Arriving in St Petersburg
When does one start feeling for a city? What is the IT factor that makes you either hate or love a particular place?
St Petersburg started out badly for me. I don’t have a perfect sense of direction but I’ve always been pleasantly surprised (I’m resisting the urge say ‘proud’) whenever I eventually find a place I’m looking for, which normally only takes minutes after I reread my map and walk around a second or third time.
Not so on the day I arrived in St Pete’s. Looking for my hostel was an absolute nightmare. Instead of asking for my hostel to pick me up- I mean, come ON, who asks their hostel to do that- I tried to be worldly and brave and get there on my own. It didn’t sound too difficult- take a bus from the airport to one of the metro stations then take the metro to the one nearest to the hostel. Walk to hostel. End of story.
But no, I didn’t find my hostel and after 15 minutes of walking around like an idiot, my one-million-pound rucksack was starting to press down hard on my shoulders and make me four foot eleven.
So I did the unthinkable- I hailed a cab. I rarely stop a cab in a foreign country because I can’t bring myself to trust cab drivers, and especially not on the first day. But I had good vibes about this guy and he seemed pleasant enough so off we went.
But no, he couldn’t find it either. He insisted, not rudely, that the address was wrong because there was no such street in St Petersburg. I insisted that it was right and that I hadn’t copied it wrongly from the hostel website, which I couldn’t check at the time because I had no internet on my iPhone.
There was no such street called Sovietskaya 12, he said. I don’t understand Russian but I gathered from what he wrote in my notebook that street numbers ran only up to 10. “Max [hands splayed wide open]”, he said over and over again. “Sovietskaya odeen, Sovietskaya dva, Sovietskaya tree. No [points to my address]”. For a whole hour we drove around. Street number eight, nine, ten, but no 11 or 12.
To cut a (very) long story short, I gave up on the taxi driver, got out at the same metro station I had got down at earlier and walked around on my own. I eventually found the hostel at 9.30 at night, a few inches shorter and drenched from the rain.
That wasn’t my St Petersburg moment, but that would come pretty soon.
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