We arrived at the St. Petersberg airport via FinnAir from Helsinki. It was a warm Sunday evening and we were quite startled at how small, run down and shabby the airport was. After clearing customs and watching the locals watch us as we proceeded to baggage, we were both became anxious and tense but were quite relieved to see a sign with our name waving in the air. Our English speaking driver quickly escorted us to the car and locked us in. We turned and looked at each other. They lock you in? The people all wore old and worn clothes and the uniforms that some had on were raggedy and patched. There were a few newer cars, but without exception, the cars were all filthy dirty, having not been washed in months. Our driver came back with all the luggage, explained to us he had to wait for two more people and that he was turning us over to another driver, who didn't speak English but would get us to our destination in no time. Non-English speaking driver had a huge smile so we nodded and smiled back and he climbed in. We were off to the riverboat terminal on the River Neva. Lord have mercy.
The real estate around most airports is not the most visually appealing. Mostly because the purpose of the surrounding land is utilitarian, tied to the functions of the airport. Although in this case, there was no industrial productions facilities that you typically see. Just squalor, poverty, and destitution on both sides of the road. The standard of living in very, very low in west Russia. It's very disturbing to witness. It makes Tijuana look like San Diego. We had a light moment when the driver pulled in to the wrong terminal; the guards wouldn't let him in, he had to back up about 50 yards, and we became quiet and still, thinking about our original English-speaking driver that we had arranged for, back at the airport picking up some other people. But soon, our guy cranked a sharp right, took us down another road and this time easily passed security and got us in. Our boat was in sight! Lucky for him, I had no change whatsoever, so he got a $20US tip; he grinned broadly, bowed and said "Gracias!" We were both laughing as the porters from the boat took our luggage and we stepped down the gangplank. The front desk welcomed us by name and handed us our key and we were set. We made it.
The 'Kan EWA