Russia: “No reason, no smile.”

A little known fact about globetrotting alone is that it can be… well, lonely. Lonely is exactly how I feel after a couple of days in St. Petersburg on my own. While I typically enjoy my solitude, being far from loved ones in a strange land is taking its toll. I surrender to the feeling and head out into the sunshine anyway.

I stop for coffee on my stroll down Nevsky Prospekt and the woman behind the counter seems especially aggrieved that I’m paying with a 500 ruble note. This happens several times while I’m in St. Petersburg and it is completely befuddling – 500 rubles is approximately 15USD so it’s not like I’m dropping major bank at the local coffee shop. This brings me to an important note about Russians…

….They. Are. Grumpy. Every guidebook I read mentioned the brusque manner of the Russian people. This persona only seems to apply to the public sphere and I’m positive Russians are as loving and loyal as any other nationality when in the comfort of their own home (kinda like Bostonians only crankier). However, in just a few short days I have been on the receiving end of prolonged exasperated sighs, exaggerated eye rolls, and sometimes an outright refusal to acknowledge my existence. Accepting the fact that the Russian people as a whole find me epically disappointing, I respond in the only way I know how – by choosing to find it humorous. My Russian tour guide would later explain this phenomenon, “In Russia it is like this: no reason, no smile.” No kidding.

Fifteen Seconds to Safety
As I near the end of Nevsky Prospekt I notice my guidebook has marked a “point of interest” right where I’m standing. It is so inconspicuous that I almost miss it entirely… The Siege Plaque is a relic from the siege of Leningrad (St. Petersburg) dating from 1941-1944. According to my book it reads, “Citizens! This side of the street is more dangerous during an artillery bombardment.” Hmm.

The Siege of Leningrad was one of the most devastating sieges in history. German forces surrounded the entire city – and blocked supply chains – for almost 900 days. That’s two and a half years, people! Needless to say the loss of life was tremendous with many Russians dying not from artillery bombardments, but of starvation. Somehow this small plaque fails to lend the appropriate gravitas to the situation. I cross over to the “safer” side of the street – a mere fifteen seconds away according to the crosswalk light – and feel thankful to have never seen such times.

A Malia Divided Against Herself (straight from my journal – telegraph style)
Play chess against self in park. Vow not to go easy. Fifty minutes pass. Stalemate ensues. Ponder implications of being unable to outwit myself. Come up with nothing. Ambivalence. Violinist nearby playing Pachelbel’s Canon and Gigue in D major. Love! Feel hungry.

Yay! I make a friend.
After a little too much “me time” I’m excited to meet my travel companions this evening. I’m both curious and skeptical about them – I mean, what kind of weirdo rides the Trans-Siberian railway on their vacation? I know what you’re thinking… but we know I’m not weird – I just like trains! Including Olga our Russian guide, there are 16 of us in total with travelers hailing from the US, the UK, Australia, Canada, Germany, and Singapore. Our group is mostly women and the ages range from late 20s to 40s.

Over dinner I make plans with Ashley, another blonde American, to see the Hermitage and the Church of Spilt Blood (not nearly as gruesome as it sounds!). We hit it off immediately… I think in large part because we have similar snacking schedules.

But enough about St. Petersburg, let’s blow this popsicle stand. Next up: Moscow!

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