Hello (from Russia)
30.06.2012 - 08.07.2012
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Well, second blog on this trip so far and were two countries further. On June 30th I left the beautiful country of Norway to travel by bus straight through Finland to go to Helsinki. A far more pleasant bus trip then the one from Holland to Norway, but still very long and since it's Scandinavia, not so cheap either. The weather went from blue skies and only sunshine, to clouds and rain, more rain, some more rain, even more rain and rain rain rain.. Honestly I think in the 25 hr bus ride it was dry for 10 minutes. And thinking I would get a good impression of Finland when driving straight through it, I'm not so sure now. Trees, lakes, some more lakes, some more trees and 20hrs later the landscape hadn't change a bit.. I know Finland is called the land of the thousand lakes and now I can relate to that. It was rather boring, but I'm sure the rain had a big part in that..
So, got to Helsinki at 6 am, and streets were full of trash (and I mean garbage bags ripped open and trash EVERYWHERE) and homeless people, so if thats the Finnish way of a warm welcome I'm not impressed..but it might have something to do with the fact that I had been awake for almost 50hrs at that point, so I decided to judge again tomorrow. I picked up the key for the apartment we rented, found a Wifi spot and after, I went to the airport to pick up Henri. It was great to see each other again! We had three great days in beautiful Helsinki (yes it did look a lot better the next day, streets were cleaner and all stores and bars/cafes/ pubs were open). The weather was great and there was lots to see. We also did a day trip to Tallinn, the capital of Estonia. Very beautiful city to see! Of course the three days flew by. It was weird being together and 5 hrs after our goodbyes, I arrived to St Petersburg and I knew Henri was already in Holland again. Now we have to wait till January..
The train ride from Helsinki to St Petersburg was not at all exiting. It was still light out, so I was able to see the scenery, but it wasn't very interesting. You can pretty much guess it, trees, some more trees and sometimes a little lake..
What was interesting was the authority in the train. In the 3.5 hr trainride we had 4 times passport and visa control...seriously. Everytime the thing gets scanned, they look at you, your luggage, sometimes you get stamp in your passport, sometimes not. At the Finnish-Russian border a whole group of officials came into the train and checked if all the seals on the walls and other places where still in tact.I guess they had issues with smugglers before? I don't really understand and it seems a bit over exaggerated to me, but luckily everything with my documents and luggage was okay. I had to fill out a migration card and keep it until I leave russia again. And we had to set our clock an hour forward again, so time difference with Holland is +2 hrs right now, and with Canada it's +10 hrs.
So.. I got to St Petersburg and had no clue where to go. I had directions to get to the hostel by metro, so that was the plan. When I walked out of the train station I got harassed by taxi drivers wanting to offer me a ride, but I didn't give in. I had no idea where I was going, so I decided to follow the crowd. And the crowd went straight to the metro station I needed to buy a ticket, it was only 27 rubles which is like 0.5 euro, but I didn't have any Russian money yet. I thought I'll just pay with my visa. So I get to the ticket office, say hello and tell her I need a ticket to Gostiny Dvor station. I give her my card and she shakes her head. I try the MasterCard and the only thing she says is; cash. Well I don't have cash so I ask her where I can find a bank. She looks at me like she's staring at a pink elephant, so I kindly ask her if she speaks English. Then she just turns around and walks away... So there you are, in an almost abandoned metro station in St Petersburg at midnight with 25 kgs on your shoulders and no one seems to speak English.... I decided to walk a little further to find a bank and luckily there is an ATM not far. I get some money out, go back to the ticket office and get my ticket. 5 minutes later I'm on the longest escalator I've ever seen in my life, and when I get to the metro I'm amazed with the size and looks of it, it's so fancy, it's like a museum! One transfer and 15 minutes later I get to Gostiny Dvor and I reach the hostel around 1am. I'm happy they have a 24hr check in. Luckily the girl behind the desk speaks English so it makes it a lot easier! Here they also only accept cash and I don't have enough on me to pay, but it was fine to do it tomorrow, since ill be staying here three nights. What country does not have visa options in public transport and accommodation? Well I guess the answer is Russia..
In the hostel I have to activate my Russian visa also, another step in the visa process and of course it doesn't come for free. All my roommates are Russian and I realize that Russia is very Russian and very different than any other place I've ever been. For the first time on this trip I feel a bit alone.
When I wake up the next morning, it's already afternoon, wow I had a good sleep! I decide to get some groceries and the girl from the reception told me all the major sites in the city. Apparently the Hermitage has free entrance on every first Thursday of the month, and guess what day it was? Exactly! Lucky me. So I decided to go there. It's 27 degrees, and in a city it always feels sticky. Also the amount of tourists here are insane, Helsinki was busy too but this a bit overwhelming. I stand in line for about 30minutes before I enter the Hermitage. Gosh is it ever busy! It's like a circus!! I walk around for about an our and a half and then I just need to get out. It's too crowded! Also I'm lost, and when i ask one of the guards in the museum if he can point out where I am on the map, he looks at me like he's staring at a pink elephant. Right... Relieved when I find an exit sign a little while later, I make it outside. The rest of the afternoon I decide to walk around the city and see different cathedrals, parks ( with a special bird, se pics for details ) and canals. It was nice and relaxing. I stumbled upon a little souvenir market and of course there is a lot of Matrushkas. They come in all sizes and sorts. Normal ones, christmas ones, I'm pleasantly surprised with NHL ones, (Toronto Maple Leafs and Vancouver Canucks) and also some that seem to have to represent world leaders... The picture says it all.
The next days I enjoy climbing a cathedral tower and having an awesome view over St Petersburg, a boat tour through the canals and seeing all the highlights, a good party night with fellow hostel members, because luckily on night two there were two Australians (Alex and Nicolai), a Dutch guy (Osram) and two British people (Alex and Alex) so a lot more fun and a lot more English!
Looks like this magpie has a maple leaf "tattooed" on his chest.. Hihi
The bar is interesting, I really don't know how to word it otherwise..it's small and has multiple levels, but it has atmosphere. Main and first floor have two different styles of music, so nothing different about it so far.. But then, after you wait 20min for your first drink, it's starts to get busy, it's literally a Russian invasion, haha but it's all good. The girls dress very classy, all in too short dresses and too high heels. There is signs on the wall stating that only women can dance.. A little later, two girls in very little clothing get onto the branding bar and start dancing. They work or the bar and I have the feeling I'm in a strip club instead of a bar.. Another little later there is only a bra and undies left on them and we decide it's time to go. Some have been here more nights already and all the bars suck, this one was the best one, so there doesn't seem to be too much potential. When we get downstairs, guess what's going on, karaoke! So we decide to find out if they have some English songs and there is two that we can sing, it's the only English music we hear all night, but we sure enjoyed our 4 minutes of English fame..
When we walk out of the bar around 3 in the morning, we get to experience the so called "white night" because in St Petersburg, like in Norway, it doesn't get totally dark n the midst of summer, so it's still light in the sky. Of course I wasn't as impressed as the others but really, nothing beats The Cape..
I'm still a little shocked how few English the Russians know, you would think that a big nation like this, and especially in cities as St Petersburg, they would speak decent English. Their tourism can develop so much more if they would ( and also if they would be a little more helpful and friendly..) Everything is very cheap, which is a nice plus. A funny thing here is that when you enter a grocery store, about a third in the store is liquor! A 1 liter bottle of Vodka costs the same as a bag of M&M's and smokes are like two dollars per pack.. No wonder alcoholism is a problem here and everyone seems to smoke. I was also told that St Petersburg is very European compared to Moscow and that in Moscow you will find less English then here.. A little shocking? Since its the capital? I guess we'll wait and see.. The start is good, because Oksana from the hostel helped me to book a trainticket to Moscow through a Russian site, which is way cheaper then tourist sites, but only in Russian, so I got a ticket on the night train with bed for 24 euro's ($ 30), yay! Normally I would have paid approximately 100 euro's ($125). She was sad I already booked my trans Siberian tickets too, could have saved a lot of money to do it from here! ( and thought I did good with 700 euro's) So if you're thinking about going, get a visa for Russia and book a hotel or hostel in the city of your arrival and book everything else in Russia, saves you a lot of money!
The saturday I'm not feeling well and I spent most of the day sleeping on the hostel sofa in the lobby, since i had to check out by noon. I hope I don't get the flu! My train leaves at 22:51 so I decide to head to the train station around 21:30. It's a 20min walk and I heard that there was a supermarket there which would be nice to get something to eat and drink while on the train. I say goodbye to Oksana and Osram and walk for he last time over Nevskiy prospekt towards Moskovskiy station, yes the train station where all trains from Moscow leave from. This station is a different one then the one I came into from Helsinki, I guess they build two because the big river Bolshaya Neva is what devides St Petersburg. That would explain too why the escalators are so long, because the metro is build that deep because the water is there..
With an outside temperature of 27 degrees celcius I get to the train station and I feel like I'm as hot as can be. You get used to feeling grose and smelly because with two backpacks you simply do after 5 minutes! I get to the train, have to show my boarding card and passport (eventhough I'm not going outside of Russia) and I get on the train. And wow..imagine a Dutch train, the door is not in the middle of the coupe, but at like a third. On the 2/3rd side, there is a bunkbed idea from the door towards the window. Probably about 1.70 meters long and 45 cm wide, and there is 18 bunkbeds like this. I'm on the other side of the aisle laying in the length of the train, on the top of the 'bunk bed'.. This creates 54 beds in a train carriage. I'm in carriage 12 and mine was not the last.. And the 27 degrees from outside is lovely compared o the 31 on the inside.. Man, I'm sweating like crazy! This is different.. But at least I can lay down! Half of my carriage is occupied with Russian army boys, so of course don't speak English, but they're strong enough to help me get my bag in the luggage rack above my bed. There is one lady from Russia who lives in London(Inna), that comes to chat with me and she is the translator between me, my bottom neighbor girl (Dania) (an art sculpture student from Moscow) and the army boys Kirill and Max. Apparently most Russians do understand some English, they are just too embarrassed to speak because they can't speak very well. We have a fun two hour chat with our translators help, they're all amazed I'm traveling, by myself, in a country where I don't know anything. We end up watching my favorite pics so far on the iPad and I thinks made 6 Russians fall in love with Norway and Helsinki when it's 1 o clock the lights go out and it's time to go to sleep. It 'cooled down' to 27 degrees, so it's a little less hot but I don't think it will cool of much more cuz the hearts and stuff that we got re as thin as 'what-ever-you-say-when-something's-really-thin'. I ended up sleeping about 5 hours, so not bad at all! I did wake up quite a few times, bathing in sweat cuz it was seriously too hot, and since you're sleeping in your clothes it doesn't help much. Inna came to bring me her contact information, in case i need her help someday and she gave me russian keychain for a souvenir. Very nice! Dania walked to the metro station with me and 5 min later I'm all by myself again. In Moscow. Kinda cool I made it!
I get to the hostel at 8.30 in the morning, can't check in till 14.00 but I can have a shower, ( I mussed look and/or smell horrible if they offer it haha! so I don't refuse! I decide to take it easy today because I'm still feeling sick. I booked a free guided tour through Moscow for Tuesday morning with Jolijn, heard from other travelers it is awesome but it books up fast. Luckily we got a spot and the rest of the day i used to update this blog, so I hope you enjoyed it and the next update will be from the both of us!