Published: February 25th 2008January 25th 2008
Night time view off Nevsky Prospect
Church of the Saviour on Spilt Blood in the background
The train from Helskini to St Petersburg took about six hours (not too long at all considering the trips we have ahead of us). We arrived in St Petersburg in the afternoon...our first taste of Russia. We were both exicted and petrified at the same time. Nervous that we would be arrested and tried for murders we hadn't committed (we had heard this could happen) or would just end up having to sleep on the streets in the cold as we couldn't speak Russian or read Cyrillic.
Our first impressions: very busy (compared to Helsinki anyway!), lots of black (coats, cars, roads, mud) and a general feeling of reservedness and people showing very little emotion. This was an impression which would surface again every now and then but more often than not we found that people were extremely warm and friendly beneath the flat affect......perhaps showing more real or true emotion when it is due rather than a fake friendliness from the outset??? Perhaps as well a very recent history of strict communist ruling has necessitated the need to be uniform in emotion and behaviour.
We decided to walk into the city from the train station...both to get acquainted
with the city and to avoid having to work out Russian public transport so early in the trip. The walk turned out to be very scenic and we were able to begin brushing up on our Cyrillic on the way in with our attempts to read street signs. We passed many famous buildings and sites on the way in, stopping to catch our breath, play in the snow and take photos. We found the place where our hostel was supposed to be but could not find the hostel! Spent about half an hour wandering up and down the same street before we finally braved an entrance to a big old building with no signs on the door and scaffolding littering the staircase. Turned out it was our hostel as a printed sign on a doorway on the second floor attested! Checked in and so began our first taste of Russia and four days in the beautiful city of St Petersburg.
On our first night we felt we had deserved a beer or two and sampled many Russian brews from some of the bars and cafes around Nevsky Prospect. Once the munchies set in later in the night we were
delighted to find that KFC in Russia also sells beers!
The following day we decided to get our next train tickets purchased out of the way. Somewhat warily we went to the central ticketing office armed with the very little Russian we knew! The Russian's seem to be very patient, as the queue's at the ticket booth's seemed stopped in time. It took us probably close to two hours just to get to the front of the queue to buy our tickets! Given the line was only 10 people long it was somewhat frustating and nervous, we sure hoped we weren't in the wrong line. In the end, with the train details kindly written for us by the hostel, we managed to get tickets successfully!
We visited many sites and grand buildings, the most impressive being the huge Winter Palace and Hermitage museum and the cute and extravagant Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood. We also made it out to see the interesting Museum of Anthropology and Ethnology and the Museum of Zoology. Displays at these places included the remains of a huge woolly mammoth and a collection of malformed fetuses which had belonged to Peter the
Great. Interestingly he started this collection as a way of attempting to overcome some of the bizarre spiritual theories behind feotal abnormalities and provide the public with more scientific explanations.....quite advanced for the early 1700s.
For the first three days in St Petersburg we did not manage to find anyone else who spoke English (besides our hostel receptionist). It has been an amazing and challenging experience to be in a country where we are basically illiterate and mute! We are starting to learn how to read Cyrillic which has been very helpful. We walk around like small children who are just learning to read....stopping to sound out street signs and advertisments just to test our knowledge. Every now and then we will stumble across an English word written in Cyrillic such as 'pizza' and will exclaim loudly when we have worked it out!
On our last evening before boarding the train to Moscow we sampled some Russian foods and greasy beer snacks......greatly overindulging in both which helped us get to sleep soon after boarding the train.
There are more photos below