Thursday 4 June 2015
It was a short journey from Moscow as I pulled into Moscow Station in St Petersburg at around 6:30am. A 5 minute walk to my hotel for the next two nights, it was a quick bag drop before heading out to a nearby 24 hour café for breakfast. Costing 200 roubles (£2), I had Buckwheat, Frankfurter type sausages, some bread rolls with random filling, beetroot salad and a coffee.
Back to the hotel for 8:30am, I had a three hour walking city tour with a new group guide called Mike. A combination of an orientation walk and history tour, I passed many sights such as the Church of Spilled Blood. Looking similar in design to St Basil’s Cathedral on Red Square in Moscow, this was decorated from floor to ceiling in mosaic. It was also used to store potatoes in the past and more recently, as a morgue during the war.
The walking tour took the group past the Hermitage, ending at St Isaac’s Cathedral. It was refreshing and such a pleasure to have an interesting and engaging guide. To be honest, it couldn’t have been any worse than the one I had for a Kremlin tour.
With some free time, I visited the Russian Museum which opened at 1pm. It cost 600 roubles (£6) which included entry to The Stroganoff Palace amongst others. Plenty of artwork spread over a couple of floors and buildings, I saw some interesting paintings and sculptures including Peter the Great.
By now, I had been on my feet for a good 8 hours. Back to the hotel, I picked up my dirty washing and headed over to Stirka. A laundromat that also served beer and food, what other better way could I have carried out this chore?! Two full loads and two dry cycles, it cost me 500 roubles (£5) including washing powder and conditioner. The beer wasn’t badly priced. A wheat beer set me back 250 roubles (£2.50) and a ham and cheese toastie was 100 roubles (£1).
A few hours later, with a rucksack full of clean, fresh smelling clothes, I passed the Cathedral of the Lady of Kazan. The sun reflecting off the dome really made me love St Petersburg and its beautiful buildings.
I saw out the evening with a few beers in a local pub around the corner from the hotel called Liverpool. I’d just arrived as the live band was packing up, but this didn’t stop me have a few drinks as I proudly sported my new T-Shirt of the President riding a bear….
Friday 5 June 2015
As I strolled back to the hotel at 3am from a late evening spent in the Liverpool (Beatles themed pub), I witnessed the deepest red morning sky that I have ever seen. It never really got dark as I was still in experiencing “White Nights” here in the city.
I managed to sleep for few hours before meeting the tour group to catch a trolley bus to the Hermitage at 10am. 28 roubles (28p) was collected from me by the conductor as she weaved and squeezed herself through the crowd on the bus. I was left alone to explore the Hermitage as Svetlana, my GAdventures CEO (Chief Experience Officer!), had already visited in the past. After being forced to check my tiny backpack in the cloakroom, I managed one hour in the Hermitage before I had reached my limit.
Suffering from Art and Museum fatigue having done the Russian museum yesterday, I left to play on a Segway on Palace Square just outside the Hermitage. For 300 roubles (£3), I was able to do one large circuit of Palace Square.
Across the bridge, just behind the Hermitage, I visited the Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography or Kunstkamera for short! I know I mentioned that I had museum fatigue, but this was a different kind of exhibition. Filled with a collection of weird items such as babies and foetus’s in jars and two headed calves, Peter the Great used to entice people to visit by offering them free lard and vodka. The museum also showed costumes of different ethnic group as I assume he had a passion for other people.
With a strong wind behind me (literally), I banked a couple of hours sleep before meeting the tour group for a farewell dinner as this was our last evening together. The venue for the evening was a Georgian restaurant called Kat. Visited by the likes of Mikhail Gorbachev, John Malkovich and various Russian celebrities, there was a certain cat theme to the décor. The food was certainly filling as I feasted on cheese bread, meat pie and a mutton kebab with vegetables.
It was an experience to travel with a group of 12 for 21 days and have made some new friends because of it. If I had more time to plan the Trans-Mongolian/Trans-Siberian trip, I could do it alone but it was worth paying for the organised tour in the end. Less hassle and more time to experience the fun and scenery…
Saturday 6 June 2015
With 8 hours sleep in the bank, I was feeling refreshed and ready to set off on my next destination and adventure. I checked out of the hotel and caught the metro to Finlandsky Station. Line 1, 2 stops, 31 roubles (31p), it was easy to navigate as I arrived at the railway station. I had booked my ticket to Helsinki before I left the UK as part of my Russian Visa application. Since they needed to know when I would be leaving Russia and the “moving on” destination, I splashed out on a first class ticket.
Taking about 4 hours in the end, I was treated to free juice, tea, coffee, water and a lovely meal of salmon, crab pancake, salad and cheese before rolling into my next port of call…