12/09/2013 - 18/09/2013
As we'd travelled through the night, I felt a bit zombified on arrival in Russia. We left the airport and looked for the bus we needed to catch to the nearest metro station. We found the bus stop but were slightly confused by how it all worked. From being in Iran we'd gotten used to people helping us out whenever we looked confused (or even if we just stopped walking for a second!), but there was none of that in Russia - people keep to themselves and often seem to look down a bit on tourists. It was quite a stark contrast and a jolting introduction to the country.
Eventually we just decided to jump on a bus and see what happened. No-one seemed to be paying as they got on, so we didn't either. It seemed a bit odd but we then saw people pay as they got off so we followed suit. Thankfully the metro system was much easier to navigate and we found our way to our hostel.
We stayed at a couple of hostels in St Petersburg. It was quite a bit cheaper to stay in a dorm, so we did that for the first 3 nights, but then we treated ourselves to a private room in a different hostel for the last 3 nights. The first hostel we stayed at was Admiral Teiskiy. It was quite a small hostel, but decent. We were in a 4 person dorm, which we had to ourselves on the first night, but was full for the remaining 2 nights. One of the other people staying in the dorm was an English guy who we chatted to quite a bit. I've forgotten where the other guy was from now, but aside from them and us, all the other people staying there seemed to be Russian.
There was nothing special about the hostel, but nothing bad about it either. Well, aside from the fact you weren't allowed alcohol; something they didn't inform us of until I'd just opened a can of beer and had one sip of it. That was somewhat annoying.
The other hostel we stayed at was Friends Hostel. It's named after the TV show and is made up to look a little like the apartments in the show. There are picture frames around the spy holes in the doors, plus a couple of fussball tables. It's a nice idea, but the hostel's too big really to have that kind of cosy, sociable feel. Plus it seemed to just be full of Russians again, including a few rotund men who liked to walk around shirtless. Ew. Again, nothing really bad about the place, but nothing special either.
Both hostels were pretty central so we mostly walked to various places. Jamie had a cold for quite a bit of our time there, so a couple of days were fairly lazy, plus we seemed to have a bit of bad luck with things. On our second day we'd decided to go on a free walking tour which we booked online the previous evening. We planned to get up early, go for breakfast at 9 (neither hostel provided breakfast) and have plenty of time to get to the meeting point for 10:45. However, as it was a weekend, no places nearby were open for breakfast until 10:00! We went to a place just after it opened, which was ok, though Jamie ordered scrambled eggs and got an omelette and I ordered poached eggs and got fried eggs. Still, close enough I guess. The main problem was that it took a while and we didn't get to the meeting point until about 10:53. Not especially late - none of the other walking tours we've gone to have started on time - but this one seemingly had as there was no-one to be found. Annoying.
There was also the day we decided to go to the contemporary art museum. It's not very central so we went to take the bus. It was bus number 7 we needed, so we got on, paid and sat down. We went about 3 stops when we were all instructed to get off, the bus was terminating. We were confused but figured it was some issue with that particular bus, so we waited for the next one. It arrived, everyone got off and we were told we couldn't get on. Same with the next one. We had no idea as to why they were terminating there or how else we were meant to get to the museum, so it ended up being a waste of time and money.
I'm probably not painting the best picture of St Petersburg here. We did have enjoyable times there too! The first full day was actually my birthday. We had a nice walk around, stopped for some coffee and cheesecake, walked around some more, saw a few wiener dogs (my favourite) then went to a nice vegetarian restaurant. I had a burrito, partly because I've had Mexican food on my last couple of birthdays, so it's started to become a tradition. We then went to a quiet pub opposite for a pint. Not a bad way to mark my advancing age.
Some of the other places we went to in St Petersburg:
- Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood. Not dissimilar to the swirly church at Red Square in Moscow, though we got to see this one first. Paper Frog liked it too:
- The Peter and Paul Fortress. This was a nice area to walk around. The nearby park and miniature version of the city were cool as well.
- The Hermitage. We went here on our last day. It's a pretty impressive museum - all sorts of art and artifacts. The buildings themselves are one of the biggest draws though, they're stunning.