My travels around Eastern Europe have felt like they are preparing me for the ultimate country of Russia. As the whole point of this trip was the trans-Siberian it was exciting to be on the train heading into the country. We had a nice train on the way in, a Finnish train I think, not a Russian one. We crossed the border in the morning and we passed the visa test! So we had it stamped and given our important slip of paper which to collect visa registrations on, losing it is not an option and there are always rumours about what border officials will do if you try get out of the country without it. We rolled into St Petersburg about 2pm and headed out into the unknown. We were at some random station which was famous for being where Lenin arrived after exile and given a famous speech, so we went out and saw his statue before heading into the metro to try to make it to the hostel. St P’s is a bit city and the metro is always busy, we managed to get 3 metro tickets from the angry unhelpful ticket ladies. We looked a bit conspicuous with our packs on and getting in the way of everyone. Tom had gotten his camera out and took a photo when a security guard comes up and takes him away, pulls out a folder with rules in bad English about not taking photos and how it is a 100 ruble ($5NZD) fine! So we have been in the country 30 minutes and already have a ‘fine’ which undoubtedly will go into the guard’s pocket.
(Soviet reminders are everywhere)
After we had sorted that out we headed straight into the crazy mass of people that is the metro, it is the deepest metro in the world apparently and to get to the trains you have to take this crazy long escalator. There are so many people around and with massive packs you are always getting in the way. Things are written all in Cyrillic so it’s hard to find the name of your station. It’s hard enough being in a country with a different language but when faced with a whole different alphabet it’s even more overwhelming. It’s all confusing and busy and crazy. We managed to get on the right train, change lines and make it out alive but it was pretty intense. We found on a later trip that the colour coded lines aren’t really colour coded either and it can get very confusing. We had come out on the main street Nevsky prospect which runs through the city. Packed with people at all times of the day, we pushed our way through and found our street just off the main road and made it upstairs to the hostel. Called Cuba hostel, it’s a nice place in a good location.
First things first we were starving but had no money so went for a walk to try find the best exchange rates, eventually we got our Euros changed, nice to be using a currency for more than 3 days finally! Then we headed to a café for some food and then back to the hostel to chill out for a bit. Me and Rdoc headed out to find a supermarket to stock up on food for a few days, we found enough to make dinner, the worst selection of vegetables ever, but just enough to make something to eat. Back at the hostel Tom had somehow found a group of people drinking vodka and eating pickles (a necessity with vodka apparently).The hostel’s electricity had gone out so the staff had brought vodka to make up for it. Good way to kick off Russia on the first day with a fine and some vodka. We cooked some dinner while Tom had a bit too much vodka and ended up asleep on the couch pretty early.
So we were into Russia, the first day of our month long stay and already pretty eventful and typically Russian. Russia is an interesting place, St P’s seems like a mix of Chisinau, Bucharest and Paris, with people like Ukrainians, and women dressed like Moldovans. And when I say Russia is like these places, I guess I mean that these places are like Russia as Russia has been the biggest influence in Eastern Europe over the last century. It interesting after seeing how all these post-soviet states are trying to separate themselves from Russia and have museums documenting soviet atrocities, but Russia seem to love the soviet thing still. While there aren’t statues of Stalin any more there are still lots of old CCCP (USSR) signs everywhere and soviet victory monuments, and unlike Germanys open discussion on Hitler, Stalin is kind of just left out of things. There definitely aren’t any museums showing anything bad that Russia did. And they totally love Lenin, lots of Lenin statues and loads of things named after him. There are also lots of people in uniform, you must carry your passport on you at all times and policemen are known to pull over foreigners and issue ‘fines’ for not having your visa registered etc so everyone in uniform kind of freaks me out a bit! And there are so many of them, from policemen to traffic cops, army people in dress type uniform and army camouflage gear….everywhere is groups of men in imposing looking uniforms, walking down the street, on corners, in parks, at monuments. As well as security guards in all the shops. So you do feel a bit like you are being watched the whole time. We try to not talk when we see cops so they don’t know we are foreigners, although I am not dressed in high heels so probably don’t fit in! Pretty much people are not sympathetic to foreigners, lots of people are nice but it seems most people in any service type role hate you, it’s actually quite funny and if you ever get a smile out of an angry shop lady then you have done well.
(Russian is a difficult language)
(St P’s is pretty)
So Russia…it’s pretty crazy, hard at some times but fun, although we were only just getting started with St P’s, writing this now we have learnt a few more Russian words and have the alphabet down pretty good. I have read the Russia is a mystery wrapped in a riddle inside and enigma and I think this is definitely true.
Tags: blogsherpa, Russia, St Petersburg, Trans Siberian, TRAVELS 2008