We had been told that there had been a bombing in Russia at a train station the previous night and there definitely was a higher presence of guards/police at the station before we boarded our train, so we were all ready to head to SP. We had also been told that this train was not going to be as nice as the first and would feel more ‘Soviet’. It was older and definitely had what we could only imagine as the ‘Soviet’ feel about it, but the general consensus was positive. It may have been the beer, wine or vodka, but it felt a lot smoother when we eventually got to sleep (minus the sauna-like experience for those of us on the top bunk)
Speaking of drinks, Zane had told a fantastical tale of rare and illustrious vodka that smelt AND tasted of the finest water man had ever set his lips upon (slight poetic licence used). A member of the group managed to find a bottle of this, and it was tried for the first time aboard the St Pete’s Express… Zane was right… One did not even require the soon-to-be-standard pickle that would accompany majority of vodka shots in the future. The vodka was called Tsarkaya Gold for those of you playing at home.
St Petersburg is amazing. We were lucky enough to have a great guide, Victoria, who was very knowledgeable and gave us a great footing to our host city for the next couple of days. She also had her fly done up and this time, no one was concerned by her clean clothes and normal persona. (Honestly though, we would highly recommend her) We visited St Isaac’s Cathedral, St Nicholas Cathedral among other sights and stopped for visit at Peter & Pauls Fortress where a cannon is fired every day at noon to signify the beginning of a lunch break, and to scare the shit out of tourists (me).
Our lunchtime stop was near the Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood. With 2 options, healthy or Russian Pirogi (pie), and majority Aussies & Kiwi’s on board, we went for the pies. We missed the meat option, but managed to share one of the last delicious mushroom filled pastry pillows from Stolle Bakery. Stomach lined, it was time to try out a few new beers back our great hostel, Hostel-Life, before our New Year’s Eve shindig. Before dinner, our guide Zane treated us to a Russian delicacy of Pelmini, a Russian dish comprising of ravioli like dumplings, in a broth with soured cream… delicious!
Our New Year’s dinner had all the typical elements of any other New Year’s celebration, plenty of booze, people falling asleep at the table, broken champagne glasses (€2 each) and, of course, Entrée’s served at 11pm followed shortly after by Mains at 1:40am (just in time for that Australian, Wade, to return) In between courses, we managed to head to the main square outside the Winter Palace to see in 2014. Unfortunately, they had cancelled the fireworks as a security measure due the bombings, but it was still a good night with the locals letting of their own fireworks around us, some landing on Sarah’s foot, while we reciprocated by releasing lanterns in to the winters sky/back of people’s heads.
The festivities were swiftly ended by the Russian police who threw down any remaining lanterns with menacing force, and with 5 men and ten feet, proceeded to stamp out the flames like a 5 year old having a tantrum. It was quite fun to watch. Flames out and dreams quashed, it was time to head back to the restaurant so we didn’t miss our main course. As a man who prides himself on his spatial memory in a foreign city, I took it upon myself to usher the remaining group so we could all head back to the restaurant together so no one got lost. Then I lost Sarah. Then I lost the remaining group. Then I lost the restaurant. An hour later, our unwritten rule of stopping at the next corner until the other arrives worked, and Sarah, with help of some new found friends, took me back to the restaurant. Delicious food, more booze, more broken glasses and more table naps, it was finally time for bed.
Waking the next morning with throbbing head and the after taste of what had to be non-pickle chased vodka, it was out to the city to find a hangover cure. There is not much going on in St Petersburg on New Year’s Day, but a few of us managed to find one of Tepemok café’s open to indulge in a cheeseburger-like pancake and some more Pelmini. Worth a visit just to try the cheeseburger pancake, but also the condensed milk filled pancake comes highly recommended. Our last night in St Petersburg saw a few of us head to the Soviet Café Kvartirka for a delicious meal of Chicken Kiev, Beef Stroganoff, more Pelmini and some quintessential vodka shots. Before we knew it, we had been to a couple more bars and it was 3am again.
The snow started to fall the next morning while we waited for our guide, Victoria, outside the Winter Palace before heading into The Hermitage. It was the only snow we saw, but having the square practically to ourselves; it was nice way to start our last day in St Petersburg. Sarah and I don’t normally go to Museum’s as much, as we tend to get over them once you have done a few, but we really recommend the Hermitage. It is one of the best buildings we have ever been inside. The details on the walls & ceilings, and just as importantly, the floors were truly incredible. We only had a few hours inside and saw only a fraction, but I would definitely go back.
Victoria also took us back to the Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood so we could go inside. Again, an incredible building, it took me a little while to realise that the pictures inside were actually all made up of tiny mosaics. That was the end of our stay in St Petersburg, so after a quick cheeseburger pancake and little more Pelmini, we were on the bus and heading for Tallin, via Catherines Palace in Tsarskoye Selo (Tsar’s Village).
Another sight worth visiting, Catherine’s Palace is amazing building with what seemed an infinite amount of rooms, all different, (except for the gold, man they liked to gild in gold). Seeing the pictures of what the Nazi’s did to the building in the 1940’s, it was hard to conceive how they have managed to restore it. We were unable to take any photos of the amber room, but to paint a picture; the walls were covered in amber, the “paintings” on the walls were all made of amber and mounted in amber frames. There was a lot of amber. After saying goodbye to Victoria, it was back on the bus, through the “efficient” border crossing, and on towards Tallinn Estonia.