St Petersburg Night Tour

Last night (Saturday) I went on the tour to see the bridges being raised. They are raised to let the ships come through on the Neva River at night.

Apart from me the people on the tour were all Russians, so the tour operator at the hotel said either I go and the tour is all in Russian or I don’t go. As it was the last night in St Petersburg I went. It was amusing, they got on and off the bus frequently and often at places I had already been to, but I got on and off every time in case we were suddenly going to get on a boat. I kept my one  eye on the tour operator the whole time. We got back to the hotel at 2:30am so I have been a bit tired today (Sunday).

It was worth it though to see the city lit up at night. Once the bridges were raised a ship sailed past straight away.

Raised bridges (from Casa Leto)

The Russians also light candles, put them into square kits and send them up into the sky. It is very pretty seeing them floating up and dissapearing into the sky.

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Last day in Russia

Now it’s Saturday afternoon, and my bike is all put together and working – always a relief. The tape my son put on the bike to show where the seat and handlebars should be was a great help in setting up.

I have packed my stuff into two bags, one of the bags is already packed in the van and I will not see it again for five days so hopefully I have got it sorted. I remembered in time that I needed my passport to cross into Estonia in four days so was able to dig through and get this out. We can ask for something from our non-daily bag if it is urgent, but certainly I do not want to be the first – especially as the tour guides said at least three times “don’t pack your passport in your non travel bag”!

After packing I was tired so I decided to have a nap – luckily I had packed first because I woke up at 6pm which was the time we had to get our bags down to the van.

A number of the tour group were heading off to the summer gardens but I have already been so I headed up to the local James Cook (there are three in St Petersburgh). I had native steak caked in Parmesan, fresh garden salad and ludlow potatoes (these turned out to be brown baked fries I think). It was ok, not a lot of taste with the steak but good to try something different.

Tonight if there are enough people booked from the hotel I am going on a night tour to see the bridges being raised on the Neva River so the ships can pass through. I will not get back until 2am so will have to set my alarm. Tomorrow is a very short ride (only 45 km) so I can catch up on my sleep with a nap in the afternoon.

Points of interest

  • Russian supermarkets do not stock a lot of things that we take for granted such as plasters and snap lock bags. Luckily I worked out that an “Aптека” is a chemist and there is one just up the road so now I have two more boxes of plasters.
  • Russians do not acknowledge or thank you if you hold open a door for them or step aside to let them pass. I guess with the population you would be constantly stepping aside and saying thank you. On the other hand, as I have already mentioned, Russian children do stand up on the metro for older people.
  • At the supermarket there is only one door in and out the size of a standard front door at someone’s house, so unless you barge in you can be there for a long time. I have not yet got the knack of shoving my way in front of people, but if I lived here for a while I am sure it would quickly develop.

Today was 32 degrees and I have been eating the most ripe delicious peaches. It seems strange to have been in winter a week ago, and now be in the middle of summer. Apart from the first two days there has been no rain. Igor says that they get maybe 30 perfect summer days in the whole of summer and I have been lucky enough to have had five of them. Hopefully this will remain so for tomorrow.

So, tomorrow the tour begins – off to Lisbon we go.

Categories: Preparations, Russia | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Riders briefing and plan of attack

Hard to believe that I have been here for 7 days already!

I just had the first riders meeting and got to meet all the rest of the group – 19 riders in total, age range is mostly late 50s to early 60s, a lot of the group have retired.  There are three riders in their late 20s or very early 30s. Two have just got married and this is their honey moon. The tour guides: there are four tour staff, Christian the leader from Brazil, Miles the cook, and Ciaran and Gergo are the bike mechanics and one of them each day will be the sweep. The sweep is the person who rides at the back of the group.

Daily routine  

  • We get up and pack up our bags and tents (if camping) by 6:30 am. 6:30 am we have breakfast and then head off on the road.
  • The lunch truck will be each day at halfway point, give or take a few kms.
  • We will get to the stop point for that night by mid-afternoon, then we either make use of bike shop time or we have free time to explore.
  • Then we have riders briefing about the next day, put up tents if camping and have dinner. After that we have free time to explore. It is light until late for the first 6 weeks, we will be going to sleep in our tents in the light and waking up to the light.

Tomorrow (Sunday the 8th) we will leave here and ride all day in a convey  to Peterhof. The first day is only 45km so we will be there by midday. We are staying in a hotel so we will have all afternoon to explore –maybe I could have another go at seeing the castle? I will see, I have read the guidebook and there is nothing stand out about it – the gardens are the highlight so maybe will look around the rest of Peterhoff instead.

Plus my bike will of course be back together so can ride around Peterhof and give my poor feet a rest. I have looked at my bike a few times this week and considered putting it back together, but the cables and derailer etc look really complicated, and as I want to be able to ride it I decided rather than break something I will wait for the bike workshop today and leave it to the two mechanics.

Day two: Monday
We will be riding from Peterhof to Kingisepp: a total of 115kms. Mies advises it is mostly flat the first week so it gives us time to get adjusted. After two weeks of not riding I am itching to get back on the bike!

We have to wear a fluro vest with reflective strips for the whole ride.

Navigating will be interesting – at the riders meeting each night we will get an outline for the next day.
1.  They will give us the kilometres to each major turn and the names of key intersections
2. The  ride is flagged for us with orange tape at the main turns (but as Miles said we can not rely on that, as before in some towns the street cleaners or police had torn down all the flags before the riders got there)
3. Some of us have phones and gps and maps (I have all 3)
4. Plus we have the cellphone numbers of all four of the tour guides
5. Plus there is the sweeper at the back.

I still expect that there will be times I get lost but Christian says “Do not think of it as getting lost, think of it as an opportunity to interact with the locals”. I expect to have lots of these opportunities.

So today is about packing the stuff into two separate bags –one of the bags we only get on rest days, putting the bike together and getting ready to go.

I am going to walk up to the cynermarket (supermarket) and get snaplock bags (hopefully) and more plasters. My left foot has one small blister but my right foot is covered in them – I must put more pressure on one foot when I walk. The room cleaner must wonder what sort of wounds I have by the number of used plasters in the bin each day.

Interesting things today 

  • At the supermarkets, banks etc,  they put all the banknotes 50 rubble and bigger through a scanner to check it is not counterfeit. Either this is a significant problem here – which you wonder how it could be given the scrutiny – or Russians are by nature cautious.
  • There are beggars here, not a lot, but a few old women who sit with a cup in front of them, some of them do this for hours at a time. I see one old lady every day when I am going and coming back from the city. I always give her my coins. Sometimes it is quite a handful as they have many coins smaller than 1 c so it may seem a lot but in reality it may only be the equivalent of 10c. Igor says it is very hard for elderly people if they only have a pension it is not enough if they have no savings or family to help.
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Friday’s sightseeing adventures

Today I went to Peterhof to see the palace and the gardens. I went by hydro boat and went out to the Baltic Sea near the gulf of Finland. It took 30 minutes to get there. When I got there you could only buy tickets to the lower gardens at the first gate. I had a good look around – they go forever: fountains, statues, moats, small amazing buildings, also there is a beach.

Peterhof Lower Gardens, from Stephendanko)

I sat on the beach and rang my daughter Kelly as I was having trouble checking my credit card balance and needed her help. It was pretty amazing sitting on a beach in the sun talking to Kelly in winter in New Zealand. I was lucky enough that Kelly was with two of my other daughters – Tracey and Shellbe – so I got to talk to them quickly as well.

After looking around the gardens I decided to see the palace. The notice in English said “tickets inside” so I joined the line and waited for ages. Every ten or so minutes a women would pop her head outside, have a look, and duck back in. Finally the line started to move, I got near the top and asked the lady at the door if tickets were inside and she pointed that way so I gave my bag to the cloakroom and joined the line. So I get to the entrance and the women starts yelling at me and pointing, and to the Japanese chap behind me. I figure out where I have to get tickets and ask where, at which points she starts screaming in my face. The Japanese man started having a major melt down so I left him to it. It was strange – none of the tourists even blinked an eye at the commotion.

So out I go to find the ticket office, I get to an office that says clearly in English “ticket office open”. There is a queue of confused looking people, and there is a Russian guard moving a crowd control fence backwards and forwards, and lots of people trying to talk to him. I finally get up to him and after 5 minutes of him moving the barrier backwards and forwards he gets frustrated with speaking Russian to me and says in English “tickets are closed, come back at 1600”. I don’t think so, it’s only 11:30am, I will not hang around till then!

I do lurk around for 30 or so minutes visiting the chapel etc and go back past the ticket office just in case. There he is moving the crowd control barrier backwards and forwards, speaking Russian, and there is another crowd of confused people. I wonder to myself why not just lock the door and put “come back at 4pm”?

The Peterhof Palace (from Wikipedia)

So I caught the boat back to the mainland and walked around for a couple of hours taking random photos, watching the crowds, and enjoying the sun – 20 degrees today! I then returned to my mission of finding the third floor at the Hermitage Museum and I do! I am pleased I found the third floor, there were some very nice paintings and statues including some paintings and pots by Picasso. I stayed at the museum for a couple of hours looking at stuff I had not taken in the previous time, and I also found my way back to the Peacock clock. I bought a DVD that has the museum and the clock opening in it.

Peacock Clock (from Wikipedia)

I also saw the hanging garden again which I imagined as different from the reality. There are a number of hanging gardens at the palaces, they are gardens above the ground floor that the rooms open onto like an upstairs courtyard.

I then decided to go back to a restaurant that Igor had taken me to on the first day called Terrassa. It is on a roof top with a nice view so I thought it would be a great place to have a meal and a cold wine. I was pretty pleased I managed to find it! I got shown to a table and there I sat. I got the attention of the wait person a few times but no menu, after 40 minutes of no service I got up and walked out. I did tell the maitre d’ why I was going – clearly the Russians do not like single women in their nice restaurants by themself either.

Instead I went to a place along the Nevsky Prospect and had a cold beer called a Blanc and seabass and vegetables and watched the crowds.

I was walking around with my headphones playing the music on my phone today. I am not sure what I have done but the music is a mix of a continuous one song of the Doors and one of Ludovico Einaudi  and so on.

Thoughts for the day

  • The Russians have lots of coins, they have 10c, 5c, 2c and 1c, and they also have smaller than 1c – one of which says 10. The metro ticket office people get quite excited if you try to use one of those by mistake.
  • When you go to the ticket office at the metro or the museum or anywhere, you can’t actually see the people, there is a gray screen with a slot in the bottom for you to put you money in. It’s quite disconcerting especially if you not really sure what you’re doing. They don’t like you looking up at the screen trying to see in either.
  • In Russia the tourist attractions are set up for Russians,and there is an assumption that if you are not in a tour you can speak Russian.

So please note, that is two days in a row I have not got lost! I am now going with Daphne, Shirley and Wally to have a drink. Tomorrow (Saturday) we meet the other riders and have our riders briefing.

Discover Catherine’s Peacock Clock (skip to 1:16 for the clock)

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Quick Friday morning update

This morning I met a number of the tour riders at breakfast: Rob a retired accountant, and Jenny a Doctor, both from Australia, John a retired professor from Canada,  Michel from Montreal – Michel has done two of these rides already including the tour d’Afrique (the tour that originally piqued my interest in all of this), Brett from Australia, and three  ladies in their 60s who have done 3 rides before – Daphne, Shirley and Wally. They look like they will be a lot of fun. Wally’s bike did not arrive with her but thankfully it arrived a day later. The riders are friendly and seem a down-to-earth bunch, my fears of being surrounded by gazelle-like athletes clad in Lycra that will be too fast for me are unfounded.

I am off to find the boat to Peterhoff and then plan on to returning to the Hermitage this afternoon. There is an amazing clock there I want to take a photo of, it was a gift to Catherine the Great (from one of her 22 lovers). It is the size of a phone box but longer. It is gold and has a peacock, an owl, a monkey and birds. When it strikes the hour the peacocks tail opens, the owl blinks and the monkey waves its hand – hard to explain but I think it is fantastic.

Plus I do not like things to defeat me so I am going to have another go at finding the third floor at the Hermitage!

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Lost in translation

Today (Thursday) I got up and got to the bus stop in time for the trip to Pushkin to see the Catherine Palace (designed by Rastrelli). What I had not realized was that I had been booked on a Russian speaking tour, for Russian tourists! Luckily I was sitting next to a very nice lady – Irene, and her grandson. Irene is a English teacher so she was able to translate the main features of the tour for me.

When we got inside the Palace we had to put slipper covers over our feet and put on an audio system, I did try to explain I was English but realized that until I had an ear bud fixed in my ear I was not going any further. It was interesting for a while having Russian in one ear and Irene’s explanations in the other. Then the bleeding obvious occurred – turn off the sound you idiot.

Once again an amazing castle – beautiful rooms, statues, floors. There was a Roman bath house, and a band rotunda where we got to hear the most amazing Russian male singers.

Catherine Palace (from TopTravelLists)


This is also the place of the Amber Room, the 8th wonder of the world. It was looted by Nazis during the way, and the contents have never been recovered. A replica has been recreated, at the small cost of 12 million dollars, and reopened in 2004. The room is made up of thousands of pieces of amber, plus the room has pure gold fittings, the rest of the castle is covered in gold leaf.

The Amber Room (from MNSBC)


Without Irene this tour would have been a challenge, especially as the last 30 minutes was free time that we could do what we like – suddenly people went in all directions and without Irene I would have had no idea what was happening, or that we had to met the bus at 2 – or even where the bus was, as it was not where we had left it! This does explain why  the trip only cost $1,000 rubles (approx $40 NZD) in total for the bus and entry to the palace and garden. Irene is here for a week, and is was showing her 13 year old  Grandson around St Petersburg. I have traded email addresses with her so now I have made two Russian friends.

After returning from this trip I had coffee, and then as I have blisters from the days of serious walking, I decided to come back to the hotel to eat, it will be interesting to see what the menu is like.

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Things that have interested me today:

1. In Russia nobody wears hats and hardly anybody wears sun glasses.

2. Dogs roam around like they used to in New Zealand, in groups of two or three quite happily. No one seems to take any notice of them and they seem very placid.

3. Everywhere you go there are brides. Everyone wants to fit their wedding into the three months of summer, this means there are weddings every day at the castles. Today we saw five wedding groups. The males wear cream suits and the brides wear white traditional meringue looking dresses (not sure of the spelling, I mean the small Pavlova things).

4. Most Russians – unless they are wealthy – live out in what they call the districts, they go on for miles. Igor catches the metro and then the bus to get home. Today on the way to Catherine Palace we drove for an hour and still had not gone past them all. They look like block after block of council flats, but in brick. There are clusters of 5 to 6 of them but are surrounded by nice park areas.

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I have managed to get through the whole day on my own and not get lost!

Two more days until the bike ride starts, one more day of being a tourist. Saturday is rider briefing and putting the bike together.

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Lost in Russia III

Once again up early and onto the Metro to Nevesky Prospekt (spelt it wrong yesterday). I met Igor for a tour on foot around the many and various interesting St Petersburg sights. So many bridges, statues, cathedrals, parks, and a castle.

Sites today:
Alexandrisky theatre and ballet building
The Palace Square (designed by famous architect Carlo Rossi)
The Anichkov Bridge with four horse statues
An exhibit on Tsoi – an famous Russian rock star who died in a crash
St Michaels Castle
The Summer garden, which have just been restored and reopened two week ago
The Field of Mars, with an eternal flame for the Russian soldiers who died in the second world war
The Capella Opera hall and the three court yards

St Michaels Castle (from St

We also had coffee at Elessevs, which is the Kirkcaldie and Stains of St Petersburg (but posher). In the times of the Soviet Union it was the only place you could get luxury goods but at a very hefty price, well out of the range of the average worker. Igor told about how he used to have to queue for 2 to 3 hours to buy shoes and 2 hours for fruit such as bananas.

After this Igor left for work and I will not see him again this trip as he is working in the morning tomorrow and then going away until Sunday. Igor has made the last few days very special, I have been to places I would not have got to without him, plus I have been able to ask him endless questions about Russia. PLUS I have not got lost at all whilst with him.

I then went to the James Cook Pub, sat in the sunny courtyard and a cold beer and sorbet, which may sound a bit strange but was just what I wanted. After that I caught a double decker bus and went on a 1 ½ hour trip around St Petersburg and saw many of the same sites but from a different perspective.

Then I just sat for awhile on the Nevsky Prospekt, just watching people go past.

Nevsky Prospekt (from Panoramio)

When I decided it was time to return to the hotel, I went back to the same Metro that I have gone to the past 3 days in a row, into the same entrance and somehow I got lost!! Unbelievable this time, even I was surprised. I got off and had no idea where I was and could not simply go back the way I had came as the opposite line went elsewhere. I catch the blue line but the opposite line was red! But by looking at the Metro maps I worked out how to get back onto the blue line, phew!

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Things that have interested me today:

1. The shops open at 10am and all stay open to 10pm. There is one shop – Gostiny Dvor – that fronts onto the Nevsky Prospekt that covers 14 acres and is 4 stories high – you could do some serious shopping in there, but from my glance into the window I would say you would also have to have some serious money.

2. There are no campervans (or at least any that I have seen at any of the tourist sites)

3. In the winter it gets as low as 30 degrees below zero. Igor told me how he once walked 300 meters from the bus to his flat without his ears covered properly and he got frost bite.

This morning at breakfast I saw three people that could be tour riders (one was wearing Lycra, always a good clue) and tonight they are sitting in the bar but I have not yet gone up and introduced myself, as am not ready for this segment of my holiday to be over, I will spend plenty of time with them over the tour.  As they say loneliness is the pain of being alone but solitude is the glory.

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My daughter Kelly asked me what I do in the evening and what I eat.

As it is still light until midnight, I usually stop to buy something at a roadside cafe and return to the hotel. When I go to sleep it is still bright lights, and when I wake up it is light.

I have thought about going on the boat trip at night to see the lights but would be 1am in the morning and am not keen on then getting back with my sense of direction (or lack of, as my children would say). In my room I read but usually quickly fall asleep. I tried the TV last night because the hotel blurb said you can get English on one channel, but it was just snow, there were no other channels in English. I did watch the Simpson’s in Russian for a couple of minutes just for the novelty.

In terms of food in general, on every corner there are people selling hot dogs, drinks and ice cream. There are so many open cafes, it’s like Allen and Blair street – paved but with tables and  longer, hot sunshine and a few canals. There are lots of pastry shops here but also steak, salmon, sea food.  There is also KFC, Burger King, Subway, Pizza Hutt, and McDonalds. I went into McDonalds just to see what the spelling of the burgers was and if it was different food. The food was the same but it was funny seeing all the different names.

McDonalds in St Petersburg (from Wikipedia, 2004)

Food at McDonalds (from whyevolutionistrue)

I have yet to see a curry place or Chinese restaurant or takeaway. There are lots of cured meats, pickles, sauerkraut, cheeses, loaves, cheese cakes, pastries. It is like lots of small Moore Wilsons everywhere. Fantastic.

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My travel phone which worked perfectly in NZ will not ring out, although thankfully I can send and get texts. I have read the guide book cover to cover to no avail. There is a helpline to ring which would be fantastic if only I could actually ring it!

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Tomorrow I am going to Pushkins Palace and Gardens, Igor has taken me to the tour company, I have paid for my ticket and I have to meet them just past where I get off the metro. Friday I am going to Peterhoff Gardens and castle by boat.  Igor has dawn a map for from the palace square where I have met him twice. It is quite detailed so should be pretty foolproof but after today’s effort on the metro, well  .  . . .

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Lost in Russia II

Today I went to visit the Hermitage Museum (the main museum here). I caught the Metro, I popped out at  Neski Prospect and met Igor as arranged. The Hermitage opens at 10.30 so we got there at 10am, even so the queue was over an hour. Igor says it can be up to 3 hours sometimes. There were so many people, an endless sea of swarming tour groups clearly trying to see the place in an hour as they barge through stopping for 30 seconds at the pictures. I spent 5 hours there, it was fantastic but also overwhelming. There are 4 floors including the ground with one corridor on each but the rooms mostly flow into each other. The ground floor has 90 rooms, the 1st floor has 189, the 2nd floor has 303 and the 3rd has 85.

The Main Staircase of the New Hermitage (from The Hermitage)

What a place! It used to be a palace and one wing is still set up like when the Tsars lived there , glorious ballrooms, reception rooms, gold and marble columns marble floors with 12 types of wood inlaid.

There was a wing of Italian painters, a wing of Dutch, rooms filled with Rembrandt, Reuben, Leonardo de Vinci and other famous artists, and many priceless ornaments. On the ground floor were artefacts from Egypt – a room full of stuff from 4 BC !!! There were rooms full of Greek statues. It was unbelievable and well worth the visit.

Art of Ancient Rome of the 1st century BC – 4th century AD (from The Hermitage)

I had wanted to go to the 3rd floor, but Igor left to go to work after we had seen the other floors and I went to the cafe for a much needed break. And then to the great surprise of all who know and love me I could not find the 3rd floor!  I went over the Museum backwards and forwards, I asked directions at least 10 times and ended up in various parts of the Museum. Once I thought I was getting it finally but no, I ended up in the cloakroom (which of course I could not find without a few attempts when I went to leave). So after visiting the rest of the Museum – some of it multiple times – the Russian roomminders that I had asked for directions starting talking fast and jabbing their fingers mostly back to the way I had come. So I decided with the swarms of people to call it a day (then of course searched for awhile to re-find the cloakroom).

I then went and sat in the sun by the canal and had a cold beer. It was $20 – but a very enjoyable setting. I sat there reflecting that there is nothing I have to do for the rest of the day, nowhere to be, no one expecting me, the time is totally mine.

Observations of the day

  • I am really bad at walking on the wrong side of the pavement. Good practice for when I bike. I am ok when concentrating but start to drift once I start looking at the sites.
  • Russian supermarkets are called Cynermarkets and they are like our 4 Squares.
  • At the rivers and canals you see students painting and sketching the amazing buildings.

Tomorrow I am meeting Igor at the Neski Prospect Metro stop again, at 10am. I am not sure where we are going, he did tell me while we were at the Museum but I did not want to tell him that not only do I get lost, not really know any of the Russian poets, writers or paintings, but I am also fairly deaf, and very deaf in background noise. So tomorrow will be a surprise.

I have not yet seen any of the other bikers yet, I have been keeping an eye out and have not seen anyone who looks likely. They should start arriving from now onwards. Mind you, I guess I probably don’t look like someone who is going to bike over 6,000 kilometres either. For all I know could have sat next to a fellow biker at breakfast already.

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Today started with good news and bad news

Good news: I found the (previously lost) instructions to make phone calls with the travel sim, so I can now do that
Bad news: The charger for phone has gone on holiday as well, and refuses to work.

Note to self: always bring two. I was confident that Igor would be able to help me find another, however it is disconcerting to not be able to find out the time, I spent the first 1/2 of the day twisting my neck at angles to see people’s wrist watches.

Today I set out to catch the Metro to town to go to the The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood and Russian Art Museum and then meet Igor at the palace square at 3.30. Well, much to my surprise, and anyone who knows me, I did so without a hitch 😉

The cathedral is amazing, all mosaic panels on the inside and spectacular on the outside. It was very badly damaged in the second world war, and work was only started to restore it in 1972, it was open to public in 1980 but the restoration it is still ongoing.

Church of the Saviour on Blood (photo from FanPop)

Next I went to the Russian Art Museum, it was full of Russian art work, there were paintings dating back to the 12th century, unbelievable. One artist Valentin Serov died when he was 46 but has 5 large rooms of his art in this museum, and that’s only what’s in the ownership of this museum.

At the museum, and every other attraction, in every room is a Russian women employed to ensure you do not touch any of the walls or art. They have a chair and sit all day watching you.

I met Igor at 3pm and we went to a phone shop and I got a charger. It cost NZ$200 but at least I will now have the time and a phone again.

After getting the phone we went to the Peter and Paul Fortress built in 1703 by Peter the Great. Amazing views from the top of the battlements and interesting to see some of the places I have visited from the other side of the river.

Peter and Paul Fortress (from In Your Pocket)

A few observations of the city:

The St Petersburg traffic of course is on the opposite side of the road as what I am used to so I have to be careful. I also have to be careful as although the speed is meant to be 40km through the city, the cars are going much faster. I certainly would not recommend trying to duck across the road in between traffic like we do at home.

Smoking is very common here and people smoke every where – the restaurants, in hotel lobbies, taxis, even the ambulance crews drive around smoking.

It’s funny the things you miss when you are in another country and often not what you would expect: I miss being able to drink tea at the hotel, there are no jugs in the room or tea making facilities. So by breakfast I hit the restaurant like an addict looking for a fix. The cups are tiny so I gulp down 3 to 4 before even thinking about eating. Today I saw people using the porridge bowls as cups so they can get a decent size cup.

The Metros are amazing, they were built just before the second world war. You go down a very deep escalator to get to them, and they go under the river. There are 5 lines and they run constantly every 3-5 mins in the busy period and I asked Igor how often they ran off peak – he said every 10 minutes, unbelievable.
Also unbelievable is that on the way down the escalator all the Russians stand in single file so that if people are in a rush they can get past with no problem (such a rush they can’t wait the couple of minutes to the next train?).   I had not appreciated this system at first but after being nearly bowled twice I quickly learnt. The ride is very cheap, the equivalence of 10c (the only cheap thing I have found in St Petersburg but more on that later). Also the teenagers stand up to let the old women sit down. No, not me, I said old.

The weather is about 18 to 19 degrees, but although the weather report said it would be fine when I checked it before I left, so far each day there has been a couple of hours of very heavy rain. Unfortunately due to the weight restrictions with my luggage, the only water jacket I have is my riding jacket, which is a vivid yellow reflective jacket, which happens to be the very same style and color as worn by the street cleaners. So if I get rubbish that needs seeping pointed out to me I will know why.

The average wage in St Petersburg is equivalent to 6000 euro a year but it is a very expensive city, you could easily go through that in a fortnight. I have managed to spend $1500 in 3 days (this includes a trip to Pushkin to the Amber room, the 8th wonder of the world on Thursday). To give you an idea, a hamburger and chips cost NZ $40 at the hotel! Luckily for the bank balance this rate of spending will cease when the bike trip starts.

Categories: Russia | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Lost in Russia

When I went to sleep last night it was light – and when I woke up it was light! Not surprising given it doesn’t get dark till 11:30pm and dawn is at 4am, but twilight finishes at 1:15 and starts at 2:30!

I woke up around 6am and sorted out some stuff then went down to have breakfast. There were all sorts of different foods, some I will try over the next week and some … maybe not … but I settled on porridge and pancakes. The pancakes were what we would call pikelets and came with jam and a type of sticky custard.

At 8:40am I set off with my fail safe directions to met Igor at the palace square.  I felt quite  confident at first , then it started pouring and then I realized I was lost. I spoke to a couple of people but they did not speak English. To add to my confusion, there was a marathon taking place so every time I wanted to cross the street I had to dodge runners! At one intersection the green light to walk was not going and when I was waiting at a major intersection, there were two traffic police, one was yelling at me but of course it was in Russian so I had no idea what he was saying and he started to sound quite angry, so in the end I ran across a gap in the traffic and the runners. Probably what he had been yelling at me to do as he didn’t shout at me when I was running.

After walking for quite a while I found a taxi and arrived at the square.  It took me awhile to find Igor as our meeting point was also the finishing point for the marathon, and there was a crowd of people (I should have just followed the runners!). Luckily Igor was still waiting for me, even though I was nearly an hour late. Igor had not realized the marathon was  happening, but he was a gentlemen to not mention that the first runners had just come in, and had I been on time there wouldn’t have been a crowd.

The first thing we did was to go for a walk and see so many amazing buildings, palaces everywhere and cathedrals and buildings all with the most amazing and detailed sculptures, turrets, and intricate design. There are so many museums and art galleries I would need to be here for a month to visit them all. There is a museum of curiosities, the main museum has paintings by many famous artists and there is a huge museum with art of only Russian artists.

Today I saw the famous statue of Peter that took 12 years to build, and we went into St Isaac Cathedral – first we went up 250 steps to the 2nd level where you can walk around the outside and see the views. My mind is reeling with all the cathedrals, museum, and art galleries you could see. We then went inside, oh my god it was so beautiful, I had tears in my eyes. A lot of the paintings are not actually paintings but mosaic works. This place took 50 years to build and is on the site of 3 previous cathedrals. We then had something to eat at a restaurant made famous as Pushkin used to write his poetry there. He had supper there before he left for a duel – he died three days later from injuries from this duel.  Then we set off to St Catherine cathedral, which was also beautiful .

We went on a boat trip around the waterways river and canal, and saw many beautiful things. We sailed around the Peter and Paul fortress. Igor took me and showed me where the Russian Museum was next to a cathedral that
was built for the memory of Alex the 2nd to commemorate the spot where he was killed.

Igor then arranged that tomorrow I will meet him at the same place as today but in the afternoon and I will visit the Russian museum and the above cathedral first.

To facilitate this happening, Igor took me to the Metro and caught the Metro with me and then walked me to where I could see the hotel, thereby ensuring that I would not keep him waiting tomorrow and would get back to my hotel safely. He also programmed his cell phone and a taxi number into my phone for me.

I have taken lots of photos but even if I could follow instructions in Russian, the internet terminal here was born long before this technology was possible. So I will do this when I am able.

Now I’m off to put plasters on a couple of blisters, have something to eat and then bed. It is 9:17pm here, so about 5am in New Zealand I think.

Categories: Russia | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments