Sunday, November 14, 2010

St Petes

We left Prague, and caught a Russian flight to St Petersburg. Instantly discovering the Russian script and signs, and lack of English a challenge, we figured out a bus to get from the airport to the city...but if it wasn't for a hot Dutch man on that bus who help us find the next steps, I suspect Jess, Belinda and I would still be lost somewhere on the transport system!

After wandering around lost for a bit more from the metro station, we eventually found our hostel, tucked away in courtyard with no markings. Here we discovered that our group as part of Vodka Train had left for a cruise on the river, since of flight was later than the official tour started. We followed the map left by Lera, our Honcho in St Petersburg, but just missed the cruise the rest of the group were on. To fill time until their return, we purchased some beers and nibbles, and park along the river. And this is how our tour group with whom we would be traveling for the next 3 weeks found us - beers in hand, sitting in the gutter, taking in this new city. We set the bar high to start with!

Once the 3 Irishmen and our Pompy ranga Pom were introduced, we then found a pub and had a night of getting to know the group, and asking Lera about her city. Each stop of Vodka Train has a Honcho who is a local who has signed up to oversee the groups time, making sure all the paperwork and tickets are sorted, and pointing us, or leading us, to where we want to go. It also meant that we were taken to local places to eat, which was more affordable, and meant we got to sample the local Russian foods that Lena usually has.

The next day we took a bus out of town, to Peterhof Palace, which is the summer palace. Taking in the gardens, the grand palace buildings, and then abundance of fountains, we also walked along the sea.

Back in the city, via the metro and marveling at the ornate and breathtakingly grand stations, we walked passed the The Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood, and then went aloft the Colonnade of St Isaac's Cathedral to get a view of the city. Back at ground level, we got to stare up at the Bronze Horseman.

6 of the 7 of us then got all dressed up and went to the ballet - Swan Lake in a very old Russian theatre. Quite a special feat, going to see this in Russia!

The boys feeling like that had had enough culture that evening, convinced us to have beers at the Irish pub across from the ballet, where we each had our first shots of vodka for the trip.

Having enjoyed 2 days of sunshine, and being told that St Petersburg only actually gets 24 days of sun a year, our last day was raining and overcast. Which was the perfect day to spend inside the Hermitage, taking in a vast collection of art, spanning from Russian, to a full scope of European art, Egyptian artifacts, to sculpture. We each spent hours meandering through the 5 buildings of the Winter Palace, of world art. So impressive!

Exploring the river side of the city, we walked over to Peter and Paul's Fortress, before Jess, Belinda and I took the river cruise through the canal and river systems, out in the elements taking in the commentary, before we each graduated inside for the last portion. It was freezing!

The end of the day, Lena managed to get us all to the train station in time to board our first train of our long journey, an overnight to Moscow.

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