I was shattered before getting the bus to Russia, I had sleep but definitely not enough. I made my way, once again looking like a pack horse to the bus station and bordered the empty bus to St Petersburg. I was the only english speaking person on the bus and so thankfully the attendant explained everything that was going on to me as we travelled. I had a sleep on the back seat for the first few hours and then around lunch time we reached Navra which is the border town. It is a town that is 70% russian, and so most signs were in Russian. We first came to the estonian border control where our passports were collected on board (and I attempted to get both of my passports stamped to no avail) and then brought back on 20 minutes later with a stamp. Then we proceeded over the highly fenced bridge over a river, with a russian and estonian castle on either side, each with their flag flying high. We came up to the Russian border control on the other side and the bus was quickly inspected by a guard and our passports sighted then we all got off with all of our luggage and proceeded through immigration, then we waited for a little while as the bus was thoroughly inspected inside and underneath before boarding the bus again where they came and checked our stamps we had just recieved. The whole process took around an hour. Then the bus continued on towards St Petersburg. It was one of the worst roads I have ever been on. The ride was so bumpy and uncomfortable and at that time the attendant chose to serve food. I had to wait ages to actually be able to drink my cup-a-soup! We continued on for a few more hours past flat fields and forest and the most run down little houses and villages. 6 hours (plus an hour time difference) I arrived in St Petersburg.
St Petersburg has been the city I was most excited to visit, I couldn't wait to come to russia and infact I left Estonia one day early so I could have more time in St Petersburg and in hindsight that was a great decision. I love this city and want to move here to learn Russian!
I walked a few kilometres from the bus to my hostel and was very glad to finally put my bags down and know I wouldn't be moving for 6 days. Once I was settled in I went to head out and in the lobby met Nick and Sam, aussies from Manly! Small world. We all together headed out for the first time in St Petersburg and it was bucketing down, yay!
We went to Teremok, a chain fast food restaurant selling russian pancakes and some other weird things, and so the three of us got mightly confused by the menu and made fools of ourselves ordering stuff and then smashed some pancakes. After seconds and waiting for the down pour to pass we headed back to the hostel where we met Steve, another aussie and Piers, the most depressing and scrawny and thus hilarious English man who had come to Russia to meet a girl who met on facebook. After chatting in the common room for a while convincing ourselves we would go out, we finally did, in the pouring rain to a 24hr bistro where all the boys had kebabs and I tried some strange russian lasagne and potatoes (again) and i ended up paying for everyone and then making all my money plus some back. love russian business! We didn't end up goiing out but chatting for ages and then making a run for it back to the hostel in a break from the rain.
My first full day in St Petersburg and while having breakfast with Nick who had invited himselft along eagerly on my sightseeing we met Rory, a short ranga from Wolverhampton England who had been living in moscow as a student civil engineer on assignment in moscow for 2 months. It's just crazy the people you meet on the road. So the 3 of us set out for the Hermitage, which I believe is one of the biggest museum in the world! Once we reached the absolutely gorgeous palace which is the hermitage we watched Rory take pictures with girls dressed up with soldiers for money and then excitedly headed in. It's important to note our early enthusiasm. We had no queues and so quickly got tickets and then headed in. The map let alone the building we were standing in was ridiculously impressive, the collection inside this enormous palace is phenomenal. There is museum works, art pieces and then just the rooms themselves. In total we got through about half the musuem in 4 hours and we walked quickly through lots of this. You could spend day upon days exploring this place. Our first main area was the classical sculptures area which had beautiful sculptures of which many we felt the need to immitate and these were housed in some stunningly beautiful rooms. Such amazing ceilings! I'm getting paid out for the amount of ceiling pictures I have taken!
Many silly pictures later we headed up a gorgeous gilded staircase to the 2nd floor and I almost feel over in excitement. My drop absolutely dropped as we came upon a fantastic exhibition of Santiago Calatrava, one of Spain's and indeed the worlds best architects and bridge designers (and he's an engineer and artist too!). There were replicas of all his built works and then models of unbuilt or non-winning competition schemes and then on top of that many paintings, drawings and scultptures. Absolutely fantastic and thankfully the boys thought it was pretty sweet too so I was able to spend a lot of time exploring (sadly though I couldn't take any photos). After dragging myself from the calatrava exhibit we then headed into the collection of beautiful palace rooms. They are so over the top it is ridiculous and phenomenal all at the same time. Slowly though our enthusiasm was wanning, with Nick the first to start whinging about the rooms. Next we proceeded into the ancient cultures museum area seeing weapons, coffins, mummies etc and by now we had stopped immitating the exhibits and were getting exhausted that we decided not to see any more so we actually didn't even get to the third floor where there is a huge collection of artworks.
We were all starving and so headed out to find some food and after wandering around the streets for a little came across an amazing bistro restaurant on Nevisky prospect (the main street). In Russia, the buffet style is very common and you can get some amazing food and we found this in this little buffet, so after soup, salad and a main - the traditional russian meal we had energy again to go out and see one of Russia's most famous churches - the Church of the Saviour of the Spilled Blood. It is an absolutely stunning church and I think could convert people just through it's beauty. The church and it's colourful turrets sits on a little canal, and then inside every single little bit of its walls are covered in colourful moisacs. I've never seen a church like it!
At night we were joined by Steve and Sam and we headed out to dinner at the same bistro Nick, Rory and I had lunch at. It was just as good the second time around. We hung out chatting for ages before heading out to find a club. We had to ask some russians for directions as the clubs are really spread out across St Petersburg but once we got in we stayed dancing to terrible russian dance/pop for hours! The women in St Petersburg are all immaculately dressed and stunning and the boys had quite a good time being around all these girls! The men on the other hand are all hideous!
The day after was a very slow day, not rising till late morning. Nick and Sam were heading back to Aus, and we also met Cherie, another aussie who was doing vodkatrain so we hung around to say hello and goodbye for a few more hours. Once the boys left Steve, Cherie and I headed out to get a very late lunch from a bistro (another soup, salad and main meal) and then do a little bit of unsuccessful H&M shopping before going on a walk back to the Spilled blood church so they could visit it and then along the riverfront to the Peter the great statue on the largest rock ever moved by humans without the aid of mechanical machinery and then St Isaac's cathedral before going to have dinner at Teremok again and then back to the hostel. I wanted to go out at night but was saving myself for when all the vodkatrain people turned up.
On monday I met two more vodkatrain people, Emma from Manchester and Manu from Munich and so the three of us headed out on a walk around St Petersburg, crossing the gorgeous river and walking along the riverfront to the Peter and Paul fortress. This fortress was where the city started from and inside is the Peter and Paul cathedral where many of the Tsar's were buried including Peter the great and also Nicholas the second the last tsar of Russia whose body, along with his families was buried here in 1998, decades after their murder. Although not the most beautiful church, it was still incredibly interesting as the church space was filled with coffins. We then visited the prison in the fortress and then walked up along the fortress walls with beautiful views back over the river of the Hermitage and other gorgeous buildings. We walked back over the river and through the gorgeous Summer Gardens, a former palace gardens to Nevisky prospect to get some lunch. Russian pancakes again! The pancakes are more like crepes instead of hotcakes and are filled with either savoury or sweet fillings. The also fold them in all different ways depending on the restaurant or the filling. We headed back to the hostel afterwards as it was finally time to meet all the vodkatrain crew.
I actually can't believe I was starting this epic journey, and so 11 of us met around in the common room of the hostel. There was as mentioned before, Steve a teacher from Perth, Cherie, a farmer from outback SA, Emma a managment consultant (whatever that means!) from Manchester, Manu a hostelworker from Munich, then also Raul a teacher from the Netherlands, Hannah a student from London, Renee and Chris a couple from Melbourne who had been living in the UK and were making a long overland journey all the way back home and then Amber and Bron, friends from Victoria who wanted absolutely nothing to do with the group and preferred to spend their time bored in each others company. We also met Victor who was our honcho for St Petersburg. (Honcho being the term for our tour guide in each city, but we get to dictate what we want to do and see). Because I had been in St Pete's for a few days already I was going to do my own thing and this seemed to confuse poor old Victor quite a lot! After checking in we (except bron and amhber) headed out to a restaurant that had to be up there for worst service ever. I was well and truely finished before others had even seen their food and then they included a tip in the price! We then headed to a bar around the corner where Victor left us but I was feeling so horrid, something I ate during the day was causing me no end of grief and so I (and consequently everyone else as they were tired) bailed. I had to go back and sleep it off. So my grand plans of not going out the previous night for tonight instead totally failed. bugger.
Our last full day and Steve, Cherie, Julia (who was from the vodkatrain group who had done it in the opposite direction and were finishing in St Pete's) and I headed out to Peterhof. This palace, which is best described as Versailles for Russia, was a must see for me. We made the hour journey on the metro, through beautiful metro stations and then on a public mini bus to the palace. It took us a while to work out the ticket situation as it was all in Russian but we entered into the most beautiful grounds and spent hours walking around half of the park taking pictures of gorgeous fountains, the baltic sea and beautiful woods. Words and pictures will never do it justice, but it was absolutely lovely. We then, with a bit of confusion made our way inside the palace where we had to buy another ticket. (this place was not cheap at all) and then put on some plastic bags over our shoes to protect the parquetry floors and then we headed into the palace. There was not suppossed to be any photography but i took sneaky hip photos... oh no my camera was on! Every room was lavish and full of splendour, with rich colours in the wall fabrics, furniture and ornaments, stunning wood floors and slendid paintings. Each room was entirely different colour schemes too. We unfortunely had to keep squeezing past russian tour groups and there wasn't any english information about what we were seeing but nonetheless it was beautiful and I'm glad I have seen it. Afterwards we visited the second half of the gardens, wandering through more woods, past more gorgeous fountains to a beautiful large square pool and a promenade along the baltic sea. It was really really beautiful. How many times can I say this and it still won't give any correleation to what it was like! We made perfect timing, making our way back into St Pete's just as the rain came.
At night Cherie, Steve and I cooked some dinner with food from the pathetic mini-market near our hostel. Seriously downtown St Petersburg does not know what a supermarket is. We headed out later with Cory and Matt who had been on the vodkatrain that finished and Stephen the german who was also in our hostel but I was exhausted and so headed home after a few hours, whereas the boys stayed out till the early hours (again).
My last day in St Pete's and I rejoiced in spending it by myself again. Everyone on the vodkatrain headed to the Hermitage whereas I visited the Russian Museum in the Marininsky palace. It is an art gallery with only russian artworks from the 17th century, through to post communist russia today. It was absolutely fascinating, particularly the section of Russian folkart and all of it was housed in a gorgeous palace and so once again most of my photos are of ceilings! After several hours being cultured I then headed back out to do some shopping. Steve Cherie and I had decided we needed silly russian hat souviners and as many photos of us with them so I got one of those and of course finally got another Matruska doll which I was very excited about. I spent a few hours walking through the shopping areas and also chilling in the Marinisky palace gardens with all the locals as it was an absolutely stunning day before heading back to the hostel. We had a midnight train out of St Pete's and so to kill time a couple of us went to an Italian restaurant as we craving pizza for dinner. We had paid for a transfer from the hostel to the train station and it ended up being a 5 minute (because we were stuck in crazy late night russian traffic) transfer. Would of been faster to walk it, but we got to the station and walking through to our train we were forced to listen to horrid russian songs blasting from speakers through the station. Our train was tight but incredibly comfy and cherie, steve, hannah and I had a cute little cabin were we stayed up chatting about politics and all sorts before going to sleep. Onwards to Moscow!
At the hermitage
Ceiling in the hermitages
Stairwell inside the hermitage
The Gold room
Rory, Nick and I outside the hermitage
The church of the saviour of the spilled blood
Inside the church of the spilled blood
Peter the great statue on a big giant rock!
Peter and Paul fortress
On top of peter and paul fortress with emma
The cascade fountain at Peterhof
bags for our shoes with Steve, Julia and Cherie at Peterhof palace
Hows the serenity. Peterhof gardens
Neva river, St Petersburg