St Petersburg : 7October 2019

Arriving late off the Sapsan train at Moskovskiy Voksal, I strode out to find my digs. Looking back Moskovskiy station is stunning, floodlit, like a 5 star hotel.

Walking along Nevskiy Prospect , I look for number 28. Through the arches, past the wee cinema, through another arch… this can’t be it, a dimly lit courtyard, cobblestones, a metal door. Aw naw this is it. Amazingly, it turned out to be very nice and clean inside.

Head out to explore, aim for the river. After half an hour I reach the Neva river. This river will be frozen solid in 6 weeks but tonight its beautiful. On the opposite bank is Peter and Paul Fortress, floodlit and reflected in the river. Its stunning. The Neva flows into the Baltic, which is appropriate as the weather is Baltic. On my way back, I cross several canals, take many photos of beautiful buildings and a cathedral, all turrets with onion domes, reflected in the calm waters.

Next morning I walk 3km and eventually reach St Isaac’s cathedral. The queues too big and I have no patience (need the patience of a saint to visit St Isaac’s).I walk around the square and spot a man selling Russian hats. Pure rabbit fur he assures me. I haggle and 35 euros later its mine. Its toasty.

Theres a a river cruise on offer. 10 euros and it includes a mulled wine. Haud me back. The cruise is wonderful. The air is so clear it’s like the outer hebrides, the sun low and dazzling. We pass beautiful buildings, all in pastel shades. A man sees me taking a selfie with Zenits stadium behind, offers to take my foto. A mile upstream and theres a huge spaceship of a stadium. That’s Zenits new stadium! I run out on deck “can you take my photo again please?”

I’m wearing my Rangers top. A local approaches me – “you are Scotland?”. Da, I say, points, Glasgow Rangers. “Ah, Fernando Ricksen” he says, pulling a sad face and lightly thumping his chest. Fernando played for Rangers and Zenit and died recently of MND. It was a nice but poignant moment. Football crosses barriers, something I will discover 48 hours later in Moscow. We shook hands.

After the cruise, I looked at the Winter Palace and had street food in the beautiful Winter Palace Gardens. Palace Square is huge and very impressive. Go there!

Next day I’m excited. Today I get the train back to Moscow. I put on my kilt, Scotland top and Russian hat. It’s a deadly combo. On the bus, I sense a difference. A nudge, a whisper…”check that guy out”. In St Isaac’s square, I’m disappointed theres no salesman, no Russian hats. I’d promised two friends… feel guilty.

Two beautiful Russian girls, dressed to kill in old Russian uniforms ask if I want my photo taken with them for 200 rubles. Emboldened by my kilt I say naw, you pay me for a photo. I’ve still got that photo, a wee peck on the cheek it was a lovely moment, just dont tell the wife.

Walk towards the station but keep getting stopped. It’s the kilt. “You are Scotland da? I was in Edinburgh. Beautiful”. He asks when are we getting our independence and he ends up buying me two of ‘his’ Russian orthodox calendars.*

In a lovely cafe next to the station (high vaulted ceilings), again its “you are Scotland?” He disappears, comes back with two large vodkas. We chink glasses. “Nasdrovny!” “Slaintè mhath”. I sip my vodka, testing its strength. He downs it in one. I look at him, raise an eyebrow. He nods, go on. I down it in one. Oooft!

Onto the train, it’s a Harry Potter carriage type. I love it. Do svidaniya, St Petersburg ! Moskva awaits.

This blog is for Julia and Lenore. Sorry no Russian hats, girls! Maybe next time.

And Jim and Katie, who love St P.

* upon returning home, I gave one of the calendars to Father Alexander of the Russian Orthodox church in Dunblane. He was very surprised I think.

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