And so it begins...

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January 4th 2009
Published: January 16th 2009
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The first day of my trip was full of mixed emotions in the truest sense of the phrase. It was difficult to tell whether I was excited, nervous, sad (for leaving the family), apprehensive or honestly even whether I was happy.

It had only been upon arrival at Heathrow when it truly sank in that I was actually going to be away from family, friends and, significantly, my comfort zone for over 9 months. Although waving goodbye to my family as I went through security at the airport was an extremely sad and unnerving moment, it was in some ways a real relief to be able to now focus on getting to my flight in time and to forget (as much as possible) the overwhelming feelings that had hit me the moment I woke up that morning.

Fortunately the first flight to Finland couldn't have been any more successful. It calmed me right down - I read some books, listened to some music and played battleships on my ipod but the thing that most affected me was the absolutely stunning sunset that greeted me upon descent into Helsinki airport. I could see miles upon miles of snow fields reflecting
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A typical street/waterway
the gorgeous red rays of the sunset that would trump anything I've ever seen in Sunset House. Many people know I can't stand cliches but as cheesy as it sounds, it almost seemed too beautiful to be a coincidence that whilst frantically worrying about anything and everything possible, I should see the kind of view I had dreamt about for close to 2 years only two hours into my trip. Even if there was nothing spiritual or mystical about the whole affair, it really reassured me and I was extremely thankful for that.

However, worries started to creep back in as we grounded and I realised that I only had 30 minutes to find the departure gate for my flight to St Petersburg. I rushed to the nearest screen and tried to figure out where to go but it was like reading another language - in fact it was another language - but fortunately the English text flashed on, I saw my gate and after quickly looking around, I noticed it was only 20 feet away from me.

It was a smooth process to get onto the plane heading for St Petersburg and other than a small delay
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View from our window
for straggling passengers, we were off. The flight was very short (only 45 mins) and it seemed that just as the seatbelt lights had gone off, the pilot put them back on for landing.

After landing, I successfully reclaimed my luggage and went through to meet my friend Adam in the airport lobby who had also travelled from Heathrow but via Frankfurt. I exchanged some cash and then after trying to prepare ourselves for the onslaught of the cold St Petersburgian night, we got a taxi into the city centre. Everything about the taxi ride felt extremely Russian from the ice cold air and snow to the smell of banana vodka petrol.

We eventually found our hostel and unfortunately it was very much an anti-climax. The door was just about hanging on its hinges, the floor tiles were cracked, broken and many were missing and it generally wasn't how we had originally imagined it based on the pictures on Anyway, it didn't really matter, we were in high-spirits and decided to try our luck with a walk along the sub-zero streets of St Petersburg. In fact it was only after stepping outside that we realised the temperature

Me on the staircase in the first hostel
was well beyond sub-zero and that a T-shirt and skimpy jumper would probably not hack it. Nevertheless it was a pleasant walk, crossing over the Venecian-esque waterways whilst trying to negotiate the ridiculously dangerous streets (tip: a green man does not mean cars will stop for you).

On the way back we decided to get some dinner from a local supermarket but desperate for any food, I settled for a 20p back of Cheetos as my first meal in Russia (don't worry mum, my diet got a lot better!) When we arrived back at the hostel we decided to call it a night.

The next morning, I had a look around the hostel, which only consisted of one corridor and 3 rooms before attempting to have a shower. Half-way through it, the shower head holder broke and in shock I pushed against the plastic walls, which actually bent them and shook the whole shower frame. The hot and cold taps in the sink were also the wrong way round and the toilet refused to flush but other than the shower, sink and toilet, the bathroom was great.

By now it was about time to leave and find the starting point for our trans-Siberian tour called 'The Vodka Train' and after stopping for probably the most refreshing Heineken I've ever had, we found the Na Savodoy hostel and waited for the other members of the group to arrive and thus begin our Trans-Siberian odyssey.....


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