Voluntary kidnapping

Our second full day was “The Nutcracker Ballet Day” and brought bad news followed by more bad news followed by even more bad news.

Nothing makes a trip to the Russian ballet more exciting than a lack of food, no sleep, cold and pouring rain, and a skimpy summer dress.

“It is cultural experience” Sergei said.

Peter and I took a taxi to the theater and The Nutcracker started at 2pm. From 2pm until 4pm, my focus was on one thing and one thing only: staying awake.

I was absolutely starving when the ballet ended because I had not had a single bite to eat that day and I do not do well without food. It felt like it took a million years for the group to decide where we would go after the ballet and I had to speak up and say that I needed food very, very badly.

It was decided that we would go to a coffee shop and I could get a small bite to eat there and then we would go to the “meat pie place”. With the plan sorted, we split into two groups and took taxis to the coffee shop. Everyone drank coffee or tea and I was allowed to drink water and eat an apple strudel because of Russian democracy.

An hour later, we again split into two groups and went two separate ways. Al, Peter, Sergei, and I were headed to the meat pie place and the others were bound for naps back at their apartment. Lucky them. Due to the pouring rain, we had issues getting a licensed taxi but thankfully in Russia, every car is a taxi. It is like Uber without all the legal stuff.

Sergei threw his arm out into the road to hail a taxi and a civilian pulled over in a Lada. Sergei spoke with the civilian driver in Russian and then said, “Everyone, get in”. Sergei hopped into the front seat and the rest of us slid into the back seat. This probably sounds scary but something about it felt incredibly safe.

A short while later, Sergei paid the driver and hopped out to meet Marina and help her with her string instruments as she had just finished playing said instruments at a wedding. Sergei gave the driver directions to the meat pie place and then we tore off down a side road and ended up at the Swiss Embassy. I had one leg hanging out of the door when the driver waved me back into the car and motioned that he needed to drive around the block. I pulled my leg back into the car and closed the door. I suddenly felt unsafe but still somewhat safe since we were parked outside of the Swiss Embassy guard tower.

Al, Peter, and I giggled hysterically in the three-foot-wide back seat for the remainder of the drive. There we were: In Russia, not able to speak Russian, smashed into the back seat of a complete stranger’s car inhaling diesel fumes and trying to give the driver directions to the nearest meat pie place in a city we didn’t know.

The driver dropped us off several blocks from the meat pie place and demanded another 100 rubles. I sort of fell out of the car in my inappropriately skimpy summer dress and flashed the entire population of St. Petersburg. Al paid the driver even though Sergei had paid him “in full” at the time he hopped out to haul string instruments.

We arrived at the meat pie place, Stolle, only to get ignored by the staff because we didn’t speak Russian. We had no choice but to wait for Sergei and Marina. Twenty minutes later, Sergei and Marina arrived and Sergei ordered and the world was right again.

The following day, Sunday, was our day trip to Moscow but neither Peter nor I knew the train departure time, so I asked, “Hey Sergei, what time do we need to be to the train station tomorrow”?

Sergei: “Dah train departs at 6am (his head was shaking in a “yes” fashion), so vee need to be at dah station by 5:30am. OK? Vee all arrive at 5:30am and board dah train. Cool”?

It is a good thing I asked this question on a full stomach because the combination of (a) lack of sleep, (b) this news and (c) an empty stomach would have sent me into meltdown territory followed by tears.

Me: “Seriously”?

Sergei: “Yes. Vee can sleep on train. No problem”.

Maybe they can sleep on the train but I have issues getting a good nights’ sleep in a regular ‘ol bed so there would be no sleeping on the train for this gal.

I decided at that point that I would not be joining the group for dinner that evening (another reason was that it was 6:30pm and I had just eaten my breakfast, lunch, and dinner in the form of a meat pie). Instead, I would stay in the hotel and sleep. I soon regretted this decision when I got back to the hotel room and the people in the room above ours were exercising or moving furniture or both. I laid there wide awake.

Peter went out to dinner with the group that night and arrived back at the hotel at 3:15am. I continued to lay there awake – I did not sleep at all that night. Peter slept for about 2 hours before we had to leave for the 6am train to Moscow.

Click here for the next post in the ongoing Russia saga.

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