Train to St Petersburg

On our second weekend living in Russia my husband had to go to St Petersburg for work. Naturally I went along too. We went by Sapsan, the high speed train between Moscow and St Pete’s. It takes 4 hours and ‘trundles’ along at speeds up to 220km/h. We travelled business class which included a surprisingly good 3 course meal with coffee and a surprisingly good Russian wine. While we ate I gazed out the window.

The landscape didn’t change much over the course of the 4 hours. It was very flat. It was very forested. It was very wet. And in November it was very grey.

The trees were a mixture of deciduous trees, some type of fir/evergreen trees and silver birches. The silver trunks of the clumps of birches really stood out amongst the grey of the other denuded deciduous trees and the green of the firs. The image they created were very evocative of the image in my mind of vast Russian forests and would have made some wonderful photos if only the train was not going so fast!

On the journey we passed a two or three towns, a handful of villages and a few solitary houses appearing suddenly in a clearing beside the train track. The houses in the villages were predominantly dark brown wooden dachas. Some were falling down; some were in a shabby state and if it hadn’t been for the washing hanging outside or the smoke coming from the chimney you would think they had been abandoned; some were very nicely looked after and a handful were even painted in bright colours, and scattered amongst what looked like a poor run down village would be several new brick houses. So perhaps not so run down after all. The roads were mostly unpaved and wet and muddy.

As I mentioned earlier the ground was very wet. It is flat and low lying and very boggy looking. Viewed on a satellite image you can see all the water. So I was quite surprised to see a large cemetery packed solid, so solid in fact that the surrounding concrete walls were leaning outwards at an alarming angle as if to try and make room for more dead souls. The ground did not appear to be significantly higher than its surroundings and nor did the village appear to be any dryer than the other villages that we had passed and so I did wonder what the burial conditions were like, but decided that it would be best not dwell on that too much!

One of the towns we passed through was a very dismal looking place. It appeared to consist of one large factory, or maybe it was two or three factories located side by side. It looked half abandoned but since there were a few people walking by through the mud on the unpaved roads I assume that at least part of it was still working. There didn’t appear to be any other form of industry there just a factory with houses around it. Presumably it was a ‘monotown’. ” The term monotown is especially often used in Russia, where the Soviet planned economy created hundreds of monotowns in supposedly rational locations, often in geographically inhospitable areas. The situation in many of Russia’s monotowns is highly problematic: they are entirely dependent on the competitiveness of a single company or factory, very unflexible and based on Soviet-era economics and technologies.”

Apart from endless boggy forest punctuated by a few villages there was very little to see until suddenly high on the embankment in the middle of nowhere there was a very large statue of a Moose!! And then it was gone.

I had thought that I would get a lot of reading done during the 4 hour trip – but I didn’t open my book at all – I was mesmerised by the view from the window.

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