Russia Day 5

Peter and Paul

Peter and Paul’s Fortress is on its own island, part of the cluster that makes up St. Petersburg. Inside is a church where almost all the Czars are buried; I’m not sure what happened to the other two.

As usual, the fortress features onion domes covered in gold leaf, and a big spike on the roof.

We see the cells where various political prisoners were once held, including Lenin’s brother.

On our way back, imprisonment still in mind, we report ourselves to the police. We fill out two forms written entirely in Russian declaring our whereabouts, queue for half an hour, show our passports and visas, get two more forms which the bank has to stamp, pay 1000 rubles, and we’re then told to report back the following morning.

In the afternoon we take a boat trip on St. Petersburg’s many canals and rivers. Olga buys the tickets for us, and we thereby avoid the 1000% markup charged to anyone paying hard currency and unable to read and speak Russian.

This kind of “dual pricing” is pretty much standard. It’s not that the Russians are trying to rip us off; the pricing for Westerners is entirely reasonable by our standards. It’s just that the economy is in such a crazy state right now; as soon as the ruble became convertible, its value plummeted, and it’s still in free fall. Unfortunately, Russian wages haven’t been rising. So while paying nearly a dollar for a Mars bar trucked in from Europe is pretty fair, if you translate that to rubles it’s more than a day’s wages for Olga.

In the evening Alexei shows me his computer. It’s a Russian clone of a Sinclair ZX Spectrum, build from Russian components and an imported Zilog Z80. The RAM is on four piggybacked ICs, and the ROM is 16 PROMs on a separate board. We play the original Russian version of Tetris, in Cyrillic of course. He’s much better at it than I am, but I beat him at E-Motion. Reagan and Gorbachev should have tried this.

Dinner is soup, and a surprisingly excellent salad. Having seen a couple of Russian marketplaces at this point, I’ve no idea how Olga got hold of these vegetables.

There’s an ad on TV I recognize: it’s for “Veeskas” (as they say it). Apparently koshki would choose it. We watch an old episode of “The Sweeney”.