City of (Lots of) People
STEPPING OUT of our flat in the center of downtown St. Petersburg is like a couple of blood cells entering the heart. There is a surge of energy as we look up at the massive cathedral across the street and get swept into a rush of pedestrians. Within seconds, we join the nimble dance of dodging oncoming shoulders, elbows, and shopping bags.
A few minutes later we reach the metro station where we go down long, steep escalators. (St. Petersburg is built on a marsh, so the water table is pretty deep, and the metro tracks even deeper.)
As in most big cities, the underground is a strange world where everyone is together and almost no one knows each other. On a busy train, you can find yourself standing under someone else’s armpit, or seated directly in front of somebody’s crotch. And despite the constant rumbling and shrieking of steel tracks, everyone takes it in stride. This is life on the metro. This is how you get around in a city of six million or more people.
Then it’s onto the platform, sometimes forcibly, into crowded corridors where we head back up the long escalator which, compared to the train, is soothingly quiet. People on opposite sides—those going up and those going down—silently stare at each other as their lives momentarily pass and almost touch.
On the surface again and out on the street, the pulse of the city grabs us so fast that we forget about the metro and how odd it is as part of the en masse experience in a big city.
St. Petersburg is beautiful and invigorating, but we are always glad to step off its busy streets and into our simple courtyard, then up a few flights of stairs to our humble studio flat where, happily, we have everything we need. And where we can’t wait to venture out again.