It's like a slap on my own face.
19.12.14 - 8.1.15
St Petersburg, January 3rd 2015
Wow. It isn't as cold. That was First Impression "A" while crossing the airport's parking lot. Through the broad streets we drove, I gasped at the sight of the buildings. Wow. It isn't the Russia I thought I knew well already. That became First Impression "B". Through the next two days, from what I learnt directly and indirectly from my guides, my first impressions of St Petersburg were after all not too wrong anyway. St Petersburg indeed had been meant to represent something different from the rest of Russia. However, that was the next two days. For today, it was the experience with my pre-booked hotel that created my First Impression "C".
The website of the hotel I booked offered a taxi pick up service from the airport. I accepted. A few days prior to my arrival, I got an email from the hotel telling me that preparation had been done for my coming. Wow. Awesome. I can't remember ever receiving such an email from an accommodation. So, yes, the taxi driver was at the exit door with my name written on his i-Pad. Awesome number two. All this time when I acquire a pick-up service, my name is written on paper. Never ever on an electric device. I apologized for making him waiting an hour due to the delay of my flight from Yekaterinburg. He said nothing. No English, apparently.
My taxi stopped in front of an iron gate. Nothing seemed to look like a hotel neither an apartment/flat like the hostels I used to stay in. "Is this my hotel?"
"Houskvousk rousk vousk," replied the driver. He took my suitcase out, placed it next to my feet, got back into the car, and gone was he. Next to the gate was a panel with numbers. Next to it was a list of numbers and names which one of them was the name of my hotel. I pressed that number, pushed the gate, nothing. Once again. Number, gate, nothing. I searched the panel for anything like a button. Maybe it's like one of my previous hostels. No number entry, just press a button. Press, press, nothing. I talked to the speaker. Nothing. If there had been a CCTV above, you can see me like an autoplay recording repeating the acttions over and over but in vain. Then came two ladies from inside. The moment they pushed the gate out, I seized the opportunity squeezing my body through the still-opened iron gate. The beauty of being slim is here. Aha.
A few meters from that iron gate in was a courtyard or sort of. The courtyard was muddy from wet snow. I followed the sign towards my hotel only to be met with another iron gate. Now the recording shall auto-replay but in a different setting. At the front desk was nobody. I called, and called. A man eventually came out. Without looking at my booking form or asking for my identity or at least my name, he said,
"I think your booking is not here." In English.
Can you imagine that? It was through them that I booked a pick-up from the airport. How could the taxi driver bring me to a wrong address?
Positive thinking. Maybe this guy mistook me for another guest. So spread my booking form on the table. "I already have made a booking and have paid one night to secure my booking as required."
The man took a glance and said again, "Your hotel is number 25. Here is number 17."
At that time I thought my taxi driver had mistakenly read the address. But later I checked, my driver was correct. It was the hotel who should have informed the taxi agent about the relocation of my hotel.
That man behind the desk just watched me drag my suitcase down the stairs. I wondered, where are the gentlemen of Russia? Oh well, maybe he thinks I'm not his guest anyway.
Behind the main iron gate another short drama replayed. I couldn't get out! I shook the gate. People walking down the street looked at me as if I were standing behind jail. Have I to walk the muddy courtyard, return to that iron gate inside, drag my suitcase upstairs, call that heartless man just to ask him to let me out?!?! It took a minute or two like that. Then a man came in. Once again, I squeezed my body through the still-opened gate. I was free. No. Not really.
As people with elegant coats, men and women, swarmed on my left and right, I searched for number 25. I couldn't find it. Using my home country cellphone number, I made a call to the number written on my booking form. The receiver over there, fluent in English, took some time to confirm my booking. I became more impatient.
"Can you please make it quick, because I'm using my Indonesian number and my funds are running out. Please!"
Guess what was the reply? "If you shout, I won't give you anything."
Apparently I had been transferred to a chain hotel but with a different name and they didn't tell me that. I had searched for signs written the same hotel name. That's why I couldn't find it. But at the 'new hotel' at number 25, the lady at the front desk just smiled. She clearly was fluent in English so she must have understood me very clearly. To why the taxi driver didn't bring me directly to this hotel, she simply replied, "It's just 100 meters away."
After all, I got an upgraded room. It had an ensuite bathroom and the bed, everything, was nice. But! That was not yet end of problem. I had to inform the tour guide for tomorrow the change of this pick up address. Even it's just 100 meters away, I thought, it would be improper to have him or her go upstairs to that hotel of number 17, walk out the gate, walk to number 25 as I had done before, while it's not at all his/her fault. The phone at the travel agent wasn't answered but the funds in my cellphone got drained out. The next morning I walked back to number 17 and awaited my tour guide who came half an hour late. Then she told me that the river cruise I had booked for is not operating because the river is frozen. Bummer. That's another story to tell.
That next morning, though, the lady at the front desk said to me, "I'm sorry for yesterday." Then she said something which I don't remember exactly the words. She admitted she had not been nice to me.
Furthermore, of the two nights I had paid for, I got one night fee returned to my bank account. That at least could cover for the lost funds in my cellphone.
It's a personal struggle for me writing this particular post. It's like slapping on my own face. I haven't told you how twice I was pushed by the glass door at St Petersburg's metro entrance from an opposite direction while I was facing the right direction. Didn't you say Russia is nice? Didn't you say Russians are kind? Uhm... yes, I did, and I still. But, I never said Russia is heaven. Even in church, people lie, don't they? Don't we? Even in church, apology is not something that happens very often. In Russia, in St Petersburg to be exact, it happened.