Back Where it all StartedJuly 3, 2019 in Australia ⋅ ⛅ 12 °C
In so many ways the worst part of any trip is the long flight home - and so it was with this one. But let me first wind the clock back a few hours, maybe about three days.
Our final day in St Petersburg once again dawned warm and clear. That means that the fine weather that greeted us on our arrival in Warsaw has now followed us for the entire trip. Not once did we get wet on the bikes. None of the wet/cold weather gear that I brought with me ever got worn. That is always the trouble with packing. Half of the stuff you pack, you find you don't need. The problem is that you never know which half to leave out. The last time I was in this part of the world at this time of the year, it was cold and drizzly virtually every day. This time it was the complete opposite.
I had no ambitious plans for the last day, especially with the trouble I was still having with my knee. I started first with a slow walk along the Neva River bank. This time I decided to turn right and head towards the large passenger ships that were already lined up along the wharf. A fleet of large buses was assembled alongside, ready to transport the masses of tourists to whatever "highlights" they had been promised. I was just glad that I was not a part of it.
The long walk also gave me a good chance to reflect on the past four weeks. Although this was a relatively short trip, compared to most of our previous cycling adventures, the planning had probably occupied more time than any of the 40 or so overseas rides we had done in the past. In particular, it seemed that everything to do with travel in Russia was complicated.
When I finally tracked down an agent that was willing to look after our arrangements, it had proven very difficult to get any information from them. It seems that, when you are travelling in this region, you just have to trust that everything will be looked after. This goes against my nature. I really like to have every detail nailed down well before departure, but that was never going to happen on this trip.
I have to admit that I was more than a little nervous when we reached Tallinn and began the second section of our adventure. As it turned out, my worries were completely unfounded. Everything went exactly according to the script. The hotel in Helsinki was excellent and the hotel in St Petersburg was positively luxurious - far in excess of our expectations. The transfers occurred according to plan and the vehicles were more than adequate for our small group. Our guides were all very professional. We all had to agree that we had actually received great value for money, even though I had probably grown even more wrinkles in the process. Now that it was almost time for me to return home, I could finally start to relax. Our Baltic States Adventure had been another undoubted success.
After walking slowly for several hours, at times stopping to just watch the events happening around me, I worked my way back towards our hotel. When we first arrived in St Petersburg three days earlier, the whole city had seemed strange and confusing. Now it all felt familiar. I knew what landmarks to look out for as I navigated around. The generally rectangular array of wide streets also helped make it easy to stay oriented. To my surprise I actually found myself liking the place. If I had arrived expecting to find a dour, Soviet style, oppressive city, that is NOT what I found. On the contrary, St Petersburg is a modern city with clean, wide streets, lovely gardens, great cafes and a lovely network of canals and rivers. In the summer time at least, it was not a bad place to be.
I found a nice, Italian style cafe for lunch. The seafood pizza was delicious, but my thoughts were already turning towards home. The part that I was not looking forward to was the long flight back.
It was time to return to the hotel to check out of my room. The problem was that our flight was not due to leave until 11:55 pm that evening. I still had quite a few hours to fill in, so I went out for my final long walk in St Petersburg. About three hours and 7 km later I was back at the Sokos Valisievsky Hotel, sitting in a comfortable leather chair in the hotel library. Gradually the remaining five other members of our group joined me.
At 7:15 pm a comfortable bus pulled up outside, driven by a jovial Russian called Rashid. We loaded our bags on board and were soon heading to the airport. The traffic was flowing smoothly, many families and young lovers were out walking in the parks. Overhead the sun was still high in the sky. It was not the stereotypical picture that most Australians would have of Russia.
The check-in process went quickly and smoothly and we settled down to wait for our flight. Well four of us did anyway. Jim had lashed out some of his vast personal fortune on business class tickets and he disappeared to enjoy some champagne and caviar in the Emirate Executive Lounge. When the time came for boarding we caught a brief glimpse of Jim being carried to the plane on a golden pallanquin, being carried aloft by four burly staff. It's amazing what money can buy.
I settled myself down in my economy seat and tried to pretend I was in a coma. For most of the next 24 hours I think that it was true. I have vague memories of watching parts of movies, short periods of troubled sleep, anxious thoughts about DVTs, visits to the fetid toilet, trying to eat airline meals without spilling most of it down the front of my shirt, hours of incessant baby cries, watching the tiny image of the plane crawl across the screen map at a glacial speed and trying to find a halfway comfortable position for my head and legs.
Long flights are never fun, but they do eventually finish. The journey that had begun late Sunday night in St Petersburg finally finished at 5 am on Tuesday morning when the plane touched down at Tullamarine. It had been the best part of 2 days since I had been in a bed. I was a mess - but I was home,
When I turned on my phone I found a message from Marg Jones. She had arrived back in Melbourne earlier that day on a different airline, only to discover that her luggage had been lost again! The same airline that had lost her luggage on the flight to Vilnius had managed to repeat the exercise on her return to Melbourne. I guess that means it is consistent at least.
Although our luggage seemed to take an inordinate time to reach the carousel, it did arrive safely. All through the trip my bag had suffered a torn seam, but somehow it had held together until the end. Outside the sun was rising and Melbourne was coming to life, but all I could think of was getting into bed and sleeping for several days.
A couple of hours later I was finally home. The memories of the flight were already fading and I was starting to think about the next European ride, beginning in just a few week's time. Travel is like that.Read more