St Petersburg

20.06.2007: Невский Проспект
First of all I would like to thank ilGrisa for having posted a short update about my trip to Санкт-Петербург (St Petersburg). Finally I’m here, the city I always wanted to visit, the city Peter the Great wanted as the Russian window on Europe.
Things started very well: I landed at half past two, local time, I didn’t have any troubles at the pass control and I caught the bus to the nearest metro station. I wanted to buy a bulk for 10 rides but I was misunderstood and the woman at the desk wanted to sell me 10 single tickets and she showed on a calculator how 10 x 14 (rubles) makes 140. I really needed this explanation! Eventually I got my 7-days-pass. On the metro I had also my first surprise: there is no platform! People is waiting at security doors which open only upon train’s arrival: cool 🙂 LonelyPlanet were right (as usual): the name of the station is not visible from the train and the only one way to get off at the right stop is to carefully listening to the Russian voice which I already love (I know, I’m freak).
But Russia has always a lot of surprises for the visitors, the biggest was definitively the bus right in front of the Эрмитаж (Hermitage) used as a public toilet 😮 A man was also walking a bear-cub (yes, a bear, not a dog) as if it was completely normal. Knut was probably never en vogue here.
Off Topic: Internet Explorer sucks and writing on my blog using this thing is a pain in the ass.
As ilGrisa already said the temperatures are not really defined here: is cooler than in Berlin but at the sun I’m melting while I’m freezing at the shadow which is why I’m back in my hostel now before I leave to visit the city during the midsummer nights.
In my room I have a refrigerator (where I put the pastiera Isabelle cooked for me, but this is something for the post I was writing yesterday) which I have to turn off anytime I need the only power outlet available 😀 i.e. when I want to use the kindly provided mosquito killer…

21.06.2007: Сенная Площадь
Yesterday I went out again around 11pm, walking again along Невский Проспект (Nevsky Prospekt) first and heading then to Сенная Площадь (Sennaya Square), the most recurring place in the Достоевский (Dostoevsky)’s novel Преступление и наказание (Crime and punishment).
Sennaya Square has two souls: the one, decadent, depicted in the novel and the new, full of lights, modern buildings and Mc Donald‘s 😉 It’s really difficult to say which one prevails, which is why I truly love being there.
From Sennaya Square I walked north to the Нева (Neva) river, where its bridges were open for the ship traffic and people were eating, drinking, having fun, enjoying the view. I spent a lot of time on the Neva‘s bank and I will probably repeat the same experience this night. Well, night, let’s call it evening.
Strolling around a city which never gets properly dark is something I already experienced two years ago in Tallin, but in St Petersburg everything is nicer, somehow more familiar and more melancholic. I could even say that I’ve never seen a more beautiful place on earth: this city is simply fantastic.
I already took a lot of pictures and as soon as I’m back home I will upload them for the joy of your eyes 😀 .
Eventually I went back to the hostel at 4am, tired but really satisfied.

21.06.2007: Петроград
I’m having a curious rhythm of life here in St Petersburg 🙂 I woke up today at noon, I walked around the city for 5 hours, now I’m back in the hostel where I will sleep for a couple of hours, I will then go out again (maybe at midnight) and I will be back at 3 or 4am as yesterday (or I should call it today?) to sleep… Luckily, Russians are obsessed with shops and snack bars open ’round the clock.
Today I visited mainly the first city’s settlements, like the Петропавловская крепость (Peter and Paul Fortress) on the so-called Petrograd Side with a stunning view on the Hermitage and the Адмиралтейство (Admiralty). Obviously not before having visited one of the train stations the city is dotted by: Московский вокзал (Moskovsky Rail Terminal). All the trains to Moscow depart from here and the nicest thing to see is a huge plan of the Russian rail transport with all the destinations accesible by train from St Petersburg (Berlin was abviously one of them).

22.06.2007: Троицкий мост
Yesterday I spent a lot of time again on the Neva, but instead of walking along Nevsky Prospekt I went first to the Храм Спаса на Крови (Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood) which is very similar to the Собор Василия Блаженного (Saint Basil’s Cathedral) in Moscow, but, surprisingly, even nicer. The location is great and the midnight sun played gorgeously with its colours: unforgettable.
I had a late dinner in a (not so delicious) Russian fast food and I went then to the Neva. It was 1 o’clock or a little bit later and masses were on the bridges or on the bank watching ship passing by (almost like during the Queen’s Day in Amsterdam), singing, getting drunk and… getting married too 🙂 I was surprised by the amount of people on the river, much more than the night before! Anyway, I quickly discovered why: at half past 1 the bridges open and after a couple of wow people start disappearing, leaving the city streets lively yet quite empty. The city is indeed full but not too much (absolutely not as Prague can be) and tourists are almost Russian.
Eventually, despite my proposal, I went back to the hostel at 3 o’clock: all because of the Троицкий мост (Trinity Bridge) which I love to take pictures of 🙂

22.06.2007: Эрмитаж
Because the weather this morning was almost cloudy I decided to visit the two most important museum of St Petersburg: the Hermitage and the Государственный Русский музей (Russian Museum).
The first one is housed in the Winter Palace, a masterpiece of Italian architecture, while the second… well, it’s a nice example of Italian architecture too :mrgreen:
Until this morning I didn’t know whether my favourite museum was the MoMA in New York City or the MNAM in Paris, now I’m absolutely sure it’s the Hermitage in St Petersburg… I didn’t visit the whole collection because I can’t stand Egyptian mummies anymore, but the section dedicated to the impressionism and post-impressionism is unrivaled! I had creeps and I was crying, almost suffering while I watched some masterpieces by Cezanne, Van Gogh, Matisse and Кандинский (Kandinsky)… Luckily the usual Picasso’s shit took me back to the reality…

22.06.2007: Государственный Русский музей
Later I went to the Russian Museum which is focused on, guess what, Russian art and Russian artists. I didn’t spend much time there because I had a look only at the modern, cubist and surrealist part. It was really interesting anyway: Kandinsky (again, he’s the best), Малевич (Malevich) and Петров-Водкин (Petrov-Vodkin) were my favourites.

22.06.2007: Витебский вокзал
After a quick lunch at the Чайная Ложка (teaspoon) where I had delicious pancakes and tea I went to the Витебский вокзал (Vitebsky Rail Terminal), the terminus for trains to/from Berlin. The train station is very nice: it looks like a small version of Stazione Centrale in Milan.

23.06.2007: Елагин и Васильевский остров
Yesterday evening I wanted to escape a little bit the traffic and the pollution of the city and I went to the Елагин остров (Yelagin Island) a huge park which looks like the Tiergarten in Berlin, full of couples in love and groups of drunk Russians.
My visit there didn’t start very well because I lost myself trying to follow the walk tour suggested by LonelyPlanet (I still don’t understand where the sphinx monument or the peter’s tree are) :mrgreen: but it was really worth it.
I could finally find some peace strolling through the park but, most important, when I took the metro to Васильевский остров (Vasilievsky Island) I could see the city at its most beautiful (mmm, actually St Petersburg is always at its most beautiful): crossing the Neva at sunset (read: 11pm) when the sun enlighten the Hermitage and all other buildings on the river. Gorgeous.
What I didn’t like was a fountain in the middle of the Neva which was animated by some music: this is something too kitch, unforgivable even for the most beautiful city I’ve ever seen.
I went back to the hostel quite soon yesterday because I planned an excursion today and I had to wake up early.

23.06.2007: Петродворец
As planned I woke up today quite early to catch the hidrofoils to Петродворец (Petrodvorets) the Versailles of St Petersburg.
I expected a nice trip with a slow boat on which I could have taken pictures of the city, but a hidrofoil is a hidrofoil: fast and with seats only under deck 🙂 Oh, yes, of course also expensive.
At the harbour of Petrodvorets I could see the gorgeous palace, orned by majestic cascade, with waterworks and golden statues, which is the main attraction of the park. I was never in Versailles or Reggia di Caserta, but this was fantastic.
I could say too fantastic 🙂 : even if the Grand Palace was completed by Catherine the Great, it doesn’t surprise me that Peter preferred to spend time in the Monplaisir Palace: closer to the sea and more intimate.
Also remarkable are other small fountains with funny tricks and originally decorated (the one that looks like a tree for instance, with a bank to watch at it where one suddenly gets wet sitting on it :mrgreen: ).
Now I’m back in St Petersburg trying to recover after that long visit beneath a hot sun. Later I will check at the Moscow Station whether I can travel by train on Monday to Новгород (Novgorod).

24.06.2007: Sympathy for the devil
Because somebody complained about my last posts being written almost entirely in Russian, I’m writing today without using any Cyrillic alphabet, starting from the title, once again named after a song. I might finish up this post with the official Russian names later in Berlin, this should give me also more time to write instead of searching on wikipedia their right spellings 😀 Btw, I chose a famous song by the Rolling Stones (who will be here next month, whoohoo!) mainly because of these lyrics:

I stuck around St Petersburg
When I saw it was a time for a change
Killed the tzar and his ministers
Anastasia screamed in vain

24.06.2007: Moscow Station
Yesterday I went first to the Moscow Station (named after the city where the trains that depart from here are going to) to check whether I could find a morning train to Novgorod. Obviously nobody there spoke English but with a bit of luck and my limited knowledge of Russian I managed to understand that the morning train is local, departing at 8 o’clock and the tickets are sold at the local train desk on the day of departure. I eventually decided to take the bus, despite my love for trains, because they’re cheaper and more frequent.

24.06.2007: Smolny
After the Moscow Station I went to the Smolny Cathedral in the homonymic district. Who complains because the UN headquarter in NYC or the Park Güell in Barcelona are too far away from their nearest metro stations, has never been at the Smolny Cathedral :mrgreen: The long walk was anyway worth it: the district is very quiet and pleasant, almost no tourists and with a nice mix of Soviet and Slavic styles: exactly what I love. At the far end of a long avenue the blue cathedral by Rastrelli: so photogenic at sunset!
Walking back to the metro station I noticed two statues representing sphinxes, I had a look on the guidebook and found the description Sphinx Monument… Was it not supposed to be somewhere else? Mmm…

24.06.2007: Петя, Петя!
Oh come on! Don’t say I promised no Cyrillic in this post! I can’t talk about yesterday night without writing this!
My idea was to have a dinner in Downtown, which is why I traveled by metro to Gostiny Dvor where I hardly found the way out with all the people there. I thought they were going to the concert for which a stage was build in front of the Hermitage, but… I didn’t imagine how many people were on Nevsky Prospekt until I realized it with my own eyes! Wow, it was amazing! Suddenly I didn’t feel sad anymore because I missed the CSD in Berlin 🙂
I eventually had my dinner at Yolki Palki (whose Mongolian version I went in Moscow is far more delicious) and then I had a walk to the Neva with all the people screaming Петя, Петя! (Peter, Peter!) or something else that sounded like I’m proud to be Russian.
Beside the concert at the Hermitage and another on the Vasilevsky Island, the city organized fireworks and some other spectacles: it was very interesting.

24.06.2007: New Leningrad
After a long night spent on the Neva banks I woke up today quite late and I went to the southern suburb of the city, where Stalin planned the New Leningrad, far away from the tzarist monuments along the river.
I could see then an overwhelming building of perfect Socialist Classicism behind a huge statue of Lenin: the House of Soviets. The buildings around are also very Stalinist and I enjoyed that view as well as I like walking down Karl-Marx-Allee in Berlin.
Close to those monstrosities is the small Chesme Church built to commemorate the Russian victory against the Turks at Chesme: astonishing.

24.06.2007: Crime and Punishment
I left the southern corner of the city to go back again to Sennaya Square: with the daylight there is no substantial difference 🙂 Apparently the square doesn’t own only two souls but is more or less also divided in two: the southern part looks much more full of homeless than the northern side…
Anyway, from there I started my Rodia-tour, following the character of the novel by Dostoevsky. Unfortunately, although I found all the places marked on the book (Raskolnikov’s flat, Dostoevsky owned the flat and the house where the pawnbroker lived and was killed,) none of them were open to the public. The locals were maybe too pissed of by visitors 😦 Too bad. I felt anyway part of the novel, mainly because the places were exactly how I depicted them in my mind.

25.06.2007: На здоровье!
Yesterday I spent all the evening at the hostel because today I had to wake up quite early to catch the bus to Novgorod.
A Russian guest had dinner on the common table while I was (trying to) watch TV and he offered me a glass of vodka. Obviously I refused, since I’m teetotaller, but he insisted and eventually I had my shot. На здоровье!
Vodka doesn’t taste bad, but I could appreciate it better if ice-cold…

25.06.2007: Novgorod
This morning I woke up at 7 to catch one of the frequent buses to Novgorod. Once at the bus station I bought my ticket and I waited 45 minutes for my bus. The driver was quite unfriendly and eventually explained that the big 1 on the ticket was my place on the bus 😀 I simply didn’t realize before that there was an excellent booking system!
My place was right behind the driver and I could see how difficult was for him to change gear: for the slowest he had even to turn off the bus :mrgreen: I thought we could never be able to drive 3 hours that way…
At half past noon we were in Novgorod: I checked the time for the buses back to St Petersburg and I walked down to the kremlin.
I was expecting a city to visit instead of a well preserved set of ruins, but the excursion to Novgorod was anyway really worth it: miles away from the bustling St Petersburg, Novgorod is quiet and relaxing, almost abandoned. I met a lot of tourists though: French, Italian and German :mrgreen: .
On the way back I caught (how high are the chances?) the same bus driven by the same driver 😯 but at least this time I knew how to behave…
The way back was a bit longer because of some car accidents on the road: when I left Novgorod, indeed, it was raining and here in St Petersburg is quite wet too.
Now I’m relaxing at the hostel, waiting to go out again later to watch the bridges opening.

26.06.2007: Postilla
I was resting waiting for midnight, when I heard someone retching in the restroom. In my whole evilness, I prayed all the gods and goddesses for they were the couple of lousily unpleasant Italians. My prayers were heard! One was bitching the other not to drink so much! Mitici

26.06.2007: 1000 oceans
This is my last (whole) day in St Petersburg and probably the last post to be written here. Next updates will be done either by ilGrisa (if important) or in Berlin tomorrow evening.

These tears I’ve cried
I’ve cried 1000 oceans
And if it seems
I’m floating in the darkness
Well, I can’t believe that I would keep
Keep you from flying
And I would cry 1000 more
If that’s what it takes
To sail you home
Sail you home
Sail you home

26.06.2007: Bridges
Yesterday I went out at midnight to see again the bridges opening. I may look quite stupid to do more or less the same tour every night, but that’s so amazing! I mean, it’s just a couple of bridges that open up for ship traffic, there’s nothing really special in that. But there is! If I could only explain in words what it feels to watch them in the night when the sun still enlightens the streets and the river… Aaargh! I know I will never be able to make you understand… You should experience it by yourself I guess, you’ll be not disappointed. Yesterday was anyway a little bit stranger than usual because the weather was rainy and St Petersburg was surprisingly cloudy dark: my eyes were delighted 😉
At the hostel I met an Australian girl who had some troubles in booking a trip to Berlin. She first booked a train but it travels through Belarus which requires a transit visa she doesn’t have. I suggested her then to book the direct flight I will fly tomorrow, but it was too expensive or to travel by bus to Tallin and then with EasyJet from there to Berlin, maybe spending a day in the wonderful Estonian capital. As far as I know she got the train ticket refunded and she will spend a night in Tallin tomorrow or so.

26.06.2007: Alexander Nevsky Lavra
Today it was still very rainy and I went to the Alexander Nevsky Monastery where some important Russian people are buried (Dostoevsky among them): what a beautiful and peaceful place!
From there I went to the souvenir market close to the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood where sellers were so friendly! Obviously they were continuously asking me to buy something but as soon as I said in Russian that I couldn’t speak that language, they started to talk with me more confidentially (surprised by my good pronunciation 😯 ). A girl from Ukraine told me a lot of thing about the communist propaganda and she asked me to move to St Petersburg with her :mrgreen:
Later I went to the Kuznechny Market to look and smell fruits, fish, spices (dill was everywhere): a really nice experiences for my senses.
Unfortunately I’m really tired: I walked around a lot in the past few days, I experienced a lot and I really need some rest now, mostly because once back in Berlin I have a lot of thing to do, to manage and to think about.
I had a great time here in St Petersburg (my longest trip alone since my InterRail in 2002) and once again, like 5 years ago, I could find myself, understand who I am, what makes me what I am.

28.06.2007: Осторожно! Двери закрываются
This is what the recorded voice in the St Petersburg metro says whenever the doors are closing.

And with this sound in my mind I came yesterday back to Berlin 😥
For my last evening there I went by metro to the Автово (Avtovo) metro station which is the most impressive and decorated of the entire system. In fact, there was even a group of Russian tourist on my train who went that far just to take a look at the station. Unfortunately renovation works didn’t give me the chance to take any good picture, you can anyway read the description on wikipedia and see a great picture here.
Later I went to the Vasilevsky Island to cross again the Neva at sunset and enjoy the nice view of the island itself as well of the Hermitage. The night was colder than ever and a very strong and cold wind was blowing, which is why I went to a coffee house to recover and drink a tea. When the bridges opened I went out to say goodbye to my beloved city and take the last pictures 😥
Walking back to the hostel I wanted to buy a bottle of vodka for my guests in Berlin, but sadly the shops yet open 24/7 are not allowed to sell alcohol from 11pm to 7am. I decided then to buy the vodka and the delicious honey sold in the shop next to the hostel only the next morning.
At the hostel, 3am, I met two guys from Boston. One of them wore a funny t-shirt (you can buy here)

There are 10 kinds of people, those who understand binary, and those who don’t

They’re on a big European tour: Stockholm, Helsinki, St Petersburg, Berlin, Amsterdam and… Switzerland. Switzerland? 😕 Anyway… My English is all but perfect, but at least I don’t say Hermit-age!


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