Monday, 24 June 2013

European Russia: Part 1

I was woken from a deep sleep by an officious, uniformed woman. I'm not always quick at becoming alert in the morning but on this occasion I instantly realised that this was a Russian border official and that she was holding my passport in her hand. Good news, all is ok and I can proceed on my train journey into Russia. It is a little after 04:00 and the border process with Latvia had only taken 4 hours.

After a couple more hours on the train I arrived at Vitebskii station in St Petersburg. I'm collected at the station by a driver and taken to the Apple Hostel where I'm told that I cannot get my room until 13:00 but that I'm welcome to take a shower while I wait. I get talking to an Australian woman who's been here a couple of days and accompany her on an errand to the Mariinsky Theatre to orient myself a little in the city.

When I return I'm told that they actually do not have a room for me and that they've booked me a room in the Retro Hostel and handed over 3600RUB refund. I  am  not  happy! I'd pre-booked a walking tour of the city with the same people who booked me the room here and I was due to meet them here at 14:00 so waited. When the guide came she was appalled at what had happened and spoke for a long time with the hostel to no avail. She then spoke to her boss to book me a room elsewhere and in the meantime walked with me to the Retro Hostel where I dumped my bag before taking the tour. By the end of the tour they had not succeeded in finding me another room that night but did get me a nice one for the night after.

The Retro was good value for money at only 500RUB but by 03:00 there were 12 people in the 10 person dorm. I was not sad to leave.

From Trans-Russia 2013
I included St Petersburg in this trip since we'd considered it as a honeymoon location, but went elsewhere, and in all the years since had never got around to visiting. Some people I know who have visited speak well of the city so I decided it would just be a small extension to my trip. At first the city lived up to my expectations. Since the city was planned to be a European style city much of the architecture was familiar, the only real exception being The Church of Our Savior on the Spilled Blood, built very much in a Russian Style. I've been told that the church is unpopular with some local people for this very reason.

By the end of my time in St Petersburg I had come to dislike this planned, European style. While whole streets of the building look very grand, Nevsky Prospect being the prime example, behind the façade there is often a run down tatty reality. All three places I visited for accommodation fell into this category. Once through the façade there were worn, crumbling dark staircases leading to individual residences that could be delightful behind yet more steel doors. The planned uniformity also gives the city a one dimensional feeling, most cities are an interesting blend of architectural styles, not so with St Petersburg.

Hermitage
HermitageFrom Trans-Russia 2013
This is not to say that St Petersburg is not worth visiting or that there are no attractive features. I took the opportunity to visit the Hermitage Museum and while for me it didn't meet my admittedly high expectations it was indeed an impressive museum. Unfortunately, the one section closed off for renovation included the one and only piece that I specifically wanted to see!

It was a lively time in St Petersburg with University Graduations taking place, part of the reason finding a room was difficult, and public concerts celebrating the longest day.

St Petersburg is built on a number of islands in the delta of the River Neva which should have warned my about the likelihood of insects. On my last night in the city it was hot and humid and my bedroom window was open… and in the morning I was covered in hundreds of mosquito bites!

I leave from the St Petersburg Moskovsky railway station headed for Moscow on the night train Tr #29