April 13, 2012. (This was not a backpacking trip.) The cheapest round trip ticket from Krakow to St. Petersburg I found was with Lufthansa which had a 3 hr stopover at Munich. I had time to walked around Munich airport and found a Meditation and Prayer Room so I spend some time there alone which was wonderful. The second flight was delayed 20 min. In St. Petersburg, at the passport control, each person took 3-5 minutes with the immigration officer. On the plane, they announced that within a week of arrival, foreign nationals must register at the Ministry of Interior. On the immigration card we filled out, it said that within 3 days, you must register with the Ministry of the Interior. At the passport counter, the person scrutinized my boarding pass and asked a few questions and didn't take too long. Ibri (my son who I was visiting) came to the airport to pick me up with a Russian friend who had a car. I told him about registering with the Ministry of Interior and he said that nobody does that anymore so I never did. We did some research after and found that you need to register only if
you are going to remote places in Russia or if you look like someone from a former Soviet Republic like Georgia or Kazakstan because the procedure is mainly for people who might be illegal or are up to no good. So, register yourself if you plan on getting into trouble or if you look like trouble. 😊
Traffic out of the airport was really bad. We didn't have far to go but it took forever. Ibri lived at the university dormitory and it was like going back in time 50 years. I had to leave my passport with the entrance security to go in. The building was really high and the elevators were really tiny, made for only 2 people. The building inside was super old and dilapidated. Thank god a new kitchen and toilets were recently installed on his floor. As expected, his room was tiny and he had a roommate. Everything was pretty much what I experienced in dormitories in China when I was there 25 years ago (for local Chinese students, not foreign students; foreign students in China always had better accommodation). Each floor is locked and you need a key to go in and out so I always had to wait for someone to be leaving to get out of the building.
I was surprised that food in the supermarket was not cheap. The metro was really convenient and easy to use. Some of the stations were really deep underground. The exit escalator can take up to 3-5 minutes to get to the top such as the ones at Admiralteyskaya or Komendantskíy Prospekt. Make sure you want to exit the metro before you step onto an escalator because there's no going back once you're on the escalator which will take you up and out of the metro directly. St. Petersburg is a very young city compared to others in Russia. Pskof has existed since 900 ACE and Tomsk from 1600 ACE.
The ice breaking up in the river by the Hermitage was really beautiful in the sunlight. I visited the usual places. To go into an orthodox church, a woman must cover her head, wear no make-up, and wear a skirt or dress, and men must remove their hat. Because the Kazan Cathedral is very touristic, it only requires women to cover their head. The Hermitage had a lot of Louis XIV style rooms which is a style I dislike the most. The paintings were awesome, though. I saw Renoir, Monet, Cézanne, Picasso, Matisse, Gaugain, etc. I loved a painting by Louis Valtat. The section with Siberian artefacts was fascinating. I discovered that Buddhists were in the Caucasus first before the Turkic peoples (Mongols and Huns) arrived. These were followed by the Armenians and finally the Slavs. The Egyptian section and most of the exhibits on the first floor were only in Russian. There were so many different styles of architecture and decor, different types of construction on each floor or section or rooms that my mind was completely boggled. I saw paintings of Tsar Nicholas II and also paintings of his wife but I didn't see any of their children. Many sections were closed for renovation.
I met a CSer who told me that when the Germans invaded Russia during WWII, they never came to St. Petersburg. They removed all the Jews they could find but because they were only in the western part of Russia, there were still many Jews left. After the war, many Jews went to Israel and about 1/4 of the people in Israel are from Russia. Official announcements in Israel are in Hebrew, English and Russian. Today, there are still Jews left in Russia. There are no Jewish ghettos or neighbourhoods in St. Petersburg because during the Tsar era, Jews were not allowed to live in cities. This is why many Jews supported the October Revolution because it meant the end of restrictive laws against Jews even though by then, Jews were already beginning to move to cities. In Russia, Tartar is a general word used for any Turkic-related peoples native to Russia.
April 25, 2012. I took bus #13 from Moskovskaya metro station to go to the airport. For some reason, the train stations in St. Petersburg were much bigger and better than the airport. I didn't understand why the metro stations were built in such grand fashion and the airport was very small and very primitive. Only passengers were allowed into the area for checking in.
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