A Travellerspoint blog

St Petersburg

all seasons in one day

We headed out looking for a local meal and spied a restaurant ahead. As we walked toward it I noticed that there was a stairway going under a building which had some indications of food. We got closer to the restaurant and decided that it looked touristy and expensive which wasn't what we were after. We spun a u turn and headed back to the hole in the road. We walked down into it the main room which contained a liquor shop. We walked through to the room on the right and found cabinets of salami, etc. We were about to grab a bag of potato chips as well as a bottle of coke when I decided to check out the room to the left. It turned out to be a small local eating joint so we grabbed a seat and perused the menu. I noticed that everyone else in the room seemed to have a small glass of Cognac with their lunch and in some cases more then one glass, I ordered a red caviar sandwich and Borscht (beetroot and meat soup) and Louise got a summer sausage sandwich and Borscht. Wanting to try a true local experience and with everyone else drinking Cognac we really had to get one as well.
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We headed back out onto the street and wandered down to check out Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood which was very cute. We then went to the Hermitage and the Winter Palaces which were incredible/amazing! We passed many paintings and I couldn't believe there were so many topless portraits!!! All the rooms were so elaborately decorated. We haven't seen such beautiful rooms in quite some time. The pictures can do the talking, but don't quite do it justice.
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Well, the pictures can do most of the talking, however there is one item that begs explanation. We came across this which has got to be the coolest clock ever. There is a small dragon fly on top of the mushroom that moves every second. Every hour on the hour the Peacock spreads its tail feathers bowing like a real peacock and turns 10 degrees before returning to its original spot. Then as it's feathers are returning the rooster crows and well the owl does other things... It's probably easier if you watch it on youtube.
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After several hours feasting on this eye candy we hit the street and stumbled across an open air operatic ballet recital which we watched for a while. We then headed off in search of other items of interest and followed a wedding party to the Bronze horseman. We also headed back to the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood and watched as three people who had been offering cuddles with raccoons and a little monkey suddenly showed a lot of interest in a street vendors goods whilst stuffing one of the raccoon's into a portable cage. We continued watching and realised that the moment the wailing siren of the approaching police car went past they swiftly moved to the back of the vendors stand and then to the other side peeking around the corner to ensure the police weren't stopping to look for them. This was the main reason we came back to the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood and when we saw that we decided not to hold the monkey as you don't know what these creatures could be carrying considering it clearly wasn't endorsed. We wandered down Nevsky prospect watching the street performers/buskers before grabbing a beer/wine and chicken wings for dinner.

St Petersburg has a really cruisy and fun feel to it which reminds me a lot of the Gold Coast. One yuck thing that we found in both Moscow and St Petersburg, thankfully less in St Petersburg, is the occasional strong waft of something like stagnant sewer with a dash of rotting corpse thrown in for good measure, but we could never figure out where it came from. We can only think that it come from underground vents or something as it happened on all our walks around the city and NO, it wasn't us!!!

Posted by loueeezo 02:24 Archived in Russia Comments (1)

Moscow to St Petersburg

semi-overcast 15 °C

After going to bed at 2am you would think that we would be sleeping in... but no such luck! The saying goes that if you get up at 4am you can get really great pictures of St Basil's Cathedral and Red Square as no other tourist is silly enough to be up at that time. We struggled, and when I say struggled, I mean STRUGGLED out of bed at around 4:20 am, prettied ourselves up and walked down to Red square. You wouldn't believe it but the Russians had jolly well barricaded the whole square off so there wasn't much point in getting up so early. We snapped a couple of pictures where we could and headed back home reeling from the irony of the situation.
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We jumped back in bed and slumbered for a couple more hours before checking out and descending into the deepest metro station we have ever been in and navigated our way to the main railway terminal in Moscow.

We caught the train from Moscow to St Petersburg and had chosen to sit at a table so I could work on this blog. We were seated next to a couple of quite serious looking Russians who kept to themselves. We were beginning to regret out seat choice and wished that we had picked a couple of seats side by side . I pulled the laptop down and plugged out the first paragraph when suddenly Vladimir, who was sitting beside me, pulled down a bottle of Cognac and explained in broken English that to drink cognac on the train was a "Russian tradition" We really didn't want to break a Russian tradition so we got 4 clean glasses and all introduced ourselves to each other. Cognac cannot be drunk with out a toast and there seemed to be a lot of toasts this faternoon. My laptop disappeared back into it's spot and we chatted for the next three and a half hours about Russia, New Zealand, Australia plus a whole lot more and by the time we arrived into St Petersburg Vladimir, Michael, Louise and I were good friends. We fare welled Michael and hopped into a taxi with Vladimir who offered to drop us off at our hostel on his way.
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Quarter of an hour later, after carrying our bags up 4 or 5 flights of steps we we sitting in our room ready to relax... however there was no time to relax. We donned our nicest clothes and walked the short distance to the Michailovsky Theater to watch a Russian ballet called "I Love You, Peter's Great Creation..."
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The story was a little tragic as they oft times are about a guy who falls in love, a flood hits St Petersburg and he cannot find his love not for lack of trying.

The curtains came down and we headed out in search of a hearty feed. After walking for some time we came across a very popular establishment and grabbed the last table. We learnt here that when you are in a busy establishment it is better to figure out what you want so that when they come round to see what drinks you want you can give the entire order right then for that will be the last time you see them for quite a while.
I grabbed a Piroshki which seemed very popular with the locals. It was yum as it was filled with a layer of meat...
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Posted by loueeezo 09:16 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

Moscow day 2

all seasons in one day 18 °C

With our feet already aching we joined a free walking tour of Moscow which met in a nearby park not far from our hotel. The tour showed some of the more historical points of Moscow as well as some of the legends. We returned once again to red square and randomly enough this was the only day in our time in Moscow that the square was fully open however the stage was still there. We saw Lenin and were able to get in in 15 minutes which is pretty good considering in the old days queues would be a minimum of 3 hours even in the middle of winter. We couldn’t stop, take photos or speak when we were in the mausoleum. We again witnessed the changing of the guard at the tomb of the unknown solder before wrapping up the tour.
We grabbed some lunch at a local eating place and chose our food in a somewhat Russian roulette fashion as we could not read the Cyrillic menus. Washing down our food with a glass of homemade lemonade we hit the streets again reinvigorated.
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We booked our tickets to see the armoury and the Kremlin. The armoury was pretty amazing with an impressive array of jewels and bejeweled items! We saw a couple of the Faberge eggs which were on display and if you haven’t heard the history of these it’s well worth a read!
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We also got to see the saddles and bridles that were covered with all manner of expensive jewels, royal clothes, display upon display showing exquisite cutlery and utensils as well as crowns, bibles and carriages.
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We couldn’t believe the detail in these carriages and one of them was particularly funny as they had a small carriage for a very young prince which was pulled by ponies and led by dwarfs.
We wandered out of the Armoury and around the kremlin looking through some of the churches before leaving.
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We then decided to go in search of Arbat street in search of a matryoshka doll (babushka doll) As we headed in the general direction of where our tour guide had pointed we stumbled upon what Louise thought was a supermarket and we headed in. It turned out to be the coolest toy store we have ever ventured into. Here are a couple of images:
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After checking out the entire store we headed back out onto the road in search of Arbat street once more. In our search and after seeking instructions we ended up going in a complete circle walking past the same toy store as we had entered 45 minutes prior. With pain filled feet we trudged on finally victorious in our quest. We checked out a few dolls but they were either too expensive or too ugly to warrant buying (the one Louise liked the most was $500NZD).
We grabbed a drink at an eatery that spilled into the street nibbling on some peanuts as we watched the world trickle past. We then followed the street further down for another kilometre or so before deciding our feet were too sore to continue. Turning back brought the realisation that we had another 45 - 60 minutes of walking to get home and after 20 minutes of walking it was getting unbearable so we headed down into the metro in the hope of catching a train to a stop near our hotel. We thought it would again be hard to read the Cyrillic names but it ended up being easier than we thought. Once on the train we changed our minds and decided that as we were leaving the next day we should check out the palatial metro stops on the way back.
Here is a picture of the Moscow subway map.
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We were told an urban legend that was quite funny which might explain the nick name of the metro coffee line. The urban legend suggests that Joseph Stalin himself suggested the line when he placed a coffee cup on the original development plan (with no ring) and then lifting it and leaving a circular coffee stain around the centre of the city, said "It's your main fault, it should be built". It is thought this is the reason for the line's brown colour on all metro maps. After a couple of line changes, we boarded a train on this line and followed it to check out the most palatial metro stations in Moscow.
Here are a few of pictures of the subways that we took in between jumping on and off the trains which come every 2 minutes and puts Auckland to shame.
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We arrived back at Kitay Gorod station and then headed back to St Basils for a night time picture. As it was getting late, almost midnight, we got a drink and some nibbles on the way for dinner before retiring for the night…. Well that was the plan anyway. When we arrived back my Wi-Fi kicked in and a message came through from a tour company advising that they had not managed to purchase the tickets for the train to St Petersburg for the next day. After a lot of translations, we managed to book directly through the Russian site and flicked off the lights around 2am.

Posted by loueeezo 01:53 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

Moscow - the sights

all seasons in one day 21 °C

We got up and wandered down to Red square to find it closed off. Not knowing what was going on we headed into GUM shopping centre which also seemed remarkably empty all things considered. After window shopping for a little while we spotted Tiffany’s and went in to peruse the jewellery in this famous store. We were advised by one of the staff that today was a public holiday celebrating St. Cyril and his brother Methodius who created the Slavic alphabet which was the basis for the Cyrillic alphabet. Whilst in GUM we decided that lunch was a good proposition and stopped at a café on the 3rd floor. We both bought a slice of pizza and a drink.
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I was wolfing my way through my meat, cheese and orange pizza when Louise’s face clouded over with disgust. It turns out that the green stuff on her three cheese pizza that she had thought were herbs was actually blue vein cheese. With this section of the pizza torn off we finished our lunch and headed back out to find red square open again. Passing through security…. security is unbelievable here in Russia! Everywhere you go whether it be a shopping centre, a show or a site of interest you have to pass through scanners and have your bags checked! Anyway, getting back to what I was saying before I rudely interrupted myself, we headed in to red square and marvelled at the grandness of St Basils, the Lenin Mausoleum, the wall of the Kremlin and the state historical museum.
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As it always seems to be when we are site seeing there was scaffolding up on part of the wall and a huge stage blocking the full view of St Basils cathedral. We walked past the stage in the hope of getting a better view/photo but with no such luck as they had cordoned those parts of the square off for people participating in the show.
We then walked through Alexander garden and witnessed the changing of the guard before heading back to our hotel to use the internet and figure out what we could do with most popular sights being closed. On our way home we got completely lost and struggled to get any information as we don’t speak Russian. In a last ditch attempt we headed down in to the metro and caught a train hoping it was going in the right direction whilst decoding the Cyrillic station names.
We finally arrived at the station near our accommodation called Kitay Gorod or Кита́й-го́род as it is in Cyrillic. We found that all the things we wanted to do were closed for the day so we headed back in to red Square and stumbled upon a 3 level local shopping centre which of course housed a Mc Donald’s. The Mc Donald’s was so popular it had a walk through window, much like a drive through but for pedestrians, the normal queues inside as well as several double sided digital ordering boards. We ordered and waited in line for our number to come up. Talk about trying the local cuisine!
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We wandered around all three levels and picked up a beautiful dress or two for Louise. With the shopping bug done and dusted and our feet growing increasingly sore we decided to head back to our hostel to unload and get some local food. Having walked a mere 25000 steps we decided to walk the long way home and went right around red square enjoying the change of scenery as the sun set and the lights slowly came on.
The buildings here in Moscow look funky and amazing!
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We went to a local diner located below our hotel for dinner finishing our meal with a shot of Vodka.

Posted by loueeezo 00:01 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

Moscow here we come

overcast 20 °C

We got up relatively early as John and Christa had an early train to catch and we had to navigate our way to Heathrow airport for our flight to Moscow. After a kind lift to the metro station and well mapped out plans on how to get to Heathrow via train and tube from aunty Jane and uncle Roland we said our goodbyes and made our way to Heathrow terminal 4. We checked in our luggage and sat down for a drink, a bowl of olives, gherkins and caper berries and a bacon and egg roll. The olives tasted like watery Gherkins and the gherkins… well they didn’t taste like anything at all!
We went through security and found a tasting bar at one of the duty free shops which were offering samples of whiskies. I tried a couple of whiskies and Louise got to try a cocktail all for free.
We boarded the aircraft and got seated. Louise spied a briefcase on the floor in the isle beside the seat opposite us and we figured that, as the guy in front of us had a large musical instrument belted into the seat beside him, it must be just the done thing on Aeroflot airlines and didn’t think much more about it. As we were taxiing down the runway the stewardesses completed their final checks and came across this brief case. We watched as she asked first the person seated beside the bag, then one by one the people in front of us followed by us if the bag was theirs to which the answer was no. By the time she got the same response from us we could see her face beginning to get a look of horror as she realised that this random black briefcase could be a bomb. She woke the fellow behind us and relief flooded her face as he apologised and stowed his bag away.
We arrived into Moscow and waited in the customs queues. We finally reached passport control and I went through without any issues. Louise approached the desk and there seemed to be some kind of issue scanning her passport. Both passport and visa were examined with an eyeglass by three of four customs officials over a period of ten to fifteen minutes whilst Louise’s blood pressure heart rate raised to a dangerous level. They spoke in Russian among themselves before she was finally given the all clear. Being the last people in customs we headed through to collect our bags which were easy to find being pretty much the only ones on the conveyor belt. We walked through to arrivals scanning for our name as we had prearranged with the hotel to have a shuttle taxi pick us up. The moment we walked through we had people asking if we needed a taxi and one guy in particular who was like a bad smell and wouldn’t leave us alone. After several checks of the arrival area we found no such driver. Feeling rather flustered by how in our face this guy was I headed over to the information desk with him in toe and asked where the trains were which finally shut him up. We headed outside and bartered with a taxi driver for a lift to our hotel. Having settled on a price we hopped in and found him to be a top guy who spoke English relatively well. The half an hour trip to our hotel went quickly amidst the laughs.
We checked in and decided that as it was after 9pm (and we were in a new place) to stay in for the night and make a fresh start in the morning.

Posted by loueeezo 00:01 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

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