The journey to St. Petersburg from Tallinn was long, about eight hours in total, but luckily went fairly smoothly… as smoothly as you could hope for an encounter with the Russian passport authorities to go. After driving for several hours, the bus arrived at the Estonian-Russian border, and we had to file off of the bus, collect our bags and stand in line to be admitted into Russia. When my turn came, I presented my passport, and looked the woman in the eyes confidently, knowing that everything was in order with my visa and my plans… I had made sure of it. She alternately eyed my passport and then me with great scrutiny, as though she suspected that something was amiss. I can only postulate that she thought it was not actually my passport; it’s three years old now, and personally, I don’t think that the picture looks exactly like me anymore. Despite whatever suspicions she may have had, she stamped my passport and I got back on the bus to continue the journey to St. Petersburg. The rest of the journey was problem free, and after a few more hours, I was in St. Petersburg. The bus journey concluded at a train station, from which I took the metro to the stop closest to my hostel, as per the instructions listed on the hostel’s website. After exiting the metro, it became quickly apparent that the instructions proceeding those describing the metro journey were absolutely useless. I wandered around hopelessly for a good thirty minutes before seeking asylum in a coffee shop in order to consult the internet for clearer directions. After verifying my location with a girl working at the coffee shop, I was able to make some sense of where I needed to go, and after finishing my coffee, I headed off in search of my destination. It didn’t help that the hostel’s location was incorrectly marked on the map from the website, an inconvenience that resulted in a waste of even more of my time, but finally, I found my hostel. Upon arriving in Russia, it is required that you register your visa, which is something that any hostel or hotel will take care of you, for a price. This must be done within three business days of arrival in the city in which you are staying, and if you travel to multiple places, you must register in each place. Failure to do so will result in serious penalties if you are caught. With this in mind, I checked in, and inquired about registering my visa, and was told that it would be ready for me in the morning. I was shown to my room and then the receptionist said “Oh, no, we won’t have your registration taken care of by tomorrow, because the office doesn’t operate today. We’ll get it sorted out tomorrow.” I was satisfied with that, and began to settle into my bed, and shortly thereafter went to bed because by this time it was about 10PM and I was tired from the day’s travel.
I woke on Sunday and took my sweet time to bundle up to brave the cold and get ready for the day. When I emerged downstairs, I inquired about my registration and was told it would be ready later that day. With that, I went off to explore the city. I headed North, and effortlessly found the monument to Nicolas I, which stands in front of the Mariinsky Palace, and St Isaac’s Cathedral, both of which are very impressive buildings. I waked on further and passed the Winter Palace, also known as the Hermitage museum, which, I would describe as a Russian Louvre museum… so. much. art. I did not go into the museum at this time, because its collection is so extensive, that one truly needs to devote a day to the museum. I continued to walk around the city and found the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, which I found to be the most impressive church in St. Petersburg; it was definitely my favorite sight in all of the city. I went inside, and the interior was even more magnificent than the exterior, which is playful and colorful, with candy swirl domes. I waked back to my hostel by way of long streets of shops, and icy streets. The weather in St. Petersburg was freezing or worse during the daytime, which was to be expected, but the particularly nasty aspect of the harsh winter was the fact that the sidewalks had developed a perpetual, almost invisibly thin layer of ice, which meant that it was necessary to take the most delicate of steps in order not to fall. I made my way back to the hostel and stayed up talking to my Arizona loves.
On Monday, I enjoyed the fact that I had my dorm room of 12 beds all to myself, and I slept in. I showered, and after an embarrassingly late start, I headed towards the shopping area to seek out a coffee shop so that I could a coffee and a sandwich. After lunch, I walked by way of the Church of Christ the Savior on Spilled Blood again, which, by the way, got its name from an murder attempt on Tsar Alexander II in 1881. He was in his carriage, and a man set off a bomb meant to kill Alexander II, killing himself in the process. This failed, but there was a second suicide bomber ready to pick up where the other man had failed. The second attack mortally wounded the Tsar, and he returned to his palace where he died within hours, but not without spilling blood at the site of this church. His son had the church built in honor of his father. Fascinating, huh!? Monday’s weather was far better than Sunday’s had been, and the skies were clear and blue, not dismal and grey, so I was able to get far better pictures of the church, which is of the utmost importance. After the church, I sought a souvenir shop that was purported to be excellent. Its wares were interesting, but horrendously pricy. I wanted to buy some matryoshka (Russian nesting dolls), but my word… they are expensive! The rest of the day was spent reading and internetting back at the hostel; the hostel seemed to be quiet empty, and as I had the room to myself, I enjoyed another night talking to my AZ lovelies.
On Tuesday I had another late start, and then had lunch in the restaurant in the hostel common area. I inquired as to the state of my registration, and was assured that yes, it would be ready by the night. I went off on my way, and went to explore the Peter and Paul Fortress, passing by way of the Mikhaylovskiy Castle, and the Summer Garden, which of course, was barren at the time. The Fortress was interesting, though I didn’t take a tour as I had been advised that it was not worth it and that it was several hours of seeing the same thing, over and over. Interesting fact: It is the original citadel of St. Petersburg, and was founded was Peter the Great in 1703. I returned to my hostel after a long day of exploring the city, and again, returned via the shopping streets, but not before slipping on the ubiquitous thin layer of ice that I mentioned earlier.
Wednesday was my last day in St Petersburg, as I was leaving that night by an overnight train to Moscow. This was my day of choice to explore the Hermitage Museum… which was just vast. I spent hours admiring their boast-worthy Rembrandt collection, the Russian works, their exhibitions of fine Chinese furniture and decoration, amongst countless other pieces. At the end of it all, I was, as I overheard some Australians say as they left the museum, “arted out.” It truly is an overwhelming experience. I think that, like the Louvre, it would be far better to tackle over the course of many days, in order to fully appreciate the magnificence of what the museum has to present. The museum itself was exquisite, which is to be expected because it used to be the Winter Palace, which housed Russian emperors. After the museum, I has several hours to spend before I needed to catch my train. My train was due to depart at 11PM, and I planned to depart for the station at about 8:30PM. With my remaining time, I went and got a coffee and browsed the shopping mall by the metro station. I went back to the hostel to pick up my bag and then head off to the station, and it was not until this point in time, that I finally got my visa registration, which I had had to discuss in depth with the girl at reception that morning. I was disgusted with how my registration had been so casually overlooked for the past five days, because this is no insignificant matter. Had I been approached by a police officer who asked for my registration, I could have gotten in a lot of trouble. Granted, it was taken care of on the third business day of my stay in St. Petersburg, which is how long you have to get the registration sorted out, so everything was properly in order. The thing that bothers me though, is had I not been persistent about it, nothing would have been done at all, and I would have been the one to get in trouble for it. If you’re ever in St. Petersburg, I would strongly advise you not to stay at the Crazy Duck Hostel.
With my registration finally taken care of, I headed to the train station, and had to attempt to retrieve my ticket from a machine that didn’t offer instructions in any language other than Russian. Luckily, a kind stranger came to my aid, and I got my ticket. At 11PM, I boarded the train, and I found the whole experience of the 3rd class carriage on the night train to be hugely amusing, but I’ll tell you all about that in the Moscow entry.
St. Isaac’s Cathedral
The Winter Palace/Hermitage Museum
Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood
The gorgeous interior of Christ the Savior on Spilled Blood
The domed ceiling of the Church of Christ the Savior
Can you tell that I really liked this buiding?? It looks like candy!
A city view complete with half frozen river
In the Peter and Paul Fortress
A view of the Winter Palace taken from across the River Neva, which is TOTALLY frozen over.
A perfume bottle in the Hermitage Museum
One of the rooms in the Hermitage Museum