Trip Start Sep 13, 2012
122Trip End Jul 26, 2013
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I like my sleep and it seems sleep depravation/being woken up by roommates (the energetic Israeli in the last dorm and two alcoholic Dane's in this one) at 4am in the morning it quite commonplace and I'm going to have to adapt to that. Plus, zero privacy means you have to let your inhibitions go- after being used to living on my own in my nice little flat in Lower Parkstone I'm now sharing everything. The hostel here is 'compact' shall we say- up to 26 living in 3 dorms with only 2 showers, 2 basins and 2 toilets!
You're on the go pretty much all the time and as we set off from St Petersburg today on the 'Sapsan' super fast train to Moscow, I think we will be taking our 4 days in Moscow a little easier! Naively, I expected travelling to feel more 'holiday like'- I am very much mistaken!
St Petersburg has been quite different to what we had anticipated in so far as it's quite European (often described as the gateway to Europe from Russia) and the buildings are absolutely out of this world. Street after street is dominated by the most fantastic buildings, elaborate, big and colourful and as for the interiors of these, that's even more spectacular. Nevsky Prospekt is the main shopping street and we are fortunate that our hostel is at one end and we can peruse the sights along its length such as the Singer Building (as in sewing machines), the Stroganoff's Palace (as in the beef dish) and countless others including of course, H&M- it seems you are never far away from the giant clothing chain.
We arrived on Saturday morning after a bumpy coach ride overnight from Riga with little sleep. The border crossing from Estonia to Russia at 6am was quite an eye opener- no nonsense, lots of scary uniforms but we sailed through albeit I hadn't quite filled my documents in quite right and the lady/rottweiler behind the glass gave me a stern talking to, just as well I couldn't understand her!
On arrival in St Petersburg, we were early so decided to hit the pavements and set out on a 5 hour walk around the city to orientate ourselves and discover the sights
Sunday was wet and that fitted quite well with our intentions of spending the day in the magnificent Hermitage museum which being the largest collection of art in the world took up another afternoon and then we only just scratched the surface. Art from Picasso to Reuben to Leonardo Da Vinci alongside objects of art dating back to 770+ years BC. I can't even begin to do this museum justice so I won't try. But imagine rooms clad with gold leaf walls, amazing wood inlay floors* and more art than anyone could cope with. It's said that if you spent one minute on every exhibit, it would take nearly 6 years to see everyone of the Hermitage's 3 million items. That's 24hrs a day, 7 days a week! We did a whistle stop tour in about 3.5 hours, that was enough art and culture for one day.
*These amazing intricate 300+ year old floors are just superb and on an unimaginable scale. Given the Russians newfound fondness for designer heels, we wonder how long it will be before they are no longer on show under protective carpets
Monday was dry again so after a relatively early start we hit the pavements again and headed over to the Peter and Paul Fortress to take a look inside the Cathedral which houses the dead Russian monarchy. Not really understanding much about their history, this rather passed me by but Russell had done his homework and it was not wasted on him. On our way back to the hostel along Nevsky Prospekt, we also stopped at the Kazan Cathedral where we stumbled across a Catholic wedding in progress which was pretty amazing to see in such grand settings.
I cannot get my head around the scale of this place. The buildings and palaces must have taken absolutely ages to construct, they are elaborate and that is just the outside. How long it took to complete the inside of these buildings is beyond me. I can only assume that they had huge workforces working tirelessly over many years to complete it all and it's great that the communists have left them largely untouched.
The hostel in St Petersburg has been a lot more friendly than the first in Berlin. Given the size of this one you can't avoid making friends (not that we are trying not too!) and in the second night, we had an entertaining evening swapping stories with Germans, Italians, Koreans and some English. Many have come across or are heading towards the Trans-Mongolian / Siberian rail route so it was good to get some inside info. In general it's been fine and I'm just getting used to having to live like a student again, 18 years after leaving that world behind. I'm sure given a few more weeks I'll be an old hand at it and I can't wait to get to the next stop- Moscow!!!
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