When Beccles had flown away home, I spent a couple of bonus days ambling – no – striding around St Petersburg, discovering other, further flung corners and delicious, chocolate-box buildings in the wait for that Victory Day that I’d told you about.
Remember how St Petersburg used to be called Leningrad? Well they’ll tell you that his effigy still litters the streets. The first I saw of him was outside the government buildings next to the Smolny cathedral. He was in good company, however, with his good friends Marx and Engels.
Bec had used her GCSE Russian skills to instill in me the basics of Cyrillic. Now alone, I spent two days wandering the streets reading aloud every sign that I looked at. Remember when you were four years old and you had to trace your finger underneath the words as you read them, to make sure that you made all the right sounds? Well, that’s me. It’s like being in primary school again.
Victory Day on the ebb, I boarded the 2.10am night train to Moscow. Not, as I sadly learnt, the famous Red Arrow that plies tourists and natives between the two on a so-called ‘vodka train’. Nevertheless, Victory Day revellers were dancing in the station before boarding and brought with them a haze of booze fumes. By the time we pulled out of the station (surprisingly punctually), everyone was ready to unfurl their bed rolls and be rocked to sleep by the lulling train motion. Crisp, clean sheets and flannels were duly doled out and I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. Which was just as well since there was no room to sit up or turn over in my upper bunk; I had to edge myself in sideways as it was. Ten hours later, I was in Moscow.