Our hotel is genuinely immense. From the outside it looks like it is falling down. Bits of cement and bricks litter the streets around it and you could be forgiven to thinking that nothing has changed here since the end of the USSR and that the last guest stayed here in 1978. However, looks can be deceiving, and upon entering reception you are greeted with a spacious and well laid out area complete with a small shop, a water feature and, bizarrely, a cash point
! No problemos here we thought. The smile was soon wiped off my face, however, when the cash machine gave me £100 in the equivalent of £1 notes – I honestly nearly evacuated my bowels when I saw the sheer volume of cash I had withdrawn only to discover I had pressed the right button all along! With my faith in my ability to use cash machines fully restored we were soon in our room...and what a room it is! To be perfectly honest, I am more than happy with the place. Sure, there are a few ex-mosquitoes smeared over some of the walls and the odd light fitting is hanging precariously off the wall, but what do you expect in a tourist hotspot like Novgorod? I’ll tell you what you expect – the most hilarious 'bathroom’ I have ever laid eyes on. It’s a proper old school washroom with the shower just hanging loosely off the wall and an interestingly plumbed toilet and sink thrown into the mix almost at random. I’ll get a photo up ASAP to show it in all its glory. Some of the group did have a bit of a sense of humour failure over the general state of the place but I am elated as the sheets are clean and all I want to do is crawl into bed after the debauchery that occurred last night in St Petersburg.
St Petersburg is interesting and unusual place – despite not being overly convinced by its suburbs the centre is really cool and there is a nice vibe around the city
. Before I came away I had no idea how big it was - nearly 5 million people call the city home and the centre has a big city feel about it. The square next to the Hermitage (which used to be the winter palace of the Tsars) is probably the biggest square I’ve ever seen that doesn’t have a single cafe or bar in it. As a result, nobody is sitting around making it look ‘lived in’ and that definitely adds an air of grandeur to it. The Hermitage itself was phenomenal. As anyone who has ever met me knows, I’m certainly no culture vulture, but even I was moved by the awe inspiring interior of the place. It made the innards of Windsor Castle look like a squatter’s bedsit. Room after room was simply plastered with ornate and decorate pillars and ceilings. Carruthers would have had a field day in there.
Last night was beyond genius. I spent the majority of the day hanging out with the Aussie crew (Jonno, Ross and Jane) and the honorary Aussie / token German / Turk who goes by the name of Sirin. They’re a top bunch of humans so I decided to have a ‘quiet one’ in the evening with Ross and Jonno, while Jane and Sirin went to see a Ballet and the rest of the crew went to watch a Russian dance. No dramas there. We had an exquisite meal at a Cuban restaurant followed by drinks in the Irish Bar next door to the hostel. Just as we were about to leave Sirin and Jane spied us in there on their way back to the hostel. More drinks ensued. By nearly 2am I was in a right state of affairs and Ross and Jane retreated back to the hostel to hit the hay. Sirin, Jonno and I were literally about to join them when Ben, Ciaran and Andy saw us on their
way back home after the Russian dancing option. Eventually we staggered home at nearly 4am. Hideous scenes ensued and the evidence is all over the book of faces. The upshot of all of this is that I’m struggled all day today and I’m about to hit the ‘sac magic’ at the incredible time of 8.45pm. Living the dream, baby, living the dream! Moscow tomorrow and then the fun really starts when we board the magical, mystical beast that is the Trans Siberian railway...
Good evening from Novgorod – a Spartan city one third of the way between St Petersburg and Moscow which is officially twinned with Watford. To be fair, I can't decide which of these two esteemed locations deserves to feel more upset by the comparison! However, on the basis that Novgorod has its very own mini – Kremlin and a decent river I’m inclined to say that this backwater is preferable.