Russia over Easter... the St Petersburg chapter
Saint Petersburg Travel Blog› entry 1 of 2 › view all entries
This is a follow on from our days in Moscow...
When we rolled into St Petersburg after a fun 8 hour journey in the first class sleeper carriage of the train, our arrival in the new city was once again slightly marred by the female attendant. I had already exited the train to be greeted right there by our driver (wonderfully professional man by the name of Michael), but my friend Shea was dragged back in by the attendant who was seemingly wanting to know why we had taken the train's towels. She was jumping like a maniac on the beds looking for these things, but they had never brought us any of these alleged towels, a fact we had commented on through the night. They both came out to where Michael and I were waiting, the attendant screaming at Shea in Russian, and her trying to explain in English that the towels never existed.
However vaguely comical that whole incident was, we were pretty thankful all over again that we had arranged for transfers from all our transport. I shudder to think what might have transpired had Michael not been there to just take us with him. So from there it was on to the mini hotel. This is just what we would think of as a sort of bed and breakfast. Mini hotels in Russia are usually an excellent cheaper option for accommodation, they just have fewer rooms and might be part of a building instead of the whole thing.
Our private city tour was booked for the day of our arrival, so after scoffing some nosh, Michael came back to collect us and we met Eugeny, our guide. I simply can't say enough in his favour... friendly, informative, fun. It was a treat to have him back again the following day so he could take us on a guided tour of the Hermitage (something we just arranged with him after the city tour). This is another recommendation of mine... if you can, hire a guide to take you through the Hermitage (this being roughly the Russian equivalent of the Louvre). It brings everything into context and set us back the staggering figure of just about £12 for 3 or so hours.
St Petersburg itself was such a delight too. Whereas Shea had suffered a little with the cold in Moscow (and by a little, I mean a lot), we were lucky enough to have stunning weather in St Petersburg, which definitely added to our (read Shea's) enjoyment of the city. We got to see the main sites on our tour, so we were left to wander this much more accessible city for the remainder of our trip; shopping, eating (again, the food was excellent), drinking and negotiating in the markets for amber or Matrioshka dolls to take back home with us.
It was in St Petersburg that we also decided to sample Russia's nightlife. After several attempts to find clubs mentioned in the guide book (our driver wouldn't let us go to one of them because "it was guy club"), he finally dropped us off at a place of his suggestion.
All too soon it was time to leave, with our faithful driver Michael fetching us to the airport. Word to the wise though, try not to fly out when you're hungover... it sucks. And the airport at St Petersburg has little in the way of entertainment or food, which was a further killer. You'll be able to get your Russian vodka there though, and do your last minute shopping for amber, Soviet merchandise and Matrioshka dolls. The Russians are also quite particular about passports and will question you if your picture looks a little out of date.
So! My overall impression? Russia wasn't as hard bitten and Soviet-stylee as I would have expected. In fact, we encountered great attitudes everywhere we went, bearing in mind, though, that we didn't go outside the cities. I think the story in more rural areas might be a little different. They had everything there that we have in the UK and more... think of just how great the vodka is! We suffered a little from everyone smoking everywhere, and it wasn't as cheap as I had thought it might be, but the service was always top notch, everyone made an effort to speak English (better than our bad Russian), and the food was superb.
Happy travelling folks!!