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Arrival at St. Petersburg - Appearance of thaw at Tamboff - Departure
- Increase of cold - The first halt - Motion of kibitka - A long stage - Journeying along rivers - Arrival at Moscow - A winter scene Stay at Moscow - Character of the hotels - A winter-diligence A snow-storm - Slow progress Deep holes in the snow Small quantity of snow further north – Prince Serge Galitzin Visitors not announced in Russia A party at Prince Serge's — The Prince of Georgia
The Cheremetieff and Galitzin hospitals at Moscow -- Scanty population of that city.
St. Petersburg, March 27th, 1838. You will perceive by the date of this letter that we have completed the journey which we were about to undertake when I last wrote; and you will be glad to find that we have made so long a stride on our way homewards ; for, in point of time, Petersburg will be as near to England as to Tamboff when the navigation of the Gulf of Finland is open. This, however, will not be the case for some weeks to come. The Baltic steamboats will not begin to ply till the second week in May at the earliest.
We arrived here on Saturday last, having spent ten days in Moscow on our way; and before I give you any account of our journey, I may as well say, that, although Petersburg is now so full that it is difficult to meet with lodgings, we have been fortunate enough to engage an excellent set of rooms, clean and well-furnished, in one of the best situations in the town—the Little Million at the Hôtel de la Bourse, kept by a Frenchman. Here we established ourselves yesterday, and, having also provided ourselves with a servant, we are comfortably settled for the remainder of our stay in this country.
In my last letter from Tamboff I told you that the state of the weather caused us some fear that the ice on the rivers might become unsafe, and the roads be unfit for sledge travelling. The thaw which excited our alarm continued for
two days after I wrote. On Saturday (the 3rd) Reaumur's thermometer stood six degrees above the freezing-point, about forty-five or forty-six degrees of Fahrenheit. The snow was melting fast, the streets were flowing with water, and the accounts which we received of the roads were such that we determined to risk no longer delay, but to set out the following night on our journey, instead of waiting till Tuesday, as we had previously fixed. We feared, indeed, that we had already postponed moving too long; but about half an hour after we had determined on this precipitate flight, a friend came in and said he had good news for us. He told us that the wind had just changed to the north, and that we might expect a return of frost. In fact, to our great delight, before we went to bed, the thermometer was below zero, and the snow was beginning to grow crisp again, and the following morning we had three degrees of cold. We did not however choose again to alter our plans or trust to the continuance of this favourable weather, so by the evening everything was ready for our departure.
The, last moments of our stay do not tempt me to dwell upon them. We took leave of our countryman R-, whom we left with much regret in this distant spot, and we said farewell to some other friends. Finally we bade adieu to my
brother and sister-in-law, whose kindness and hospitality had been unbounded during the long period which we had spent in their house ; and who, on our departure, as during our stay, forgot nothing which could contribute to our comfort and accommodation. At length, well wrapped up, we arranged ourselves in the kibitka, and set out a quarter of an hour before midnight, to the great satisfaction of our Russian attendant, who would not willingly have commenced the journey on Monday. The road, as we expected, was in a very indifferent state ; but the cold, which at first was not intense, increased rapidly, and therefore the snow became hard. Though its surface was much broken, we were able to proceed rapidly, and, by eight o'clock in the morning, we were about forty miles from Tamboff.
We had intended to breakfast at Kazloff, but our istvostchik drove us through the town without stopping, and we reached
no other place where any tolerable accommodation was to be found till five o'clock in the afternoon. Having travelled for seventeen hours without interruption, except to change horses, we were by this time somewhat chilled, very much cramped, and exceedingly hungry, as it was out of the question to eat in the kibitka, all our provisions being frozen hard. I had slept the greater part of the way in spite of our incessant tossing up and down, and from side to side, in the ouchabas. We had now travelled a hundred and seventy versts, and in the small town of Riask we enjoyed the luxury of entering clean and warm rooms, the same in which we had breakfasted on our way from Moscow in the autumn. Here we disencumbered ourselves of cloaks, warm boots, and caps,
which we placed around the stove, while our basket, well stored by our kind friends at Tamboff with everything we could require on the road, was produced. A steaming samovar soon made its appearance ;
and hot tea and cold partridge pie were not the less agreeable for our seventeen hours' tossing over the snow. After remaining here about an hour and a half, and getting thoroughly warmed, we wrapped ourselves up once more, and, travelling all night, reached Riazan about eight o'clock on the Tuesday morning. At Riazan we got a comfortable breakfast at a tolerable inn. We had found the road very bad all night, and we constantly felt the sensation of being upset when the kibitka tilted sideways on the projecting elbow. After a time, however, we paid little attention to these occur-. rences, or even to the shock with which the vehicle righted itself after one of the runners had been lifted off the ground. Owing to the piercing wind which met us, we were forced to keep the leather veil, which closed up the front of the kibitka, almost always lowered, so that we travelled for the most part entirely in the dark, consoling ourselves by observing, whenever we looked forth, that nothing could be more dreary or dismal than the monotonous waste of snow which extended around us on every side as we journeyed along. From Riazan we were obliged to engage horses, our team being a troika, to take us without changing all the way to Columnia, a distance of more than seventy miles. These horses were of
→ hardy Bashkir breed, which I mentioned in my account
of the horse-fair at Tamboff. They seemed equally insensible to fatigue and to cold, accomplishing their long stage with apparent ease in ten hours, including a stoppage to bait of two hours. During the bait they were not unharnessed or cleaned, but they stood to feed in an open shed, where their shaggy coats speedily became stiff with ice, as the moisture from their bodies froze. We left Riazan at ten in the morning, and we reached Columnia by eight in the evening. During the greater part of this day we travelled along the ice of the Occa, and of another river which runs into it. So long as we were on the ice the road was smooth and good, but the banks which we had to ascend and descend were steep and dangerous, and more than once we were nearly upset, owing to the carelessness of our istvostchik, who drove us down these slippery places in such a manner that the, kibitka overpowered the horses and swung round sideways. Towards evening the frost became very intense, and when we reached Columnia we were told that there were then twenty-five degrees of cold by Reaumur, and this with a searching wind. We, however, stopped here no longer than was necessary to procure horses, which we did after a long delay. At the next station we supped, and we were obliged to proceed again with the same horses. The road, during these two stages, was worse than ever, and we got on very slowly, expecting constantly to be upset in spite of our previous experience, and it was ten o'clock on the Wednesday morning before we reached the second station; the horses which had brought us from Columnia being thoroughly jaded before they had finished their journey. The window-panes at the inn where we breakfasted were filled with writing, and I discovered among the various inscriptions a few lines in English. We had now the satisfaction of knowing that we were but twenty versts from the end of our journey, and, procuring fresh horses, we were driven rapidly along over an excellent road, and our passports were demanded at the gates of Moscow before one o'clock. We drove to the Hôtel du Nord in the Tverskoi, to which we had been recommended, and where we established ourselves. I cannot say much for the comfort or cleanliness of our apartments.
The only picturesque object which we saw during the whole
journey was a village through which we passed on the last morning, a little after six o'clock, just as the sun was rising. It being the time at which the peasants light their stoves, the smoke was curling in the bright clear air from nearly every house in the village ; and the long straggling street happened to be filled by a large arboze (or string of carriers' sledges), the coats of the horses, and the long beards and fur caps of the drivers, being white with frost. The whole scene, which, lighted up by the rising sun, was really very striking, formed no bad picture of a winter morning in Russia, affording a characteristic view of the dwellings, costumes, and occupations of the people at this season of the year. We never suffered much from cold during our journey, intense as the frost was. Its most unpleasant effect was its congealing the breath in such a manner as.to cover our fur collars with icicles. These became partially melted on touching the skin, so that it was very difficult to keep our faces from being constantly wet. We were always obliged to dry at the fire everything that had been within reach of the mouth, whenever we entered a house.
I have little to say of our stay at Moscow, which only lasted ten days, during which time we both suffered much from colds and sore throats. The weather was very unpleasant, and the streets so encumbered with snow,* that it was excessively disagreeable to drive about on account of the ouchabas, while it was out of the question to walk any distance, owing to the slippery and neglected state of the foot pavements. Our hotel, morever, was so uncomfortable that we should hardly have remained as long as we did, had not M—'s family, with whom we spent most of our time, been in town. The hotels in Moscow are, I believe, celebrated for dirt and discomfort, and the Hôtel du Nord possesses these qualities in perfection.†
* The streets of Moscow, at this time, from the sandy colour and loose consistency of the snow, had exactly the appearance of being thickly covered with moist sugar.
+ We found too late that we ought to have gone to Mrs. Howard's hotel, which is said to be really clean and comfortable.