St Petersburg - Sept 4-9
Sep 9, 2009
Another day, another flight - two flights, in fact.
The first flight from Amman to Moscow continued like our flight into Amman - nice and easy and relaxed with both exit from Jordan and entry to Russia being easy. Egypt - take note.
The flight from Moscow to St Petersburg however was another matter. With four hours to waste at Moscow airport, we firstly tried to change our flights to an earlier one. The woman didn't understand so that was a no-go. In fact, she kind of nodded to say she understood but just checked us in for our original flight anyway. By the time we realised, the bags were disappearing down the hatch!
Once checked in and through security, we tried to find a lounge but none of them accepted the cards we have - a nice new airport, four lounges and not one accepted us. We sat down and had a drink and then got some food. A nice Russian sausage and some grilled veggies and some water... over $50. Bloody hell! Even the tiny bottles of water were something like $5 or $6!
The fun of Russia continued on the flight itself - the plane was packed full and was tiny. Not tiny as in number of seats but tiny as in zero leg room and zero storage for hand luggage! Even at my height, I had no room and we barely squeezed one of our two bags into the overhead compartment. Looking around, most passengers were sitting with their briefcases and such like on their laps. I wedged my bag under my seat, unable to move anyway. I couldn't imagine AA or BA allowing anyone to sit with a bag on their lap, even for a 1 hour flight. It was crazy. The place was a Tupolev TU-154 and looked like it was built in the 1980s, if not earlier. Honestly, I was just hoping this thing took-off and landed safely!
Finally at St Petersburg with a surprisingly smooth take-off, flight and landing (despite my knees under my chin!), we collected our bags and headed out for a taxi. We'd checked the internet previously for the cost of a taxi from the airport and were told around 700 Roubles. When we got outside, the first taxi said 1300R and the second said 1500R, eventually "bargaining" down to 1300R! Elizabeth pretty much told them where to stick it and headed inside to the taxi desks. She was gone about 10 minutes and all the while the second taxi guy had a smug look on his face as if to say "good luck getting it cheaper". When Elizabeth got back, she'd got one for 700R! Much better! The smug look soon disappeared when we walked out the airport!
When we got to our hotel address, at nearly 11pm, we found the hotel was shut. The driver called them and got their new address and he took us there. As we left the taxi, I paid him the agreed price plus a tip for helping us. He said it wasn't enough and demanded a total of 1000R for helping us. We told him there was no way the extra 5 minute drive cost 300R and despite Elizabeth's protests that I gave him nothing, I just wanted to get to bed so gave him 850R and told him he wasn't getting any more so shouldn't bother asking. It wasn't a lot of money, 300R (under $10), but it was the drivers piss-taking which annoyed me, especially as I'd already given him extra as a tip.
Having tasted the average breakfast at our hotel, we headed out into the city - the cold and rain almost making a pleasant change from the unbearable heat we'd had the last two weeks!
Today we visited St. Isaac's Catherdral and the colonnade, the Church of the Saviour of Spilled Blood and the Russian Museum.
The golden domes of St. Isaac's stood out across the square, particularly in the dull weather. Inside, well, this is more Elizabeth's field of knowledge, but it looked typically gold-leafed gaudy to me! Elizabeth said it was nice or something though! Personally, I enjoyed the views outside and then later up on the colonnade, around the bottom of the main dome. It gave us some great views of the city as well as some interesting views of the backs of the statues on the roof!
The Church of the Saviour was brilliant - the amazing painted domes striking bright in the sky, even from a distance. As we walked along the side of the canal towards the church, still being annoyed by the light drizzle, the domes looked bigger and better the closer you got to the detail of them. Inside, everything was mosaic - the "paintings" were actually mosaics when you got close enough to tell, the walls were covered in them and, quite amazingly, so were the ceilings. It was unbelievable seeing everything pieced together with such small coloured stones. This church took 25 years to restore and it was no surprise given the detail. Still, I preferred the outside again!
The Russian Museum was an excellent collection of Russian art and artefacts and made a good little taster prior to visiting the Hermitage later in the week.
For lunch, we stopped at a Russian cafe and had some good Russian food - I had borsch which was lovely and made a change from some of the food we'd tasted elsewhere! Having gone "native" for lunch, we went Italian for dinner and tucked into our first decent wine for quite a while too! Despite getting soaked getting there, the wine warmth made the walk back much better!
Today we did a variety of smaller places in the city - The Dostoevsky Museum, the Museum of Railway Transport and the Russian Vodka Museum.
Quite honestly, the Dostoevsky Museum and Railway Museum were a bit, well, crap. A half-arsed attempt at recreating Dostoevsky's flat in one, combined with pictures and articles donated by his later relatives (very little actually belonged to him) and the Railway museum housing lots of models of trains but not exactly as interactive as we were expecting - we were both expecting model trains actually going around tracks around the museum. These were just models in glass cases with Russian signs and kids with mullets pointing at them!
For lunch, we ducked out of the rain into a German restaurant, resembling a German beer hall. We both ordered chicken wursts and they were very good - until Elizabeth got to her second one and it was disgusting. I tried it and it tasted nothing like chicken. We complained and even after the chef tried it the manager still claimed it was chicken. If it was chicken, it was rancid and out of date. Despite refunding part of our lunch, we left with a bad taste in our mouths. Literally!
After that, we headed to the Yuspoov Palace but having seen the entry price we decided to head around the corner and sit in a cafe and drink coffee and eat pastries for the afternoon. Not wanting to waste the time, Elizabeth helped me think of ideas for other short stories, based on what we'd seen so far. We came up with a couple of ideas which should keep me amused during our 7 day train trip!
In the evening, we went to the Vodka Museum. When we arrived at the address, we were greeted by a derelict building - the front perfectly intact but the back completely missing! After many an un-answered phone call and me getting a little irate, we wandered back along the road and spotted the museum on the other side! With a huge sign! Inside, we were greeted by a girl who didn't even look old enough to drink but she knew her vodka history and was kind enough to supply us with three shots to taste - one regular, one with some kind of oil and another with honey. All three were OK and drinkable and tasted good with the small plate of appetisers they gave us. I'm not sure Elizabeth was so keen but she drank all three!
After wondering around and buying some small souvenirs, we headed to Tandoori Nights for some Indian food. Four meals in Russia and we'd had Russian, Italian, German and Indian!
Today we left St Petersburg to visit Catherine Palace - about 30 minutes on the train south of the city.
Having negotiated our way through that station, bought tickets and found a train we hoped we'd got the right ticket and boarded a train going the right way! Thankfully, just over half an hour in we arrived at Detskoe Selo station, just a couple of km away from the Palace. Not knowing which direction to walk, we took a bus to the palace and fought through the tour groups to the entrance.
When we got there, we were told the ticket office was not open until 12pm. The palace opened at 10am but only for tour groups. Great - we had 2 hours to find something to do and, yes, again it was raining! We strolled around the gardens for a while and sat at the cafe by the ticket entrance before joining the ticket queue around 11.30.
Once inside, we got tickets easily and ventured on around the palace. The palace itself is not that big and, apart from the distance from St Petersburg, there was no reason to need to take a tour. If anything, we were better not being in a tour as we got to take our own time.
The main attraction is the Amber Room - a room completely decorated with amber. The room has recently been restored after the original amber was stolen during the Second World War, allegedly by the Nazis. The room was amazing and the mixtures of different shades of orange (or amber, I suppose) gave the room a unique look. It was very over-the-top and extravagent but it was amazing to see.
Once back in St Petersburg, we had American for lunch, continuing our international cuisine. Unfortunately, this translates to McDonald's - the closest thing to the station! In the evening, we even had Greek food. I'm not sure this is exactly in the spirit of travelling to RUSSIA but at least we were trying different stuff!
Finally, we headed to the Hermitage - a huge museum full of art and such like spread over numerous buildings and numerous floors. Even the guidebook made it sound monumental! Like so many similar things, it always claims you should spend multiple days there but Elizabeth and I agreed that whatever couldn't be done in one day, we weren't going to do - I truly believe in Museum Overload.
Inside the Hermitage, the rooms themselves were amazingly decorated and before long we were walking through rooms surrounded by works of art by so many great artists - one room even had 26 Rembrandts in it. There were paintings by Monet, Picasso, Cezanne, Pisarro, Rubens, van Gogh, da Vinci, Raphael and sculptures by Rodin, Michaelangelo and many other things. Quite honestly, it was almost over-whelming.
We walked through the Egyptian exhibit also, which definitely seemed like overload having spent two weeks looking at the stuff in Egypt!
Overall, the Hermitage was everything I expected it to be - busy, big, a little stressful but full of some amazing pieces of art by some amazing people. Even as a non-fan of art, it was great to see so much in such a place.
By the evening, we were pretty tired - 6 hours spent either queuing for or walking around a museum is hard work. We headed round the corner from our hotel to a restaurant called Dickens - English food! I rewarded myself with beer and steak (I was going to have steak pie but they didn't have any so I "upgraded"!)
Spent three hours doing laundry in a laundrette which was also a cafe. An interesting mix but a more relaxed way to do laundry.
Apart from that, I've spent most of the day on here writing about Jordan and St Petersburg so I hope you enjoy reading! If not, don't tell me - I'd hate to think I'm wasting my time :)
Sorry for no pics again - USB ports not working on PC here!
Tomorrow - fly to Moscow on one of those tiny little planes again. I might upgrade.