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Thursday, July 10, 2003

            With only a few hours sleep we got up at 5:00 AM and finished up the reorganization and packing of all our bags.  By 7:00 AM we were storing 13 of our bags at the hotel and then we checked out.  Unknown to the hotel, we were leaving our BMW in their parking garage for the next seven days.  This is the first time we have ever tried this stunt.

            At 7:15 we caught a cab to the train station which took only 10 minutes.  I grabbed a cappuccino at Robert�s Coffee (a chain here in Finland) and looked around for our train to Russia.  At 7:40 AM we got on the SP Finnish Railway�s Sibelius Train #35.  We had First Class Seats #13/14 which cost us �157.60 (2 x �62.50 + �32.6) or ~$185.  The "private" room we were given seated six people, three facing three.  They made announcements that we had to declare all the cash we were carrying on us, so I called Dimitrii quickly to ask him what we should do since we were carrying quite a bit of US currency.  He advised that we declare it all.  We each had to fill out this declaration form listing all the currencies and amounts which seemed to take forever.

            We left the last Finnish station at Vainikkala and at 11:00 we crossed the Russian border.  Then came the Russian customs agent to pick up our declaration papers.  He didn�t speak English and wasn�t overly friendly.  It was very eerie and a bit scary looking out the window at the wooden Russian guard towers (below left) with the gloomy skies overhead.  I had the feeling I was entering a Stalag.  We were a little tense knowing we were now in Russia and no longer had our American rights as we would in Western Europe.

            What broke the ice for us is discovering that the man sitting across from us was an American oral surgeon who told us he was traveling with his �friend.�  Just speaking English and sharing the apprehension we all had, helped a lot.

            He had gotten the 1st Class seat while his friend rode in the coach seats.  He told me he was a Catholic and then went on and on about the �Da Vinci Code� which he had been reading.  I told him I wasn�t interested.  Finally his male companion showed up and we got the distinct impression they were a couple.  At noon we crossed a time zone into GMT+3 and lost an hour, so now it was 1:00 PM.

            Below left are some of the scenes along the way and below right are shots of the interior of the train.


            At 2:40 we finally arrived at the St. Petersburg station and we were really exhausted.  We got off the train and bid farewell to our new friends and immediately Polina Sheviakova found us.  Dimitrii had hired her for us in advance and I was to pay her $100/day.  She was an attractive young lady in her late 20s and her English was fairly good.  She directed us through the back gates of the station and to her car.  She had told Dima she had a Mercedes-Benz to limo us around.  The car was not a limo but it was a serviceable old Mercedes.


            It was raining and foggy as she drove us to our hotel through very intense traffic.  We were in a clog of cars, buses, taxis and horse carriages.


            It was difficult to get a feel of the city because of the overcast and rainy weather.  We arrived at the Angleterre Hotel {Morskaya 39, +7-812-313-5009] at 3:20 and checked in.  They were doing construction in the lobby and the noise was so deafening you could not be heard even yelling into someone�s ear.  And this is while we have to discuss things with the hotel people.


            So the manager took us to his office to check us in.  We finally got to our room which was very nice (above right) for such an old regal hotel.  After getting unpacked, I found the little spa where they had a treadmill and as luck would have it, it was just down the hall on our floor.  I was the only one there but the female attendant sat there in her white uniform and would not allow the door to stay open to aid in air circulation.  She said it was �against the rules.�  Our hotel is directly next door to and owned by the famous and glorious Hotel Astoria.  So at 4:00, while I ran, Marcia had lunch with Polina at the Astoria.

            At 4:45, Polina took us to tour the famous Hermitage [, +7-] and we were joined by Rialemma, the guide she had hired in advance.


            Above is the central courtyard of the Hermitage and the front of the main building.  Below is the main entry to this grand palace that has been turned into one of the most respected museums in the world.  It is quite ornate.


KJH                                                                        Go To -> NEXT DIARIO #40 

Kenneth J. Hoffer, MD



St. Petersburg, Russia

Sent 11-8-04

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Copyright 2010    Kenneth J. Hoffer, MD