St Petersburg, Russia ( & some details of Mosc

Trip Start Jun 12, 2013
Trip End Sep 10, 2013

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Flag of Russia  , Saint Petersburg,
Tuesday, July 2, 2013

This was our first day of looking around at the sights in St Petersburg after arriving by train from Moscow yesterday. We found it easy to make our way into the city by train for only 30 rubles ( about 1 dollar Australian). We are staying at the Holiday Inn which is only 4 stations away from the city centre. The metro is apparently the deepest in the world, but doesn't have as many beautiful murals as Moscow stations, as far as we saw in our travels.

We walked and walked the streets of St Petersburg and that is in my opinion the only way to see the city. The traffic is at a standstill most of the time, and you see so much more by foot. Jeff and I used this first day as a bit of familiarisation with the city and the sights and tomorrow we will visit a few of the top sights and spend some time looking around, including the Hermitage within the Winter Palace , which was launched as Russia's first public art museum in 1852, and holds over 3 million treasures and works of art, including some from Picasso, Van Gogh, Monet and Renoir.

We will be heading out on a cruise up the river Neva tomorrow also, to see a few more of the sights. Went to Kazan Cathedral today ( note woman must always where scales over their head when entering all such cathedrals in Russia). In soviet times the cathedral housed the museum of atheism, dedicated to proving that " religion is the opium of the people". , but today it is one of St Petersburg operational churches. Hope to have time tomorrow to also visit the Museum of Russian Political history, giving an insight in soviet era political and social life.

Overall impression so far is this is a very pretty city , with a wealth of palaces, churches, museums, founded in 1703 by Peter the great. Many of these were damaged or destroyed in the nazi siege in WW2, but have been rebuilt. The issue is that underneath the surface of wonderful main streets of opulence and history, in an significant percentage of the population that appear to be either on the streets in poverty or struggling living in what appeared to be very old houses, and large unit complexes in various sad state if repair. Even when you look down the side streets in the city, the lack of maintenance and need for significant attention to buildings and infrastruure is very clear. The lack of what we would expect in normal kerb and channelling is a key observation, understanding the age of the city compared to ours. Also noticed many stray dogs in the parks, who seem to gain an odd meal from kind hearted people who are most likely doing it hard themselves.

As far as the people go, here and in Moscow, they can seem quite abrupt and uninterested in helping you, but Jeff ad I have found if you simply display an attempt(however poor and basic) at their language they will often be quite helpful(not always though). We spoke to another Australian this morning, a chap from Adelaide, who told us he was Croation and in fact is Natasha Stott-Despoya's uncle, and he said he had been in Moscow and St Petersburg for 16 days, and thoroughly enjoyed it, but felt the people were not welcoming. I can understand this reaction, as they could help English speaking people, if they want to encourage tourists, by simply adding English onto much of the signage in the tourist areas. Without the Internet at your fingertips,or a guide it is quite difficult. Jeff and I were very fortunate to have come across several very helpful Russians in Moscow, two in the trains station, and on both occasions, hey approached us seeing we were obviously a bit lost. We also had two wonderful uni law students who took us around Moscow as part of the Moscow greeters Program, Julia and Galya's, and they were fantastic and took us to many sights, including the Kremlin, the changing if the guard, the Bolshoi theatre, Gorky Park, and many others. They were wonderful ambassadors for their country and very interested in our perceptions of Russia outside.

Jeff has managed to get a tummy bug, as is often the case in Russia..... Probably Giardiasis. I've managed to get a cold, so we're struggling onwards at the moment, and will need to be careful of what we eat and drink over coming week or so until Jeff's tummy settles. We drink and clean our teeth with bottled water, so not sure how Jeff picked it up, but simply have t deal with it.

Other things of note that are different to home
- dogs allowed on trains and public transport( as in London also)
- smoking still allowed in pubs and in restaurants, although they have non smoking zones(which never works!)
- Subway stores are everywhere, so this has been our saviour to have a simple quick reasonably healthy quick meal, and use Wi Fi, as we're a little wary now of eating the local food.
- the traffic is really bad, with many drivers honing noisily in the city, with what appears to be very little scrutiny by the many police that are around
- Jeff saw one guard with an AK 47 slung over his shoulder looking into the windows of rainy carriages in Moscow, but other than that haven't seen a lot of armed soldier prescience, other than at Kremlin of course.
-Murals in subways in Moscow are something to behold. Could have spent another day travelling the subways looking at these.
- not sure where he is, but in one of he stations that Julia took us to in Moscow, there is a dog in one of the sculptures that you have to rub his nose, for good luck, When you see routine commuters each day, the many thousands of them seem to do it as they brush past in the mayhem of these bustling stations. It is not just the tourists by any means!
- went to My My's ( pronounced Moo Moos) for my birthday, and would recommend if you want to try some authentic Russian food at a reasonable price. Can't miss these restaurants(pectopah in russian by the way) as they have a black and white cow out the front. I tried the beet root soup and it was quite nice. Overall quite healthy food it seems.
- Jeff and I noted the young ladies here love to where short skirts and very very very very HIGH heels! Overall the young people certainly don't seem overweight as would be observed in many western countries now, and they certainly seem to be quite tall. I know this is a generalisation, but is definitely the case. I must say from my perspective they where some really beautiful elegant clothes, that seem quite different from back home. I hope to get some short time to look around the shops before we leave on the 4 July.
- have seen many brides in the cities so far on any day of the week it seems. Once again very elegant and really quite different dresses and I have many photos to show when I get back
- the long days are a killer! The sun at this time doesn't really ever completely go down, hence what they call white nights! There is a festival period in St Petersburg between mid June and early July to celebrate this, but I am not celebrating at all. That is why I am sitting in the bathroom at 1.30 am filling in this blog, as I can't sleep!!!! Jeff is managing to get some shut eye, but it is a bit hit and miss. The temperature in St Petersburg is much more pleasant than Moscow and currently ranges from about 22 to 14 degrees so it is quite pleasant. Even though Moscow is experiencing some quite hot days, over 30 degrees, In Winter in Moscow it can get down to minus 40 degrees, and the days shorten to between 8 am and 5 pm.
- learn some of their language and you'll likely earn some respect with the locals, but don't expect lots of help from many unfortunately. ( we did also have one old guy who looked 90 not out in the subway who didn't speak a word of English, but bless his little cotton socks, he really helped us out of a dilemma one day). One key word is "spasiba" or that is how it is said phonetically, but this means thank you and they really appreciate simple words such as this.
- they actually have a whole museum dedicated to Vodka! Probably won't have time to see this one.
- we saw a display by 8 of their mig fighter jets over the city today that went for over an hour or so which was absolutely spectacular as part of their white nights celebrations - would have cost a pretty penny!

For those of you who are well travelled in this region please remember, Jeff and I are relative babes in the woods, in that this is our first non English speaking country jaunt, and we've probably chosen one of the difficult ones up front. Thanks to Jeff's wonderful thorough preparation mainly on the internet( seat 61 and other sites) we managed to traverse the subways, bus systems and walking paths with reasonable confidence( with a few hitches along the way) Without this comprehensive prep the subways in Moscow in particular can be a challenge, particularly when you travel on the older trains that do not have a display inside to tell you which station you are at, and unless you can understand russian as the announcements are made or manage to be really quick and see the one old sign on the wall as you arrive, you often have no idea where you are. Hence having a map with you downloaded in your phone is ESSENTIAL, and you become quite good at counting stations. We were able to use GPS on our phone to map key sights through trip advisor, but unfortunately didn't manage to get Internet provider organised within Russia. Jeff also managed to find a download of a railway map for Moscow with all the names phonetically broken down, which was a great help when trying to understand the announcer at each station.

Anyway, I am going to head off to bed now( 2.20 am) to try to get some sleep. Wish me luck. Will most likely get back to the blog when we are in Finland in the next few days. Bye for now.
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