Tripling down on the Russian options at Pelmeny restaurant on Voznesensky Prospekt. From left to right: Kvass (very tasty), Siberian Pelemeni in butter (even tastier) and borsch (spicy and warming). I may not have the hang of the language yet, but I could survive eating like a Russian quite comfortably…
The first thing I noticed about St. Petersburg was that everything is a little further away than it appears to be. A combination of long, straight, broad avenues and buildings that mostly stick to a six-storey limit help the horizon to extend towards vanishing point. However, there’s also a matter of scale: everything here seems to be built about 10-15 percent bigger than I’m used to.
That building over there isn’t small, it’s just far away.
The result, for someone like me who likes to walk around a lot, has been some extended strolls on this, my first day here. Luckily, I also have a habit of showing up where I mean to be several minutes early. Which means, all things being equal, this has also been a day of strange hyper-punctuality.
I wasn’t pleased about missing my sleeper train to Copenhagen, but I’ll have plenty of chances to sleep on board trains in the weeks to come, and there are benefits. If I’d caught it, I would have slept through a mist-wrapped passage through the coastland of northern Germany and Denmark, dotted with human habitation but with little sign of actual humans. I don’t count my fellow rail travellers; they’re just as ghostly as I am.
Reading Margaret Atwood’s end-of-humanity fiction probably primed something in my brain to appreciate this early-morning desolation, but it’s still splendid. Wide fields of grain, interspersed with trees and electric pylons, and towering above them all the giant figures of the wind turbines, leaning into the breeze as they flail their arms in silent purpose. All of this emerging from and disappearing back into the mist, as though I’m meant to see it for a short while and memorise it. A sort of memory test.
The world has woken up as the day has gone on, with roads joining the rail as we crossed a bridge, and we’re about to hit a ferry too. That will destroy the last fragments of the illusion and start the day in earnest. Still, I’ve got what I wanted from the morning—an end to the tension of last night and a little bit of easy wonder to soothe the soul.
Make your mistakes early—it gives you more time to make amends for them. It’s a good rule to live by, but it doesn’t always work when travelling, when one mistake can cause a domino run of missed connections and extra expenses. Well, I made my mistake on day one (or two, depending on how you count it) but although the dominoes teetered, they haven’t toppled—yet.
That mistake? Getting into the station at Köln/Cologne after enjoying a beer on the banks of the Rhine, only to find that where a train for Copenhagen should have been was a train for Warsaw instead. Had I looked around more thoroughly, I would have spotted that two of its carriages were bound for Copenhagen, after being decoupled in Hannover, but instead I started asking questions of station attendants who were even more confused than I was, and soon my sleeping berth was heading north without me.
Cue some anxious waiting, dawning realisation, confusing and irritating conversations with staff and eventual resolution in the form of the next train, which was at 2.10am, requiring around four hours of sitting on platform 5a of Köln Hauptbanhof. This change in plan doesn’t seem to have cost me any extra, and I’ll get into Copenhagen just in time to catch my onward connection to Stockholm, albeit without the two hours for lunch and good night’s sleep I’d originally hoped for.
So, first crisis averted. Probably. As I write this, I’m on a train somewhere north of Lübeck (passing Neustadt, if the sign I’ve just seen can be believed) moving at a leisurely pace through waterways and forests, mist-enshrouded and still in the early morning. I’ll probably be in Stockholm when I get to post it—another new city and new nation, and the final staging point before the Russian segment of this adventure.
The last moments of the last night before I get the hell out of Dodge and go on this planet’s ultimate trip to nowhere – a circumnavigatory excursion around the northern hemisphere, ending right where I began. (Yes, I could do the southern hemisphere too, but that’s being done by others, and I have to save something for the future.)
It’s been a strange week, laden down as it has been with farewells and dealing with the minutiae of travel planning. Part of that is down to my nature of being, well, prone to focusing on every little detail as if it were just as important as every other little detail. I still do that too much, especially when I get distracted. I’m getting better though.
As the past week has been strange, the past month and year have had their particular flavours. More on that later. I don’t want to delve into the philosophising too quickly. Right now, the basics remain: three hours tomorrow morning to finalise the packing and the last few tasks. Then, well, the rest of the world awaits. It should be epic.