Lovely luscious Leningrad

Trip Start Mar 28, 2007
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Russia  ,
Friday, March 30, 2007

Right, so after our charming stop-off in Riga we land in St Petersburg (we made the trip in a cool little plane with propellers! Propellers I tells ya!), customs passes with no problems, and we head outside to encounter our first problem:
How on earth do we get to the city centre??
This might not be so much of an issue if we spoke Russian, or had some kind of city guide book. Neither of these are boxes we can tick. The only help we have is a 38 year-old phrasebook (thanks Sarah and Ben!! To be fair it has been very useful and I don't want to sound ungrateful!) so we have a look around at the bus stops but eventually decide there's nothing for it and just go with a taxi.

45 minutes and 1500rbl later we get dropped off on Nevsky Prospekt (at least Sarah had some idea of where we should head for!) but from here we have no idea what to do. We have no hostel booking, thanks to the delay in Riga, so we plump for wandering around and seeing what we can see.

At least the weather is gorgeous. About 16 degrees combined with the bag on my back means that I'm wandering around in short sleeves with my sunny g's on. No need for the under layers, the jumpers or the scarf and hat nestled inside my packing.

We find some tourist info type boards and manage to locate an information office where we pick up the biggest diamond - St Petersburg in Your Pocket does not leave us for the duration of our stay here. It points us to an internet cafe (Quo Vadis is to become a regular haunt for the next few days) so cue MSN, facebook, emails and everything before... the first credit runs out and we realise we've not even thought about finding a place to stay. Another credit and we eventually find somewhere, a third credit and we manage to book a room!


So it's back on with the bags and off we head for City Hostel (it's down the other end of the world, but at least we know we can dump the bags and address the mounting hunger in our little bellies - that hotel breakfast 9 hours ago in Riga has finally run out.

Now, before we left Quo Vadis, we found a decent place to eat cheaply but when we set off in search of sustenance we're not really paying attention, we have no idea what the name of the place looks like in Cyrillic and we end up taking an interesting little detour around Kazan Cathedral whilst we discuss smiling..

-- It is rare to see a Russian smile. This we learned very quickly, although it took a little longer to start to understand why. Our permanent loony-style grins and cheery "spasiba!"'s merely rebound off their impervious Russian gruffness, earning us some very strange looks. The natural state of most faces around us seems to be grim indifference to the world. It's not until a couple of days later that we learn it is very bad manners to smile at someone you don't know here - it's taken to mean that you find them amusing and are laughing at them. --

But we eventually find 'Laima' with it's enormous, blue-neon English sign - we walked past it half an hour ago naturally. Inside they have a large board with everything in both Russian and English, so we exercise our linguistical talents by pointing at the board and smiling, then pointing at the beer tap and smiling some more.
Needless to say, the girls behind the counter do not smile back...
..but the food is truly fast and in no time we're sitting down to our random choices in a beautiful upstairs hall covered in mirrors and crazy chandeliers covered in winged light bulbs. I've plumped for 'herring under a fur blanket' and 'potatoes on-home' which turns out to be a fishy, cabbagey, beetrooty bowl of bright pink mystery and some awesome potato wedges. Top marks.

Some more aimless wandering brought us to Palace Square and suddenly we realise why skaters have been streaming past us all day - this place is full! People playing frisbee, pulling wheelies on scooters, a water truck circling Alexander's Column spraying down the day's dust and weaving between them all are dozens and dozens of skaters. Everyone is just chilling out and enjoying themselves and the atmosphere is fantastic.

Reading street signs on the way home fills us with confidence that we'll be fluent by the end of the week, and we head to our room to drink our Latvian duty free and contemplate this new city.

was a proper tourist fest!

We took a wander around the main attractions, stopping at the Hermitage for a few hours before heading across the river, snapping away as we go, and round to Peter and Paul's fortress where we find.. A BEACH! Who would've thought it eh? Sand, frisbee, beach volleyball and sunbathers. Didn't spot any loony swimmers, but I'm sure they must have been there earlier in the day.

Walking back across Troitsky bridge we realise how awfully dusty it is in this city. Don't know if it's the time of year, or maybe it just hasn't rained for a while, but everything is covered in a thick layer of brown dust that the cars drive up in huge clouds. Water trucks are on constant patrol - spraying down the biggest plazas and pathways, but I wouldn't want to sit down or perch against a wall here.

Evening comes and it's time to find our first Russian bar. After walking for about half an hour we decide Nevsky Prospekt is not the place, so we dive off the main tourist drag and head into the first cool-looking underground club we find.

'The Point' turns out to be a total score of a find. Once we shook off the creepy Moroccan Hans Moeman that was following us around, we enjoyed a fire staff and poi show on the tiny dancefloor. So as not to feel left out, the barmen started serving flaming shots, setting fire to the bar and breathing fire!

Russian beer is pretty powerful though. Not until the end of the night did we realise this as we wove our way back to the hostel. At least the residents of Nevsky know some of the lyrics to 'She's Electric' now though, so there's something.

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