Monday, October 15, 2012

Day 1 Russia and beyond.

Tonight we moved to our new hostel for one night to meet our tour leader Dimitry. We have 16 in our group. Mostly Australians, a couple from N.Z an American living in Australia and three from Portugal. A mix of old, that's us, not so old and young ones. It's always interesting meeting everyone for the first time. Dimitry is Russian in his early 30's. Very intense it seems was our first impression. After paperwork was completed we headed off to dinner at a Georgian restaurant. It was intimate. We all talked non stop. It was very noisy. Dimitry started the evening with a lot of local customs and local knowledge. Particularly the benefits of vodka. He extolled the virtue of toasting three times throughout the evening. Mostly to our health, happiness and whatever else was applicable. Later he told us we were the noisiest group he had had right from the start all chattering to each other.

The food was amazing. Shaslicks and local salads, vegetables and side dishes. Great evening to kick start the tour.


He suggested that we rent a small boat to see the bridges opening to let the large boats and ships from the sea off the coast of Finland to access the port of St. Petersburg. We had to meet at 12 midnight as the bridges started opening at 1.01 am. Only a handful decided to sacrifice sleep. We figured we would never get the opportunity to experience this.

We ventured out onto the water with the threat of rain, we were fortunate as we only had a litte sprinkle. We passed beautifully lit up buildings along the river.

Tourism is becoming very important so recently more and more museums and buildings have permission to be illuminated. It was a special night and we realized how passionate Dimitry is about his homeland. It was exciting to see other boats, cruisers, even a wedding party enjoying what is an event that attracts interest from travellers and locals alike.


Russia we are at last.

Flying in to St Petersburg was beautiful. Very sunny day so it was very clear. Lots of water laying around. We found out later that the city is built on marshlands.

Once again, straight out on an evening investigation. Maccas for dinner? I think not.

We were watching these very professional buskers /musicians then we noticed the window behind them. The buskers were moved on so we decided to peek inside. It was styled on a Parisian cafe. So beautiful .They were selling very delicate sweets and savouries. There was a seating area inside for coffee etc., the interior was exquisite. As you entered the door the doorman gave us a wicker basket for our purchases.
We kept walking, it was chilly and were about to turn back when we reached the canal. We looked down the water and we saw the church that we had been looking forward to seeing. The first photo we took of many, is the one I put up here. Not the best one but our first view. It's the "church of the spilled blood".

Not much evidence of USSR or the Soviet Union, like this one around St Petersburg.
We decided to take another walking tour the next day. This time for 4 hours only.
Again we went through neighborhoods, back alleys and the back of the apartment buildings. We certainly saw the other side of life there. The fronts of the buildings that housed shops and businesses on the bottom floor and housing on the next 6 or so floors were mostly painted and repaired. The back of them was another thing. Our hostel was like that. We had to walk through an archway off the very noisy main street and then into the serenity of the courtyard that looked like another world. Up the stairs that were worn and very dusty then into a renovated hostel. Incredible difference. No noise in the hostel from the street.
One of the places Nicolai tooks us to was near a playground. He showed us the bomb shelters and the outlets where the people inside were able have their ventilation. We saw several different ones once we knew what to look for, even though they were quite different. We wouldn't have known what they were before he showed us. They were linked under the buildings, play grounds etc.
Lunch stop for Stolle. In Russian they are called pies. It was a local hangout . A bakery and this was a local favourite. 15 bakers in the back in a very small place.They had other Russian food as well. We ordered a couple of small pieces each to share with each other. One was meat, the other was rabbit and herb pie. Salmon was popular too. They were filled to the brim with deliciousness. The pastry was a little sweet and so tasty and very light.
He was a brisk walker. We raced around covering the historical buildings and museums. Telling us interesting stories and trying to get us up to speed on the history of the of Russian people. What a torrid life they have had through the times. We saw buildings where famous writers lived. Famous people like Tchaikovsky lived and died. It was great. Rasputin's story and his untimely death. The Romanovs and their interesting lives.

This gracious and very large building is called the Hermitage. It was the Winter Palace in the old days and now is a massive museum. If you stopped for 3 secs at every exhibit you would take 13 years to see it all. That was going every day and every minute of that day. The building houses 10% of all the collection they have. They are building another museum, huge as well and that will house only another 5%. So much history.

Another peek at this beautiful icon the daylight. I can't tell you how impressed we are with the architecture. Each facet has a meaning.

The dome signifies where Peter the great was killed. The church was built to commemorate the spot where he was assassinated.
Of course Babushka dolls are high on the tourist souvenirs. There were 30 stalls selling pretty much all the same things. There is an art to selecting a doll. First how many pieces do you need. Up to 16 if you want a giant doll. 3 little dolls if you don't have much space. Then you need to know the quality of the wood. Then whether they are hand painted or machine, covered with lacquer or bees wax. Lots of secret talking between buyers and sellers. Very tiring, negotiating.

The plaques on the side of the church are the coats of arms of the territories in St Petersburg.

I said I took lots of photos of this church and it's domes. You should see what is still on the camera.
Cafe Singer's exterior was beautiful. The Cafe Singer was built by the Singer company. They were the first company allowed into Russia from USA. They were an insurance company. The interior was richly decorated. The cafe was situated amongst a wonderful book store. Coffee and views were great.
This cathedral was around the corer from our hostel. We went looking for a supermarket. It's not even on the guide map.
First signs of Autumn
Peterhof Palace gardens.

We decided to catch a metro and then a bus out to the summer palace. We left early in the morning to beat the tour groups. Most people catch a hydrofoil out there and back costs a lot plus we wanted to see what the outer areas of St Petersburg were like. We enjoyed the bus ride, it was on a mini bus 13 persons size. We were able to see how the outer area has developed. Lots of apartment blocks. Some were brand new, others were really run down. Very clean roads as the centre of St Petersburg is. The gardens and lawn areas along the roads sides were so refreshing. We passed many beautiful buildings and homes. Very little graffiti or rubbish lying around. We missed our stop and arrived at the end of the line. The poor driver was beside himself as he forgot to tell us. We didn't mind as we were enjoying watching people get on and off, going to work. We eventually arrived. An hour later than we thought we were going to.

We had decided just to see the gardens and not the inside of the palace.

Fountains everywhere. They are revered by the Russians as a celebration of life. They have a lot of festivals the palace. White nights festivals for the long days of light and the opening of the summer season. Very luxurious decorations and statues.

What an awesome place to stay for the summer. They knew the perfect place to have their shack by the sea side.

No water restrictions here..lots of water flowing through them.

We even found Adam and Eve fountains in the gardens.

At the end of the day we decided to catch the hydrofoil home. That in itself was a great experience as we were dropped off at a different part of St Petersburg and were able to meander our way back home.