A Travellerspoint blog

Day 15

St Petersburg Big Bus Tour

sunny -18 °C

All I wanted to do today was have an easy day sitting on the Big Bus Tour, to take it all in and then go back to the Hotel and have a nice relaxing time before my last day here tomorrow. However I had planned the day with a bus tour from 11.00 and then see what happened after that. I was running a bit late so I had to hot foot (no pun intended) because I was running a bit late. It was a cold -18'C but dry underfoot and so I walked considerably faster than I did yesterday. I arrived at the bus with a minute to spare and found that it had changed to 12noon, so I had a bit of time to spend.

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I had a walk through the largest department store in Northern Europe that has been so for hundreds of years Gostinyy Dvor, 14 acres of very high class shops, with just about everything that you can think of. However I saw some people on the balcony who seemed to be having a meeting and when I got a closer look they were all models and so I had to go and have a look and I met the Romanov's, St Nick and Mary, the Pope, Lenin and even Putin and Stalin. Some were sitting around a table and some were just there. They were not the best Models I have ever seen and none of them looked like they would come to life anytime soon but I had a picture with Santa and Mary Christmas.
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The Big Bus tour started and I just loved the commentary by Rob on channel 4 which was the English language channel. In a very refined American accent I learned a huge amount of information and I could talk about it for ages and ages; it really was a great commentary. St Petersburg has a very long and significant history and whereas I found that Moscow seemed to focus on the communist era and the progress since, but the focus here is on the very lavish regal history before the Bolsheviks and then the Communists took over. I loved all the details that never seem to get into the History books; the Alexander Column in the space outside the Winter Palace, which by the way has 1000 rooms and 2000 windows and 400 staircases, the column is the largest piece of shaped marble in the world and it is so heavy that it is not fixed to the base and is held there simply by its weight. We also saw and ice breaker ploughing its way up the frozen Neva river, and at the same time we could see a few people skating and having fun out on the ice and also near the walls of the Fortress of Peter and Paul; we saw one guy whose sanity remains in question who was in his 'budgie smugglers' having a dip in a special place that had been dug out o the ice to make a very, very cold swimming pool.
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We passed a number of Museums and the Zoological Museum, we were told, is the only museum that has an actual Mammoth, and they have two, nothing about one, or two, upmanship is there. We also passed the Artillery Museum where they have so much 'stuff' they have had to expand out into the grounds and on to the nature strip. They also have one of the personal Pistols of Napoleon, now beat that if you can.
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There is so much to see here that I could spend a few weeks here and really absorb this amazing culture; however I have one more day before I get to familiar territory, well Scotland anyway, so I had better conceal my British passport and be and Australian there but it is really going to be good to see cousin Helen again.

Posted by Fletch1 04:16 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

Day 14

Spectacular St Petersburg

semi-overcast -16 °C

I do not want to oversell St Petersburg, but I can't help it I have had an amazing day. I went to find the main drag which is Nevskiy Prospect and found so many things to see and experience. I found the main Catholic Church and the first first Book shop in St Petersburg, both I understand going back to an era of ostentation which has to be seen to be believed. he Book Shop is still selling books and also souvenirs and a very classy cafe on the first floor. As I took the picture I saw in the viewfinder what I thought was another St Basil's in the distance. I was told when I was in Moscow that this was also designed by the same designer but that 'Ivan the Terrible' had his eyes put out so that he would not design another one because he wanted them to remain special. History is full of contradictions that temper some of the great creations.

I went into the Kazan Cathedral. It is a memorial to Russian military glory that was built in 1812 after a prayer by the Army Commander, and it still contains captured flags and some keys to French fortresses that they captured all those years ago. It was crowded with tourists and congregants who mingled quite freely and even though I took pictures of this ornate space felt a little bit of an interloper among the vast number of people buying their candles and praying before one of the many icons. I saw elderly men bowing and crossing themselves and kissing the icons, while difficult to understand is very impressive.
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I kept moving and saw i the distance something else that looked interesting and kept moving on. What I could see, I found out later was the Admiralty complex which used to be the main headquarters of the Navy and now being renovated for something else, but when I arrived there I could see the Winter Palace which was reportedly stormed by the Bolshevik's in 1917 to start the communist uprising.

In front of the Palace is Dvortsovaya Place, a huge open area where there seemed to be some form of ids celebration happening, and I could hear a brass band. So I hot footed it in their direction taking into account the ice covered cobble stones that covered this space where all sorts of Children's activities were taking place. The band was good and obviously volunteers but out there making a difference and providing a real happy atmosphere. Again it was tempered by a display of what I think were crowd control people who marched in perfect unison in their big Coats and helmets with face visors and some very big thick boots that looked warmer than what I had on.
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I met a Russian Prince and Princess and had my picture taken with them, but realized that they were possibly not real as it cost me R600 Rubles) to have my picture taken with them, and possibly if they were real my head could have finished on a spike somewhere in a Palace. I found my way through the back streets and across the frozen canals to the St Basil's copy I saw earlier. It was 'Cathedral of the Saviour of the Blood' and I paid my R200 to enter and had to put on some plastic shoe covers and entered an amazing space that is just overpowers the senses; the workmanship and commitment to this building is just beyond belief. Of course I took pictures but nothing will reflect what I actually saw.
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As I left this place I saw two Russian Winter Brides having their pictures taken with the Cathedral in the background.

On the way back to the hotel I came across the Museum of the siege of Leningrad during WWII. Although they had some information in broken English it seemed that it was mainly for Russians to remember the struggle for this magnificent city that was marked for complete destruction by the German High Command. There were lots of military bits and pieces but what was so moving was the stories of the people who at times were living on 250 grams of bread a day and the struggle they had to survive. There were three or four very elderly women who were looking after the place and I sensed that they were children while this was all happening and were very keen to tell me all about it. It was very emotional and again the tragedy of mans inhumanity to man reared up in front of me.

The hotel where I am staying has a strong focus an the works of Dostoevsky and there are his books in the display and the menu in the restaurant has in Russian and in English stories of how the item on the menu related to his works and travels. So I had to have Beef Strogonoff in Russia. It apparently started as a French dish but made famous because it was always on the table of Count Alexander Grigorievich Strogonov. It was delicious and I spent a couple of hours reading all about the links between Dostoevsky and food. I again had some raised eyebrows from the waitress when I asked if I could get copy of the menu because of all the fantastic information in it.

Tomorrow is another day and another adventure, but possibly sitting on a big red bus and someone else can expend their energy.

Posted by Fletch1 19:17 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

Day 13

St Petersburg

sunny -13 °C

St Petersburg is just an amazing place. I have been impressed in the short time that have been here and I still have a couple more days to explore. Today I just managed to get out of the hotel after a fantastic buffet breakfast, get myself organised and out into -15'C. All I wanted to do was have a look at the place and get my bearings. As I have said so often before, my amazement at the number of huge buildings. My view of Russia has been confined to what I have read or been told. But the infrastructure is just astounding and historic.

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However no matter what preconceptions we might have there is always something that is out of the ordinary. Russia is a very Eastern Orthodox dominated country but I cam across this little shrine just as I walking towards the main drag.

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...and then there is the amazing things out of the ordinary. Walking around the icy streets I am finding quite a challenge and I have lost my footing on a couple of times and felt that people around look at me and say "Must be a tourist" but I read one travel blog recently that one of the new wonders of the modern world is the that many stylish women can easily get around in boots with very high heels. I have seen quite a few very stylish women with stiletto heeled boots getting around quite easily, whereas my specially bought boots from Mong Kok seem to be nothing better than ski's on my feet anyway.

There are other unusual things that you might see like the Oliver Twist English Pub and the possibly Original 'Jules Cafe' that we have in Riverton.
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There does seem to be a story behind everything and I am just loving it.

Posted by Fletch1 08:41 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

Day 12

Moscow to St Petersburg

sunny -17 °C

I was up early and ready to get to the Train station. The receptionist at the hotel booked me into the Radisson Sonya in St P, after my evening trip with Tatiana, and she was very helpful. It was a cool -16'C and I was not looking forward to the possibility of the train, however ff we went.

The day before when I was struggling to get coverage with the computer I went in to the posh hotel around the corner and asked if there was anyone who could help me book a train ticket, the Concierge was very tall and did speak English and he did make a phone call and indicated that there were no economy class seats left. I asked if I could reserve a business class, he indicated that I would have to do it at the Train station in person. I left feeling like a little bit of a schoolboy, but hey it was his country and I am sure they do things differently but I was sure I could have reserved a seat over the phone. So there I was in a Taxi going to the Leningradski Train Station not sure if I could get to St Petersburg that day or if I would have to sleep in the station overnight.

On arrival I found after a bit of a struggle someone who spoke English and she was able to get my a business class ticket for about $100 AD which I thought was pretty good. It would take four and a half hours and would leave in two hours time so then it was off to the waiting Hall uinder a statue of Lenin who seems always to watch over everything that happens now that he is immortalized in stone in so many places. Particularly here at Leningradski Station.
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It was a great trip and slippers and Eye Shades were provided for your comfort; it was like flying first class and I felt that I was a bit out of my class, but hey; I enjoyed it. It was the Fast train and reached speeds of up to 250 Kilometers an hour and it was just so smooth. As soon as we left the station the staff all put aprons on and started to serve refreshments. There were drinks of whatever you required, and you had a choice of Fish or Meat (I had the meat and it was chicken) not a big serve but when that was completed they brought the hot main course which was beef and potatoes and a plum sauce that was the best I had ever had. I spared a thought for those a bit further back in the train who had access to the buffet car, but it wasn't a very long thought. there were 4 stops and we passed though what I imagined was typical flat Russian 'outback'. There were lots of small villages with what looked like 2 bedroom places with a garden around them, all covered in snow at this time of the year, but very quaint and reminded me a bit of the village where Tevye cam from in 'Fiddler on the Roof', and then there were the larger places with multi story concrete blocks of flats that we sometimes associate with the communist era.

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There was even a service that they could order you a taxi to wait for you when you arrived at St Petersburg station. So in for a penny in for a pound, did this and received a note back saying that a taxi had been booked and would be waiting at stand 7 for me, and would cost R650 Roubles (about $20 AUD). I struggled off the train with all the other passengers but station 7 seemed to elude me and after talking to a couple of Taxi drivers and showing them my slip of paper they were of no help either. One guy offered to take me for 1,000 Roubles but I started to back away, and so the other one said that he would take me, for the 650. It was another hair raising ride at peak hour but we arrived and he only charged me 600 so I was happy to get to the hotel.

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Now you can see the standard of the room and I was mightily impressed, so much so that I might never leave. I am here for 4 days and after the energy expended in Moscow and struggling with the cold, I might just have a bit of a rest and relaxing time in the sauna and gym with room service and a lavish breakfast with everything one could require, like being at home really (?). However having said that there are lots of things to see here in St Petersburg and I will keep doing what I am doing. although I might get a better scarf and gloves.

Posted by Fletch1 05:37 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

Day 11

Moscow the City

semi-overcast -15 °C

Moscow is a very large place and It was quite daunting to get around. I was reticent to venture on the the Underground as it does not cope well with tourists and there are very few signs in English and even ordering coffee proved to be a bit of a challenge, so the old pointing finger came into good use. I was absolutely flabbergasted by the traffic and thought Israel was the worst until I was in the taxi from the Airport and then in the light of day it was absolutely scary. Just standing on the sidewalk looking at it made me appreciate all the good mannered drivers (?) that we have in Australia. It seems that for many there is just fast and stop, press the horn don't worry about the indicators, and see how we go.

I did more walking and tried to get my bearings from the hotel that was staying in and I just could not get over the number of huge buildings. It seems that there always seems to be a need for another building. I met my Russian Fundraising contact and and the first building she showed to me was "That was the head of the KGB, it has 7 floors underground and it holds many dark secrets" But it seemed that around every corner there were more huge and ornate buildings.

I chose not to go into the Kremlin but I decided that I would walk around it. It is a huge place and although an easy walk when it is -15'C it presents a few challenges to someone used to cold being 8'C. My Beanie was a good one in the UK as were my gloves but when you get in the wind with those temperatures it is as I say quite challenging. However it was a magnificent walk and again I was impressed with the size of the place.
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I watched a very simple changing of the guard ceremony outside the Kremlin Walls that I think honored the dead of WWII, which the Russians call The Great Patriotic War. It was quite simple really and the two soldiers had to stand there for quite a while. Security people and Police cordoned off the area for the ceremony and as I watched them I saw them flexing their fingers and rocking back and forth trying to get circulation back into frozen feet, and I didn't feel so bad. However it was a very moving moment as I thought back to those dark days when so many died in so many parts of the world.

In the evening Tatiana picked me up and she had a Swedish colleague with her as during the day there had been a meeting to try and start a Russian Fundraising Association and we had chatted about how the Fundraising Institute - Australia worked, she indicated that they argued most of the day but it was not over and they will work it out sometime in the future. We did a night tour of the City and surrounds and learned more about this great place. The traffic was not all that bad but I am full of admiration for the bravery of anyone who ventures out in it.

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We said our goodbyes outside the Bolshoi Ballet Theater and I thanked her for her generosity in showing an Aussie a little of 'her town'. It is doubtful if she will ever come to Australia but I gave her a standing invite to have a look at 'my town'; Riverton.

Posted by Fletch1 04:47 Archived in Russia Comments (1)

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