Saturday, July 26, 2014

DAY 37 – 22 July 2014; Moscow to St. Petersburg

There was so much to see and do in Moscow and little time. But the two days were used to the hilt. That also meant that documentation suffered a great deal. I was behind on blog posts. So I started that immediately after I woke up and was in the middle of one when Mr Cherian Eapen dropped in to see me in the room. He had come with the intention of sharing a breakfast table. He was surprised when I told him that I had completed my unvarying routine in the restaurant over the past three mornings – 3 cups of coffee starting at 7.30 am with omelette, sausage, cold cuts, crepes and cake.

As decided the previous day we got off to a 10 am start from the hotel. Rajhu had deputed his driver,
Rattan, to pilot us to the beginning of the M10 highway to St. Petersburg. Rattan, a Nepali resident  in Delhi, has been with Rajhu in Moscow for the past 5 years. He is ‘go to man’ for Rajhu. Rattan helped me exchange the left over RMB, SOM and some USD to Roubles to last us out for the rest of our stay in Russia. After getting the log sheet attested by Mr Eapen we said our farewells to Rajhu, Dattan and Sujith. These Guardian Angels looked after us in many ways and made our stay absolutely comfortable. This has been a feature of the journey. We have met excellent souls who have extended all support and assistance, much more than we asked and many times more than we expected.

I was told that the 700 plus kms to St Petersburg could be covered in under 7 hours. The 10 am start, I figured, would get us into the city by 5 pm, so that we would be able to do a bit of sightseeing in the evening. That plan went wrong. The huge traffic hold up, repair to roads and stoppages en route for fuelling, lunch and tea took us to the outskirts of the city by 8.30 pm. The road condition on M10 was quite good. Even though it was essentially a two lane road, the third middle lane was very efficiently used for overtaking and turning. The discipline on the road is seen to be believed. The fact is that undisciplined driving would mean a sure accident. The speed is varyingly limited to 110 and 90 kmph but even multiple axle trucks ply faster than the permitted speed. Police use radar detection at regular intervals; we did see a few drivers being pulled to the side for necessary action.

100 kms short of St Petersburg I got in touch with Sunil Warriar, the contact provided by Dattan. Sunil was to have made arrangements for our stay and sightseeing in the city. He gave me elaborate direction to reach the World War memorial, where he would join us. I reached the rendezvous point without any hassle. It was 8.30 pm and the sun was nowhere near the point where it was about to set. The heat was intense and rays too bright for comfort. Sunil and Binoy, a medical student, met us as appointed and piloted us through the large city to what turned out to be the parking lot. Driving into the city did not give me an indication of grandeur as I felt in Moscow. Of course, the city looked better organised with wide straight roads and busy traffic. Both the cities are well served by public transportation such as trolley busses, trams and Metro. The parking lot was some distance away from the serviced apartment Sunil had sourced for us. Binoy carted our luggage in his car to the apartment, which was almost next door to the Indian Consulate and a stone’s throw away from Jai Hind, an Indian restaurant.

Over dinner at the Indian restaurant we got to know Sunil and Binoy better. Sunil, from Trichur in Kerala, has been resident in Russia since 1992 doing a variety of jobs, including working in the Indian Consulate. He is presently on his own. His wife teaches in the International School, where his son is a student. Both were away on vacation to Kerala. Binoy has a year to complete his graduate medical course. He, like many of his course mates, works part time, particularly during vacations, to supplement his financial support. He intends to return to Kerala to practise. The conversation also veered around to what we could do the next day. Sunil and Binoy chalked out a route plan to optimise the available time.

Dinner at Jai Hind consisted of Dosas and Biriyani. Russian beer was at hand to accompany the meal. The food was very tasty and so was the gulab jamun. The young girl who waited on us in the restaurant is a student too; she hailed from Rajahmundry. Most students work part time, though not legally, and mostly in restaurants. We left the hotel after a photo session – one of the lady guests in the hotel, a Malayalee who was visiting the city with her husband on official duty from the Mazagaon Docks, also joined the session.

When we left the hotel close to 11 pm it was still not dark; there was yet no need for street lights. I was experiencing a white night. Sleep came easily after I washed clothes and hung them out to dry.

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