Petergrad, Leningrad, no wait it's St Petersburg

Trip Start Apr 03, 2013
Trip End Ongoing

Flag of Russia  , North-West Russia,
Wednesday, April 3, 2013

So, they let us in!!!  Who would have thought hey two little innocent Aussies who couldn't even get the visa right.

So here we are in what is now (or commonly known as) St Petersburg. 

All went well at arrival, the passport control had a great big smile on her face to welcome us and then boom, we are through.  We had a nice chappy to pick us up on arrival, where I was quick to find out that male chivalry still lives strong here so when I went to shake his hand I got a big smile and a chuckle and he waited for Steve to come along and shake his hand.  Hmmmm, maybe not the best start??? 

We did get some interesting viewings on the way to the hotel.  As most of you are accustomed to, when you stop at lights you have the window washers come down trying to sell you a window wash.  Well not in St Petersburg, they have phone sex magazines coming toward you for sale.  That woke Steve up!!

So off to the Hotel we go.  As we arrived one day before the 'tour' we decided to book some luxury.  So we booked a suite and this comes with a sauna.  So of course we had to make the most of it and use the sauna.  However, with instructions in Russian we could have been here all night with our translation book so down to reception so they can sort it out for us.  One hour to wait we decided this will be a good time to fetch some dinner.  Steve has some inside knowledge of a very exquisite restaurant that we need to try so we head off into town to explore and find the cuisine of choice.  Little did I know what we were hunting for, some of you made have heard of it as it rang some bells to me when we arrived.  It is called McDonalds, yes you read right, McDonalds, what says 'Welcome to Russia' more than a cheeseburger hey???  So after our lovely meal it was back to the hotel for our sauna.   You needn't worry my English friends it was our own private sauna!!  Although the stove was as big as our Finnish mates and the sauna as twice as small, so quite hot!!! To say the least.

Had a good giggle at the fact you can't smoke in the rooms but you can smoke in the stairwells!!  What is the difference I wonder, I mean we all smell like an ashtray anyways due to smoking still in every closed space you can think of.  I know a few that would love this, and wouldn't have to worry about quitting tomorrow as you can be a passive smoker for the rest of your life!!  ENJOY!!

We decided to do little tour of the Peter and Paul Fortress thanks to the write up in Lonely Planet and it sounded like the place to be!!!  So off we went. Spent a fortune as you do, being a tourist in Russia apparently means you have money and so they charge you a bomb and you have no idea otherwise.

The Fortress was great, I caught up on all my history of the Tsars family and their whereabouts. Found out it was built by Peter the Great, who also built St Petersburg on demand and made people build houses specifically to their class through 3 designs.   He was a very demanding fellow and conscripted people from all over his empire to make them move to St Petersburg, this is when it became the capital of Moscow. He didn't see the need for bridges and made people take boats over the Neva River as he thought this to be safer and then they could walk over the ice in winter.  We are lead to believe that St Petersburg is also known as the Venice of the north as it is built over approx. 4 islands. The Fortress sits on Hare Island, the name comes from Peter finding many Hares on the island when he began to build the Fortress.

We saw many sights in the Fortress, such as a recent monument of Peter the Great, where the locals were very disappointed by this as his head and hands were out of proportion.  His head was modelled on his death mask so is in complete proportion and now the locals have become accustomed to it and believe if you rub his forefinger or sit on his lap you will gain riches.

We then headed over to the Prison.  The prison was used as a political prison until 1921.  There were many people who went crazy in the prison and killed themselves and the guards used a very early version of soundproofing to try and stop the prisoners from talking to each other.  Apparently they then found out that a little bit of felt and some wire doesn’t stop the in mates from tapping on the floor and communicating this way.  They had a very complex system of taps for the alphabet and created their own Morse code.

The Cathedral in the Fortress was amazing!!!  I have never seen so much gold in my life!!!  Everywhere you looked there was gold and a white marble tomb stone.  Peter the Great is buried in here with his wife.  All tomb stones are white marble apart from two, these tomb stones belong to Alexander III’s parents.  He had them commissioned and it took 17 years to complete the tomb from single pieces of stone, one Jade and the other Rose XXXX.  All the Tsars who had power have their tomb stones with additional double headed eagles on them in each corner so easy to identify.

In St Petersburg, they only have about 45 – 50 full days of sun light, all other days are partial so they like to make the most of the sun when it comes out to play.  This we got to witness first hand, on a day when it topped only 3 degrees, there were people out in their bikinis and what appeared to be undies, standing there catching some rays over the Fortress.  Interesting site and one we were not expecting.

Day two comes with a guided tour where we get to meet our fellow travellers.  Only two to meet and what do you know, we have an Aussie and a Kiwi to see the sights with.  I think I have met my mums double.  She reminds me so much of her in more ways than one, a little scary actually.  But they are good company, willing to have a chat and always buying something to keep us entertained.

Over to Saint Nicholas Naval Cathedral which was the only church to remain open in St Petersburg through the revolution and is still a working church today.  Very highly decorated with many icons which the Russians are famous for and some have semi-precious stones over them as well.  All other churches were taken by the government and never given back to the church.  Most are now museums.

One stop was at the ship 'Aurora’ which fired a blank cannon shot to signify to the troops that they could storm the Winter Palace during the 1917 revolution.  It was also used in WWII, however, it is now just another museum in St Petersburg, one of 100 in fact.

Our third day begins with a walking tour of The Winter Palace, original home of Elizabeth (Peter the Greats daughter) and then became the ‘Hermitage’ museum for Catherine the Great.  Many extravagant things are stored in here such as works by Da Vinci, Rafael, Michelangelo, Monet, Picasso to name a few.  The palace is mainly built in the Baroque style. The grand staircase is marvellous and you can see on the roof typical style of Barock by the painting was completed on canvas and then glued to the roof.  He also completed some freezes on the ceilings as paintings on canvas instead of having to carve them. Catherine wanted many over the top things so when she heard about the main hallway in the Vatican leading to the Sistine chapel she had to have one.  So she shipped off Russian artists to Rome and they copied all the paintings onto canvas over a period of 8 years and then it took 1 year to install them all.  We spent 5 hours walking around the museum with our guide which is just shy of the 8 years it would take to go through the whole museum stopping for 30 seconds at each display.

I have given in already to the handbag and had to purchase one.  There have been many moments where at dinner a backpack just looks little odd.  We are slowly getting used to the point and agree approach of ordering and purchasing things, this was successful on two different occasions when we got to order and try some Stroganoff and get a taste of the famous pies of St Petersburg, yum yum yum.  We kind of feel like those tourists that have no idea what you are saying to them but they just smile and nod back to you.  Let’s just hope we don’t smile and nod at the wrong thing hey!!!  Could be interesting.

We finally get to move out of our downgraded room and leave our noisy European neighbours behind. 

We now come to an end of our time in St Petersburg and get to experience the first part of our train journey.  As we are again taken to the train station by our driver we finally find our train after a very slow translation with our guide book and climb aboard!!  Glad we picked the upgrade and get to travel first class, this is very swish!!  Could get used to this kind of travel, no pushing on the tube and smelly armpits to deal with.  One small night cap before bed.

Next stop Moscow!!! See you all there!!

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