Drug Dogs, Killer Mosquitos and Crooked Cops...
Trip Start Jul 08, 2004
9Trip End Aug 20, 2004
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It's been a while, so here it goes...
I actually managed to get a good nights sleep on the night train to Sweden, and made my way to the ship. I thought this was just to be a simple BC style ferry, especially because it's a free ride with my rail pass. Man was I wrong. This thing is a full blown cruise ship. Complete with casino, duty free shops, 7 or 8 bars and restraunts. Just wild. These ships are primarily run as two day getaways for the Finns and the Sweeds. Because the ship goes to international waters, they can sell all the booze etc, without tax. But after a quick run through the duty free shop, shit... if this a deal for them... ouch. So i bought enough supplies to make six Tormentors, fired those down while chatting with the Dutch hippy grade school teacher in my cabin, then off to diner
Ha ha! Joke's on them. Considering that a glass of beer was over 4 Euros on deck, the nine drinks I had with dinner more than made up for the cost of dinner. Between that and all the Red Bull I somehow managed to reconnect the part of my brain that knows French and was able to carry on a fairly fluent conversation. Very strange... makes me wonder if I drink enough of them Tormentors, if I could remember being born.
Anyways, got a good nights sleep, except for forgetting about that whole time zone thing, so there was no time for a shower in the morning
Anyways, after repacking my bags and being thankful I didn't get too acquainted with a rubber glove, I'm on my way to Russia. Everything I was told about the Russian trains was true. Worst train run ever. They stopped several times for no reason in the middle of nowhere, the only suspension on the cars is your disbelief that they're still in one piece. And they're using one of the "nice" ones for the run to Finland. The train was so horribly late that I couldn't take the metro to my hostel, so I had to gab a taxi.
Holy shit, forget about going to an amusement park, or maybe six flags should open a "Russian Cabbie" ride. As I kept learning, you put your life at risk whenever you're on pavement, wether you're inside or outside a car. Oh yeah, the sidewalks are fair game too. All I could think was "What? Is this not a reasonable place to park?" But I did manage to get to the hostel just before reception closed
Devil indeed, my second or third night there I was eaten alive by an army of mosquitos sent directly from Satan from the deepest depths of hell to personally suck all the blood out of my sorry ass. From the one night, I have somewhere around 200 bites. Impressive in a way really, but also a serious pain in the ass. It may very well have been this diseased looking state, along with some pretty creative laundry techniques that assisted my avoidance of the local police.
This is a very important thing to do in St Petersburg. Apart from random "document checks", read "hope there's a problem with his visa so we can 'fine' him", they will pretty much use any excuse possible to hand you a "fine". My first night out, I went to a club called "Da Cha" with a few people from the hostel. This club can only really hold about 30 people, but if they still want to pay for drinks, why not let them hang out on the sidewalk? So that's what we did, we drank our beers on the sidewalk
And with that in mind, here's the lowdown on what I saw.
On Saturday I wandered down to the Neva river and started checking things out. I do use the term "wandered" loosely as it was almost an hour's walk from the hostel to the Neva, and despite the many unique features of the St Petersburg metro, I found it to be pretty much useless. After checking out the general area, I headed over to the Russian artillery museum. Wow... The Russians know how to make a big fucking gun. Cool museum, everything from cannons from the 1500's to missiles from the 60's and 70's. Then I went off in search of the cruiser Aurora. A single blank shot was fired from the bow of this ship to indicate the start of the 1917 revolution. I never did find the right ship, in fact I didn't even see it until the bus ride out of town. Seems that every map I had put it in a different place. So lame... Did some other random wandering/picture taking over the weekend, too many late nights do not make for productive days... On Monday though, I pulled my shit together and went out to Peterhof, the summer palace about a half hour out of town.
This place is actually why I wanted to come to St Petersburg in the first place. A teacher I'd had many years ago showed us slides one day of his trip to Russia in the 80's and when I saw Peterhof, I knew I had to go there one day. And with over 140 gravity fed fountains on site, some of them solid gold (or at least the originals were) how could I not see this? It was just amazing, these guys knew how to build a palace. That took up most of the day, but I went to this place called "propaganda" for diner. Very cool, done Soviet-schtick/pseudo-KGB style, and with furniture thats better built than most cars. The chairs must have weighed over 50 pounds... Then back down to the river to watch the raising of the bridges. There's something like 22 bridges that cross the Neva, and at about 2 AM they all raise to let ships through. Another thing to remember if you visit, don't get caught on the wrong side of the river, because the bridges stay open for 3 or 4 hours, and the metro doesn't run in the night either.
Tuesday we went to check out the blockade museum. The Germans never managed to take Leningrad during the second world war, but they did pretty much cut it off for almost 3 years. What these people went through in that time is beyond belief. They were eating wallpaper paste to stay alive, and the number of people that died was horrendous. There is a cemetery just outside the city with a mass grave of 500,000 people that died in the blockade. Helps you understand why the Russians were so hardcore defensive for the next 45 years... Then off to St Isacs Cathedral, very big impressive building, massive marble columns everywhere, and you can still see war damage on the west side of the building. The last sight of the day was the nearby Russain vodka museum. Don't think i have to say much there, not very big but interesting subject matter. And a great gift shop!
Went to a club called "Griboedov" for my birthday that night. Very cool place, built in an old Soviet bomb shelter! Thanks to the police, it didn't quite reach the near death alcoholic proportions of last years birthday party, but a good time was had regardless.
Yesterday I went to check out the Hermitage, the Winter Palace. I'm sure the art fiends get a lot more out of the place than I did, I was more interested in the building than the contents, but there were some cool thing scattered about the inside. Spent the rest of the day souvenir shopping and getting ready to split town.
Got a good tip from someone at the hostel though, instead of taking the 7 AM train today like I was originally planning, I got a bus out of town at 10 PM for 15 Euros, which is less than what that night in the hostel would have cost me, never mind the 55 Euro train ticket. Only downside was that I didn't get a whole lot of sleep on the bus, bizzare 1 AM border crossings etc, and I got dumped at the ship terminal at 4 AM. This was pretty much useless, so I walked downtown in search of some 24 hour establishments, but there were only "drunk food" shacks to be found. So I slept on a bench in the square next to the train station for a bit, but I had to clear out when they came to clean, so I slept in another park for a while, and then found some laundry love and that pretty much brings us up to date.
Final thoughts on St Petes. Very cool town, though it is the most expensive place I've been so far. There's an unreal amount of things to do there, but its a big city so everything takes time. The hostel was a dive, but I did meet a lot of very cool people there. Russia definitely has a low "shithead tourist" factor thanks to the difficulties in getting here, so pretty much everyone you meet is on the up and up. Despite the mosquitos, the constant sweating, crooked police and just general hassle in getting here, I would come back, and definitely recommend it to others.
Anyways, time to go head for the ship. Methinks I've earned another good meal.