December 16th, 2008 – by: nuij
Another beautiful city....again.. fell in love the architecture. If I have to choose 1 Russian city to live in, I would choose St Petersburg without a doubt.
We arrived at St Petersburg Bus Station ahead of time at 4am in the morning. None of us had Russian Rubles with us, so taking the Metro is out of the question. We managed to find a cab drive who is willing to take our USD and drives us to the hostel. We have to wait until 8am for the hostel to check us in. Thank goodness for the young English chap that we met on the plane to London. He did the trans-mongolian months before and stayed in the same hostel that we were going to stay. He told us about the tiny sign on the door of the hostel because if it's not because of him, we would be looking out for big signage that says "St Petersburg International Hostel" and would not find any.
The city was covered in snowed when we arrived. I am quite amazed to see there are layers of dirt covered all the cars, irregardless of the brand.
Even an Aston Martin. It's as dirty as the cheap old junk next to it. Russians in general doesn't look very friendly at all. I guess, them not knowing English and me knowing Russian doesn't help either. One thing I keep reminding myself is that - just because one doesn't help you the way you wanted doesn't he/she is not helping you the way he/she know how
- with this in mind, I find the experience of navigating the country much much easier. First word I picked up in Russia is "nyet"... it's hard not to since I've been hearing that a lot :) My Finnish friend told me Russia has the best cuisine in the world and I would definitely enjoy it. When I first heard it, I was a little skeptical, even though I don't have a clue about the cuisine.
Turn out he is right. I love Russian food... especially their good ole Borsh soup..... Their chocolate drink is also to die for..... There is this bakery/cafe a couple of blocks away from our hostel which sells wonderful pastry and chocolate drink.
Apart from our flight tickets and the hostel booking at St Petersburg for visa purposes, we did not make any prior arrangement. In the spirit of backpacking, we decided to play by ear and we just have to make sure we made the flight back to KL on 11 Jan from Hanoi. First thing after checking in at the hostel, our task is to secure train tickets to Moscow. To minimize communication problem, we asked the staff to help us write the note specifying the time, date, no of bunks and the coach class in Russian for us. It is unfortunate the time that we wanted is not available, thus we couldn't avoid playing the Pictionary/charade game with the ticketing officer.
But after a few tries, we managed.
St Petersburg is an amazing city... Hermitage is amazing. There is art at every corner in that place. If you fall and roll your way across the floor, you will see art everywhere; the floor, the walls, the ceiling.... I kid you not. The mosaics in the Church of Spilled Blood is amazing too... Rich and vibrant... I'm in awe.
My first Russian train experience is really something. I felt quite lost actually. There are lots of activities going on, and we've chosen to travel 3rd class (platskartny). We spent some time looking around us, watching and trying to figure what is going on, what do we need to do and if we need to do anything. Because we bought our tickets quite late, we could only secure the upper bunks.
My bunk was located next the aisle instead of the cabin, the bunk was properly stowed.
I have a hard time trying to release it from the compartment, it was really nice of the guy who had the bunk below me came to the rescue. Our ticket, cost RB570.40 come with a blanket, pillow, face towel, pillow case and mattress cover, blanket cover. The material felt a little coarse and rough, but it is really comfortable to sleep on. This is the first time I traveled overnight by train, and it is definitely the most comfortable mode of transport overland. I am not the type who can sleep in transit, being able to sleep the way I did in the train is heaven....