2 days in St. Petersburg

Trip Start Jul 03, 2012
Trip End Aug 28, 2012

Flag of Russia  , North-West Russia,
Tuesday, July 17, 2012

17th July
We arrived at St. Petersburg at 5:20am which is half an hour earlier than scheduled. To make things worse, we have lost an hour from crossing one time zone; Not surprised at all, we were all exhausted when we got off the coach. Vincent (The Canadian we met on the coach) departed to look for a phone to call his friend to pick him up. We set our bearing then head towards the Red House Hostel.
It was a very cold morning (for summer standard) but at least it wasn't raining. It took us roughly half an hour to reach our hostel. Everything was not easy when it comes to Cyrillic. We waited outside the hostel for almost 20 minutes before a guy came out apologetically saying he was aslept. Well, that's understandable, it's only 6-ish in the morning...... Since someone was sleeping on the only sofa in the common room, we rested in the kitchen where we had our breakfast and power-naps. We finally set off at about half 10, first to get the 700 USD from Jacky to change for Rubles which were then shared between Geoffrey, Jacky and me. Chong Jin changed 300 USD. That was our very first attempt in speaking Russian phases, "Hello, do you speak English?", " Thanks." etc. It was luck enough to have a senior staff who worked in Denmark for a few years and can speak fluent English to help us sort out the change!! Afterwards, we tried to find ourselves mobile sim cards without success. In a serendipity, we found a tourist information where we obtained plenty info for mobile and restaurant information.
There was an extravagant-looking snack shop along Nevskiy pr. The interior was so classic and despite of having just arrived, felt so Russian. They sold oysters (in an aquarium), sweets, chocolates and various other snacks. The Church of Resurrection (Church of Spilled Blood) is perhaps the most magnificent orthodox church in St. Petersburg. You need to pay to enter though and we thought we should reserve that for the St. Basil's in Moscow.

We strolled along the Kutuzovskaya naberezhnaya and met a newly wedded Russian couple. They offered us some cups of sparkling wine to celebrate and dramatically we ended up with a whole bottle (unopened). We were pleasantly shocked. It was such a warm welcome by the Russians on the day of arrival :D

At about noon, we arrived at the Petropavlovskaya Krepost'. We strolled around the interior and purchased student tickets for several of the architecture. (It seemed that there were ceremonies on that day to commemorate something, unfortunately everything was in Russian and we had no idea what exactly was going on. Out best guess is the death of Tsar Nicholas II and his family members as 17th July was the day of his murder at Yekaterinburg.)

We had dinner on the other side of the city as that's apparently where most restaurants were located. Those were some small portions but at a reasonable price, then we went to a supermarket before heading back to our hostel. It seems that Russian fast food stores all operated in this way. You walk in, grab a plate, point to whatever food you want and they will be charged separately. They tend to specify the weight of food (in grams/ml, sometimes adjust according with a balance) you should expect for that price. So we managed to survive the trip without starving to death. It also helped a lot to have learnt reading the Cryillic alphabet, not even need to know the meaning, just the pronunciation is often sufficient.

Marco + Jacky

18 July

We left for the Summer Palace in the morning at about half 9, and got in at about half 11 (You need to queue!! Go earlier). Students are free irrespective of the nationality! Unluckily Chong Jin didn't manage to keep his student card as he was too honest in front of the tutorial officer at the college, so he had to pay the full adult price of 250 Rubles. In addition, a camera-pass costed him another 200 Rubles. (By the way, they don't count mobile phone camera as camera.)
The visit ended itself at about half 1 in the afternoon and we then had lunch in a McDonald's (Mediocre, yes, but we were starving). We went to the central post office to send off our postcards, which took us ages to do since everything was in Russian (not surprising). We waited until someone collecting a "waiting-voucher" before we could ask her to get us one. Later on, she found that we should actually go to the central part of the lobby which was for selling stamps... With a little bit of struggling, we got our stamps! Each postcard costs 23.1 Rubles to send.
After that, we went for dinner at another local fast food restaurant. We hurried back to hostel in rain. We set off for the train to Moscow at 745pm. We reached the station easily, but when we looked at the departure table, it had at least 40 services listed on the board and the platforms were not given clearly but instead with a list/sequence of numbers. Later I found that there's a proper concourse further into the station. That was the best and grandest one we have seen(across our entire trip), on one side of the concourse it has the train network map for the entire Russia which is really magnificant. We waited there for about half an hour, then the platform number appeared.

We headed to the train quickly and waited for the train to arrive. Upon its arrival, the national anthem was played. The quality of the train was very good for the 3rd class, but this is a service between the two biggest and richest cities in Russia afterall. It would be wonderful if the trains for the rest of the journey have this standard :) The main light was dimmed at about 1130pm so that we could finally sleep...

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