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The Travel Journal of Jacqui and Lars

 

Russia - 30 August, 2003

 

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Location Latitude Longitude Elevation

Travel Distance

Start Aboard Train #059 -  Volga (Vladimir to St. Petersburg) . . . .
St. Petersburg train station . . . 650 km (by train)
St. Petersburg (home stay on Gorokhovaya) N5956.353' E03018.898' 7 meters 5 km (by car)
-  Tour city . . . .
Finish St. Petersburg (home stay on Gorokhovaya) N5956.353' E03018.898' 7 meters .

Total (by train):

12,986 km

Total (Mongolia):

2,880 km

Total (Kamchatka):

1,339 km

Total (other):

1,079 km

Total:

18,284 km

 

Weather: Overcast and cool.  Rain in the evening.

 

 

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We have a bit of a lazy morning on the train - we do not arrive to early in the morning, so we just laze around in our bunks for a while.  Around 9 AM we slowly get up, get ready and sort out our stuff while we have a light breakfast snack.  Our train pulls into St. Petersburg  - KM 460, and we take our time to get off the train.  Everyone seems to be in a rush and some of them have lots of baggage, so it is a bit chaotic in the narrow corridor.  Soon, however, we are out on the platform and we are met by Larisa through whom we have arranged our accommodation in St. Petersburg.

 

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She helps us navigate through the overly crowded train station and soon we are on the street waiting for our car to fight it's way through the massive traffic jam situated in front of the train station.  It feels like we have just been beamed up from rural Siberia to the most European of Russia's cities.  It is two different worlds.  With the help of the modern technological marvel known as the cell phone, we are soon able to track down our car and driver.  He stops in the middle of the road and we quickly throw our bags in the boot and hop in ourselves.  But no need to rush - the traffic has not moved at all during this rushed operation.

 

After some artful navigation through the grid-locked cars, we are able to make our way around the round-about in front of the Moskovskiy train station and proceed with greater speed up St. Petersburg main street - the famous Nevskiy Prospekt.  We drive the full length of the road, turning off just at the end to head into the street where we will be staying for the next 5 days or so.  We have arranged for a home stay on Gorokhovaya that turns out to be just magnificent and, the best of all, at a reasonable price.

 

We are on the top floor of a four story apartment building right in the heart of the city near the Admiralty, Winter Palace and the Hermitage.  It is a huge apartment, especially by Russian standards and we have our own nice room with double bed and a separate bathroom with shower.  Our hostess is a kind elderly lady that warmly welcomes us into her home.  We are shown around and we quickly settle in.  This has been our best accommodation in all of Russia and also one of the most reasonable in terms of costs.  We are very pleased.

 

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At noon, we head out to do some exploring of the city and to get our bearings.  First, it is over to the Admiralty, where we are just in time to witness a graduation ceremony for the latest batch of cadets.  Then it is down to Nevskiy Prospekt, where we admire the many beautiful buildings that line the street.  There is so much history packed into such a small area.  We have a light snack at one of the many cafes that line the street.  While they had no menu in English, we were able to point at the items in the glass counter.

 

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After our snack, we wandered further down the street, turning left into Kanala Griboedova towards the Church on Spilled Blood (Russia's bloody history is reflected in the names of their churches), stopping first at an internet cafe to check our emails (it has been some time since we have last been able to see what has been happening).  Then it is on to the Church on Spilled Blood.  What an amazing church - it is certainly one of the more impressive ones we have seen in Russian and, as we soon discover, much better than St. Basils in Moscow's Red Square.

 

But we also soon discover how how much St. Petersburg (and Moscow) wants to take advantage of foreign tourists and gouge as much money as possible out if them.  We are charged a much higher price than locals to get in (at times this multiple would be over 10 times or greater), and then they want to charge very high fees to take pictures or videos.  It will get even worse.  Anyway, we are here, so we will see the sites that are the most important to us.

 

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Well, the Church on Spilled Blood is certainly beautiful.  While it is not a huge church, we spent quite some time wandering around the interior taking in all the paintings and frescoes that cover the walls and columns of the church.

 

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In addition, there are a wide range of mosaics on the interior and exterior that have been made with over 20 types of minerals.  It is a very rich church and the exterior of the church is just alive with colors, shapes and images.

 

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So, once we have finished checking out the interior, we head out to spend some time looking over the exterior with its numerous onion domes that come in a variety of shapes and colors.  Some are plain gold, while others are covered in a kaleidoscope of jeweler's enamel tiles in a spiral or checkerboard pattern.

 

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From the church, we make our way over to the souvenir market with numerous stalls selling all sorts of stuff - usually at highly inflated prices.  We were glad that we had purchased lots of stuff before coming to St. Petersburg and Moscow.  Then it is on to the Field of Mars and the Neva River.  We continued our quick orientation of the city by returning to Nevskiy Prospekt, where we found one of the best places in St. Petersburg to get a snack - the many small, round stalls that freshly prepare blinis with all kinds of stuffing.

 

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One of our primary objectives while in St. Petersburg is to go to the Mariinskiy Theater to see a ballet, but it is still closed for the summer, so we need to find an alternative.  We decide to go and check out the Aleksandrinskiy Theater and see if they have anything to offer us.  On the way there we pass the statue of Catherine the Great.  It is an interesting statue, the only one to her in all of St. Petersburg, with Catherine regally standing above her statesmen and other notables from her time.

 

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From the statue we make our way to the theater and go and check out the box office.  We are lucky - they have a ballet tonight.  We ask about the tickets that are available and discover that they are very expensive.  Later on we find out that they have differential pricing for locals and foreigners.  But as we were coming in an old lady had offered to sell us some tickets at a much cheaper price.  We decide to see what she has to offer.  We take a look at the tickets and they seem to be real and the seats in a OK spot, even though we cannot really check.  As we are checking out the tickets, another guy comes along and he starts to inquire about them.  But after a short while of back and forth, the lady says to us (when the guy has gone off to get some more money) that she does not like him and wants to sell the tickets to us.  In the end, we decide to go for it and buy the tickets from her.  We would rather have the extra money go to the old lady than to the state owned theater.

 

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From the theater, we go back through the park and cross over to the other side of Nevskiy Prospekt to check out the scrumptious food on offer at the Yeliseev's delicatessen located on the ground floor of a beautiful Style-Moderne decor building.  The interior of the food emporium is as rich as the food and they have everything on offer from champagne to caviar to cheese to every other delicacy one could imagine.

 

But we do not have too much time to examine all the food - we have to get back and get ready for the ballet.  We walk back up Nevskiy Prospekt to our apartment (at least while we are in St. Petersburg), where we shower and change into our best set of clothing.  This is the first time we have had the opportunity to pull out this set of clothes and they are a bit wrinkled.  But it will have to do.

 

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We are running late, so we only have time for a quick bite to eat before we walk back down Nevskiy to the theater.  The weather has changed for the worse and it looks very threatening and a few drops of rain fall.  We arrive at the theater just on time and pass through the security as we enter the main lobby.  We are glad for the hassles of the security - we do not want a repeat of the hostage taking in the theater in Moscow.  We are a couple of levels up and we find our way up to the right floor with the help of a few of the ushers.  We must clearly have a Russian ticket as they try to speak Russian to us - we are lucky and they do not challenge us and ask how we got these tickets.

 

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We are sitting in one of the many booths that line the curved horse-shoe shaped wall.  The usher in charge of our area shows us to our booth, using a door handle that she keeps stored in her pocket to open the door from which the handle has been removed.  Once in the booth we check to make sure there is a handle on the other side - there is.  This is clearly a way of keeping people out who do not have tickets for these seats.  Our booth is very small and sits six people - we have two in the first row.  At first we are joined by two others, but they move soon after the performance begins, so we have plenty of room in what would have otherwise been a very cramped booth.  Some people try to move chairs and seats around, but the usher will not tolerate any such behavior and she is willing to yell across several booths to correct and such deviant behavior.  She almost seems to take delight in her power that she wields in this small empire of hers.

 

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The lights fade and our performance of Swan Lake by the Russian State Ballet soon begins.  It is magical and we just sit back and enjoy the music and dance.  The performance lasts almost three hours and we are back out on the street at 10:30 PM.  It has started to rain, so we quickly make our way back up Nevskiy.  But to escape some of the worst of the rain and to get some food, we decide to take a break at one of the many cafes that line the street before returning to our apartment.

 

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