Where East Meets West
11.09.2013 - 14.09.2013 20 °C
Up way too early we packed and walked to our airport bus which took just 45 mins to get to Arlanda airport to catch our flight from Stockholm to St Petersburg. We ended up arriving a little early to the airport, so had to wait before we could check-in. We decided to make up an airport version of the Nelly game; the Dolly game (Only a few of you will get this) to keep ourselves entertained until we could check-in. All checked in we went to get a coffee but couldn't afford one (airport prices and Sweden very expensive), so we brought bottled water instead and then proceeded through the airport rituals as usual. We went through boarding and even made it onto the bridge, where we stood for 15 mins not being allowed on the plane?? A few moments later we were turned around back to our gate and told the plane had to refuel which they couldn't do with us stood there?? By this time people needed the toilet including us and we were soon all mingled in with the other passengers at the gate waiting for other planes. 30 mins later they announced that our plane had a technical fault and it would be another hour until we boarded! In the mean time the staff were looking stressed and trying to figure out how they were going to re-board everyone. After another 30 mins they announced our flight would be delayed a further 2 hours and we would get food and drinks vouchers (which made us laugh as the only place for food was a stall with bottled drinks, coffee, crisps and chocolate bars?). They then started to board another flight from the same gate who had to go down some stairs to a bus as our plane was in the way for their plane. Seconds after the other flight had gone they suddenly announced that we were going to board now and it would take a little longer as they had to check our passes again tick us off the list. The rest of the flight went without a hitch and we ended up landing only a two hours late.
Once in the airport we knew we had to get a bus to the centre then the metro, only this airport was tiny and had no signs to buses or taxi's. So we went to the TI which was luckily right by the exit. They told us to get a different bus to the centre and then we would be within walking distance of our hostel and we could get it outside for only 35 Rubles (70p) brilliant. This bus was an upgrade to the ones in Zakopane but only jus! It was packed and we had to stand with our backpacks on the whole time. Being rather difficult to move and constantly knocking people with our bags we realised we didn't know where to get off? We knew it was going to be at least 40 mins but the bus stops had no names nor did the bus or driver announce the stops. I had managed to catch a few street signs so knew kinda where we were on our map but it was a guess as the signs were in Cyrillic and the map Latin alphabet. Eventually the bus thinned out enough for me to get to the driver and ask, to which he made a gesture of straight on! hmmm this was going to be fun. 10 mins later the bus stopped switched off it's engine and everyone got off so we assumed this must be it, which it was thank goodness and it was only about a 10 minute walk to our hostel.
Soul Kitchen, our hostel http://www.soulkitchenhostel.com was amazing, one of the best hostels we have stayed in so far. The girls who checked us in were lovely, showing us around giving us tips on where to go and what to do and inviting us to free Pasta Night that evening to help us socialise and get some free food!! There was free tea and coffee which is always a winner, and she even wrote down what Milk was in Cyrillic to prevent us buying the wrong thing (they have weird yoghurt type thing that looks like milk which she said everyone always buys by mistake). We dumped our bags in our dorm being very excited by the double bunk-beds - of course we had one each!
We decided to go for a walk before heading to the supermarket to buy our usual provisions and could not believe how amazing the location of our hostel was! It took us seconds to get to St Isac's Cathedral and only another 5 minutes from there to The Winter Palace and the Hermitage. We made it back just in time to help make the pasta, so while I put away the shopping Nick got busy in the kitchen (I know shocking right!). While prepping we met a lovely German couple with a great sense of humour who were both translators so had perfect English. The pasta turned out to be really good and the German guys introduced us to putting raw crushed garlic on top which was really tasty but made you a little smelly. After dinner we chatted some more and decided to watch a film together in the huge living room. The hostel had a huge book of world films you could choose from, we decided on The Intouchables; a French comedy about a quadriplegic and his career. We all thought it would be on the massive 52" TV but instead they pulled down a huge screen for the projector. The film was brilliant and had us laughing the whole time, it was the perfect way to end a long day.
The next morning we had a little bit of a lazy start getting up later then usual, we ate breakfast and went out to join our free walking tour, but were running a little late so were happy to discover our guide was too, so for once our timing was perfect! The tour took in the old town, The Hermitage, The Admiralty (which was in scaffolding), St Isac's Cathedral, The Winters Place, Place Bridge, Statue of Peter the Great, Church of the Savior on Blood and St Petersburg's history. St Petersburg used to be a swamp that belonged to Sweden but during the Russo-Swedish war, Russia claimed it back. Then when Peter the Great became Tsar of Russia he made it the capital tearing down any settlements on the land and building an amazing town based on the architecture of Paris and Florence that he greatly admired. He even went further and made all the noble families leave there homes in Moscow. They were to build new houses in St Petersburg in the same style even making them talk in French and Italian! A lot of this architecture remains today making it feel like a very European city, especially with all the canals and bridges. At the end of the tour we went to see the Church of the Savior of Blood up close as it had a 250 Rubles (£5) entrance fee so we didn't go in but took lots of photo's and took in the amazing roof.
We then decided to visit The Hermitage at 800 Rubles (£15) each it's the most we have payed for a museum but it's a must see, it's compares to the Louvre in size and collection. We spent 2 hours in there and probably only saw a 5th of it. If you plan to visit get a map and head to the exhibits you want to see as it would take days to see it all. Once finished at the museum we stopped for a coffee and cake and then went back to find accommodation for Hong Kong (which took about 4 hours!).
The next day we walked over the Place Bridge (which was in scaffolding) to the Island that houses the Peter and Paul Fortress; another building of Peter the Great's. Now a museum with Peter and Paul Cathedral in the centre and a beach just outside the Fortress wall it was lovely place to walk on the hot day it turned out to be. Later that day we had planned to go on another tour about the communist rule of St Petersburg so after the Fortress and a bit of mooching we headed back to make an early dinner ready to go to Lenin Square to start our tour. To get there we decided to take the famous underground as we were told they were worth a look as they are the 3rd deepest in the world and that you can't see the end of the escalator down. The metro is easy to navigate and is a bargain at 28 Rubles (55p) for a single trip anywhere in the city. You get given a token which you need to for the barrier to enter the station and then you can be on as long as you like until you exit. The metro was designed around the 1920's and built after WWII so is a beautiful art deco style with impressive chandeliers and it was true the escalators were so long that people were reading books and sitting down while waiting for it to get to the bottom. Once we arrived at Lenin Square we waited 20 minutes for our guide who never turned up (when we phoned the company they simply said "tour cancelled" - nice!), slightly annoyed as we really wanted to do this tour we decided to take an evening stroll back to hostel making up our own "facts" along the way! As soon as we got into the hostel they told us there were fresh pancakes in the kitchen and to get tucked in, they were brilliant and cheered us up. We ended up spending our last night chatting to two Aussies we had met that day until it was late and time for bed.
The next day we spent as a lazy day getting up late and packing our bags we went our for breakfast and much to my delight were given dot to dot placemats and a pencil, I spent the whole time doing mine adding in extra detail while Nick laughed at me. After breakfast we before grabbing our bags we went up St Isaac's to see the view.
We managed to make it back to the bus stop we needed ok and headed to the airport easy...
... however upon arriving at the airport we discovered the terminal we wanted was not at that airport but 15 mins away at another airport CRAP!! after a little panic and some help from a very nice Russian pilot we got the correct bus and ran to our terminal now running late. Russian Airports turned out to be very secure, we rushed to the entrance of the building and discovered that you had to put your luggage through a scanner and then go through a metal detector! Finally through we headed for our checkin desk where there was a huge queue for the same flight so we could relax and go for a much needed and over-priced coffee. We then had to go through security checking our bags and patting us down again and we were finally able to board our flight to Moscow.