19 October 2009
It’s Number 57 But There Is No Sign On Purpose
Matt and I arrived early for our overnight train from Moscow to St. Petersburg. The goal was to make our beds, get into our pajamas and be laying down before any other passengers arrived. Basically, we wanted to set the tone of the cabin to “sleep time” rather than “vodka time.” Having not shared a room with anyone the entire journey, I was a bit nervous. Having booked the two bottom bunks, I was a bit worried as well. A heavyset, drunk Russian man would be very difficult to hoist up above.
Our two “bunkmates” arrived at the same time. Both were typing furiously and both were visibly irritated by our very existence. Matt passed out before the train left, leaving me to entertain and coax our new “friends” into being quiet. I have to say it went pretty well. My top bunk buddy only gave me one death stare and Matt’s didn’t say a word. He just awkwardly stripped to his pasty-white briefs then stuck said briefs in my face while climbing the stairs to his bunk holding a bottle of vodka and copy of “In Touch” magazine.
We arrived on time at 8am and headed immediately for our hostel (a short 5-minute walk away). “Number 57 Zhugovsko,” I told Matt. “Okay, eyes peeled.” Minutes later we arrived at number 57 Zhugovsko to find a door with buzzer, a man sleeping on the ground and an old woman taking gulps of beer out of a 2-liter size bottle. No signs. No instructions. Nothing. I pulled out the reservation form and scanned it for entry instructions. Nothing. We wandered up and down the street for a few moments, ducking into the alley to check behind the building (while you may think that sounds ridiculous, this is Russia. The more ridiculous the option the more likely it’s correct).
Having found nothing but a few old cars and a poster for the upcoming Beyonce concert, we turned to head back to the street. Who might you think we found waiting for us? Why, the drunk old woman, beer in-hand! She snatched my reservation from my hands and mimicked an offer to “help us.” I moved to grab it back and she pivoted around, blocking me with an outstretched jug of beer. After careful consideration she handed it back, raised her fingers in the air and said “Five dollars, I show you.” WHAT? Lady, we’re at the address. You 1. Have no more information than we do and 2. Are totally trashed.
I left Matt to deal with the “situation” and proceeded to call the listed phone numbers. The first was disconnected and the second had no answer. Fortunately, there was a third number hidden at the bottom of the page amidst the information about food that was for sale in the hostel. No explanation of how to get it but details on what food is sold. Excellent. This time someone picks up. “Hi. My name is Kyle Taylor and I’m here to check in at the hostel but there is no way to get in,” I explain. “Oh, hi there. Welcome to St. Petersburg. How are you finding the city?” Here we are, 8am, a drunk woman harassing us, making a call from my US cell phone to Russia for $2 a minute and the woman wants to know how I am finding St. Petersburg? “Um, yeah, it’s great. How do I get in? I can tell you more about it then, yeah?” She then proceeds to give me instructions: “Haha. Oh yes, sorry. Okay, all you do is press 4 then B then get the person at the desk to buzz you in then at the second door press 2, 6 and 8 at the same time and quickly push the door open. Go in past the first stairs and then up to the second floor. Well, it’s the third floor in American but we call it the second. Find flat 40 and that’s it, you’re there. Okay? Great. Bye then.” And she hangs up.
How I managed to remember all of that I have no idea, but we managed to get inside. My first comment was - naturally - “it’s a bit difficult to find the place” followed by an awkward laugh and smile. “Oh yeah, people tell us that,” he said. “But we like to keep secret so it is more safe. So we risk people not being able to find it so it’s safer for them.” Two thoughts on this: First, I feel as though I would have personally been much safer NOT wandering the streets and being harassed by our new friend morning beer lady. Second, does it matter if guests are “safer” if they can’t find the hostel to begin with?
Russia. Is. Hilarious.