We ended up with 6 days in St Petersburg which was great to stay somewhere and get to know it a bit better. There is so much to do and see so we hardly saw all of it but did see the important things, have some good nights out and see a few random extras. The biggest problem was that it was very, very cold, unseasonably cold and most people seemed surprised how cold it was, a bit unfortunate as we just saw cloudy skies and not exactly weather that made you want to walk around and see stuff. The city itself is beautiful and set around rivers and canals, all the buildings in the centre are historic looking and loads of old churches and things.
(church of the spilled blood)
Our first full day we walked around an old fortress and across a bridge with some statues (lots of statues) but so cold do didn’t hang around outside too much. Me and Rdoc went to a shopping mall as well to try find some warm clothes for me as somehow I have lost my jersey among other things and needed a hat. I managed to picked up a good hat and get some woolen tights to protect me against the weather in the weeks to come. Tom was recovering from his vodka night so had a late start for sightseeing.
When you walk to it you come through this huge arch to a big square with the hermitage building in front of you, but of course it was covered in scaffolding! Luckily the inside was so beautiful it made up for it.
(me on the Hermitage staircase)
Tom is rather more pumped about art than me and Rdoc and we were rather over it by the end. We were probably acting like whining little kids by the end (right Tom!). It’s just soooooo big, like thousands of paintings and after awhile you are just charging past Picassos and Van Gogh trying to find the end. However in saying that the building it is in is beautiful and ornate, it was an old palace I think so most of the fun is looking at all the rooms and some are set up with original furniture. I do actually like paintings but rows of Italian “Madonna and child” gets a bit boring, the French stuff like Monet, Van Gogh and some others who I don’t really know, was good though and some interesting modern exhibition which I liked. We spent about 4 hours there, and definitely ready to leave by the end. I’m sure if you REALLY liked art and art history you could stay for days but that was enough for us (well for me at least). We had a wander round an old cathedral afterwards and saw a couple of wedding partied getting photos..a theme for this trip it seems, so many weddings! But it was such a huge day at the hermitage we headed back to the hostel to relax. We have this theory of a time black hole between the hours of 5-9pm where the time just disappears, its like we get back from our daily activities then its 9pm already. Tonight though we pulled ourselves together and had a quick break and some tea before heading out for some culture.
St P’s used to be called Leningrad, the soviets renamed it because it didn’t sound Russian enough, St P’s was always the more cultured cities, which didn’t go down too well during soviet times, but it somehow managed to survive and still is the most arty place in Russia, most famous for its ballets and operas so we had to go see a ballet. We got some last minute tickets to ‘Swan Lake” in a beautiful old theatre.
(Tom and Rdoc getting classy)
(Some swans…on a lake)
I don’t think it was one of the hardcore professional ones but it was cool. The theatre was kind of empty so we moved out of our cheap tickets to better seats with a perfect view. It was my first proper ballet and it was cool, the costumes were beautiful and the dancing was cool but it was a little weird, kind of child like story with over acting and a lot of self congratulating…I think we had to clap like every dance. We almost left without seeing the end after the second act because there was such a big bow and clapping time we thought it must be the end, but we stayed and of course it finished happily with swans and princes or something.
In our other days we headed out to a big memorial to the siege of Leningrad, in 1941-44 (or about then) Germany held the city in a siege and cut of all supplies for around 900 days, it was pretty intense and millions of died from disease, starvation and from the extreame cold.
It was a huge thing to get through it all and survived so they are pretty pumped on remembering it. I had studied it a bit in high school so it was cool to see the memorial which was kind of in the middle of nowhere, a big huge obelisk, some bronze statues (always so many bronze statues) and this big bronze sunken level with a museum and eternal flames and scary music playing, pretty impressing memorial and of course a wedding party getting photos there….a bit weird. We also checked out the other museum for the siege in town which was interesting but all in Russian, good to see more about this side of the city as it was and still is such a huge part if their history. We tried to go after the memorial but we had bad luck and arrived 1 minute after they stopped letting people in. Old ladies here are tough. But me and Rdoc went back to see it another day.
The best part of staying in a city for awhile is finding some cool spots around like the bar which was also a laundry mat really just a bar with some washing machines out the back, but it had a cool vibe and good music. Tom spent ages down there one night waiting for the laundry and got talking to some Russians who we ended up going out with. The hostel we were staying at had a great group of people around who we hung out with a bit. Jeff the American, Joel a Dutch guy and Mike from London, also a couple of Canadians and a few others who came and went so we had some great nights out in a few bars, drinking vodka (and eating pickles, always pickles with vodka) and dancing, and also fun times at the hostel with a mega game of super snap (the best card game ever). We went to some cool bars, drinks are pretty cheap and had lots of good people around. We must have taken 100 self takes on Toms camera though over a couple of nights…I am sure he loves it!
One particularly late night meant we had a very relaxed next day and in fact the only thing we managed to do was get a train ticket To Moscow for a couple of days away, a day later than intended but 3rd class was sold old. Actually spending the whole day buying a train ticket is not unheard of, it is very confusing and long lines and no English spoken. We were luckily and managed to find an English speaker who was really helpful.
On our last day I managed to drag Rdoc with me to the ‘erotica museum’ somewhere on the other side of town, its really a doctors office with a whole strange collection of sexual stuff and nurses dressed like ‘naughty nurses’ but the main attraction is the famous Rasputin’s penis, on display in a jar. Weird.
Afterwards Rdoc headed off and I walked back to the hostel through the beautiful parks, seeing another 15 or so weddings and checked out the souvenir market which is right behind this amazing church-kind of like St Basils in Moscow. I brought a photo of a guy who was selling a Russian photographers work, he takes crazy photos of the city and of random stuff and has lots of old photos. It was cool to see the work and interesting talking to the guy who was also into photography and we talked about old soviet cameras which you can buy for really cheap. I also picked up some sweet propaganda fridge magnets.
Lots of other stuff happened but its all a blur of churches, buildings, metros and Lenin statues. Basically St P’s is cool, the cold weather was lame but still fun and good hostel with cool people so always lots of people to talk to and hang out with and kind of like having a good group for the time. We were the last of these people to leave and it was time to move on as the day we left the hostel filled up with all these big groups and we knew no-one! But good times end and it was time to move on to Moscow on our 1.40am train.