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Blurred memories Memoirs of a lost and bewildered Australian chick through Europe.

From Russia with Love - St Petersburg

RUSSIAN FEDERATION | Sunday, 17 August 2008 | Views [572]

Russia…..what can I say? I definitely had the biggest culture shock of all the places I have ever been to. I honestly have never felt so out of my comfort zone in my entire life, while at the same time in absolute awe of everything around me. St Petersburg is a beautiful city. To get there however, we had to cross over the Russian border.


After quite a festive night in Tallinn, we left early to drive to the border not knowing how long it would take us to get across. I had heard horror stories from other people saying there had been 6 hour waits and more so I was expecting the worst. We got through in about an hour and a half. Bloody impressive! The only thing out of the ordinary that happened was the official lady looking shocked when I said thankyou when she handed my passport back to me! We had been told bare minimum conversation, no photos, no jokes, nothing that could make them think that we didn’t respect them or to give them a reason not to let us in….I guess not many people say thankyou.


Once in Russia it was like we were on a different planet, or least in another time. The road could only be described as ‘kidney jarring’. They were to put it nicely, um…..rustic. As were most of the cars we saw. Reaching St Petersburg was a real relief, especially because the roads were a bit better there. We got there at about 4ish in the afternoon and we could see our hotel just over the river. Unfortunately though we couldn’t get there! The traffic was absolutely dreadful, there were road works and building works and in the end we drove around for about an hour and a half desperately close to our hotel, we just couldn’t get to its entrance!


The next morning we set out for a guided tour of the city. The traffic there really is dreadful! We saw some nice parks and things, lots of statues and then this really amazing church where all of the Russian royalty is buried. Talk about ornate! And crowded! The Russians at one time really did like their royal family….and then they killed the last of them off. But now they’re buried in a really nice spot!


After this we went to a government run souvenir shop. It was pretty good actually. Not bad prices. The best part of the store was that they gave you free drinks: tea, coffee, and Vodka. I had one each of the latter two! The vodka was very strong (but free!), and the coffee, although it only had creamer powder stuff, was honestly one of the best cups of coffee I have had in ages. It was bloody good! Well done Russians!


Next we went exploring the city on our own. We went to this church; the outside was absolutely amazing, the inside was 1000000 times better! It was full of mosaics, the whole inside was covered! Floor and ceiling and pillars included. All the colours you can imagine and lots and lots of gold! We wandered right through the city centre. On the whole it’s pretty easy to navigate. We visited shops, cathedrals, parks, statues, and the whole shebang. It’s a really quite nice city. It’s very ‘European’ but very Russian – if that makes sense. I think from what I have been told that this is what Peter the great was aiming for.


That night we had dinner at a pretty dreadful buffet restaurant. I’m always kind of hesitant in places like this because seafood makes me really ill. And of course this place was no exception. It had few labels on the food, and those that it did have labels on were in Cyrillic. I ate a lot of vegies, and still felt a bit ill afterwards. After that we went to a Russian folk and dance show. It was brilliant. Absolutely brilliant! The guy dancers were amazing especially. It’s like they were on never ending energizer bunny pills. I loved practically every minute of it. Go Russia!


The next morning was yet another early one. We went to the Hermitage Museum. It was pretty good. Very big, I wouldn’t mind going back another day and having a look around by myself. It had so much to look at it was exhausting. After that I had lunch at my favourite Russian takeaway- Tepemok. Tepemok makes crepes and pancakes and is really yum. And they have menus in English!


Next we went on a boat out to the summer palace. Absolutely brilliant! I wish I was Russian royalty (not the murdered ones). It would be amazing to live in a place like that. It was pretty expensive to get into the gardens for a start, and then it pissed down rain. I was not about to walk round in the rain no matter how good the gardens were so I decided to pay to go inside the palace as well. It cost about 600 roubles. I have no idea how much that is in $ but I didn’t go all the way to Russia to be tight and not see the things I wanted to see, I mean you don’t know if you’ll ever be back. Inside we got approached by a woman saying she would be our tour guide if we wanted. But, ever the independent travellers we thought no, we’ll be fine (and we’re not paying any more!). Plus we thought that we could just eavesdrop on a group ahead of or behind us. In retrospect we probably should have paid the guide woman. All the rooms we got to see were absolutely amazing. But it would have been nice to know what we were looking at. I was pretty interesting apparently. We tried to eavesdrop on the groups around us- we had a choice of Russian, French or Italian to listen to. Bugger! But it was a nice palace and I’m still glad I went.


The trip home was an interesting one. We decided to be adventurous and catch a bus and then the underground back. We had just missed the last boat back to I guess we didn’t have much choice I guess. We very diligently found out which buses we could catch that would take us to the train station, and a guide had told us it was about a 20 minute ride to the station. 20 minute my arse! When we got on the bus and tried to check that it went to where we wanted to go and to pay, the driver couldn’t understand any of the things we were saying, not even the station name. He started to get a bit frustrated (understandably) so the 4 of us that were there just thought ‘oh well, we were told by someone else that this was the bus to catch-we’ll just go and sit down’. We managed to talk to some teenagers who, while they didn’t speak English really, nodded when we asked if the bus went to a train (this took some creative gestureing!). Meanwhile we still hadn’t paid for any tickets! People seemed to just pass the driver money but we had no idea how much it cost, and where we were going so we just staid sitting! About 45 minutes into our ‘20 minute’ bus ride we were starting to get a little worried. The traffic was quite light so I was beginning to think we were lost. After just over an hour we pulled up to a train station (thank heavens!) It was not the one we were expecting, but we managed to work out where the hell we were. It was a scary hour! 3 of us even managed to get off the bus without paying! Poor Loz was stopped by the driver!


After this adventure we now had to navigate the wonderful Russian underground system. Our map was in English, everything there was in Cyrillic. So, while we had worked out where we were, and where we needed to go to get back to the city centre or our hotel, we couldn’t read any of the signs! So we played a fun game of match the drawings and numbers. I’m proud to say that we didn’t put a step wrong! Even when we had to change trains! I do have a suggestion to future people travelling on the St Petersburg and Moscow undergrounds- if you do have a map, try to have one that has the stations written in both Cyrillic and English, you will make your life 100000000000 times easier!


Following this adventure two of the girls had had enough and decided to go back to the hotel, Cat and I were keen to have one last look at the city and a nice dinner. We had a lazy shop around the main road and went searching for a restaurant that Cat had found in her lonely planet. The restaurant was not there, but we did manage to find a lovely alternative. It was a swanky but reasonably priced Russian food restaurant. It was full of locals, not tourists, the waiters were friendly (compared to a lot of the others we had experienced!) and I had an absolutely lovely beef stroganoff. Generic, I know, but I had to try it! A nice end to an interesting day! We even managed to successfully navigate our way back to the hotel on the train without getting lost!


One interesting last point to the day occurred when Cat and I were searching for the restaurant. We had been told that Russian people were not overly ‘friendly’- that they were more serious and less inclined to be helpful. One incident puts this into doubt. We had just left a station and were searching for the street we needed. A man, I’d say he was in has 30’s came running up to us. It was raining (still!) and we were a little worried at why this guy was yelling out to us. It turned out that Cat had dropped her few pages from her guide book a little way back and this guy chased us out into the rain to return it to us. What a nice guy! She had no idea that she had dropped it, and he went out of his way, into the rain, to return it. I think that says a lot.


Tomorrow more travels! Off to Novgorod.

Tags: russia

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