9 July 2011

Paris without the a**holes [St. Petersburg, Russia]

St Petersburg; a city with a reputation; one of the most beautiful in the world. Generally I don't like to listen to the rumours. Setting expectations is generally a bad thing. But I could have had my eyes closed and fingers in my ears and still been aware of the beauty awaiting in St Petersburg.

I experienced a bit of culture shock after arriving in St. Petersburg; it took some... adjusting to. After the first few days I spent in the city I was not sure whether I liked it or not. It is a BIG city, and suffers from big city problems - a lot of cars and a lot of people. It is noisy, busy, pushy, sometimes angry. A huge contrast compared to the cities I have visited in the last few weeks. But after a couple of days I relaxed, and was able to see the real beauty of St. Petersburg. The architecture is simply amazing - you are surrounded by beautiful buildings everywhere you go. It actually reminded me a lot of Paris (without all the a**holes). The city is also divided by water; there are a number of canals snaking through the center. Apparently St. Petersburg is nicknamed Venice of the north. So comparisons to Paris and Venice in one paragraph? No question, St Petersburg keeps up with the other European big-hitters.


In my last post I was a little worried about crossing the Russian border. In reality it was one of the easiest crossings I have made so far. I guess because they make it so difficult to get the visa that by the time you make it to the border, you deserve to be cut some slack. The crossing was painless, but the journey was agonising. I probably got a total of two hours interrupted sleep, so arrived into St Petersburg red eyed and barely awake. I was lucky enough to meet a couple of students from Czech on the bus. They guided me to the metro, and even paid for me when my bank card wouldn't let me take any cash. I was off to a good start.

I was surfing with Liza in St Pete, an awesome Russian girl who loves avocados and HUGE snails. She was a huge help in navigating the city and making recommendations on what to see and do. The CouchSurfing community in St Petersburg is really active, and during the five days I spent there, I attended three events. The first was a picnic in Vsevolojsk - a small town just outside the city. It is a really peaceful place, lots of trees, a huge lake; somewhere people go to get out of the city and relax. We had an amazing barbecue, played frisbee, and went for a walk along the lake.

The second event was beer-surfing, where everyone bought a different beer from around the world to share. Although the tasting didn't go exactly as planned, it was a cool night and I met lots of awesome Russian people. I also left a nice reminder of my visit...

And finally, I joined some other CouchSurfers for a visit to Peterhof. This is a palace outside St Petersburg, with HUGE gardens and an unbelievable number of fountains. To be blunt; pretty f'n beautiful. Just take a look at the photos... The only down side - it is 400 Ruble to get in (about €10). I thought that was a bit steep... If you can find yourself a student ID, or get a Russian to buy your ticket for you, you pay about one quarter of that. While on the subject - Russia is EXPENSIVE. I knew it would not be as cheap as the Balkins, but I didn't expect it to be as expensive as London (seriously!).

While at Peterhof two super-cool Canadian CouchSurfers (Matthieu and Reshma) invited me for a Canadian home-made dinner with their host Tatiana. And it was goooooood, complete with meaty mac'n'cheese, salad with grapes and mango, a desert made simply from sugar and cream (those crazy Canadians!) and maple syrup vodka shots. On my final evening I also met up with some other new CS friends; Katerina and Alina. It was relatively short meeting at a pub in the center, but I bragged enough about New Zealand that I think I convinced them to visit.

OK, so highlights from St Petersburg? Peterhof for sure. Kazan Cathedral - a MASSIVE cathedral in the center of town. Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood... you know all those photos you see of the Russian cathedral with the crazy colourful domes? Well, this is one of them. It is pretty freakin' cool. The Winter Palace; which contains the Hermitage Museum. I can't comment on the museum as I didn't go, but the building is spectacular. And finally - St Isaacs Cathedral, another HUGE cathedral in the center. It is actually now a museum which costs quite a lot to get in to. You can climb to the top of the colonnade for a great view over the city... Again, I did not do this (I told you, St Petersburg is expensive! If I did all these things I would not get home). An interesting thing about St Petersburg - a lot of people dress up in these old costumes and stand in-front of the monuments, waiting for people to come and take pictures of/with them. Pretty standard behaviour for any large tourist city, but they are not half-assed like many others, they go ALL OUT! Check it...

The final thing I will mention about my time in this amazing city is the 'white nights'. At this time of year the sun sets for only a few hours, and even then only just over the horizon, meaning the city is almost permanently lit. What is cool is that people really get out and make the most of it. It is not unusual for the parks to be full of people hanging out at 2am, or people wandering the streets, just going out for a stroll. It is kind of strange to step out of a pub after midnight, slightly intoxicated, and having the sun beating down on you...

That's all I got for St Pete. Even though the visa process for Russia is a little tricky (I wrote about it here if interested) it is worth it for this city alone.

And now, TO MOSCOW!

1 comment:

  1. :D great photos, great artickle Neal:)
    it was pleasant to read all of this good things about my city... and of course, we are glad you like it! See you in NZ? ;)


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