Day 34 – Moscow/Saint Petersburg

Familiarity / Day 34 of 64 / 12 June

My last day in historic Moscow! And before my 3.30pm train to Saint Petersburg, I decided to visit the New Tretyakov Gallery (also known as Novaya Tretyakovka). The gallery is located inside The Central House of Artists, just across the road from Gorky Park’s northern entrance. This place was recommended to me by Andrey.

I reached the gallery at 10am, and it had just opened for the day. The gallery boasts an impressive collection of contemporary artwork from around the 1800s and beyond. Unfortunately, the beauty and meaning of most of the art pieces were lost on me. But, if you’re an art buff and cultural, unlike me, this place is a definite must go. And, even if you’re like me, you can still enjoy the Soviet brutalist-style architecture of the building that the gallery is housed in.

Going on in the same building was a small Banksy exhibition. The exhibition only opened at 10.30am, so I entered at around 11.30am. The exhibition was a showcase of many of Banksy’s “works” throughout his “career”, including his infamous Dismaland Bemusement Park. It felt rather ironic however to see Banksy’s subversive graffiti appear in an extremely conventional exhibition space. And, what was even more ironic was the gift shop and photo booth at the end of the gallery. Still, it was a great “highlight reel” of the man’s best “pieces”.

Words to live by.

After grabbing my stuff and checking out of my hostel, I headed to Leningradsky Railway Station [Ленинградский вокзалLeningradsky Vokzalto catch my high-speed train to Saint Petersburg (Sapsan 768A, rzd.ru, 6583 RUB/131 SGD/pax). I reached the station at around 1pm, and since the train would only be leaving at 3.30pm, I decided to have lunch first.

I boarded my train at 3pm. Onboard, a kind Russian lady offered to swap seats with me so I could sit near the window. She said that she does the Moscow-Saint Petersburg route so often that she’s sick of the scenery. Thanks to the lady, I got to enjoy watching Russia hurtle by me at 250km/h: a far cry from the 80km/h on board the Trans-Siberian.

The Russian Sapsan high-speed trains are truly incredible, just like every other high-speed train I’ve been in so far. The carriages are similar to those on the Chinese HSR, but they feel more spacious, even in economy class. There’s also a cafe car in the middle of the train. I spent some time there sipping nice warm coffee as the train blazed through the suburbs and fields between Moscow and Saint Petersburg.

We eventually pulled into Saint Petersburg-Glavny [Санкт-Петербург-Главный, Sankt-Peterburg-Glavnyy], also known as Saint Petersburg Moskovsky Railway Station, at 7.30pm. I had to take the Saint Petersburg Metro to get to my hostel in Nevsky Prospect. As in Moscow, I had to purchase a metro card, Podorozhnik, to ride the metro. The fare structure is also similar to Moscow’s metro: you only need to tap your card on entry as it’s a flat fare regardless of distance. The stations are also intricately decorated, like in Moscow. However, interestingly, the platform screen doors in the SPB metro resemble elevator doors. You can’t actually see the trains pull into the station because a marble wall separates the platform and the tracks.

The alternate name esentially means Saint Petersburg Moscow Station (yes, confusing, I know).

New idea for a Russian game show: “Elevator or Train?”

I finally arrived at my hostel, Central City Hostel (15 SGD/night), at 8pm. In the hostel, I finally met a Singaporean that was living in the same hostel as me. I was relaxing in my bed when I looked down and saw an NUS t-shirt. Almost instinctively, I called out: “hey man”. I asked him if he was Singaporean, and I was validated. He told me to call him 4K: he said it would be easier than his real name. He had come from Estonia, and before that, he was in Helsinki for a while. 4K had been staying in the hostel for about two days, and he would be leaving for Moscow in another two days to catch the opening match of the World Cup.

Nevsky Prospect.

It felt good to be able to speak Singlish again after so long. There really is an intangible bond formed through a common language. An instant familiarity and approachability created through sound. Throughout my time solo-travelling, I have always acutely listened out for the distinctive Singaporean accent. Yet, in the deepest parts of Mongolia and onboard old Russian trains, I could never find this fragment of home. It felt good to once again be in awe of how simultaneously vast and tiny this world can feel.

– Ryan

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