Russia Day 8

The Russian Museum and shopping

The exchange rate is now 1,466 rubles to the UK pound, a gain of 50 in 6 days.

The Russian Museum has a lot of Russian art, naturally. The collection seems to go as far as the early 20th Century, but there’s very little sign of any kind of abstract art. It’s all pictures of Czars, men with beards, peasants, landscapes, that sort of thing. Upstairs are lots of icons.

Alexei has given me a wristwatch as a gift. It’s a special commemorative design celebrating the anniversary of St Petersburg being opened as a port. XQ has a watch too, as a gift for her brother. The luxury watches don’t come with straps, so we track down some watch straps that match. 1,200 rubles for two. We also look for the traditional big furry hats, or army satchels, but we don’t see any apart from on very dodgy looking market stalls.

Art books are as expensive here as in Britain; one book on Soviet art in the museum is $90. Most are priced 20,000–30,000 rubles.

I get my mother a small laquered box. She already has Russian plates and matryoshki, and I can’t stick a balalaika in my suitcase. XQ is adamant that we shouldn’t export any native foodstuffs from the country, and she has a point.

That night, at around 23:30, we get the overnight train to Moscow. Olga knows someone who works at the station, and has managed to get us three tickets in the “first class” area—that is, the one which only has four bunk beds to a compartment.

XQ and I are not officially supposed to travel outside St Petersburg, as we don’t have internal visas. In the Soviet days, we would be deported if caught, and given how uncertain things are it’s quite possible the same would happen now. I’m under orders to avoid speaking, as even if I knew more than a dozen words of Russian, my accent would be a dead giveaway.