This post is copied from the journal I kept while traveling in Russia with the intention of being able to look back at it years later and be able to remember small, long-since forgotten memories of my first international trip and dream come true.
It is raw and unedited with the exception of changing my husband’s name. Some posts in this series may be very short, some may be too detailed and some may be flat out unentertaining. I may interchange past and present tenses, have run-on sentences, have strange wording and just generally not meet my usual writing standards.
The experiences and thoughts I share are those of a sheltered, small-town southern girl, and what I mean to relay by this statement is that my observations while traveling to, in and from Russia may not be specific to the cities, countries, cultures and/or people I mention.
The FIFA World Cup is the largest sporting event in the world and therefore brings together people of different races, nationalities, cultures and backgrounds. I may reference these races, nationalities and cultures when talking about people and situations I witnessed and do not intend to stereotype or offend anyone.
The sun came up around 3 AM this morning, so I kept waking up all night even though the curtains were closed.
I forgot to buy a razor while we were out last night, so today started off with a hunt for one. We had to check out at noon, so I woke up early and Googled nearby supermarkets. I only found one that opened before 10:30 like the rest, so I got up, threw my hair up, slid on my flipflops, and woke Ron up to let him know where I was going.
I should have known he wasn’t going to let that slide, and he got up so that he could go with me. We walked for a while, following directions on our not-very-reliable GPS. We walked in a pharmacy first to see if, like the pharmacies at home, they sold razors, but they did not. So we continued on, finally coming to the supermarket.
The supermarkets here are set up weird with lots of little rooms with different categories of products, and I walked further back in the store until I found the room that housed hygienic products. I found Nair-type products but no razors. We walked around getting a little agitated until I finally spotted a young guy and asked, “Вы говорите по-английски?” He didn’t seem to hear me, so I tried again. “Извините, Вы говорите по-английски?” He finally realized I was talking to him and luckily, he did speak English. He looked around for a while before finally going and asking the cashier, coming back and pointing me in the right direction. They were hanging right behind the cash register where I would have never thought to look.
We used Apple Pay and walked back. I didn’t need to wash my hair but there was no way I was going to miss an opportunity to shower, so I did it anyway and dressed for the day. We checked out and headed back to the restaurant next door since breakfast was free through the hotel.
We walked in and were seated at the table next to the one we sat at last night. We were handed short menus, and the woman held up two fingers to indicate we could choose two things from the menu. I chose porridge and quiche. They brought Ron boiled eggs that he didn’t order but ate anyway. We were given cinnamon buns afterward, which I was really excited about until trying to take a bite of one. The bread over here is always so hard.
We left the restaurant and went to the train station to store all four of our bags in the cloakroom and returned to the street. It was a little chilly and rain was in the forecast. We saw signs for river cruises and tried to book an English-speaking one but they were sold out, so we looked up directions to the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood.
There were a ton of tourists wearing all sorts of different jerseys and taking selfies of themselves in front of the church. We watched as men stopped and played with a soccer ball as the man dressed as a donkey from yesterday walked by.
The Fan Fest was set up on the other side of the church, so we decided to go. The Egyptians kept us entertained while standing in line playing vuvuzelas and drums while chanting loudly. We went through security and walked in, looking around. There were two huge screens set up with large speakers, concession stands and tables under tents, and vendors selling souvenirs. We watched the Colombia/Japan game in front of the screen for a few minutes before walking to the concession stand to order street dogs and Russian beer.
We were fortunate enough to spot an empty table, so I went to sit at it while Ron stood in line. It started raining as we ate, and people started ducking under the tents to get out of it. A Russian family sat on the other side of our table for a little bit, then a French family, then two Egyptians.
The two Egyptian men only had on shorts and jerseys and had goosebumps all over their arms. We got to talking, and the one with short hair noticed my nails and asked if we were from Denmark. We told him we were from the USA, and Ron asked where he was from. He pointed at the emblem on his jersey and said he was obviously from Egypt. We discussed what games we were seeing and what cities we would be visiting until Ron and I decided to get up and move on.
We raised the hoods of our rain jackets that we were thankfully smart enough to keep with us and bought tickets to tour the church. We walked in and were instantly taken aback by the mosaics of icons that completely cover the interior from top to bottom. The place was completely filled with Asians with selfie sticks and cameras. While taking a closer look at one of the altars, a man behind me said, “Excuse me, we’re trying to take a picture.” I stood and stared at him, not really knowing what he wanted me to do.
We saw everything there was to see and walked out into the pouring, cold rain. I wore shorts for the first time today and regretted it. The hood on my rain jacket doesn’t have a drawstring, so I held it down on my head as we walked quickly to keep up with the crowds on the street with my head down the entire time, letting Ron lead me. We came up to a large mall and went in to escape the rain.
The mall was set up strangely but in a different way than the one we went to in Moscow. This one flowed room to room, forcing you to walk through each store instead of walking by them. The workers stood by the walkway in small groups and stared silently at everyone who walked through.
We looked at matryoshka nesting dolls of varying sizes, fur coats, women’s clothing, and glass home decor before coming to a soccer museum. We walked through it, unable to read much of anything, before walking out of the mall to see if it had stopped raining. It hadn’t.
The Poland/Senegal game was coming on soon, so we started trying to find a place to watch it. We stopped at a couple of restaurants that had TVs, but they didn’t have a seat available until after the game was over. We walked on and came to a trendy restaurant whose hostess asked if we had a reservation and let us on through when we said no.
She led us up the stairs and to a small booth right in front of the TV. We stayed ate and drank vodka cocktails through that game and a little bit of the next one, Russia vs. Egypt. It was awesome being surrounded by Russians while watching that game. I ordered soft chocolate truffles before we left and we laughed when the waitress came out with a large plate and one very small truffle, telling me there should have been more. I ate it slowly and savored it as much as I could, wishing there were more because it tasted amazing.
We made our way to the train station, wishing we could stay longer in St. Petersburg. We got our bags back from a large man with light colored hair and a red t-shirt. As we turned to walk back up the stairs, the man yelled and busted through the large open gate of his cloak-room. We turned in alarm as we saw him running across the room to join another cloak-room attendant and realized that Russia had just scored.
We hadn’t upgraded to second class for this train like we had for the train ride here, and we were disappointed to see that it was a double-decker. I had completely forgotten about that until we saw the train.
We walked down the platform to where Ron estimated our compartment would be and waited, surrounded by Asians.
Our compartment is on the lower level. A guy about my age wearing an Argentina jersey ducked his head in and asked us for help finding his compartment. Two Asian women walked in and threw their luggage on the lower bed then quickly walked out. They seemed stressed, and Ron said it looked like they had messed up and booked beds in our compartment and beds for their children in a different compartment. A few moments later, the women came and got their bags. After they walked out, a serious-looking Russian woman with short red hair walked in, as well as the Argentinian we helped.
One of the Asian women came back and handed packs of Oreos to the woman and man to thank them for trading beds with them, and we’re still hoping the guy will share the Oreos, but it’s not looking like it’s going to happen.