The terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day on our way to St. Petersburg, Russia

This entry is part 18 of 23 in the series Russia 2014 Trip Report

Our trip to St. Petersburg began here, at the Leningradsky Train Station in Moscow. It is the location of our worst experience of the entire trip. Something that has never happened to me during any of my other travels. Someone tried to steal my bags.

**Salty language warning in this post**

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In which I scare the bejeezus out of the man trying to rob us

We took a taxi from our Moscow hotel to the train station. When we got out of the taxi, there were men standing around wearing matching jackets and carrying luggage carts. We didn’t have much luggage so we could manage on our own, but we realized they might be helpful for directing us to our train. They seemed a bit pushy, but nothing out of the ordinary. There were tons of police officers around (not sure if that was normal or whether they had an increased presence because of the threats in Russia during the Olympics), so I figured if the baggage guys weren’t legit, the police would be scurrying them away, like we had seen in Sochi.  The guy that pulled our bags looked at our train tickets and started walking with us to the train platform.

We transited security x-rays to get into the train station, and then we waited on the platform. We tried to tip the guy for carrying our luggage, but he just kept talking to us in Russian, not accepting the tip, and just continued to hang around us. We exchanged as many niceties as we could given the language barrier. This included pantomimes for hockey and me saying “Ovechkin good America” many times. I always figure they love to know how popular their athletes are in other countries.

The guy started to give me the creeps. Not to sound gross, but it looked like he had recently peed his pants. Or something … else … in that general vicinity.  So I told Ken that we should take our luggage off his cart, so we did. Then I tried to tip him again (about the equivalent of $5). He just kept standing around.

When the train arrived, he spoke a perfectly clear English phrase.  “One Thousand Rubles.” Yep, he told us he wanted 1000 rubles, which was the equivalent of nearly $25.

I said no, and started to walk away. I kept holding the existing ~$5 tip amount in my hand high above my head, so people around could see that we were trying to tip him a reasonable amount of money. For perspective, our nearly 20 minute taxi ride to the train station had only been about $12).

This creep started shouting that he wanted 1000 rubles. I’ve been through situations like this before when traveling where ripoff artists like this are trying to get you to cave in and just pay them more money to leave you alone. I’m used to it, and there are a few tactics I use when something like this does happen.

Ignoring is usually the tactic I prefer. So I turned my back to him and continued to ignore him. There was a large crowd of people around waiting to board the train, so I wasn’t terribly concerned about safety or anything. In the meantime, I kept holding up the reasonable tip amount in my hand, hoping he’d get bored with causing such a scene and just take the money and leave.

Well, then he decided to start kicking my luggage.

Whatever. No skin off my nose. I didn’t have anything fragile in my bag, so he could kick my suitcase all day long if he wanted. We just continued to stand in the crowd to board the train.  We got the attention of the train attendant checking tickets, thinking maybe she could call security on her radio, but she didn’t care that this asshole was kicking my suitcase.

I still had my back to the creep, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw him kick my suitcase one more time and then PUSH MY HUSBAND.

I went into crazy person mode.

I turned around and looked right at his fucking face.

He seemed confused by the eye contact.  Then he looked down and then reached for the handle of my suitcase and tried to yank it out of my hand, but luckily I had a good grip on it.

“Holy shit, somebody is literally trying to rob me,” I thought to myself in about a millisecond of time.

I screamed.

Well, screaming is a bit of an understatement.

I let out a most blood-curdling, ear-piercing scream that went on for as long as my breath let me.

The entire train station went completely and totally silent. The huge crowd that had been beginning to board the train just stopped everything they were doing.  You could hear a pin drop when my scream was done.

The creep looked at me in absolutely stunned silence. But he was still in front of me, and I wanted him OUT OF MY FUCKING FACE.

So I stomped my foot and then let out another scream. So loud that it felt like something ripped far in the back of my throat. I screamed for probably another five seconds.

He had noticeably jumped when I stomped my foot, and when my second scream was done, he  turned around and started to scurry away through the crowd.

But I was still SO FURIOUS, even though he was starting to leave. I was furious that this huge crowd of people around us were doing nothing to help, including the train attendants checking tickets. That police officers manning the x-ray conveyors just 200 feet away didn’t come to see what the commotion was.  I was MAD.

So I turned my body to the left and took a few steps so I could look at the back of his head as he scrambled through the crowds down the train platform.  When I spotted him, I started pointing to him in the distance and screaming again. My throat was hurting so badly, but I didn’t care.

As I was letting out that third scream, he started running so fast, like he was in fear for his life from this crazy American woman.

That was it, I was satisfied with the response. No more screaming necessary.  He was gone.

We pushed through the crowd and boarded the train, afraid the guy might come back with some of his other luggage carrying buddies or something. After finding our seats, we tried to calm down, but it was hard. Adrenaline was pumping, and we were so irritated that nobody stepped in to help us. I have seen probably close to a dozen incidents during my years commuting by DC metro when something unfortunate was about to happen, and all sorts of bystanders step in to help. Like a fight breaking out or somebody getting harassed.  Folks always step in to help.  When I lived in Egypt and somebody started harassing me more aggressively than usual, folks always stepped in to help. When I was trying to figure out the Tokyo subway system, folks stepped in to help. I am used to people helping. Nobody helped us on that Moscow train platform.  I learned a big cultural lesson that day.

Ken was so mad about the whole thing, and I tried to explain to him that these types of things happen, and that I wasn’t going to let it bother me. That I have had to use that same scream before in my travels, and that I knew it was very effective. I told Ken that when I saw the guy push him, I just went nuts.

Ken told me that the guy never pushed him. I was confused. Ken said that at one point, the creep was kicking my bag and lost his balance and kind of fell in Ken’s direction, but the guy never pushed Ken at all. I started to wonder if I overreacted, since that pushing was what precipitated my screams, but I don’t think so. He certainly was not a good guy either way.

In retrospect, after we returned from Russia and I thought more about the incident, I’m not sure if he was actually trying to “steal” my bags when he tried to grab the luggage handle from my hand.  Instead, I think he may have just tried to hold my bags for “ransom” until I gave him the money he wanted. That doesn’t make it much better, but just a different perspective.  I think he really wanted that 1000 rubles more than he wanted my luggage.

But fuck that guy.  I hope he thinks twice now before he tries to rip off another tourist.


Train Ride Woes

Our train ride was annoying.  Typically we enjoy traveling by train, but the train had assigned seats, and we were at like one of those sets of four seats that face each other with a table in between.  So we were face-to-face with a 50-ish year old woman and (presumably) her mother.  The 50-ish year old woman blared music through her headphones like a teenager the entire trip.  There was a couple in the row next to us that made out and groped each other the entire time. I asked the attendant if we could switch seats, but she said it was a full train. It was not a pleasant five hours.

But, after the adrenaline stopped pumping and we had some snacks (available for purchase), we managed to read for a bit and take a short nap.

Unfortunately I was so distracted that I didn’t remember  to take photos of the train. I did, however, manage to capture a few views from the train.

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Despite our complaints about seat neighbors, it really was a nice and clean train. Also very fast.  There is a slower and cheaper train between Moscow and St. Petersburg, but we took the high speed one.  The bathrooms were immaculate, and there was even a food “cart” service, like you’d get on an airplane.

 

Taxi Ripoff Woes

When we arrived in St. Petersburg, we were anxious to get to the hotel so that we could stretch out and relax in a quiet environment.  We were staying at The W St. Petersburg, and their website stated that a taxi from the train station should cost about 300-500 Rubles.  After we exited the train station, we found a taxi driver and asked him how much it would be to the W St. Petersburg.  3000 Rubles.  Umm, no.  We can understand a slight ripoff for tourists, but 6 times the cost?  No thanks.

After we turned that driver down, another one approached us and said he would take us to the hotel for 1500 Rubles.  Okay, now we’re down to three times the price.

Ken and I were both in VERY foul moods after the events of the day, and this was making things worse.  I feel like if this was the “only” annoying thing to happen to us that day, we might have just gone with the tourist ripoff price of 1500 Rubles. Sometimes it’s the price of being a foreigner. But, we were being stubborn.  We waited around, seeing if any other taxi drivers would approach us with a reasonable price after everybody we asked directly wanted the same 2500-3000 Rubles range.

I called the hotel.  The receptionist was in complete disbelief that taxi drivers were trying to charge us 3000 Rubles for the taxi drive.  She said, “No, 500 Rubles at MOST!  Maybe their English is poor?”

Nope, these guys understand just fine what they’re asking.

So, she dispatched a taxi for us.  Ken and I waited in a coffee shop across the street.  Then she called back with a description of the taxi that would be picking us up.  It took us a while to find the taxi, because it was so crowded around the train station.  We ended up walking to a hotel about a half block away and waiting there for the taxi.  It was a less crowded location for him to find us.

 

Please don’t wreck the taxi

The driver picked us up … and proceeded to play iPad solitaire or something as he was driving through the busy streets.  I thought I was going to lose my damn mind. I kept picturing him getting into an accident while playing solitaire. Great, that would be the cherry on top of this craptastic day.

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Again, it’s one of those minor situations you expect when traveling in a place with different customs, but the cumulative effect of the events that day was trying my patience.  Seeing that driver playing solitaire made me want to bang my head on the window.  Hard.

I’m happy to report that, despite the driver’s solitaire addiction, there were no accidents.

 

I surrender, I surrender

I had never been so relieved to get to a hotel.

After the day we were having, I wanted to stay locked up in the room for fear that something else would go wrong.  I was even eyeing up the room service and in-hotel restaurant menus, just so we wouldn’t have to go anywhere. I wanted to eat, go to sleep, and have a fresh start the next day.

Alas, Ken convinced me we should at least go out to eat, especially considering the hotel meal prices were outrageous. After relaxing for a while at the hotel, we walked a few blocks to eat dinner, and stopped a pastry shop on the way back for some desserts.  Nothing went wrong.  Disaster averted.  Whew!

So, spoiler alert! The rest of our time in St. Petersburg was lovely!  That day was the only bad day of our trip. (Well, as long as you don’t count the Sochi accommodations saga).  And if you have just one bad day on a two week trip that takes you 6000 miles away, I’d still call that a win!

Like Ken always says, “Whatever doesn’t kill you makes for a good story later.”


 

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  1. Pingback: St. Petersburg Touring (Part 3) - Russia 2014 Trip Report

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