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Published: August 5th 2010
Peter and Paul FortressSt Petersburg & Novgorod
On the White Nights Boat Cruise
And so we departed Tallinn and headed to the most anticipated country of our trip, Russia. From Tallinn to St Petersburg took most of the day crossing flat farmland and pine forests, and included a three hour wait at the Russian border.
Our first day on the tour bus was when we realised we wouldn’t have to think again on this trip of we didn’t want to. We received information on each country, a language lesson, details of which public transport to take and suggestions of ways to spend our time in each given city. We did our best to plan our days around what we wanted to see, read up on countries we were visiting and make our own decisions.
Despite the long wait at the border our drive into St Petersburg was smooth and the difference crossing the border was only apparent in the increasing number of Ladas we saw, a large number of them broken down on the side of the roads.
Arriving in St Petersburg we checked into the St Petersburg Hotel which overlooks the River Neva and is exactly what we imagined a Russian hotel would look like.
Our rooms looked as if they were directly from the 1960s and the heavy air was thick from decades of cigarette smoke and the heat.
We were in the room in the St Petersburg hotel for the next 3 nights, not enough time to see everything that St Petersburg offers, but enough time to explore a little and enjoy the city.
Our first morning in St Petersburg gave us the opportunity to see some highlights and we visited St Isaacs Cathedral, the Egyptian sphinxes and took a walking tour of the Peter and Paul Fortress which included entering the very impressive Peter and Paul Cathedral which is the burial place of many of the Russian tsars including Peter the Great.
After having a dinner of borscht and pork near Our Church of the Saviour on the Spilled Blood we watched an impressive Russian folk show called ‘Feel Yourself Russian’ (we did have a little giggle at the title) before returning to the hotel for a few drinks in the bar. At about 12.15am the two of us left the hotel to walk to the Admiralty from where our ‘White Nights’ boat cruise would begin (another tip from
Mum and Dad - thanks!).
The streets around the River Neva were teeming with Russian holiday makers and the atmosphere was amazing. Like us, they had all stayed awake to watch the draw bridges open which happens only during the summer months. They stay up for differing lengths of time but if you get caught on the wrong side of the river during the night it is a long trip around or a long wait until they’re closed again.
Our trip left at 1.10am and by the time we reached the boat 10 minutes prior to departure there were three full boatloads of excited Russians waiting to depart. Following departure our boat, along with maybe 50 others, took us to each of the bridges where the draw bridges were opening. The raising of the draw bridges was accompanied by a lot of cheering, whistling and music. Seeing the draw bridges go up in succession was impressive but the real reason to drag ones self out of bed would be the atmosphere.
After the hour and a half trip they dropped us off on our side of the river from where we flagged a Lada to take us
back to our hotel. Through hand gestures and pointing at maps we managed to agree on a price. We think our driver may have been practicing for Lada rally driving as we flew through the back streets at top speed causing Al to concede that Ladas were obviously super fast! Our night almost came to a tragic end when a pedestrian who was almost across the road stopped to pick something up off the road and we missed him by millimetres.
The Hermitage and the Winter Palace were the next sights we visited after a fairly sleepless night. The Hermitage and the Winter Palace can be seen together and house so many extravagant ball rooms and priceless works of art that you could spend days wondering the rooms without seeing everything. Highlights for us included their enormous collection of Impressionist Art and being in a location steeped with so much history.
After spending most of the day at the Hermitage we walked down Nevsky Prospek, St Petersburg’s main shopping areat, having hotdogs from a stand, before heading back to the hotel to make up our lack of sleep on the previous night. We had a lovely meal in
a restaurant behind the hotel where we ate rabbit, pies and passion fruit beer before our bus ride to the city of Novgorod the following day.
Veliky Novgorod (Great Novgorod) is a small and significant ancient city between St Petersburg and Moscow where we spent a night. An afternoon walking tour around the numerous churches of Novgorod, the Kremlin and St Sophia Cathedral was organised for us. And then we disappeared off to watch children on their summer holidays diving and somersaulting into the river and marvelling at the packed local beach. Russia was in a heat wave and our nights were often sweaty and filled with mosquitoes, as was the one in Novgorod.
We left Novgorod early the following morning for one of our longest drive days and to our eastern most destination, Moscow.
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