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Published: February 14th 2019
R: The next day brought spaghetti and sticky pastries on the hotel breakfast. We decided to split up this day, Cate and myself going to look at a royal palace outside of town, while Clare and Richard took a boat trip on the river.
Our trip started with a subway journey to Moscovskaya metro station. Most people have heard about the Moscow metro system but I can confirm that parts of the St. Petersburg metro are just as pretty, though maybe not on quite as grand a scale. St. Petersburg, and in specific, the station we got on at, had recently had a terrorist attack just before we visited. There was no sign of this, however the level of policing was fairly high. This turned out to be the norm in Russia, as I will comment on in our Moscow blogs. Once we got to Moscovskaya, a huge hulking Soviet edifice in the south of the city, we took a Maratkuska (shared minibus) out to Puskin, a small town outside St. Petersburg. This turned out to be a fun ride, and we befriended an old lady who repeatedly gestured to stay sitting down until the right stop - though we
did start to wonder if it was some kind of joke - but she was right, and saved us getting off several KMs before our intended stop.
We were at Catherine Palace, a huge 18th century royal palace, previously built and named after Catherine I. It is extremely grand from the outside, surrounded by formal gardens. Though what you see now isn't really the real palace - it was heavily damaged by the Nazis in WW2 so it has been restored. The queue to get in was enormous. Every 15 minutes, a gate keeper opened the grand doors and let a few more people in. This served to build the anticipation to what lay ahead.... more queues. A confusing ticketing hall and bag storage area was behind this with very little in the way of English signage. We coped. Also, it turns out tourists in Russia, be they Russian or foreign, are not very good at queuing and anytime a guard was not watching, mass queue cutting took place, until the guard saw and removed people who had pushed. It would start again as soon as their backs were turned.
The interiors were grand, with lots of mirrors
and a whole room decorated with amber. This seemed to be most popular with other tourists who were shuffling round even slower than they were at the Hermitage. Russia sure feels crowded! We somehow got off the permitted route and had to hop a rope fence to get back on track. However, a guard saw us, and despite the other side of the rope also being a tourist area, we were forced backwards to the bit we had already come from. After some more shuffling around, we never found the bit of palace across the rope... After this we had a burrito on a plastic plate outside before exploring the grounds which were very photogenic. There were lots of colonnades, marble bridges and Turkish baths to view. The grounds also were teeming with red squirrels. After a good explore, it was back in the Maratkuska to St. Petersburg. We had dinner that night in a Georgian restaurant, which turned out to be quite entertaining after waiters dropped all the burning rocks from a Shisha column onto a diner. Luckily he wasn't hurt but he did leave with several holes in his shirt. The food was great - tasty breads, broths,
salads and shashlik. The only irritation was the rather insistent waitress who offered us bread multiple times. There is only so many ways you can find to refuse bread!
The next day we tried to tick off the remaining sights of St. P. This morning's breakfast choice was a sweet cheesecake. We took the metro over to the Peter and Paul fortress. On the way we wondered past a stunning blue mosque - see photos. We also learned what Hold the Door was in Russian - which seemed oddly significant having just watched "that episode" of Game of Thrones. The fortress itself was expensive for what it was - a sort of collection of military buildings on an island across from the main city. It did give good views back to the city and the attached space museum with Russian space vehicles etc. was pretty interesting. The tomb of the Romanovs is here, if you are interested in history. At this point, we split from Clare and Richard and headed on to have some lunch - we ended up in a Pierogi restaurant that Cate had researched which had great Borsch, Russian salads and some sort of garlic donuts.
Russian Salad, Borsch, Garlic Donuts
By this point, Cate was done with walking, so I continued a little bit more before heading back before our evening of culture.
We headed out for early dinner - a french resturaunt of all things and dropped by Nicholsky Cathedral - more of a real church than a tourist icon, and a picure all in blue and white. That evening we went to the Mariinski theatre to see a performance of Swan Lake. This was my first time at the ballet - I had a brought a shirt and smart shoes on this trip specially for this moment. The theatre is very grand and we enjoyed exploring it before and after the performance. Oddly in our area, the seats were just like padded dining chairs, apparently something to do with the acoustics. The performance was excellent, based on my extensive knowledge of ballet of course. A highlight was the moment the woman in front of me just turned around and stole the programme right off my lap. After much demonstrating in Russian, with the help of some people around us, we retrieved it. Not sure that would happen in the UK.
So then, after a short walk
home to view some of the beautifully lit up streets. We packed for Moscow. St. Petersburg was a great city - somewhat hampered by its relationship with cruise ship passengers - but well worth the trip all the same. I wonder what Moscow will feel like...
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