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Kel&Cez’s Travel Diary

Saturday, 28 Jan 2006

Location: St. Petersburg, Russia

MapZdravstvuite (Hello)!

In leaving Moscow, we caught an overnight train to St. Petersburg and were lucky enough to have a first class sleeper cabin (awesome!). It was just the two of us in the cabin and we had to laugh as the other people in our tour group (a really nice couple from Sydney who were only a few years younger than us) didn't realise that if you pulled the seat cover back, you had a bed with sheets, pillow and blanket at your disposal! The poor people slept in all their clothes and without any covers!

Anyway, upon arriving in St Pete's, we were again met by a local guide who took us to our hotel (Hotel Pribaltyskaya) which was right on the Gulf of Finland but in a pretty dodgy area. We were taken on a quick tour of the city and shown most of the major museums, palaces, landmarks, statues etcetera. Unfortunately, we found St Pete's to be in a somewhat average state of repair, especially after the beauty of Moscow. We were advised by both guides and others that this is because Moscow receives a lot of funding whereas the rest of the country has to make do with a much smaller slice of the pie. Don't get me wrong, we thought the place to be fantastic and are extremely glad and fortunate to have visited it but think the city needs a bit of money sent it's way for general tidying and restoration works. The temperature wasn't nearly as cold as Moscow (a mere -5) and it snowed for 80% of the time we were there which was beautiful!

Some of the highlights of our trip to St Pete's were:

1. Visiting the Hermitage Museum - this is a monumental compound which was formerly the royal family's Winter Palace. The museum is now made up of five buildings and houses one of the world's most important art collections with the catalogue apparently boasting over three million items (not all are displayed, obviously).

2. The Yusopov Palace - from an imported marble staircase (the family had to buy the entire palace from which this staircase was originally a part of) to a Moroccan-style bathroom at least twice the size of any of the bedrooms to a beautiful library to fake marble pillars (more expensive than the real thing at the time!), papier-mache chandeliers and a private theatre, this palace is unparallelled in sheer grandeur by any other I've ever seen (especially considering the family were not of royal blood!). It also has a dark history - it's basement is the place where Rasputin was murdered.

3. Church of Spilled Blood - architecturally simliar to St Basil's, this church was built upon the place where Rasputin was finished off after he had managed to crawl from the earlier attempt on his life.

4. Peter and Paul Fortress - although the photos show it to be a ways away (foggy conditions), it is extremely close to the heart of the city. This was one of the first structures in St Pete's and the cathedral within its walls is the burial place for many Russian emperors and empresses (including Peter the Great).

5. Swan Lake at the Mariinsky Theatre - We were fortunate enough to see this performed at such a fantastic venue whilst sitting in the Czar's Box (see photos)! Also, it was the first time the lead (Odette) had performed in front of her home town so it was quite an emotional cast, crew and crowd. Awesome performances, especially by the Jester.

6. Pushkin Palace - Also known as the summer palace, it is located about an hour's drive from the city in a gorgeous little town. Much of it was destroyed in the second world war but the majority has been fully restored to what it once was. We were treated to some live singing in the band's room adjoining the ballroom where the acoustics were amazing! After each clapping our hands once, the echo sounded like an approaching helicopter!

The russians seem to have a knack for extravagance, all of the palaces and churches we saw were beautifully and very richly decorated and they make some of the other famous 'must sees' throughout europe extremely plain in comparison.

7. St Pete's metro experience - with some very clear and simple instructions on how to get back to the hotel - a 10 minute trip apparently - the four of us (tour group) headed out for a free afternoon without a guide. A few hours later (dusk turning into night) found us waiting at the specified metro station (the only direct route). After having purchased our tokens and then waiting for half an hour for the gates to open we finally found out that the station was now closed and none of the staff seemed to know why, it just was. Apparently this is quite a normal occurrence. So we moved to another station 100 metres down the road and proceeded to try and decipher the cryllic writing without even a dictionary or phrase book! Anyway, we finally made it back to the hotel after five line chanes, a bit of a hike, a bus ride and a trip time of just over one and a half hours!

8. Frozen Gulf of Finland - On our last morning in Russia (a Saturday), Kel and I headed out to the frozen Gulf of Finland for a bit of a walk. We were greeted by the biggest sporting field I've ever seen! Out on the Gulf there were families playing with sleds, innumerable cross-country skiers, a boys club that had set up a rally track that anyone with any type of car could turn up and have a crack and about 40 kite boarders and skiers (on the ice/snow). A very awesome sight.

9. Carey Gets Taken For A Ride - having been warned not to drink the tap water in Russia, we were constantly buying bottles of water. We had run out and it was my turn to go and buy some. Being the somewhat lazy person that I am, I decided to go to the hotel bar instead of the shop not even 100 metres down the road. I asked for bottle of evian (750ml) and thought she said two euro 30. A bit strange considering everything else was priced in roubles. So I gave her a 20 and didn't even check the change. On my way to the room I counted the change and had been charged 12 euro 30! Too embarrassed to go back and ask the barmaid if there had been a mistake, I covertly walked past and checked the price list. Yep, 750ml of evian water cost 12 euro 30! Kelly just shook her head at me.

Love you all and more stories soon,
Carey xxx.