Friday, August 29, 2008

Fun stuff

If you have a look at the bottom of this page, you'll see I've added a Slideshow function. But no, they're not MY sunsets. I haven't loaded my own photos onto Flickr yet, so patience, childies.. they will come.

I have to get out and touristing, this is my only day in Tallinn. M says first stop is the market in the Town Hall Square, which has been "the centre of Tallinn life since the 11th century". Cor!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

NB for confused readers..

Below this post are all the St Petersburg posts, written when we were mere tourists, and then detailing M's hospital time and our exit to Estonia. Yes I know the date order is decomposed. I've got so much purrfume on it won't matter. If you scroll down you'll find a post saying "Tallinn; god sei dank", which is today. It's too hard to go through and change all the dates so the St P posts appear in the right date order.

You can cope. Just pour a beer, settle on a cushion with a cat and prepare for pages of T and S!

Birthday? I don't think so... 27th August

Wednesday 27th August, putatively a birthday..

... but it bears NO resemblance to any birthday I’ve ever had. I think my idea to postpone it until the festive mood strikes is a good one.

M is out of hospital, laden with medical documents, advice and consolation. Unfortunately our bus to Tallinn IS the 4.45pm, so we spent the day at the dear old Hotel Sonata, resting and packing and preparing to leave. This didn’t include lunch, because we were sleeping, and that was a mistake. We got to the bus station in plenty of time, shoved our bags into the bus, fell into our seats, and set off on time. I had just enough time to nip over to a kiosk to get a couple of bottles of cold drink, no food.

The road from the outskirts of St Petersburg to the Estonian border is a bastard. It’s been mangled by trucks and half-heartedly repaired so often it is a mass of patches, potholes and crumbling edges. We jolt along for a couple of hours and I feel my back beginning to give... there are a few 5 minute stops along the way, we gather from the evidence that these are mainly to allow the driver to have a smoke! I ran into a cafe at one stop and bought two little Russian pastries, rather like pasties actually - a folded pastry cover with meat and onions inside. I *think* the driver told me I wasn’t allowed to eat them on the bus, as I climbed back on, but me no speaka de Russky, so I just smiled angelically at him and marched back to my seat. We devoured them, following them with ‘dessert’ which was a few sweet biccies M had souvenired from his hospital meals. A bottle of cold drink each and that was it for the supplies.

It took about an hour to get through the border: it goes like this:

Bus pulls up; Russian announcement. Our new friend Dmitri Nikolai, in the seat in front of us, turns to explain that we have to get off, collect all our luggage from the bus, and get in the border security queue. Okay. We do this, trying our best to look like overladen but harmless Aussies lost in a vast land. M goes through before me, and I am relieved to hear the double thump of the stamps which means he’s got through. Then it’s my turn, I do my best to look exactly like my dire passport photo - stern, tired and jowly. No problem, the way I feel... the security guard, a woman, gives me several fierce, piercing looks, then thumbs through my passport as she subjects it to x-ray, ultraviolet light, foreign germ de-bugger, suspicious woman in fake-o Georgio Armani t-shirt dag-alert detektor, ... but she’s unable to find anything to object to and I get the double-thump stamps too and I’m through. We load all our stuff back onto the bus, ourselves into the bus, and we drive 50 metres.... and repeat, at the Estonian border security. Dang.

This is slightly different - we are herded into a shed, which includes a huge jack for lifting up a car to inspekt its underneaths. Once we’re all in, a guard hits a button and a huge automatic garage door arrangement squeaks its way down, preventing us from leaving (running screaming back into the demarcation zone, over a cold river full of anglers ready to cast flies into your ankles...). We both have to have our bags inspekted - the guard looking through my backpack has quite good English, and she smiles as I ‘demonstrate’ my knitting! She asked me what was in my cases, I told her the harmless truth - purrsonal possessions. I had the nous to tell her that we were on a long trip; that’s why we have so much luggage. That was all she needed to hear. But M had to open both his cases, and there seemed to be some bother over his mobile phone (purrhaps the guard thought they were Duty Free, although what difference that would have made, since we weren’t trying to claim anything...). I told the guard I’d bought them for A$100 each, which I think is a big lie, but it was enough for him to nod and allow us through.

The bus was full, so there were perhaps 50 people who had to go through this process. It was pretty slick, for those numbers. But what a drag.. twice... oh well. This don’t feel very birthday-like to me. The ONLY positive thing I can think of (apart from being allowed to LEAVE RUSSIA, which means our extended visas were ok, thank all de lawds and gods) is that I didn’t have to open my cases and have someone ferreting through me smalls, like happened to me in the Beijing Customs Hall with quantities of your average Chinese citizen watching in fascination as my gooby old knickers went on display... geez I blushed that day..well, says she defensively, if YOU had been hand-washing yer smalls in Beijing tap water for three months, yours would be grey, tattered and ratty as well! Beijing tap water has to be approached with extreme caution, a small whip, and a strong arm.

So, we take off again, onto a smooth young well-made highway. The lack of bumps is a mercy. M is bothering me a bit with some marital faffing.. suddenly, I think “In 10 years I’ll be 60”. I go all speechless and have to shut my eyes for a bit. This doesn’t feel very celebratory either... I give up and go to sleep. Some people have left the bus now, so there’s room for M to take over a pair of seats across the aisle, giving us a lot more space. And getting him out of range of any loose lips or wifely biffo of any kind, ahem...

Dmitri helped us retrieve our bags at the Tallinn bus station (he’s a Russian Estonian), find a taxi, and ended up sharing the taxi with us cos his home is further along the same way, sort of, as our hotel. So we have a purrsonal escort to the L’Hermitage Hotel. He’s a charming fellow and we’re very grateful for his help, especially at the Russian border, when he stood by in case there were kvestions from the security people. A very nice bloke. He had started a conversation with us when we were loading our umpteen backpacks etc into the bus, because he recognised our Aussie accents. Turns out he’d been a merchant seaman and had lived in 3 different Aussie cities for 10 months in all, before turning into some kind of electrician who helps set up server rooms and suchlike.

Checking in is easy; they recognise us as ‘the Aussies who were delayed by misfortune’. But the bloody hotel restaurant has just closed (at 11pm Tallinn time; 12 in St P time). The local cafe which used to stay open til 12 is shut. DAMN. I’d kill for a bowl of soup or pasta. The receptionist tells us we can walk up the hill (up???? I don’t think so) to the Old City, where we can find plenty of cafes. We just can’t manage it, M is dropping.. he only got out of hospital this morning,after all. My back is aching, my will is weak, and I’m dying equally badly for a shower. I just want a hot drink. No kettle in ze room, and no chance of me getting into the kitchen a la Sonata (which was just a kitchen in a corner of the reception/breakfast room, just like a normal home kitchen).

I have to take our substantial pile of laundry down to reception so we can get it back tomorrow afternoon. And I spy, with my little tired old eye, a coffee machine. And lo, it came to pass that the darling receptionist, a Sonata-strength dear slip of a girl, one Johanna Lind, made me a latte. Sigggggghhhhhh. I drink it with alternate sips of a gin and tonic, my one concession to a celebratory birdy gesture. [Michael is off the turps until 11 September, as part of ze post-hospital treatment. Today is the 6th day of this abstentive oeriod only 15 days to go - but who’s counting!!..2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8!!!!...

[And I should tell you, the girls at the Hotel Sonata were in a lather as we were leaving, wanting us to wait 5 more minutes. Turns out they’d been plotting - they’d seen it was my birdy and had sent a deputation out to find me a gift! I’m so touched; this is on a par with Kirsi and her hand-picked cloudberries. Wow. I feel very special. When I opened the parcel later, on the bus, there was a card telling me I was a ‘perfect guest’ (I was??? I thought I’d been quite demanding. Interesting.); and two gifts. One is a little replica statue of (we think) the Freedom and Democracy Angel; the other is a very beautiful black with 24 carat gold trim and print mug, which has a little infusion-bowl inset, and a lid. All my trips out to the kitchen to make coffee in our plunger has clearly impressed them with my burning need! It’s a very kind gesture, and we all exchange Russian hugs and kisses (one on each cheek) and M enthusiastically joins in, heh. I feel quite teary as we leave; these women have made my time alone SO much easier.

Peoples is good. Look at what Dmitri did for us today, unstintingly.

Today brought to you by early blasts of Chanel No. 5; rather a lot of eau de fairly old Russian bus; and my mercy-latte.

Tomorrow we have only one plan - sleep; get up for breakfast; sleep again. I hope by Friday we are ert enough to actually do and see a few things. On Saturday, at 10 am, we get on another bus (I hope slightly less aged) to Riga.

One last thing: as I was charging off at 8am to meet M at the hospital, I saw my third Russian cat. It was a beautiful grey tabby with white whiskers, completely sacked out on the steps of a local cafe. I mean TOTALLY sacked out, no blandishments or hopeful conversation from me was gonna wake dat cat up. I can only assume that brekkie via the cafe kitchen had been a highly successful arrangement. Trust a cat to achieve that!

Remarks on Russia and Reverie on Retailing; 26th August

Thoughts... as I walk to the Autobank to fund lunch and interwebs...

Russian young women are GORGEOUS - slim, beautiful skin, graceful. They walk along Nevsky owning the city.. one prevaling fashion is a fitted dress with a fullish skirt, worn quite short over long, long tanned legs and high, high heels. Many of them are wearing high-heeled Mary Janes, which is a demure look on the feet making a strong comparison to the luscious legs and body above!

Another look, although even here it is fading out, is the skinny jean with bare midriff. Most of the women who wear this look overdo the trimmings, especially with high-heeled pumps, sparkly tops, major makeup and fussy hair. I have even seen a few Paris wannabes wearing a dog in their handbag!

Many of the more mature women wear tailored pantsuits; as I have remarked before they fit incredibly well, and the fabrics are high quality and as up-to-date in fashion terms as anything I see in a Vogue magazine. The men, by contrast, are mostly blokes. They wear jeans and hoodies and loafers or sneakers. From time to time I see a fella in a gorgeous suit; the favoured look is a slightly shiny grey fabric (sometimes it’s the gloss of silk), a purrfectly-ironed white shirt, and a quiet tie. Woven leather loafers and an honest to god leather briefcase complete this look. The other prevailing look for men is rather handsome - very short (but not clipped) hair, a thin black jumper, very form-fitting (slight drooling by writer), and dark jeans with leather shoes. They look great, a bit dark and dangerous , their strong features are enhanced by the short hair and the trim look they have because of the fitted clothes. I much prefer it to the slouchy jeans and hoodie look, although I reckon that might be THE most comfy gear on the streets.

And I'm happy to report that I haven’t seen so many little girls dressed up as pole-dancers, as one does in Australia. I’m glad to see that fashion seems unpopular, although I did see padded bra tops in a children’s clothes section in the big department store, the other day. Pffft I say.


Later... I’ve had a shopping fix of my own - I asked Olga and Ivan (staff at the hospital) where to go to buy ordinary clothes, not tourist trap shops, and they sent me off to the wonderfully-named “PIG” shopping mall, which is where I bought my watch the other day. First I have to buy M a b/p machine. Easy! I find the 24 hour Apotek (chemist) and the pharmacist demonstrates a wrist-machine - I note that HER blood pressure isn’t so good; the reading is quite high! Anyway, purchase #1 successfully made. Next door is a huge supermarket, so I wander in, looking for bananas (nyet, of all the rather wonderful fruit and veg on show, the bananas were the only poor quality item, bugger). I found the washing powder but. I noticed a security guard watching me closely while I queued for the till - I had my pack with me, and I thought he might challenge me outside to check that I hadn’t nicked anything (has HE been reading the blog and seen the confession about the geraniums? - and no, Miss B, I am NOT returning them to the Astoria. If you could see the obscene displays of wealth in that hotel! - why even in the entryway they have fantastically ornate and expensive porcelain-ware on display, and the boring old windows opening the cafe to the street have gold leaf urns on the ledges, ick). The guard didn’t stop me, I’m glad about that even though I know I didn’t have contraband in me bag...

I go upstairs to all the clothes shops, to see if I can find a cardie for me, a pair of jeans, or a jumper for M. The boutiques are full of tiny clothes, being inspected by tiny people. Hm... even the English clothes store has a limited range of sizes - their idea of a size 16 is my idea of a small 14, unless we 16s are meant to wear our clothes so tight that every teeny bulge and freckle shows. NOT for me. Even the ‘sloppy’ cardies are made to be worn with a waist belt (a disastrous look for me), and not really done up, the buttons are for show. No point to it, in my pragmatic view; what’s the point of a cardie if you can’t wrap it around you like a hug?

Next stop is a jeans shop - one of my worst nightmares for years. However I am delighted to report that in spite of the language barrier, I have purchased a pair of jeans which fit very well, and (gob drops to the floor in disbelief, cos I got loooooooong leggies) they are even too long! I think this might be only the second time in my life that I’ve been able to buy daks that are too long. It will be my pleasure to sew the hems up, one day soon. When I can bear to not wear them! Yes, I have them on now, of course I do! The shop assistant was a very non-standard person for a jeans shop (cf Australia I mean) - she was in her 30s, quite pregnant, and not even wearing jeans herself. She understood me well enough to find different shapes and sizes, and I understood her well enough to be able to make decisions about colour, and all those different leg choices you get in jeans (straight, boot, regular, comfort, etc... huh? I just avoid anything which says ‘skinny’, never wear boots, and hope for ze best..). Ta-da!!! I am delighted. [I think I really put my finger on it earlier when I described jeans as ‘so normal’. Normal is good. It’s a dangerous word in nearly all situations I reckon, but applied to putting yer daks on in the morning it’s ok I think.. hey while I’m writing this, on the teev there’s some sort of history of Russian/Baltic ancient buildings, and the background music is something I recognise with great delight (is this the gods sending me an apologetic early birdy offering???) - it’s Arvo Paert’s ‘Fratres’, oh swooon. I love this spare, elegaic music. Wowee....]

Where was I? Oh yes, in shopping mode. Well, on the strength of the successful jeans purchase (not cheap, in fact it’s the most I’ve ever paid for mere denim .. nyup I’m not gonna think about that. It seems really REALLY bad in roubles, cos to get the cost of roubles from Aussie dollars, you multiply by 20. Puts the numbers into the thousands!), I looked in a few menswear shops and found a good cotton jumper that M and I can share. It’s maroon cotton knit, cables all down ze front, maybe a touch fancy, but cotton is good, long man-shaped jumper is good, and maroon is a lovely colour for both of us. I left M wearing it at the hospital, after I staggered back there with all my stuff. It was fun unpacking all the loot, and he’s delighted with his new little travelling b/p machine. Even Olga the nurse had a play with it.

Yeah, retail therapy. As I stomped home in the rain at 9pm, I was thinking “am I shallow; easily-led; a mere money-laundering machine in human form?” - this being one of the eternal worries that women berate themselves with (I don’t know if men do it, I’m only generalising about women cos I’ve never discussed it with a bloke). But I dunno, if shopping IS a wasteful, indulgent, shallow, mindless and self-deluding pastime, it sure works. And I don’t think we can ALL be these negative things. I came round to thinking (as I passed the rich, useless gleam of the Astoria doorman’s waistcoat button) that shopping functions as a diversion, which can be a very merciful thing. And being good little capitalists, we are programmed to acquire, accumulate, enhance ... and when one has money too, it seems quite a natural process. I’m not going to enter the debate about the moral issue, if it IS a moral issue, of consumerism, I’m sticking to my point which is wondering why *I* felt better after I’d been shopping. And one can read as much into this as one likes, it’s an old, old debate which can have all sorts of irksome lurking guilts and depths of moral turpitude attached to it. Nyet to that. I think I felt better because I’d ACHIEVED something I needed to achieve - the b/p machine and the wash powder -; I was happy to get good service AND to find something I wanted - the jeans -; I was feeling affectionately happy about being able to give M another jumper, and feeling satisfied that it was a good discount for what I could see was a decent quality item (that old Virgo gratification of value for money, the elemental practicality!); and then I found an excellent giftie for my darling dorter. Which of course I can’t describe or it won’t be a sprise for her.. and the thing about THIS purchase was that it was a total impulse buy, and the young woman who tempted me into it had excellent if eccentric English, and was happy to discuss with me various words she needed to describe her wares, and to have a little sisterly sort of chat, and we were best friends in five minutes. AND it was a good price and so pretty.... heh, darling dorter, is all this driving you nuts not knowing? Sowwy...

AND my reward for all this money-for-jam activity was to see an actual cat, the second one in 10 days. This guy was a short-haired torty, quite dark, wearing a most attractive yellow collar. He eschewed any contakt with me, speaking purrfekt Russki kat in his total ignore. I didn’t want to pat him in case I got germs, this is NOT the time for me to get sick. But I went ‘puss puss’ and he went ‘staring in opposite direction because I am too supurrior to notice a mere wet stranger’. And then a woman walking a bloody great bear of a German Shepherd monster went past, and the cat had to give it a really hairy eyeball. I noticed that the dawg looked away first! This evidence of the natural order cheered me, too.

My thoughts on the value of shopping have not exactly coalesced, but I wonder why we put a moral value on it as an activity (as we do eating, ‘fatness’, purrfectly normal variations in body bits, sex, gender relations of certain kinds - eg having doors opened for one, or not; getting paid less as a workforce if you’re not a bloke; drinking ‘too much’, etc etc.). I don’t understand the moral value bit - why is it a good thing to spend money and then feel guilty afterwards? Why bother? Guilt is paralysing and leads to nothing much in the way of a good thing in my view. I prefer to examine what conscience I have and try to take a less emotional approach - if I feel ok, then I think it’s ok to feel ok. If I don’t, cos I’ve broken the Visa or paid more than I know is within my means, or is what the product is worth, then I reckon a bit of self-admonishing is about right. ... I think I’m saying the same thing in different ways, and getting PROFOUND. This is an alarming manifestation which occurs when I am tired, and/or pissed, and/or being allowed to talk too much. So I’m off to me bed, happy, OH so happy, to know that M will be released from room 2, 4th floor, American Medical Clinic, St Petersburg, tomorrow morning some time. We have until 4pm to loll about and get ready for the bus, and we’ll be in Tallinn by 11pm. Yoiks tally ho!

Today brought to you by mild cheese, the aroma of my lunchtime grilled chicken, and a few more buckets of Chanel No. 5. And I’d like it noted that I went PAST a purrfume shop at “PIG” - I dearly wanted to go in and buy a bottle of Chanel No. 5 ‘Huile Sensual’ AND I DIDN’T. I’m sorry now but.

Brain-dump, Monday 25th August

[Finally I've found a WiFi cafe near the hotel]... just reading good wishes from many people, who have taken the time to send me/us lovely messages of good health and hugs and gin and humour, and one hilarious story of a huge cat fart - I’m rolling around the bed giggling at that one, thanks Toni!

M has had a rocky few days - yesterday he was very bored and irritated (as was I, a long story behind THAT which might make it into this immortal blog).. today he was fine in the morning, and we decided after seeing the doc [she reported good blood tests but made it clear that she wanted him to stay in until Wednesday morning for further treatment, they want to be QUITE sure that a) his liver is ok, and b) his blood pressure is under control - it’s been up and down so that’s not stable yet]... that we would both have afternoon naps. I had quite a good snooze in spite of a lot of street noise; then got started on umpty phone calls to sort out new bus and hotel bookings. The travel ppls in Tallinn in particular were very impressive, double-checked all my arrangements made over the weekend and even discovered (or organised, I’m really not sure) that there would be no ‘late’ or ‘no-show’ fees. Wunderbar!

But at 7pm M was sounding very pale on the phone; I quickly had my Net fix and then loped over to see him. His fluctuating blood pressure has given him some headaches, and tonight it was very bad. He was upset and worried and anxious and in pain and impatient and irritated and sad.... I held his hand, and nipped out to ‘get a cuppa tea’ for which read ‘take the nurse aside and ask her if he could have something to help with the anxiety’ ... she (Xenia) is a very good nurse; she’s been the only one who’s stopped in just to chat and see that he’s ok for little things.

[Here is a rundown on Russky/American Klinik praktices - no changing of ze bed or towels since M was admitted; much less attention to what I consider to be good antiseptic practices... the nurses don’t take away rubbish of any kind (including the umpteen little pill cups and bits of gauze/tape/needle cover bits); they don’t tidy the bed and make the sheets smooth again; no attention to if M has enough water; no waterproof wrapping over the bandages on his wrists to help him shower (he’s had cannulas in both wrists, cos the first arm vein packed up after 24 hours; it was moved, then moved back, the poor man is pretty sore now)... I guess we could make more fuss and perhaps get more care, but it seems not only a big effort, but rather ungrateful. Yesterday was especially difficult because M’s nurse had no English, which was very trying for him when he was asking for help with a headache, and then trying to tell the nurse that it was no better..]

Tonight he had had extra b/p meds, but had a bad headache and was really not himself. He had a shot of something, then a godly doktor arrived - he patted M’s hand; gripped his shoulder in a manly sort of way, and assured him that there is nothing badly wrong and that he was NOT to worry and all would be better in the morning, including the problem of the fluctuating blood pressure. M was briefly cheered by this, but his headache was still bad, and eventually we asked for more help. He had another shot, and diazepam of some variety to help him relax, and he was finally ready to let me tuck him in and leave him to try to rest. I really do hope he feels better in the morning, *I* may not be able to stay cool and stoic if he’s still in pain and Wednesday’s possible departure gets question marks all over it...

I dined on 2 cheese sammos, thanks to finding a small superette on the way home, and having just enough roubles left to buy a packet of sliced cheese. I also have a packet of rather nice poppy seed crackers, an endless supply of extremely fake-o apricot jam, butter and condensed milk (thanks to the hotel fridge), a bit of chocolate, and coffee. My most important supply was the remaining small tin of gin and tonic, which is MY version of a valium and a little lie-down! I shall now invoke the latter part of that statement and see if I can collapse. It’s windy tonight and my door is rattling; it sounds JUST like someone trying the handle to see if it’s locked, most annoying. And a little while ago, we had the fourth lot of fireworks in a row - every night, comes the revolution! I do wish they’d get ON with it!

G’night. Seeya on the webs tomorrow. I can feel a major fix coming on, along with my must-do list which includes buying a blood pressure machine, going to the English book shop again, buying some more washing powder, and having a proper meal if I can. I ought to be eating my main meal at lunchtime so the evenings can be spent at the clinic with no worries about cafes being closed a la last night, when I leave M to come back to the hotel; but I can’t fancy hot chicken and oily fried veggies at that time of day. I want a toasted sammo! Such a thing has not made itself evident to me here, yet. The pizza I had for lunch was pretty good, nice thin crunchy crust, and good veg. Spoiled by the many people aiming for early-onset emphysema over their desserts. Oh yum, tiramisu and a fag.


Reverie at Sonata 23/8 - evening, tired and lonely...

It was harder, today, to leave M at the clinic and come ‘home’ alone... I wandered through some different parts of the streets, half-looking for a small ‘milk bar’; half-hoping for a restaurant to entice me in; half-ready to cry. It’s all very well being practical and patient, but the implicit drama of ‘M is in hospital in Russia, with fluctuating heartbeat, blood pressure and liver function’ is playing its part. He’s fine in himself, getting bored with the very limited reading we have, and none of the signs of illness are worsening. I bumped into the doctor as I went in this evening (having failed to have my internet fix, which I think has got me down a bit, I’d dearly love to read some news from home); his rundown is that M’s signs are still not stable, and he (the doc) is relieved that we are prepared to stay as long as necessary to make sure M is quite well, before we resume our travels.

He said M’s heartbeat was very low during the day, combined with big fluctuations in blood pressure. The white blood cell count has come down (good); the potassium level has gone up a bit (good), and he has no purging or further signs of gastric disturbance. He’s been up and walking around, eating his light diet, absorbing buckets of IV fluids, etc etc... why am I so uneasy?

Maybe I’m a bit lonely. A hotel room with a dead-donkey-coloured rug is not exactly inspiring. Then again the staff have gone out of their way to make sure I’m comfy, supplied with anything and everything they can offer me; the maid chattered to me in Russian as she tenderly made my bed with fresh sheets (and had a loooong fight to get the doona back into the cover, that was funny). The plumber came in and inspyekted the side and back of the wardrobe (ie the walls) to see where the leak was coming from, but of course when HE ran the shower, nothing happened. Purrhaps I overcharged the system with all my rinsing of clothes before lavishly showering myself, those two times it puddled. I dunno.

I found a little superette and bought a big bottle of still water (I can’t get used to the fizzing when I clean my teeth with the sparkling stuff); some poppyseed crackers, and some chocolate. They didn’t have tins of gin and tonic, only gallons of beer and vodka, and something called Red Martini. Looks like cherry port - syrupy and a bit toxic! I decided to go back to the bakery to get some bread; nothing like a bit of carbohydrate. No problem getting it; in fact I got a discount! My purchase was R56, and I only had a R1000 note, or R53. The assistant didn’t like the R1000 note; said sternly to me ‘SMALL MONEY!’, and I showed her I only had the R53. ‘Okay’ she said. Amazing! I worked it out, a discount of 3 roubles is worth about .15 of one Australian cent. Won’t be able to retire on that just yet.

Got meself back to the hotel room and then remembered - booze. Damn. I can’t be stuffed going back out for that. On with the ‘lympix and try to cheer up a bit. Here is my recipe for cheering-up-of-lonely-nearly-birthday-grrl-in-anonymously-average-Russian-hotel:

-take shoes and socks off
-take t-shirt off, hot hot hot
-wash hands lavishly and apply Aquium
-eat crust of bread - not bad
-eat next slice of bread too, thinking ‘I should go and get some butter’ but don’t act on it
-eat small sticky bun purchased against my weak willpower
-unpack 1.5 litre bottle of water and have a glug of cold, fresh, not-fizzy water
-look skeptically at poppy-seed crackers and open chocolate instead
-discover it is similar to a giant Kit Kat, nom
-eat 2/3 of it without the willpower issue causing any further problems
-wish I had some booze but drink more water
-turn shower on to get hot water to steam wrinkles out of tomorrow’s daks
-change into clean nightie, turn down bed, spray self lavishly with Chanel No. 5
-think about darling dorter, mother, father and dear friends; add 10 hours to current time and think that they won’t love me back much if I ring now
-think about ringing M but don’t want to wake him if he’s finally stopped having things poured into his wrists [he has to watch the fluid level in the IV bags and ring ze bell for ze nurse when it gets low. Not the nurse’s chob apparently... he was hoping his 10pm bag would start early so he could get to sleep; he’s tired. Didn’t/couldn’t sleep much last night; pillows and bed all wrong; worry; lack of wifey etc etc..]
-watch a bit of ‘lympic biffo on the teev - a kickboxer disagreeing with the umpire had a shout and then kicked him in the head! tsk tsk..
-realise I must write out my wowwies so I can sleep myself. I could, of course, take extra meds, but I don’t want to be groggy in ze morgen (sorry, yes dad of course I mean ‘groggiER’). Ha ha etc.

If you follow this recipe, you will be feeling more like this:

-you’ll smell great
-your feet will have stopped aching
-you’ll have that ‘organised Virgo’ feeling about your clothes for tomorrow
-you’ll be able to tell yourself that no booze means your willpower DID work, just not in the usual field of calories
-you’ll also be able to enjoy rather than be irritated by the loud bangs and thumps going on outside, which is more RF Flag Day fireworks going off in the Heritage Square, about 150m away behind a row of buildings. [I can just see the edges of some of the pretties... not sufficiently well to take photos. And no, I’m not going out to join the crowd. I’ll get my feets trodden on or my pockets pickled or my purrson propositioned or somesuch. Not my cuppa tea today.]. Yep, here comes ze nekxt rrrevolutionsk!
-and, you might even feel better in general. A bit. Sort of. Nothing a cat couldn’t fix propurrly if a cat was anywhere it was NEEDED.

NOT in Estonia, Saturday 23 August

eYesterday M was fine at breakfast, but tired. Both of us needed more sleep .. he was suddenly rushing to the bathroom, then shaking violently and in a cold sweat. We layer him with every warm thing we have, stuff him into bed and hold hands. In half an hour or so the shaking has stopped and he is not so pale. I take his temperature, not good at 37.5.

Little by little, we try a few sips of water, a cracker or two, then two disprin. After about an hour I take his temp again, and it’s gone up to 38.2. Ok, we’ll need a doctor. The women in reception give me a flyer for the American Medical Clinic, which is not far away. I call and politely refuse to go away until they give me an appointment almost immediately. They first said 7pm but I am not prepared to wait with M’s temp possibly shooting up even higher, and him maybe not even well enough to get in a cab. I shudder to think what it might take to get an ambulance, even thru the American clinic (whose staff are incredibly helpful).

Meantime I start ringing our Russian travel agents and try to see what might happen if we can’t get on the bus to Tallin, which was booked for an 11am Saturday departure. No good with the phone calls; I can’t get through. There’s no time to pursue this, we go off to the clinic in a taxi [getting a lecture from the driver when we get there - something has got up his nose about the way we asked or what we said or something. ‘There are million taxi driver in here city; only one or two I know where you are meaning’. Ok. Huh?].

We are sent to a consultation room very quickly, and in comes the doctor (whose name I have got spectacularly wrong, calling her Doctorovsky, which is the masculine form. Ooops.. ).. Her diagnosis is that M has a ‘tyoxick infyektion’ and should stay overnight to have a drip for rehydration. She’s taken blood and the initial results show a high white blood cell count - sure sign of bacteria at work.

He has a room to himself (and we think he is perhaps the only customer, it’s very quiet in the corridors). The doc comes back with a bit more news: he is to have a rehydrating drip with potassium and some antibiotic. The first bag runs through very quickly, and he has I think three of them before 10pm. I go back to the hotel to get him some clothes and such, and start to sort out the change of plans.

The hotel people are wonderful; they assure me that they have a room for Saturday night; they are very concerned for me as well as M, and offer to help in any way they can. They fluff around me a bit, giving me coffee and clean towels and we have a talk about how people are just people wherever you go; this is so true.

I get onto the travel agent and she too is very concerned for us and keen to offer help. She can’t guarantee reservations on the bus, and the very clear inference is that we aint going nowhere until Monday - it’s going to be very difficult to leave on Sunday, if that’s how it works out; no offices open on ze weekend of course... Then I try to ring the Tallinn hotel to tell them of the delay, but no dice with the phone number. But, aha!, I have a Tourist Helpline flyer, so I ring them and very quickly Zhjenny sorts out my problem - I need more dialling codes (a country code and then a city code, to add to my area code and local number). I get through after that, no worries.

The travel agent rings me back with a solemn message - we know that M can have his visa extended via a letter from the doctor. But MY visa is also expiring and I must be very careful to make sure I too am certified as having to stay longer. She says a few dire things about “pyenalties at ze border” and I see myself hauled off the bus and left whimpering in the guard house while M sails off to Estonia...

Back to the clinic with M’s supplies, and to see what administrative progress we can make. The nurse (Olga) says we’ll have to talk to the doctor in the morning. I check with their reception staff and they say ‘We do this all the time; don’t worry; can we help you with a hotel room or would you like to stay here?” etc etc. I can’t fault the generosity of everyone I’ve spoken to, if I need any assistance all I have to do is blink and I will be overwhelmed.

And now it’s 10.30 pm and I haven’t really eaten since breakfast; a quick stop at a cafe earlier was only partially helpful because all their savoury food was sold out. Except for some rather oily-looking slices of pizza sitting in an unchilled cabinet. Nyet for me. I charge down to Nevsky (a quick charge down the canal, which is looking very pretty in the night lights). Suddenly, the revolution is upon me, I can hear loud bangs and crowds roaring. What?? I never!.... but then my brain starts working again and I remember that M told me it’s Russian Federation Flag Day, and what I can hear is fireworks. Phew, though.

At Nevsky the cafe I want is closed, so I give up and go to Maccas. There is a time and place for it, I know this from life in Beijing.. sometimes you just have to know exactly what you’re going to get. The queue is long and unmoving, and it’s HOT. After about 15 minutes, a woman in the crowd yells out - seems pretty obvious to me she’s saying ‘Why isn’t anyone serving??’. It’s certainly the slowest and least efficient Macca’s I’ve ever been in... a bloke pushes through the crowd to join his mate and no-one objects - that’s because he’s nearly 7 feet tall and looks EXACTLY like a Mongolian warlord - the arched brows, the slightly Asiatic facial features, not to mention the shoulders about five feet wide! He seems a nice enough bloke for a warlord...

Eventually, eventually, after at least 30 minutes, I get served. I order enough for two people, because I find Maccas doesn’t ‘stick’ very well, and because I’m exhausted and half-dead from worry and responsibility and thinking hard about what to do. And if ever a woman DESERVED a soft serve icecream with hot chocolate fudge sauce....NOM.

Back at the hotel I deliver another report to the reception women; retrieve my tin of gin and tonic, snarf down my fabbo junk fix, and begin packing. Because, at this stage, the doctor is saying if M’s tests look alright in the morning, we can shake a leg or three and leap onto the bus to Estonia. It takes me two hours to wash out some stuff we need and pack all our stuff, going more and more slowly because I’m soooo tired. I’m helped along by having the ‘lympix on, and I see the big Aussie redhead win the men’s pole vault, yay! And I see a bit more of the diving, thank you whichever goddess sent that .. I finally fall into a cool shower at 2am, kick a towel over the puddle which forms under the wardrobe if I run the shower for more than 30 seconds, and fall into bed.

I don’t care any more if there’s a revolution.


I’m at the clinic at 8.45am on Saturday, at the very second the doctor (a different one) arrives brandishing test results for M. There’s a lot of mulling over of possibilities and explanation of what the tests show .. high white blood cell count; very low potassium; liver function all over the place. On the good side (!) M’s temp is down, and he feels ok - there’s been no cough, pain, tummy trouble or headaches. The doctor says we can go if we like, sign off here and resume medical treatment in Tallinn. Which means finding a doctor there on a Sunday. He’s not very keen on this choice; he wants to give M quite a lot more treatment, so we assure him we’re prepared to stay until Monday. We mention the visa issue again; he says ‘It’s not my chob but ze attministrayshn will hyelpp’. Okay...

M is to have another blood test to see what has changed. And while that’s cooking, he will have four more bags of rehydrating fluid, with masses of potassium added (low potassium levels are dangerous for people who have heart problems), antibiotics, and several doses of ‘a soll-yution” to clear toxins from the digestive system. [This is charcoal - he said it was disgusting, chalky grey stuff. As long as it WORKS!]

As I write, at 7pm on Saturday evening, he’s had his buckets of fluids, several light meals, and his temp and bp are steady - temp down but not all the way to normal I don’t think. He’ll be in the clinic until Monday morning, when Plan B will be formed. We hope this might be ‘leap onto the bus to Tallinn’, but the travel agency has given me a weekend contact number which isn’t connected, so I have no idea if they can sort out the tickets. We may have to stay another night, and go on Tuesday... what is it with the karmic forces keeping me away from Tallinn? Is there something I don’t know????

I just hope we get there by Wednesday, cos that’s my birthday, and that’s where I want to be! Even if Arvo (Paert) doesn’t make it to meet me at the bus station, I can cope with the rejection, but sheesh.. I just wanna have a look.

Next post I’ll tell you about Thursday, which started off kinda low, but improved to quite something. I’m at a cafe which proudly advertises “WiFi” but nyet, not working. Ditto the wireless webs at the hotel, I have passwords and stuff but the connection won’t .. well .. connect. I may trot down past the three canals which cross Nevsky, to the dear old smoky Cafe Max, to let youse know what’s happening, but first I must trot over to see my dear M for some husband therapy.

Today brought to you by ‘Enjoy’, because I need to remember to do a bit of this.

[PS For the first time in this city, I saw a cat this morning as I charged off to see M - it was a little short-haired grey with a few white splodges, including one big milky one splashed across its moosh. It didn’t speak, but gazed at me in Russian to hint mutely of depravations, denials, poor service and a general downturn in the standard of living. How come all cats say this, every time,every language, everywhere? Skivers, the lot of them AND it wouldn’t have a pat... ]

Nevsky Prospekt, 20th August

All we did today was walk along Nevsky Prospekt... doing battle with the huge crowds, trying to avoid smokers, beggars, spruikers and the handbag arm-gangs! [The standard position for a beggar is sitting down in the gutter (not the road gutter, the water-draining gutter right next to the building walls); with a scrap of cloth laid out for coins; crying. Awful.

We’re looking for a few specific things, and prospecting (sorry) for lunch. First we pass the cd shop, the Stroganoff Monument (still not looking very tasty, although the kissing couples on the grass are rather sweet) and the Stockman shopping centre. Home of L’Occitane to the House of Moi, remember? We go in to use the Bankomat, M’s theory being that it’s safer to go inside somewhere with a) a guard on the door, and b) a relatively private, non-street location. Fine with me. I manage to resist the L’Occitane by virtue of thinking how much longer my money has to last (and how many countries I will have travelled through by then, let’s see ... five, and I’ll be on my way to the sixth and seventh!).

M is looking for a newsagent that may have English (British or American) newspapers. We trawl the shops leading to the Metro, nyet; various large bookshops on the street, nyet nyet nyet. Then we come to the side-street where M has noted there is a supermarket. We’re dying for lack of fresh fruit (we tried to buy some of the bananas in a bowl on the counter at KaveHaus yesterday; no luck, the woman in charge said firmly “DISPLAY ONLY”. Oh.). We walk around the block, looking for the address which matches the map marker. Nyup. However I note the Segafredo sign on a cafe, aha! - Italian coffee, a brand I know. So that’s lunch taken care of (at 3pm - why does everything take so LONG???)

With M’s help, and the little bit of English the proprietor has, I manage to buy some ground Segafredo to bring back to the hotel. The Helsinki supermarket coffee isn’t a patch on the Illy I bought in Bergen, so supplies of something nicer is good to find. The cafe people (at least three of them) invite me to take a seat while they measure out the beans, grind them up, measure them again, and put them in a little container. It costs me about $A12 for 200g, not cheap, but oh how lovely it will be tomorrow morning (or even in a minute, ie 9pm) when I make my first pot. Mr Proprietor was trying to ask me how I was going to use the coffee: I engaged brain and said “We have a press” (miming pushing down the plunger on a coffee pot) and he recognised ‘press’ (ie French Press, that’s what plungers are called in Scandinavia I noted)). So that’s alright, he’s ground the coffee to the right grundity.

There’s no sign of a supermarket, or anyone carrying groceries in bags, so we go further down Nevsky, getting into seriously expensive Western hotel territory (the Radisson, the Grand Palace), looking for Cafe Max, a big cafe and internet site. And there it is! I posted a short blog entry from here, a bit tiredly I think. It’s the essence-de-communist-state which is getting me down. I don’t know how long it was before Budapest, for example, threw off the grim face of the hard years and became a more optimistic, open city; but St Petersburg hasn’t made it yet. The amount of restoration, renovation, updating, servicing is impressive - there are dug-up roads, canals, and pathways everywhere; it seems every building has some stage of shade cloth or scaffolding attached to some part of it; along our street there are men rebuilding window frames and scraping paint off the old ones; glaziers are doing huge business; and there are cranes making the baroque rooftops look very out of date.

I spent a happy hour at the interwebs... catching up on some email, a quick blog entry, and an even quicker last 15 seconds look at my bank book. Hey mum, isn’t that cheque in the mail yet??? I didn’t have time to answer every email, sorry especially to my darling dorter, but we WILL catch up soon. [Can you put things like this in your blog ... ?]

M’s gone off to find another newsagent where he’s more hopeful of finding a newspaper. He’s had a quick look at, chuckling his way through a few entries; flicked onto the Sydney Morning Herald home page, and checked his email. [We both find it amusing that his university’s site, when accessed from anywhere but home, always generates a warning box saying ‘THIS SITE IS UNKNOWN TERRITORY POSSIBLY CONTAINING NASTYPUTEREATINGVIRALSPAMGOOBIES”... hasn’t his illustrious institution registered itself as kosher yet? The interwebs spy devices certainly don’t like it. He has to choose the box marked “GO AHEAD AND CONNECT AGAINST OUR EARNESTLY GOOD ADVICE”. Heh. I think after all that he didn’t find anything particularly interesting waiting, what a pity. One could possibly hope for something really suss, or really silly .. anyway, just as I finish my webbing, he’s back with the paper.] Next stop, supermarket possible location number two. A bit of back-tracking along one of the canals, and hurray there it is! Full of actual supermarket things, like soap, and many aisles of grog, and FRUIT, and nuts and crackers and cheese and fresh milk which isn’t off and a zillion types of preserved meats. Huzzah.

We re-stock our vitamins-via-dried fruit supply, add milk and cheese, and top it off with wine, tins of gin and tonic, and two large bottles of Evian water. Buying sparkling water, 375ml at a time, to clean our teeth is getting annoying. It’s quite an experience, I know one usually foams at the mouth a bit when tooth-cleaning, but try fizzy water for a really special, up the back of the nose effect. Or perhaps, don’t...

Then all we have to do is lug our purrchases back to the hotel, about a mile away. M wants to take a taxi, but we can’t see any passing. Then a woman, possibly homeless and quite probably drunk or not well, starts shouting and pushing at someone near where we’re standing. We put one hand each through the supermarket bag and start walking. By the time we get back to Nevsky I reckon it’s not worth getting a taxi - will it have a meter? Probably not. How on earth do we work out what a decent price is to haggle with the driver? I can’t be stuffed. We puddle along, taking it in turns to carry the bag or sharing it between two lengthening arms. We can do it. I silently thumb my nose at the curdled milk lady as we pass by..

Since we staggered back to the room, apart from eating up lots of our lovely new food, I’ve been watching the Olympics. I’ve seen a bit of high jump, volleyball, diving (yes! some diving), some interviews with medal winners (it seems we’ll be going to Estonia just in time for them to celebrate their first ever Gold Medal - in shot put), and now some replays of medal-winning races.

I reckon the bit of today which isn’t already on the blog is brought to you exclusively by gin and tonic, with a slight hint of cheese and cracker; to be followed shortly by Tired Foot and Leg Cream dessert!


Hey we’ve cracked the code of the classical music cafe - it’s not the cafe which plays the bassoon quartets, it’s the cd shop upstairs with its speakers sitting over the cafe’s outside tables! So we forgive them for the MTV, after all.

And a little NB for my model-making dear ones: I saw three person-sized costumes today:
- a very poor brown bear, his face was all wrong, even the eyes weren’t level. He was handing out flyers for a cafe I think, purrhaps a regional Russian cuisine serving wild forest animal dishes!;
- a grubby, cheap and battered polar bear, also handing out flyers of some sort (ppl handing out flyers are 10 a rouble along the main road, the majority of them are for restaurants or strip-clubs. If either brown or polar bear had anything to do with a strip-club then the connection escapes me. The photo signs for the strip clubs exclusively feature Spamela Pamderson, btw!);
- a man in an extremely fierce-looking samurai costume, right down to the tasselled cap and black-banded mouth’n’nose cloth, who was, yes, handing out flyers for the nearby Japanese restaurant. His trouble was that he looked so scary I don’t know if anyone was grabbing the flyers!

.... the flyer-hander-outerers also seem to act informally as information guides; I saw quite a few people asking questions - mostly ‘where is KFC?’ and ‘how much further to Target?’ sort of questions. All in Russian, so purrhaps they are a little part of the implicit ‘how to get things done in St Petersburg’ system - you know, the implicit local knowledge stuff that none of us ever see written down; we just know how it’s done. The implicit local stuff (says she, warming to her subject) which is EXACTLY why it takes four hours to buy a bucket, or go to the bank, or find a grog shop (a la Bergen), etc etc. Too basic for the tourist brochures; too informal for the council signs; and too internalised for the locals to think of sign-posting it. Dammit!

Hermitage Museum etc, 19th August

The Great Palace of Tsar Peter 1st, otherwise known as the Hermitage Museum, is 10 minutes walk from our hotel. Yesterday we walked through the square outside the palace buildings; photographing monuments and crowd scenes. Today we’re heading inside.. we wanted to get going at 10am but for some reason I just could NOT sleep last night, so it’s more like midday by the time I catch a bit of zz after dawn and M pours coffee into me.

We join the queue at 1.45. It’s cool and grey, raining just a little bit, but quite comfy. The queue looks to be about 300 people long, to the front of the building. But as we get closer we see that it snakes inside a huge courtyard, and once we’re inside there, it snakes along nearly three sides of the courtyard to the main entrance. All the way along, people, mostly women, come along and try to persuade us to leave this queue and go over to the other side of the square to buy tickets. We’re not sure why, it doesn’t seem to be linked to joining a guided group. We watch closely to see what other people do. No-one goes off, so we stay put. M wanders around a bit, looking for any English signs, or any sign that leaving this queue is the right move. Doesn’t seem to be. After we’ve been waiting for about an hour, the wind has strengthened and we are cold. The queue has more or less stopped moving, and many of the people in summer tops have goosebumps. M trots back to the hotel for extra clothes for both of us, and I stand using my umbrella as a wind-shield, jiggling my legs and saying to myself ‘isn’t it LOVELY to be COLD?’, over and over...

M takes a bit longer than I am happy with.. can I see the end of the queue? Has he been shut outside in the square, according to some Russiansk rule of gate that we didn’t know about? Has he fainted and fallen over a cobblestone and been carried off by a noble Russian horse-ambulance to the nearest field hospital? Has he (and we know, don’t we dear readers, that he is entirely capable of this) stopped on the way back to get me a takeaway coffee??? I shiver and try to think more positive thoughts, like ‘Won’t I enjoy the museum by the time I get in, it must be so incredibly Russian royal extravaganza’ .. hurray, here he is, carrying an extra t-shirt and my trusty, warm and wonderful pashmina. [Dearest reader, if you go anywhere that might be the tiniest bit cool or rainy, take a pashmina. They work wonderfully well as raincoat, umbrella, shawl, jumper, arm-warmer, kidney-belt and (even) twisted into a small bag. They don’t stretch, run, fall to bits, chafe, loose colour or show the dirt. One of my best ever purrchases, thanks Cath for talking me (easily) into it!]

The goosebump girls have sent one of their party over to a kiosk to get coffee and rolls. They devour them, then light up slim cigarettes. I guess all additives might help at this stage. 

We get to the door of the ticket office not quite 2 hours after we join the queue. While we’re in the doorway (a revolving door held unmovingly open by force of numbers) lots of people are pushing past, trying to get to the loos I think. They really shove, one woman nearly takes off my arm with her bloody alligator of a handbag. I get rude, saying ‘NO WORRIES, SHOVE AWAY ME DARLINS, IT’S ORRIGHT I DON’T NEED THAT ARM, WHAT ARMY DID YOU GET THROWN OUT OF?’ and it’s ok, no-one understands a word, in fact they don’t even react to my tone of voice. Grrr....

At the ticket office there is a sign saying we can buy a multi-visit ticket. But asking for one is hopeless, the ticket-seller just scowls at me and gestures towards the information desk around the corner. Why on earth would the ticket-seller to THE most important museum in St Petersburg speak English?? I am NOT abandoning this queue! Two tickets for one expensive visit please. The museum closes the doors to entries at 5pm, and closes overall at 6pm. We don’t have much time, and we must have something to eat.

Getting in is another hassle - we go through the security sensor thing (like at an airport) and the guard gestures to M’s plastic carry bag and growls something. We ask politely what he means, and he shouts ‘GARDAROB’ at us. Oh, ok, we’ll go and put the nice plastic bag in the cloakroom will we? Okey-doke. Here we go, just harmless little Aussie tourists, nothing worry about at all, at all... down a flight of stairs past a very pongy loo, and the cloakroom attendant doesn’t want to take the plastic bag. I say “Sorry??’ and she smiles, takes the bag, and waves me away. Phew. We go back through the security sensor thing and once again the guard shouts at M. He doesn’t like M’s raincoat. We’re going to explooode... a woman rushes up to us and says we must check his coat in too; when we ask why she looks at us as if we came down in the last shower and says ‘It is the rule.”. Right. Down ze stairs; out wiz ze cloakroom card... the nice lady takes the raincoat and this time we’re ok, we get through the sensor and stagger towards the cafe. Two hours and counting..

Something substantial is required after all that. And of course, now we’re inside it’s stuffy and hot. Of course. We have ham rolls and a pizza thing, beer, coffee and some fairly magnificent chocolate and poppy seed cakes. M is so far gone he actually asks me to go back and buy more cake! Wowee.. I’m so impressed I give him the rest of my beer (Petersburg-brewed Baltika beer, 5.5%, I’ll be wobbwy if I drink it all, it’s a 375ml can..).

Now, 4.50pm and here we go, French Impressionist collection. Up one flight of stairs it says. They don’t say ‘up one four-staged flight of stairs equivalent to nearly three flights of normal stairs’. Puff puff. Then we hike to Room 143, only to find the nice museum attendant taking in the sign which says ‘Room closes at 5pm’. Ripped off! We nip in anyway, and have 5 minutes of Van Gogh, Cezanne, Matisse, Seurat, before another nice museum attendant (all middle-aged Russian battle-axes with formidable handbags) chucks us out. I’m thinking ‘We spent all that time and money for 5 minutes of THAT??’ but what can we do?

All is not lost, we keep walking through huge galleries and along tapestry-lined hallways, admiring the parquet, marquetry, urns, thrones, gilt everythings, marble everything-elses, and see a number of salons, ballrooms, throne rooms, a huge bronze tomb, dozens of noble portraits of generals (including Wellington, who looks a right snob). There are of course dozens of portraits of the nobility and the royal family members, especially the dainty princesses in their ornate satin gowns, and the dowager duchesses in their HUGE strings of HUGE pearls, and lace caps like waterfalls down their back, and rings and crosses and jewels set into the bodies and swathes and swathes of fabric in the skirts, like theatre curtains. And dawgs. Cavalier King Charles, and Pointers seemed to be the favoured types. The dogs are universally painted as barking playfully at the satin-slippered feet of the be-gowned and curlicued madame. I bet it took ages to pose for a portrait like that, probably took up half the day when you were filthy-rich and had nothing else to do but count your peasants.

We’re both reminded very much of the looooooooong walk we had through the Vatican when we went to see the Sistine Chapel - that was at least an hour and a half of stomping up marble staircases and along obscenely-richly decorated galleries and through panelled salons and around gilded atriums.. it made us both quite angry, to see the lavishness of the art and sculpture and think of all the starving folk who paid for it. This palace is much the same, but dingier. There has been a lot of restoration work, pictured in photos around some of the galleries, but a lot of the walls and floors are very dirty, and the higher reaches of the rooms (I don’t see a single ceiling less than eight metres high) are very grey and dusty. Think of what it must take to keep even basic cleaning up to par... armies of floor-sweepers and mops and dusters...

I enjoyed a throne room which had rows of urns on each side - the urns were made from huge pieces of polished malachite and lapis lazuli and Belarus quartzite. Gorgeous colours. I rather liked the effect of a ballroom lined with gilded marble columns, and a pale marquetry floor. That was a very light room, with about 10 bronze and gold chandeliers, each 3 metres in diameter and positively bristling with chunks of crystal. We found a small salon of Italian 17thC religious paintings from the San Bernadino monastery in Italy; allegorical Renaissance scenes. These paintings have been restored and the blues and reds really glow. We were thrown out of that room too.

Our last room before we give up (it’s hot and terribly stuffy, of course none of the windows are open, I expect nasty fresh air is bad for museum pieces..) is a small display of porcelain - just little fribbles exchanged between Tsar and Duke, for example. Like this: the Duke and Duchess of Russianovsky took part in a play ‘After Homer”, and the Tsar had a token of his esteem made to thank them: a porcelain THING (an epergne?) about two feet high, possibly it’s an urn underneath but it’s so ornately decorated with maidens and sheeps and flowers and garlands; gilded, painted, glazed and embellished, that the original form is quite hard to discern. It probably cost the average yearly income for about 500 starving villages. And these pieces were the tiniest fraction of the collection - another piece, nearly a metre wide, made from very fine china, depicted Catherine the Great seated on her arched throne, wearing a dress at least thee times her width (ie with panniers; what a crazy fashion - then again, it meant you could balance yourself out with really big hair!); down a flight of steps decorated with Roman statues were a number of noblemen and women paying their respects; and a fountain played behind the throne, water splashing down into a little circular moat surrounding the base of the steps. This piece was part (part!) of a dessert setting. Only dessert. Nothing special...

Museum fatigue, heat, outrage and sheer gobsmackery are the end of us. We totter towards the exit signs, joining the throngs who are slowly being herded out from the vast reaches of the palace. The hatchet-faced attendants don’t muck around, I can’t hear any please or thankyou going on. We’re buffetted by guides rushing through with last-minute tour groups, who are using pretty aggressive body language to get to see things along their way. As they are walking against the tide, the tide gets biffed. I nearly lost my balance when a determined woman stepping right in front of me and just shoved me out of the way. M said he’d biffed her right back as he passed her, my hero..

Retrieving the bag and raincoat is no problem. Getting outside only requires one last charge through a crowd.. into a cool breeze coming off the river. In the distance we see more huge, gilded monuments, two significant churches, and more palace-type buildings. I feel a bit faint-hearted, all this history!

Totter totter back to the hotel, my only thought being to cool off and get some grog into me. M has been out for wine (Romanian Chardonnay -- A$7.5) and lemonade, so the soothing sound of a B gargling will commence any minute now.

Tomorrow we may well choose the City Bus tour, followed by the City Canal tour, to save our feet! We want to go back to Hermitage Museum, but I think a day’s grace is a good idea. And we’ll have to get there a lot earlier to have time to look at the other 7/8ths of the museum we didn’t see today!


A couple of NBs: when M went out this morning to try to buy newspapers, he ducked back to the big bookshop on Nevsky Prospekt and, although he failed to find the St Petersburg Times (due out today), he bought me a little fridge magnet; a tiny photo-frame with a silhouette of a little black cat. He’s going to translate it for me in a minute... it says ‘Cats leave their paw-prints on our hearts’; aww...

In the museum queue, there was a bloke wearing another grunge t-shirt - he was, like Matti, also getting on, I’d say in his 60s, with watery green eyes, possibly German. His t-shirt said PHANTOM LIMBS in black-dripping-blood font.

Did I tell you we found the Stroganoff Palace yesterday? It doesn’t remotely summon up the urge to eat sour cream in me, but if we get there to have a proper look I’ll report back about any connection with the dish.

Russian fashion: many of the women, all ages and sizes, wear very beautifully cut trousers. I saw some very elegantly-dressed people today; a woman in a red linen dress which suited her so well, she was stunning; a man in a stone-coloured textured linen suit, with dark loafers and THE most understated, well-fitted and tailored dark grey jacket I’ve ever seen; and several 30s-aged women in trouser suits who were wearing purrfect trouser shoes. Beautiful. I am not making comparisons with myself, because this is designer gear, for really rich people, and I am a pragmatic Aussie tourist in my trusty red shoes.... and anyway, *I* have hand-made silk nighties from Bangkok, so ner. (M took a spectacularly horrible photo of me in one, this morning, but the glazed-puffiness of face and air of fatal bleariness was far too confronting for me to keep it. You can make do with the funny shots I took of myself in the mirror at the Helsinki Modern Art Museum.)

The other variant of Russian fashion is the babes: skinny black jeans rool, worn with the highest heels you can imagine. Seeing some of these young women teetering across the cobblestones today made me even more determined to stick to flats forever. The prevailing look is coloured hair - anything but your natural colour, and for preference fairly big splodges of colour rather than any attempt to look blended; baby pink lipstick; smudgy dark eyes; long fake fingernails; candy-coloured plastic shoes, little midriff-exposing tops, or cleavage-central. The blokes wear their shirts out, tailored straight across the hem so they don’t dip at the back, with loafers rather than sneakers, and nearly always with black jeans or grey trousers. I only see goatees on foreigners. Occasionally you see a Viking with wild red and orange hair flying everywhere; these blokes invariably wear old dark green t-shirts and long shorts, and have incredibly huge ugly feet.

We stopped at a “Produkti” shop - this is a very small room down three steps from the footpath, divided into three counters; one selling booze, one selling chocolate, sweets and soft drink, and the other what we would call a small delicatessen. The woman there is NOT going to smile, she doesn’t understand our English, and even making a gesture towards the fridge where the “Moloko” (milk) is seems to test her patience. We bought some UHT milk here the other day .. this time I see a plastic bottle (a la Lite White) and think goodie, fresh milk...

Today brought to you by ... a fabulous cup of tea* at 3am, which I made myself. I disturbed the night-receptionist, who came rushing out of her little room looking adorably flushed and sleepy.... some Gucci which I can’t really smell; eau de St Petersburg Museum dunny, which I can :/ ; sweaty old man; and the sizzle of the lamb shaslik I had for dinner in an Azerbaijani cafe. We went there because they play classical music, but as soon as we sat down they put MTV on. Damn.

The fabulous cup of tea nearly didn’t happen, because when I poured the milk into the cup it was so sour it was completely solid curds and whey. YukkkKKKK. Made me feel quite ill. I turfed the whole lot into the bin, I couldn’t even tip it down the sink, thought I might block it!

[... and why, do I hear you ask, did I not notice this when I bought the milk? Because the milk bottle is entirely encased in a heat-shrunk plastic cover which is the label, nutrition info, cute lil cow symbol, and measuring marker for quarter-litre gradations up the side. So mere globs of blecccchhh can’t be seen by the untrained (not cynical enough) Aussie eye.]

St Petersburg, Day 1 August 18th

Dear bloggie,

My first full day in Russia has been hot, humid, interesting, hair-raising, expensive, cheap and thrilling......

... after a biiiig sleep-in, which M in particular really needed, we had coffee in our room (missed breakfast by an hour at least). The reception person was quite happy to put on the kettle so we could make our own plunger coffee; she supplied us with cups and spoons, and later let us wash the plunger out in boiled water. (She also supplied a plug for the basin, which the maid eventually found after searching four other rooms, and a hair dryer, hurray no fringe issues!) We pottered around the room; unpacking, washing shirts, reading maps, talking about what we’d like to do, laughing at each other. It’s our wedding anniversary today (we celebrate every month) so there’s a festive feeling... we’re also remembering what a pain it is to wash your teeth in bottled water (and how very interesting it gets when the bottled water is sparkling!), and how much care we need to take for clean hands etc. We’re trying to remember what lengths we went to when we lived in China 10 years ago. There was no antibacterial handwash then... I think we made do with lavish soaping - and lots of it.

Anyway, eventually the first expedition hit the road at about 2pm. First we went to a bakery cafe around the corner (we walked around the block last night after dinner, spotting local points of interest) and had bagels, croissants and coffee. Quite a decent latte I must say. I think this KaveHaus might be a chain, it has that uber-regularised feel about the menu and the look of the food. Fine with me, means it should be clean and safe. M ordered a cup of American coffee, which is how you get a long black. It came in a big mug, about 3/4 full, with a jug of hot water on the side. M, as he always does, got out his little water bottle to add some cold water to it so he could drink it straightaway. And heh, he’d refilled his bottle with the sparkling water at the hotel, so his long black fizzed up like a capuccino! He tried stirring it, and then added some sugar, but dear readers, DON’T try this experiment, it’s kinda nasty... I wanted a small cake to round out my brunch, but even though I stood patiently at the counter making eye contact with the 5 or so staff, no luck. They were very involved in having an argument with some [possibly Bulgarian] blokes at another table, who we think were arguing about the bill. Then some young Russian girls came in, sat down and immediately began waving imperiously and impatiently at the staff, who of course all rushed over to offer their services. Except for the dude making the coffees, who shook his head lugubriously but continued to fail to see me. So I went and sat down, thought I’d have a little rest before trying again. Then I found the menu of cakes, so I more or less grabbed the little waitress the next time she passed, and strong-armed her into taking my order. The cake was described as a “cottage cheese pancake”, but I would describe it as a ricotta and nut cake with orange glaze. Whatever it was, it was very nice, filled up my tummy. And we wont’ talk about how I missed my gob and poured coffee down my front, a waste of a purrfectly clean shirt...

Now, off to the Tourist Information Centre, which Lonely Planet gives an extremely average mark as a source of help. It’s only 10 minute walk through the Admiralty Park (the Admiralty Building is right at the end of our street, about 50 metres away), but then we have to cross an Arc-de-Triumphe-esque multi-lane ring road to get over to it, and no pedestrian crossings in sight. In the end, we hold hands and run. M is nervous but I reckon the buses can see us.

The TIC is in fact almost useless - hardly any print material, a few very ordinary souvenirs at very extraordinary prices, and a woman behind a desk who is NOT inclined to offer any actual service. We wander around, reading what we can, and grabbing some maps, brochures and handouts. We’re looking for concerts, but apart from a lavishly advertised “Folk Songs and Peasant Dances” extravaganza there is no sign that classical music exists here.

Time to go for a walk and see ... we walk across the huge square, minding out for the huge statue, the beggars, the other tourists and the horse-carriage rides. The buildings are ex-palaces, elegant and very ornate. One has a row of dudes gesturing along the roof, looking very noble and triumphant. Many of these buildings are being renovated, all around us is scaffolding and that funny building-wrapping thing where a picture of the building underneath is wrapped over the scaffolding so it looks as if it’s still there. We first saw that in Venice, at the Guggenheim Museum, but I thought it was a fixture. Innocent little me. M is a bit apprehensive in the crowds, and twice a car tries to run him down on pedestrian pathways, so he’s nervous. I take his hand, say “THINK OF YOUR MANTRA” sternly, and lead on. Once we get out of the square and back onto the main road, which is incidentally the main shopping street (Nevsky Prospekt), he’s fine. We’re sticky-beaking away, noting that we’re in the high-end shopping district, with brands like Chanel and Max Mara on the storefronts. There are plenty of independent shops too, largely women’s clothing and tobacconists.

We find a music store which sells cds, dvds, musical instruments and scores. Aha! M-type shopping. Inside is a plethora of covetable things, arranged in wooden cabinets with glass lids, and interesting vertical cd-case displays which somehow lock each cd into a slot, so you can read each side of the case but can’t remove it. I find some recordings of Sergei Rachmaninov playing himself, recorded between 1919 and 1929, now re-mastered. Happy Anniversary to M! He’s lost in the scores, but comes away saying he wants to return when he’s not so fazed, to look more closely and perhaps buy some Tchaikovsky.

We wander further east, crossing two canals and noting the boat rides, which are heavily spruiked on each corner of the bridge by women with tiny amps and mikes. Some are English-guided so we’ll have a go at that another day. When our legs run out of oomph, we cross the road by going down a flight of steps and under the road (that’s probably how we should have crossed into the square, we’d forgotten about this method). We’re now looking for a newsagent or similar, with faint hopes of English newspapers. We know there’s the St Petersburg Times printed in English, but apparently it’s mostly ads, so a nice grittily-opinionated Brit newspaper would go down well. [I grapple with the crosswords (haven’t finished my sacred haul of Sydney Morning Herald crosswords yet, I keep them for when I need to feel successful) and complain about the bad-tempered columnists; M just reads them and tells me what’s happening in the world. And if any of it is happening in Australia - not much it seems, we’ve had almost no news from home via newspapers. - !!! OR via emails from our dear ones, HINT HINT HINT !!! - I know we could Google, but somehow we don’t want to spend time like that. And this blog may not get onto the webs for a while; the wireless connection at the hotel is kaputsky. I’ve seen Wi-Fi at one or two cafes, so I *could* get it done later... AND we passed the Mac shop, so I know I can do it if I really want to. I might even take M’s cd and get it loaded onto the puter, now THERE’S a thought...]

We come to a STOCKMANN shop - aha! Something we recognise. M is doing incredibly well, translating Russian, and even I have had some success, although I must say that the words I know from reading choral scores aren’t exactly in the popular dialogue. But a few clues help, and M has already bought a Russian/English dictionary, so by Saturday when we leave, we’ll be chattering away like locals. And yes, coffee is KAFE. Easy!

There’s a huge, dingy pile of a something important building over the road - to my delight this is the Palace Stroganoff! It certainly looks like quite a lot of very old stroganoff has been weathering all over it for some centuries.. it’s also being renovated; the top of the arch is covered in shade cloth. I have photos of it, very school of Pentridge architecture!

We go into Stockmann in case there’s a big bookshop, and/or papers, but this branch only has clothes. HOWEVER!!!! the shop opens into a delightful atrium cafe, which has a L’Occitane shop. And WHO has been looking for just such a shop, to replace her almost-finished Tired Leg Cream, absolutely vital travelling unguent to the House of Moi?? And WHO found L’Occitane in Helsinki but they only had half the range, and nothing for leggies??? Wonderful. Purrfect! I get the cream, and the two young Russian women serving me try to talk to me - we manage to agree that the products are beautiful, and that almond oil is the most luscious of all. They give me a fist-full of free samples - creams, scents and lotions. Fabbo. Yum. Lucky me! So Happy Anniversary to me too, the lovely Tired Leg Cream is my gift from M. And, dear readers, I do swear by this stuff, it’s made of rosemary and camphor, and when you rub it into those hard-working little legs n feet, it’s cooling and soothing and makes it all better. And excellent value for money, as all L’Occitane products are. Who me, justifying expense??? Never! I’m just being purr-agmatic.

There’s a big souvenir and bookshop on the road back to the hotel. We investigate closely, even though the inside of the shop is about 10 degrees hotter than outside, and very humid. M finds his dictionary. I find some books with textile prints, and various interesting things to photograph, like a Russian translation of a Sophia Loren cookbook, and many expensive books with jewelled covers, behind glass. And, bleugh, a lavishly-bound ginormous edition of, erg, all the Playboy centrefolds. This book comes with its own dark-blue briefcase with gold locks. Bleuuuggghhh...

Hot. Sweaty. Gotta take these leggies back to the hotel and cool off. Our room isn’t air-conditioned, but we have two fans and a high ceiling to absorb the heat. It faces north-east, so there’s little direct sun. I’m grateful to collapse on the bed while M rustles up a pot of coffee. Now we’re listening to Tom Waites, reading the Lonely Planet about the Hermitage Museum, which is our destination tomorrow. M says there is an internet cafe inside the museum, called Cafe Max, so we have to go!

Tonight will be brought to you by the music cafe down the road, which has been playing bassoon quartets each time we’ve passed. Today brought to you in general by the smell of washing powder, eau de Russian drain, and some of my Earth incense, which makes us feel more at home than anything else.

From Helsinki to St. Petersburg, Sunday August 17th

!!!!!! Acatcan is in Russia!!!!!! ... which looks rather like Finnland, but the difference between the tidiness and upkeep of the buildings and land is quite marked. Finnland, as all of the countryside we’ve seen in Scandinavia, is incredibly orderly, the houses very well-maintained, fresh paint and gardens all clipped and square. Here, the same architecture is peeling and faded, there is junk lying around the edges of the yards, and all the way along the railway line. There is more mud here; more anonymous railway stops (no names that we can see), a lot of logging trains, and also a lot of people moving through the forest foraging for something - perhaps berries, because they are carrying smallish baskets.

The train is Finnish, so it’s a marvel of design, cleanliness and modernity. We’ve been to the dining car twice, through the mobs in 2nd class (which is purrfectly comfortable, we don’t need to be in 1st class really). This trip only takes 5 hours, of which at least one hour has been taken up with two stops at the border - a leaving Finnland border check, a short ‘demarcation’ zone, and then a longer stop at the Russian border where our passports were taken away for a while. That’s a slightly unnerving feeling.. but the guards were purrfectly polite and we have all been successfully stamped, clocked, noted, checked, spotted, listed and given purrmission to proceed. We’ll be in St Petersburg in about half an hour. Travelling companions (Aussies from Perth) have given us some very useful info about taxis - we have a price which is reasonable for the travel from railway station to hotel, and we also know we have to agree it with the driver before we set off. No meters.

The weather is slowly getting warmer, it may be nearly 30 degrees, altho I hope my extremely vague interpretation of the Finnish tv weather last night is wrong and that WAS the weather, and today it’s going to be a nice fresh 18 or something. It’s been rainy and cool in Helsinki, a steady 15 degrees from dawn to dusk.


Helsinki has been a busy time; M had a contact at the University from his linguistics professor at the ANU. On our first full day in Helsinki (Tuesday) was spent with Terttu ?, the Department Head of a Linguistics Centre of Excellence. She met us at the hotel, took us for a delightful walk through the Botanic Gardens to the cafe for lunch, and then we had the whole afternoon with her colleagues at the centre. We met people specialising in all manner of research and analysis - a very interesting team of three young men, all working on their PhDs, who are interpreting mediaevel texts of cuisine, medicines and ‘spy’ letters (reports from travellers). These blokes are working closely with a team at Oxford University, so their English was very beautifully accented. Nice to hear people speaking ESL that ISN’T American-accented. I get narked by that..

After four hours of high-speed, high-level linguistics, corpora, diachronics [and a sideways leap into pure research (we met Matti ?, who has examined the 12,000 !!!! examples of the word ‘to have’ in the Helsinki corpora and written a dissertation on it. Just before retirement... he is a charming, charming man, a 70 year old bear of a man wearing a t-shirt saying ‘ROCK AND ROLL FOREVER’. How inspiring! He sat us down, picked M’s brains, threw me a few curly questions about language acquisition, and then settled back to discuss Australian and Kiwi wines. Heh. A universal language!] ... we needed to rest our brains. We found a bar/cafe to meet our needs, and then staggered back to the hotel, feeling very welcome and most comfortable to be thrust back into the academic environment.

We found a good Italian restaurant for dinner, where the waitress listened closely to our questions about the wine list, and then proudly listed the three varieties of Freixenet piccolos - dry, sweet or rose. Rose! I love sparkling pink champagne wine grog. We returned to the university on Thursday afternoon, to join the group for their regular fortnightly afternoon tea. Once again we were warmly welcomed, given Finnish delicacies (a mild cheese, lightly grilled - looks a lot like fried havarti - which one eats spread with a dob of cloudberry jam, very nom; and a blueberry and almond tart, ditto). Matti came and practically sat on my lap, he was so keen to talk. We had a rousing discussion about Scandinavian music, during which he admitted to being a singer, and then told me he used to sing with the Finnish National Radio Chorus (I think that’s what it’s called). He must be quite a singer. Made me feel very nostalgic for Cantorion - hi guys!

Our stay in Helsinki wasn’t as cultural as we hoped for - my poor health slowed things down a bit, not to mention a patch of marital crunchiness. M went out one evening to see a concert of organ and bass singer, at a local church. He enjoyed the music very much, and compared the bass’ voice to the famous Finnish singer ‘Martti Talvela’. We heard bits of Sibelius at the Rock Church and I think in the background at an exhibition we saw yesterday - which was a strange but successful day. Finally we have bought mobiles! But still no connection - Finnsk mobile networks don’t extend anywhere else, so we bought the hand sets and will have to investigate SIM cards and prepaid cards here, and in the Baltic states. Then we bought a suitcase, on the less small side, so we could leave our customs-claimable goods and the cold-weather clothing at the hotel. When we return, only for a day, on the way home, we’re staying at a different hotel, so we went up there to check the booking and leave the bag. No worries.




... sorry for all the cor wow gob-smacking, but, you know, cor, wow!!! I’m in St Petersburg! I’ve been a bit uneasy about coming here, especially since that nice Mr Putin dropped eleventy thousand Russian troops onto Georgia and destabilised things... and I have my reservations about communist regimes, having lived in one before. As we cross the border, which takes about an hour and a half - we stop at the Finnish border for a passport check, then creep through a demarcation zone, then the official uniforms change and the very stern Russian border check mens come aboard. They collect our passports and take them away. None of us like this very much, but one doesn’t argue with Russian officialdom. They are returned in about an hour, happily stamped with entry dates on our visas. We have only about an hour to go now, to get to the city.

The change in environment is immediate - from the very clean, orderly train trackside, and the houses and gardens in Finnland, which are toy-town tidy and even the felled logs are left in neat little piles, the rubbish and decay and junk on the Russian side are like the dark observe of the Finnish picture - the landscape is the same, the building style and cars and so on are the same, but house need painting, there is a lot of junk in people’s yards (old car parts, broken toys, bits of wood, fallen-down washing lines and old plastic garden furniture). The sense of grace and pride is gone. How glad I am that we are in the nice clean Finnish train, and not the old-style Edwardian Russian carriages!

It’s easy getting into St Petersburg - even though it’s a city of over 4 million people, the train runs straight into one side of the city, with very few suburban stations between the end of the countryside and the terminus. We roll off easily, and are down a side exit and into a taxi in minutes. It’s hot, humid, smoggy and M can’t find his hat. We were told, most timely information, by R and S that one negotiates the taxi fare before getting into the car. They even had information about what a reasonable charge would be from the station to their hotel, and he and M looked up ours on the map and we decided the same amount (700 roubles) would be quite fair. And the taxi driver quoted that to us, so no problems.

He carefully laid all our cases into the boot and the front seat, bowed us into the back seats, and leapt in and put the airconditioning onto UBER. LOVELY. It’s only 10 minutes or so and we’re at the hotel. It’s a boutique hotel, perhaps only about rooms, in what is probably an old apartment block of one large apartment per floor. Our room is about twice the size of the Helsinki room, with high ceilings, parquet floor, and a bathroom big enough for two people very comfortably, bigger than our small Aussie bathroom in fact. The decor is post-bloc dinge, but not dirty. Policestation green walls, tan curtains and bedspreads, a rather grotty marked brown rug, and a sofa in dingy brown with darker dingy brown blobs, which wouldn’t be out of place in an old country motel in Queensland.

The plumbing is somewhat eccentric - every time you turn on the tap, the dunny gurgles. But M says the shower is good, and I am about to test his opinion. Lonely Planet says ‘DO NO ON ANY ACCOUNT DRINK THE TAP WATER’ so we are back to bottled water for everything. I’m glad I’ve done this before, too. It takes a certain discipline to remember to clean yer teeth in a glass of bottled water, rinsing the toothbrush ditto. And I have a special challenge to master - I remember what one does about food (NO salad, fruit or street food, unless it’s a banana; no ice or water from the back room)... but I have (sadly) taken to biting my fingernails again in the last year, and this might be a problem. I have a bottle of Aqium with me, and I will get more, so with luck I’ll be able to keep those tasty little fingers out of my gob and not give myself double-dystentery. Yikes!

We’ll also need mozzie spray, suncream and a bit of fortitude. This is the first smog we’ve encountered, and here’s me at the end of a month-long sinus battle which I thought (and I shall say this VERY quietly) I was getting on top of. So cross your nostrils for me please, that with my armoury of fixatives, squirties, drips, drops and tablets, I can fend off any challenges.

Today brought to you by train coffee, eau de electric trainline, a small blast of Gucci, and borscht for dinner!

Tallinn, god sei dank..


This is FAR more important than any mere detail about it being my umptieth with a nought on the end birthday. I got two presents - M was discharged from the klinik, and we got stamped out of Russia and into Estonia. Pheeeewwwww...

I have tons of stuff I wrote about our time in St Petersburg when we were only tourists, and some stuff about the time M was in hospital, so I'm going to post it on top of this. I can't be bothered going through it all after posting and altering the dates so it goes in the blog in strick date order. Yes, yes, I KNOW I'm a Virgo, but I also know when I'm beat. And today, I'm free!

I've been doing this: sleep, up for brekkie - where we had real food; muesli, fruit, proper cuppa teas; scrambled eggs, wow - back to sleep, and then some very elegant lolling around in the hotel room. Silk nightie, red toenails, iPod favourites and a bucket of purrfume. Now I am in the hotel foyer making good use of the free WiFi while M is snoozin;. He's ok btw, very tired from the journey (you'll see why), but getting back his appetite and relaxing.

Today brought to you by relief, safe drinking water in the taps, and latte heaven.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

MY blood pressure going down...

Hello all,

Firstly thanks, very very BIG thanks, to all of you who have been in touch. All the hugs and sisterly swears and cat news (and a special thanks to Miss G for beyond-the-call-of-duty cat pix, I love them all, and so will M when I take the puter off to see him) and support has made the world seem a lot smaller.. I don't think I've been particularly stoic, more focussed on the many practical things I could or had to do.. and the schlepping, of course! And the bloody hand-washing...

M was not so good last night, he had a bad headache. The docs (right from the start on Friday) had to make major adjustments to his usual regime of blood pressure meds, and headaches are very common when that happens. When I got to see him, at about 7.30, he was quite pale and clearly in pain. He had an injection of something like "fixupsky" which Xenia assured me would help head, stomach, everything. But in an hour he was no better, and getting very anxious, so I did a wifely intervention and told Xenia I thought he was really quite upset and certainly in pain, could she do anything? Well! Next thing a godly figure sailed into the room, starched white coat and all. This was Doktor Anton, who came over and gripped M's shoulder and delivered (in excellent, elegant English) a short homily on the lack of catastrophe, major advances in healing and good blood test results, successful visa-extending, etc etc, and then said 'You myust nyot worry; all will be wyell in the myornying". He also prescribed M some type of diazepam. Then Xenia returned with another shot (this is all going into the drip so M is not holey) and soon, the diazepam. I left, after administering the only thing a wife can - patting with wafts of Chanel No. 5 - at about 10pm, when he was fading out. This morning he sounded much more cheerful, even managing to swear a bit about having the drip in his hand.

I've not been eating properly, because of the difficulty (perceived, to some extent) of finding cafes at 10.30pm. I've had Maccas twice, mea culpa - the second time definitely reminded me why I don't eat this except in emergencies - and last night I couldn't be stuffed finding even that, I was out of roubles and my leggies didn't want to go the extra half-km to the autobank, so I had a rather pathetic meal in my room... a cheese sandwich, made of stale-ish bread, plastic cheese, washed down with my last mini-tin of gin and tonic. I crept out to the fridge for a little thing of condensed milk for my sugar fix. Moop moop...

It's quite windy at the moment, about 17 degrees and rainy. The wind was making my door rattle, it sounded just like someone pulling the door handle to see if they could get in. Not conducive to sleep. Eventually I had to find something to stuff between the door and the door frame to stop it. I'm not saying exactly what, but Carefree was how I felt when the noise stopped....

Today I've made an effort to get money and come back to the WiFi cafe for real food - grilled chicken and a huge salad - to wash down with my Net fix. Wunderbar! And the travel agent person came to the hotel this morning to get my autograph on a Visa charge, so the tickets for Tallinn are now paid for. The actual tickets are supposed to be delivered to the hotel later on today... we were told we were booked on the 2pm bus; then Paulina rang me to say there was a 'blockage' on the computer (the mind boggles at what a Russian computer might get blocked by!) and there was only one 2pm ticket... this means the 4.45 bus, which arrives at midnight, not purrfect. She was hopeful that the blockage would clear (heh, I can imagine someone taking to the cables with Ratsack) and the 2pm bus would be okay-ski after all. So keep those distant fingers crossed, please.

My only complaint is that I have developed a craving to wear jeans, which I don't have with me. Why? Purrhaps because I do wear them a bit at home ... they're so NORMAL ... I noticed a jeans shop with a sale on (when I was trekking St Petersburg on Monday, getting losted and founded again and enduring the smoky Cafe Max etc etc).. I may possibly have the oomph to go there later on .. haven't seen M yet today, we spoke by phone at 8.30am and then the princess needed some more sleep. M was also complaining that he was sick of wearing his grey jumper and didn't we have another one? The short answer is no, but maybe (heh) I can fix that too! He'll be horrified if I tell him I'm going shopping, so I won't. Tell him, I mean.

I expect there are other things I ought to be commenting on, but my brain is blank. Tourist activity is simply not possible, all my mental and emotional energy is going into the practical things I need to do, and keeping myself calm and trying to get enough rest. The last is the most difficult, because as soon as I lie down the brain goes CHARGE!!!!!!!!!! and I have to invoke major interventions to get it to shut up. ... and thanks to Mal for the excellent training in how to do this.

So, off I go now to waft lots more Chanel No. 5 at M, hear the story of his day, and maybe get that shopping done. I need to buy a blood pressure monitor for M, because his 'case' doktor asked that we keep records of his b/p for a couple of weeks. We'll be in Berlin in about 15 days, and that is a good place to find a quality medical centre and have blood tests, a checkup for him, and get them to review his case notes and make sure all is well. Of course we have a purrfectly good b/p machine at home. Oh well. We also have a purrfectly good coffee plunger at home, and we bought another one of those on about day 5.

Gotta go. Keep writing, please! All news, remarks (esp rude ones), advice, cats and ramblings are very, very welcome. I salute you all!

You already know what today is brought to you by. But let me add cheesecake, because the waitress just blandished me into some.... :-)

Very quickly..

M is much better, all blood tests showing major improvement.

Our travel plans now re-sorted and we go to Tallinn on Wednesday afternoon.

Sorry puter about to run out of memory (I finally found a WiFi cafe) so will blog at length tomorrow morning, my time.

I am fine, M is much much better, everyone is going out of their ways to be helpful and NOT impose huge fees for change of booking dates. I am eating excellent Russian chocolate and M is allowed to have steamed chicken!

So no more worrying from dear ones please. More details soon...

Monday, August 25, 2008


... attitude adjustment purrformed successfully via ICanHasCheezburger. What ROCKS!

MORE godly intervention...

It's Sunday evening, August 24th, and we are not yet in Estonia. Because my dear husband is in hospital... he became ill on Friday morning, with a sudden high fever and stomach upset. When the fever climbed higher AFTER he took some aspirin, it was straight off to the (thankfully nearby) American Medical Clinic. We saw a doctor very quickly, and almost as quickly the initial blood test results showed a huge white blood cell count and a very low potassium count - both bad signs. They admitted him, saying 'overnight' but even then we could see the subtext was 'probably for the weekend'.

Since then I've been trotting backwards and forwards from the hotel to the clinic, bringing stuff in for him (including red geraniums nicked from the Hotel Astoria window boxes); eluding the drunk who keeps propositioning me as I pass (I HAVE to go that way, the canal prevents me crossing elsewhere without a big detour, and at times like 11pm that's not tempting..); keeping my chins up, and trying to remember to buy gin!

Here's the gist: M's liver, white blood cell, potassium and ? metabolite function/counts are all improving from very bad levels. The liver function disarray is because of an unidentified gastro-intestinal bug. The potassium and ? levels are related to having an infection, but I can't decode the Russ-lish and heavy accents of the several doctors we've seen, well enough to explain further. He's having blood tests each day, and each time the levels of all that lot have returned a little more towards normal.

His treatment has been litres and litres of rehydrating fluids (through a drip), with added potassium and liver-helping and -fixing additives. He's having something like 4 litres or more of this daily. He's now on antibiotics, a detoxifying liquid to help flush toxins from the bowel (a charcoal-based compound); extra blood pressure meds, and another liver-fixing-up drug. He has no fever, no tummy upset or pain. And... he's bored out of his brain! We have NO English text of any kind left to read ; I made a mercy trip to the English book shop today but missed the closing time by an hour ... no English newspapers are available. I may be desperate enough to print some pages from The Australian or something for the poor man. I left him my book of crosswords, and he has the dear old iPod...

So it's exciting times for us; tomorrow we'll have to start the administrative process of getting our visas extended (this is no small thing; the travel agent on Friday warned me most solemnly that I must take care than any certification by the clinic includes ME or else there will be - not MAY be - "penalties at the border"); sort out the Estonian accommodation and travel; move me to another room in the hotel, etc etc etc. It's been a fairly tense weekend...

One excellent piece of news is that we had a call from our travel/health insurance people in Australia, to confirm that they know what's going on and that we are covered by a direct payment, no forking out a zillion roubles of otherwise purrfectly good spending money. Double triple phew!

Pardon me if I don't give a big run-down on St P, that's all recorded on my laptop waiting for me to find a WiFi connection which is connected. I've tried and tried, at the hotel and at several cafes which advertise WiFi, but no luck. It's always nyet when I try.

Yesterday brought to you by a very nice loaf of white bread and some 'Enjoy', because I needed reminding. Today brought to you by sterner stuff - I needed the strongest potion to hand after a fairly big night of worrying .. yes, it's Jean Paul Gaultier '2', which is strong, potent and brave. Like I need to be.