I was woken in the morning by the sound of squealing brakes and the unmistakable sound of metal on metal which means two vehicles have had a collision.
I leapt out of bed and from the eighth floor window I could see two cars joined at the bumper and blocking the busy intersection outside the hotel front door. There was chaos all around and this was going to last some time because after an accident in Russia the drivers are not permitted to move their vehicles until after the police have attended the scene.
I imagine what caused the accident had something to do with the weather because overnight it had completely changed and instead of the blue sky and sunshine that we had become accustomed to there was a steely grey sky, pavement puddles steadily filling up with rain water and raindrops running down the window like tiny pearl drops but as this was our last day and we would be leaving by midday this really didn’t seem to be too much of a problem.
After breakfast Kim decided to stay in the hotel but this seemed a waste of the last morning to me so I decided to walk to the local shopping centre to have a final look around and so I set off in the rain and took the underpass route to the other side of the main road. The underpass was lined with tiny shops, no more than kiosks really, selling a wide selection of goods – among them clothes, shoes, pastries, souvenirs and cigarettes and they seemed to be doing rather brisk trade – brisker trade indeed than the surface kiosks at the other end where the heavy rain was keeping people away as they rushed from the shelter of the underpass to the nearby shopping centre without looking left or right or stopping.
It was a modern shopping centre with a supermarket and a department store and although it was nothing like the boutique interior of GUM the prices were still quite staggering. So staggering in fact that there were hardly any shoppers and I found myself alone amongst the merchandise except for a heavy presence of security guards and I think they were glad of something to do or someone to watch because wherever I went there was always one of these guys to accompany me – or perhaps I just looked shifty and suspicious!
I didn’t stay long inside the store but went back outside to see where all the people might be but the wet streets were still deserted and then I spotted some women with shopping bags going into a shabby building with blue swing doors and I followed them to investigate. Here the mystery of the missing people was solved because inside the not very promising exterior was a market hall that was bustling with activity. Rows of florists, dairy stalls, butchers and fish mongers and they were all busy because here the prices were much more reasonable and the local people were sensibly shopping here rather than in the pricey supermarket next door. I walked around the stalls and enjoyed the sights and sounds of a real local market and then with time passing by returned to the hotel for check-out and pick-up.
The bus arrived on time and Galina explained that the reason we seemed to be leaving so early (our flight was not for another five hours) was that the traffic could be unpredictable and that she didn’t want to take the risk of running late and missing the plane home. An hour later she rather sheepishly apologised for this being the quickest airport transfer that she could ever remember and this would mean longer than usual waiting in the airport departure lounge.
Nothing slowed us down – the automatic airline ticket machine dispensed our tickets and we were quickly through passport control and the security checks so we found some seats and while Kim enjoyed the unexpected duty free shopping opportunity I went over the notes of our holiday and thought about setting out the top five highlights.
And here they are:
That was a difficult list to compile I can tell you!
This had been a wonderful travel experience and one that only a few years ago I would never have imagined possible. Saint-Petersburg was much as I expected, a northern European Imperial city with large squares and fabulous architecture but as I have said before I was totally unprepared for what I saw in Moscow which took me completely by surprise and I am left with one overriding thought – I’d really, really like to go back!