door. Last night I noticed the trail had gone dark. I checked and found chewed wires. On the deck rail, two sets of colored lights have been chewed. I found bulbs from the newest set laying on the deck, chewed off the wire. The spawns seem to like the red bulbs, cementing their Satan connection. What perplexes me is those lights have been untouched for a couple of years. I’m guessing there’s a new spawn in the neighborhood. The next set of colored lights is here, but I haven’t put it on the deck rail yet. I’ve ordered a new white set. It’s crazy I guess. I’m beginning to feel like Sisyphus.

I went to Russia in the 1970’s. My friend and I took a train from Helsinki to Leningrad. We were in the last car. When it got to the border, the car was uncoupled and joined to a Russian train. A Russian train lady boarded our car. She brought us tea over and over throughout the trip. In Leningrad I learned there were two lines for taxis, one for women and children and the other for the rest of us. At the hotel they asked for our passports. Visions of the KGB jumped int my head. When I refused, I was told no hotel room so I gave in. Yup, I gave in that quickly. We had a tour guide. In those days everyone had a tour guide. We liked her. She brought us to the Hermitage Museum. Women sat in chairs in every room at the Hermitage, and it was the same in every museum. They also sat at the bottom of escalators in every metro station and on every floor in the hotels where we stayed. We saw the Winter Palace and Peterhof and the Peter and Paul Fortress. We saw a memorial commemorating the Siege of Leningrad. On buses, the honor system was in effect. At the hotel, the food was terrible. We went to a few Beryozka shops, which no longer exist, where you could buy Russian goods for hard cash. We bought snacks and some beautiful small wooden figures.

When it was time to move to our next stop, we got a new guide. We didn’t like her. She told us nothing and didn’t answer questions. We then got on the train which the Frenchman, a fellow tourist, likened to a cattle car in France. We were on to stop 2, a city on the Volga whose name I can’t remember for good reason. The tours in that city included a dental school and a publishing plant where they gave us all sorts of Lenin material. It was the worst.

We had more adventures, but I’ll save those for another day. I will say we had a spy who was uncovered in Moscow.

“[Leningrad] sits astride the Neva, frozen in time, a haunting mélange of pale hues, glorious façades and teeming ghosts.”

April 28, 2013

Today is another sunny but chilly day. Last night was downright cold. I would never guess we are so close to the beginning of May without a calendar in front of me. Fern has the right idea: stay inside nice and warm and stretch in the sun on the floor. My breakfast place filled quickly and many were golfers. Four men in polo shirts in a single booth were a dead giveaway. I guess I’ll take that as one sign of spring.

The saga continues.

We arrived in Leningrad and went to the hotel where we were to meet the rest of the tour group which had flown in from  Copenhagen. We went to the desk to check in. The woman at the counter wanted our passports. I was okay with that until she said she’d have to keep them while we stayed there. I panicked. Too many movies had me thinking I’d be stopped by the KGB who’d want identification, and I would have none. They’d haul me off to prison and I’d be gone for ever. My family would call the embassy, but the Russians would deny any knowledge of my whereabouts. I said no, an emphatic no. She then said I couldn’t check in at any hotel. I folded quickly. I wanted a bed.

The first guide we had was wonderful. She was friendly, knowledgeable and courteous. My tour group was multi-national: 4 Americans, a couple from Italy who didn’t speak English, some Argentinians, a couple of guys from France and a couple more from England. We dutifully followed Natasha (I know, really?) from sight to sight. We saw the winter palace of the Tsar, the Peter and Paul Fortress and cathedral, the Hermitage ( one of my favorite places), Peterhof and we also took a ride down the Neva River. We were told no one in Russia is ever unemployed. That made sense when you saw that each room in the Hermitage had its own woman sitting in a chair keeping an eye on everything while other women sat in other chairs at the bottom of escalators in the metro. I have no idea what they were supposed to do. We noticed no one ever smiled. Once we bought an ice cream and a woman smiled at us, and the guy from Argentina said she must be a foreigner.

My friend and I and one other American were supposed to go to Tbilisi, but we were told that trip had been cancelled, and we were going to Kalinin instead. We were furious but stuck. At the tour office, we complained and also wanted a refund as the other trip had been more expensive. We were told they knew about us in Moscow. I replied that the tsar knew about the Bolsheviks and look what happened anyway.

The good guide left us at the train station in Leningrad, and the worst guide ever took us over for the rest of the trip. We rode the train together to Kalinin. At one point I asked the guide what river we were passing, and she said she didn’t know. The Frenchman said there were trains in France like the one we were on but they were in museums. The tour group had become quite irreverent.

Kalinin was sheer misery. The two tour stops were a printing plant and a dentistry school. At the plant we watched machines print. That was it. We were given literature about Lenin as souvenirs when we were leaving: just what we all wanted. At the dentistry school we walked  through rooms filled with chairs which had people sitting in them with their mouths opened while their teeth were being fixed. It is number one as the worst tour stop ever, including every trip I’ve ever taken. The one good think about Kalinin was it is on the Volga River. We walked along it and hummed the Volga Boatman.

Next, we took the train to Moscow. When we got off the train, we saw that whole city was filled with thick smoke. We asked the guide why there was so much smoke. She said there was none.