From Russia with Love (finally used that line)
Trip Start Jul 02, 2010
17Trip End Aug 02, 2010
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Today we traveled from hot Helsinki to...even hotter Saint Petersburg. I don't get it - when I saw that movie Gorky Park, Russia never looked as though it would reach Summer temperatures. How wrong was I!
After Heddi and Pennti dropped us off at the airport, we were relieved to hear that we had guaranteed seats (especially since there were only 2 flights to Saint Petersburg). My first impressions of Russians were mixed - there was the Russian girl next to us who helped us fill in our immigration forms, and there was also the Russians across from us who talked loudly during the safety demonstration (every Flight Attendant's pet hate).
Upon arrival, we somehow KNEW we were in Russia but we're not sure why - whether it was the decor, the people or the Cyrillic alphabet
We met a couple from New York state, John and Carla, who are also on our tour, and we were driven through the chaotic Saint Petersburg traffic (by our non English speaking driver) to our hotel. It was crazier than Paris, London or Sydney. Our hotel is better than we had expected, and is located right on the Nevsky Prospekt, which is the centre of everything here in St. P.
After checking in, Ted and I decided to explore for lunch. Since we didn't have any rubles, we went to the nearest place that took Visa (Pizza Hut). I had been advised to wear a money belt for safety reasons (which I've been doing). I'm not sure if I really need to wear it, but it makes a very flattering girdle after an all-you-can-eat lunch.
The streets here are probably the longest and widest I have seen so far. We looked at some local sights before the heat drove us mad and we headed back. For dinner, we were keen to try some Russian cuisine, so we headed to Teremok (www.teremok.ru), the local fast food restaurant
The following day we met up with our local guide Maria who showed us around the sights with commentary. She was definitely not what we expected: a tall, blonde 20-something Russian student wearing Bjork ear-rings and jeans shorts. She said Ted was "cute for a short guy" and that I reminded her of a Hobbit from "Lord of the Rings". She did also say that this oppresive heat is not typical of a Russian Summer.
As the mercury climbed towards 39 degrees celsius (102 degrees fahrenheit), we visited the Alexandrinsky Theatre, the Kazan Cathedral, the Church of the Saviour on Spilt Blood, the Russian Museum, the Hermitage Museum and the Bronze Horseman. After Maria left us, we returned to the Hermitage Museum and queued for about half an hour to enter. Ted and I considered nominating the ticket seller Svetlana (not her real name) for a Customer Service Award. Pure sarcasm by the way.
The Museum was really spectacular. Try to imagine a cross between the Palace of Versailles, the Egyptian Museum, the British Museum and the Rijksmuseum, on a smaller scale. Then after all this art saturation, we wandered around and found a Japanese sushi restaurant (air conditioned). And I tried my first Russian beer, Baltika. Just like Tooheys New!
Today, we made the 30 minute jet boat ride out to Peterhof. Definitely a highlight. Try to imagine a Russian version of the Palace of Versailles. I wasn't overly keen as the heat today was worse than ever, but the Palace was worth it.
I should have called this blog "From Pushkin to Push-In" due to Russian older women's horrible habit of queue jumping! My blood was boiling from the heat...Ted's was boiling from the in-your-face Ivanas!
For dinner, we went to the Soviet Cafe. Good food and reasonably priced. I still can't buy the cold beetroot soup though. I know it's authentic but eeeew!
We had to check out of our hotel about noon, and will soon make our way in the late evening for our 10.00pm departure on our rail journey. We're still not really sure what to expect, but we're hoping the experience will be a good one. And we're hoping that the temperatures east of here are a lot cooler too! :-)
Ted and Andrew
On a final note, check out this news story from ninemsn: http://news.ninemsn.com.au/world/7929934/hundreds-of-russians-drowning-drunk
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