Latvia and St. Petersburg travel blog

The train station (Centralis Stacija) in Riga. Note the Stalin building behind...

Darin and I sitting below Darin's bed.

Darin's bed.

Our berth has two upper bunks, two lower bunks, and an upper...

The Russiand coped with the heat by fanning themselves. Darin was DYING.

As part of our ticket, we each get one magazine and one...

The Latvian countryside is quite lovely.

Again, we were going pretty fast so it was hard to get...

You can barely make out the haystacks in this field.

Stopped at a station to pick up more passengers. We have no...

Passengers who get off just walk across the tracks.

More cute Latvian farmhouses.

Most of the time, the scenery looked like this...lots of pine trees...

...occasionally broken up by farm...

The side of our train, and more trees.

I think this was at another train station.

Me in my cramped top bunk.

Darin looking quite comfy in his bunk.

The scenery in Russia was quite pretty too.

Riding in a taxi through St. Petersburg.

The Vasilievsky Courtyard Marriott, built in 2008.

Our room is SO nice....thanks John!!

We put our clothes away and eat, then it's time for some...

We make it to the train station in plenty of time, so we eat at the station, then board the train. The lady asks us something in Russian, but I didn't understand she was asking whether we wanted top or bottom bunks. I shrug, and she gives us all top bunks. MISTAKE #1: Always ask for BOTTOM bunks if you have a second-class ticket. MISTAKE #2: When you're traveling with a third person, make sure you're all seated together. When the train pulled out of Riga this was not a problem as it wasn't very crowded, so we all sat wherever we felt like. Later, the train made 2 stops and picked up some more people, so Bonnie had to go to her assigned seat which was on the other side of our wall. Luckily, her berth-mate spoke English and was a friendly young student, studying to be an optician. Our berthmates were: a nice Russian lady on the far wall, a grouchy Russian lady who never spoke a word to us, and her 9-year-old daughter who was very friendly, and while she did not speak English, she understood a little.

OK. Now to say the train was HOT would have been an understatement. We were dying. 96 degrees outside, and no A/C. With a mighty effort, we were able to open our window and that helped...however, when we came back from the dining car it had been closed again. Apparently, the diesel fumes get in the car if you leave the window open. There's no way to win. We went back to the dining car because it was cooler, ordered a few beers, and busted out the salami, cheese, and cherries that we had bought in the Central Market. This part was not so bad, and was almost pleasant. Then at 2 am, the kitchen lady told us we had to leave, but we couldn't understand why....we thought we were in trouble because we were being too loud. She shook her head, disappeared, and came back pointing to her passport and papers. OH!! We were about to stop at the border, and we had to be in our seats with our passports. Got it. So we cleaned up, went back to our seats, but at this time all the beds were laid out, so we all had to crawl into our top bunks and wait for passport control. The Latvian side was easy. Two little men in uniforms marched through, took our papers, stamped our passports, done.

We attempted to nap in our bunks while waiting to get to the Russian side of the border. Finally, the train stops at a pitch-black station, and we see about 12 military guys with flashlights board the train. The the passport ladies get on. They take everyone's passports and papers, put them in a box, and whisk them off the train. They tell me we put the wrong passport number on the form-- great. I figure they're going to make us do our forms over, at the very least because Darin wouldn't enter his proper Russian patronymic name. When filling out forms in Russia, they usually want your last name, first name, and patronymic, which is derived from the first name of your father. So my name in Russian is Yulia Antherovna, and Darin's would be Darin Ralphovitch. I can't understand why he didn't want to put Ralphovitch, hahaha! However, when we finally get our passports back, I see that they just wrote the right passport numbers in themselves, and they could have cared less about Darin's patronymic. So yay, no problems at the border and no one gets sent to Siberia.

Finally, after 15 cramped and hot hours, we pull into the Saint Petersburg train station. We pay way too much for a cab (we weren't gong to attempt the subway with all our bags), and get to the Vasilievsky Courtyard Marriott, which has ICE COLD AIR CONDITIONING, the first we've encountered on this trip that meets Texas standards!! Oh were we happy!!

Now, would it have been a better experience had we shelled out the bucks for first class? Hard to say. Near as I could tell from looking at pictures later, first class looks just like second class other than there's only two bottom bunks, and you get a door for privacy. We might have been able to keep our window open the whole time, but otherwise it really didn't look that different!

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