Out of Russia

by

St Petersburg to Ivangorod and Narva

We have our train tickets and are waiting at Baltiyskiy Vokzal for our train to Ivangorod on the Estonian border.

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Major railway stations in Russia are called ‘vokzals’. There are several explanations for this and they all relate to Vauxhall Station in London. The more entertaining and least respectful are similar to those stories about why Europeans call those large hopping marsupials kangaroos. The most credible explanation is that the first Russian railway station was built at a popular pleasure garden in Pavlovsk that was modelled on Vauxhall Gardens in London. That railway station became known as a vokzal and subsequently so did all major stations.

We spent our last morning in SPB travelling on the Metro to look at the stylish stations and their environs. In Soviet times, a large investment was made in the Metro and the stations were lavishly and tastefully styled in neo-classical and art deco themes to celebrate and elevate the workers who built and used them.

Marble, brass, bronze, mosaics and cut glass adorn these proletarian shrines. Friezes of noble male and female workers and busts of Lenin are everywhere. I’ll let the pictures do the talking but suffice to say the system is clean, well-maintained, efficient and heavily used.

Trains run at 3 minute intervals so there’s no need to rush to catch that one at the platform as another will be along in a jiffy. Single trip tokens cost less than a dollar. Polite young locals leap to their feet to offer their seats to silver-haired passengers.

Many of the stations are deep underground. One can barely see the bottom from the top of the vertiginous escalators. Smartly uniformed women sleep in booths to monitor possible hooliganism.

We boarded the train with a few other cyclists and it steadily filled until an on-time departure.

We struggled to make our bicycles seem small and only a small inconvenience to the other passengers and train staff. Others successfully hid their uncontained pets from the conductor.

Hot and stuffy, we pulled out into the sunset and rattled and bumped our way through industrial areas, weekend dachas and vegetable plots then scrubby farmland. The dilapidated villages looked romantically rustic in the late summer evening light.

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This train took us to Ivangorod on the Estonian border

We’ve made it to Estonia. Good night.

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