Tuesday, 10 April 2012

St. Petersburg

After clearing immigration and stepping out into the cold afternoon air, I instantly realised I should have probably taken the time to at least know how to read Cyrillic, maybe even some choice words or phrases in Russian. Not a lick of English anywhere, save for the giant KFC sign in the distance, a welcome sight!

Thankfully, I have my Trans Siberian Lonely Planet which is already turning out to be ridiculously useful. After waiting for a bus that was clearly not coming, I hopped into one of the marshrutky, basically a minibus on a set route. I knew vaguely where I wanted to go and after a few attempts the driver seemed to nod in agreement at my pronunciation and we were off.

Unsure of when to get off the minibus, I decided that when we were doing a U-turn to head back to the airport was as good a time as any. Once on the street, even with my map, I was a little lost, limited to no English in the city centre, and certainly none on the road signs. I just walked up the road and eventually the map and what I could see seemed to match so I was okay. Finding the hostel was another matter, rather than just been a door on the road, I had to go through a gate which led to a courtyard of a bigger building, round a couple corners, in a back entrance and up two flights of stairs.This happens to be quite normal.

The hostel, Apple Hostel, was really good though and I’d recommend it to anyone visiting St. Petersburg. Friendly staff up for a drink or two and clean, cheap accommodation, perfect.

As luck would have it, there were plenty of friendly foreigners all very capable of speaking English, making my life much easier. There was even a group of English students studying Russian in Russia who were up for the weekend. As a result I was able to head out to Russian bars rather than the tourist friendly ones where I wouldn’t really see anything different from a Friday night in Leeds. The bar fight that started within ten seconds of walking into the first bar is pretty standard, or so I'm told.

Boyarskiy shots...delicious
The beer in St. Petersburg was excellent. Of course now, none of the names come to mind, all I had to say was ‘pe-vo’, which is beer in Russian. As usual, one of the first words I learned in a foreign language was beer, incredibly useful. As well as good beers, there was the ‘famous’ St. Petersburg shot, which apparently you don’t get anywhere else, called Boyarskiy.

Whether this is named after some particular native of St. Petersburg I couldn’t tell you but it was basically a shot glass with half a shot of grenadine, then topped up with vodka and then a splash of tabasco. Sounds rank, tasted good, and they only got better the more you had!

Of course, St. Petersburg has more to offer than cheap booze and shots. There’s the world famous Hermitage in the Winter Palace, St. Isaac’s Cathedral, Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood, Peter and Paul Fortress and many more museums, palaces, gardens and churches besides. Although I only had three days, I was able to fit most sights in. 

Kazan Cathedral is a huge building on Nevsky Prospect (the main road through downtown St. Petersburg), St. Isaac’s, where you can go to the top of the dome and get great panoramic views of the city, Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood where every square inch inside is covered with beautiful, biblical mosaics. There's Dvortsovaya Plaza with the Hermiatage to the north west, the General Staff Building opposite and ALexander column in the centre.

St. Isaac's Cathedral

General Staff Building

Alexander Column with the Hermitage in the background

Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood

Kazan Cathedral

I even managed to fit in a Zenit St. Petersburg game. The atmosphere was only average though, one whole stand of the home support decided to leave in protest because they thought there were too many police, even though they had all bought tickets, strange.

However, I unfortunately didn’t get to go inside the Hermitage, the one place you should really get to when you go to St. Petersburg. Apparently if you spend a few seconds looking at each display, it would take nine years to look at everything, can’t have missed too much then! Who knew museums are closed on a Monday in Russia? While I have been here, I’ve also been told that this happens to be the case in many a country, art doesn’t like Mondays it would seem. Maybe next time, I have the feeling this city comes alive in the summer months and would be a beautiful place to spend at least a three day weekend, if not more time.

Next stop, night train to Moscow.

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