Trip Start Aug 27, 2011
98Trip End Jun 01, 2012
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Apparently, there are two ways to be worm food in St P. Firstly, groups of fascist neo nazi skinheads attack non-Caucasians, the peak of these attacks would be on the birth date I share with one former racist, fascist, nazi leader. The second, giant icicles falling during the spring thaw. It seems, the only negative attention I receive is people repeatedly spitting in my direction. I'm convinced when I return each evening to my hostel, the back of my jacket will be full of dry spit! I had this effect in central America as well.
St Petersburg, Leningrad, Peteograd, Piter, however you may know this city, I did not know it's the fourth biggest city in Europe! In my mind, I imagined a quaint city, something resembling York, for example, but when I arrive by bus from Helsinki, St P slaps me in the face! The city is enormous! Absolutely enormous! I'm reminded of London, the tall imperious buildings, long curving streets and avenues, a city sprawling across a large river (Neva river). I'm also reminded of Amsterdam, the city surrounded in canals, canals lined with 18th and 19th century spellbinding houses. Such a combination inspiring writers such as Pushkin, Gogol and Dostoevsky and musicians like Tchaikovsky.
The size of St P, clearly took me by surprise, but the size of this 'Western' Russian city only adds to complex and creative city. The historical heart of the city is divided by Nevsky Avenue. My hostel was only a few minutes away from this main avenue, through two coded doors, a shallow step staircase and a double bolted door in an old apartment building. The hostel was perfect, with a kind and helpful owner. Her broken English helping me answer questions, booking tickets and even sharing some beer and toasting England! The hostel has a wall size map of the world with pins to identify where one is from. Of course, this large map does not include the Isle of Wight, so I stick my pin in the Solent.
Nevsky avenue is open 24 hours, even on Sundays. The avenue is packed on both sides. Locals running for trolley buses, watching to cross the road, avoiding the dozens of employees handing out leaflets. The only one I picked up was outside a coffee shop, so I assumed maybe some offer for a cake, but no, some lesbian show around the corner. I'd have definitely gone for the cake! My first evening, I walked a couple of kilometers to witness the winter palace lights. I wasn't disappointed!
The rest of my time in St P involved exploring the canals, taking random subway trips, viewing Peter and Pauls fortress, admiring the architecture and always on the look out for the weird and wonderful. The wonderful being a popular pie shop called Stolle III. Sweet and savory pies are what they are famed for, I went for a meat pie and an Earl Grey tea. This day was a long one so some tea and pie went down nicely.
I had the fun experience of booking my onward train travel to Moscow. My kind hostel host wrote down exactly what I needed to say, ahem, or hand over. The Moscow bound train station is huge, it took 5 minutes to locate the ticket office. A long wait to the front of the line is met with a grumpy face and a frustrated shouting individual. She's asking me a question and I have no idea what she wants. Constant tutting and using certain body language to encourage me to walk on. I stand there patiently and repeat, moscow please, with a Gordon Brown style smile! It turns out she wanted to know if I wanted a top or bottom bunk? I really couldn't care, so she eventually got that impression from me. This is what I deserve though. How often in the UK do we change language for a non English speaking customer? Never is the answer. With ticket, eventually in hand, I was all set for Moscow.
I came across very few tourists in St P. I chatted to a lady from Brazil in my hostel. She seemed very surprised that I had visited her country. I tell her the story of two ginger brothers burning to a crisp on Ipanema beach! Oh man, what will Thailand have in store for the ginger bro's? I think you'll need plenty of tshirts Dave!!
People have asked me, why Russia in September? Why Russia in the Fall/autumn? Well, for me, Russia is meant to be cold. I do not picture snow when I think of Rio, so why on earth would I visit Russia and Siberia in the summer. 2011 has been a very sunny year, a little bit of cloud and cold temperatures will be find for a while. What I am excited about, is seeing very eastern Europe in the turn to Autumn.
St P has a clear Western and Russian mix. On the one hand you can be listening to Russian folk music, then later dancing to the latest tunes in a club. Not me though, I barely have smart enough attire to enter a museum, let alone a bar or club.
A few things of interest that I saw were everyone dressed like it is December in the UK. Thick coats, hats, scarfs, gloves, boots. It is still only September! I also seem to witness a wedding in every country I visit. This time, on the shores of the Neva river, a couple drank a glass of champagne each, you know, that arm linking way that a couple use to drink, then both unlocked arms and smashed their glasses on a nearby wall. Russians love driving fast! I'm hesitant crossing large streets as the roads seem wet and slippy. Of course, there are old Russian rust boxes driving around. I wonder if my pops saw these when he was here?
I enjoyed St P, but my mind was thinking about Moscow and the increasing excitement of finally seeing the capital and the start of my trans-Siberian adventure. I see myself visiting St P again, but next time with a companion to soak up more of what St P is about.