Joined May 2017 Message
  • Day14

    Traffic lies.

    August 7, 2019 in Russia ⋅ ⛅ 18 °C

    Silly o'clock start as the bargain taxi firm said traffic could be bad. So bad that the taxi was early or in fact there was no traffic & got here with time to spare. Said our thanks & within 5 mins we were at the station - unsurprisingly no change was offered. We were at the station before the taxi had been booked for & were just under 2 hours early. Oops. Settled down for a long wait, well sort of - went for an explore. Tried to establish what platform the train was leaving on. Google helped a little & found that she didn't know - wait 40 mins. Once that was sorted battled through the tour parties to the platform & waited some more. Unsure where our carriage would be - agonised for a bit & stayed put. As it happened we were right & made it to the carefully chosen seats - by the baggage rack & plug - forward facing. Settled in for the 4 hour journey. Plenty of leg room helped & free wifi with films also helped - well for one of us. Good job because the dominant feature outside was trees - lots of them. Picked out when we crossed the Volga & that was about it. Into Moscow & it was noticeably warmer. Down to the metro & a very helpful lady battled with her English to get us the right ticket. Not too busy & our first sight of the famous lavish Moscow metro. Short walk to the hotel & relax.Read more

  • Day13

    Culture overload.

    August 6, 2019 in Russia ⋅ ⛅ 17 °C

    Since Liz was keen to see the Faberge egg at the Hermitage it seemed that to rectify that omission a visit to the Faberge museum might help. Once rested & a station bound cheap taxi booked for the morning, a pleasant walk through the park got us to a quieter end of town. A little ticket confusion at the entrance & then straight into the eggs. As a museum they kind of shot their bolt though because everything seemed a little tame by comparison - a decorated cigarette box?? Not sure I'll be able to cope with another gallery but the eggs were quite nice - was that what Faberge was aiming for as a response from the Tsars. Ambled back via a recommended Georgian restaurant and the bizarrely named Fields of Mars (a memorial to fallen soldiers)Read more

  • Day13

    Bring on the revolution.

    August 6, 2019 in Russia ⋅ ⛅ 16 °C

    A visit to St Petersburg without visiting the Hermitage is supposedly sacrilege. On a rare sunny day spending it indoors seemed equally like sacrilege but the culture won out. The plan was to get there early to mitigate against the worst of the queues. On approach that seemed a forlorn hope, a mammoth queue snaking out of the front. Thankfully that was the tour parties. Took a punt on the machines - didn't seem too bad, though there was little movement. Transpired the automatic machines didn't start till the manned terminals. Bizarrely, just as we were getting close the family in front seemed to opt for the long manual version. Better for us. Made it in by 11 - 30 min wait - not bad. Maze like structure of the place meant mapwork was essential. Spent a bit of time awestruck by the oppulence of the place - completely understood why there was a revolution - the riches seemed obscene but also impressively ornate. Managed to take in the Peacock clock & the Da Vinci room but by now the tour parties were taking on the persona of the devil. If I got out of here without inflicting pain on someone it would be a major achievement. Blocking corridors, barging in front of you, taking vast amounts of unnecessary photos... Retired to the rammed cafe, with nowhere near enough seating, for a sarnie - floor would have to suffice. Liz was keen to see some impressionistic stuff so up & down we traipsed through the French & Dutch sections. Turns out it was in the Workers Quarters - a separate museum. Tried to find the Golden room - turns out that was a guided tour that had to be booked separately. To top it off the Feberge egg that was supposed to be in room 302 was nowhere to be seen. Time to go. Back to the hotel to cool down.Read more

  • Day13

    Midnight madness

    August 6, 2019 in Russia ⋅ ⛅ 9 °C

    A little investigation prompted by a memory of seeing something about multiple drawbridge movements at midnight. Revealed that indeed the 2 local bridges were due to go up at 1.10 & 1.20. Branded as utter lunacy by Liz. Suggested by mulriple websites that viewing both is very challenging - bring it on - alarm set. Skulked out as quietly as possible & dashed down to the river front. The first to draw was the Palace bridge - further away. Lots of people perched on the river wall suggested something was happening. The advent of piped classical music confirmed this & the bridge began to open. Once done loads of boats flooded through, prompting a dash to our local bridge. Made it with a minute or so to spare. Happy days. No classical music this time - just traffic chaos - St Petersburg now separated by the river. Back to bed - a bit warm.Read more

  • Day12

    More general naughtiness on view.

    August 5, 2019 in Russia ⋅ ⛅ 19 °C

    Sarnies consumed, it was off for a walk, primarily to see the lighthouses on the other side of the river but also in an effort to get away from the endless traffic & enjoy the bizarre feeling of sunshine. Crossing the bridge to the lighthouses proved about the busiest stretch of the walk but offered views of the Hermitage & the bustling river traffic - mostly pleasure cruisers with the odd hydrofoil shuttle to Peterhof - each time I tried to get a photo of them mid foil they either throttled down or they were gone too quick - camera shy. The lighthouses were surprisingly big & rather like Finland, it seemed like all maintenance work is carried out en-masse in the summer 2 of the 3 cathedrals & the lighthouses were having work done. Walking back through the fortress - traffic free but not crowd free. Nice walk along the beach & got into a little political talk with former history lecturer - sales pitch for tours but interesting nonetheless. Couldn't quite square his take that Trump was a bit mad but Obama was a liar & warmonger. I guess when Putin owns the press... Back to the hotel & settled in my perch. Intrigued by some comings & goings outside our hotel. Eventually sussed that a car had blocked in a couple of people. They were not happy. Eventually managed to manoeuvre their way out. By way of a thank you they deflated not 1 but 2 of the cars tyres & all 3 spat on it. The Russian way... Couldn't wait see the response since the car was know parked in the middle of the road with 2 flat / soft tyres. All through cooking & eating tea we kept checking. Got distracted by planning getting to the station for the Moscow leg - looked out & it had gone. No beatings, guns or going after the tourists who saw what had happened & did nothing. Ah well off to the bizarre hidden maze of a supermarket to replenish stocks.Read more

  • Day12

    Cathedral bagging

    August 5, 2019 in Russia ⋅ ⛅ 15 °C

    Early morning run showed up how much busier the roads were on weekdays. Equally a lot of business types were hurrying to work - not keen on having an unfit plodder getting in their way. The challenge today was to avoid queues - some hope but you never know. Didn't get to the first cathedral quite as early as hoped but the surrounding area did seem a little quieter - could it be that with the Hermitage being closed tour groups would be less keen / less booked. Nope. Though the queues did seem shorter. On entering it became apparent that they were all inside or so it seemed. Not the most peaceful of places but certainly one of the most ornate and decorative. Every wall was covered in colourful mosaics - must take some maintaining. The ticket claimed to be a museum but that was stretching it a little - a few placards & everything else relied upon the audio guide - 200 rubles extra. Stopped in at Kazan Cathedral on the way to St Isaac's. Amazed to find a place of worship where there was some worshiping going on & there was no charge. What really took your breath away was the smell of incense. By now I was a bit churched out & the hope was that we could go up to the collonade at St Isaac's without having to pay to go in the church as well. Again queues weren't too bad & the ticket agent complied so just the views without the god squad stuff - also meant earlier lunch which got Liz's vote. Views of the river, the Hermitage & the distant stadium were very good.Read more

  • Day11

    Gangster goings on(ish)

    August 4, 2019 in Russia ⋅ ⛅ 14 °C

    Very late finish meant a late start, to the point where we were dashing around just to make the midday gun salute. The idea being to take in the walk along the fortress walls at the time of the firing, thus getting a different view. A little fazed by the lack of traffic outside & saw people running at the end of the road - the St Petersburg Half Marathon. Dodged the runners getting to the bridge & dodged sone more tour parties on the way to the wall. Good spot - still jumped at midday & the cathedral still had massive queues. Walked round to the beach for some nice views of the city. Took a walk along the river to the warship Aurora, which kicked off the revolution in 1917 and it kind of kicked off while we there. A couple of guys with fighting birds were hanging round. Most Russian guys look like bouncers or gangsters - these were no different except they acted that way as well. Got into an argument with some women & promptly chucked her holdall in the river & then promptly ran off [not very gangster that] The family were shaken, bemused & shouted a lot. God knows what the argument was about but best get out of the way. Off to Subway for an easy sarnie. Energy restored - took in St Isaac's Cathedral - massive queue (as there was at the Aurora) found the Bronze Horseman (featured in a book of Liz's) Walked along the river past the Hermitage (epic queue) & ridiculous number of coaches - going to be fun that one. Back in time to watch the mighty reds, handily enough on Russian tv. Decent game - city were lucky. Cooked a Caucasian pasta dish - very spicy. Nice.Read more

  • Day10

    Footie Ruski style

    August 3, 2019 in Russia ⋅ ⛅ 12 °C

    While Liz was resting I scouted out the metro. Had a somewhat fraught discussion with the only person on duty with any degree of English - he was most apologetic. Established what we needed to get to the match - he was most envious. He couldn't get his head round why I didn't get the tokens there & then. I on the other couldn't establish whether they would expire. Equally I couldn't remember how to say thank you & that stressed him out. 1 hour later we were buying our tokens & getting squashed into the metro, Tokyo style. There were other Zenit fans so we had someone to follow at the other end - unless they were heading for a punch up. Stadium & metro line all very new courtesy of FIFA. Once out of the train it was a very convoluted route to the stadium. Bit confused about where to go & even more confused when the steward tried to explain. Extreme warnings on the tickets - no flares, poison, knives etc, were matched with extreme security - airport style. Thankfully got through & had to tackle vast flights of stairs - so much so there were benches half way up. Escalators up to the 2nd tier & a great view of the match, the stadium but also the surrounding area - including the tallest building in Europe - Gazprom's head office from the Gazprom Arena. Makes you think - dodgy dealings maybe. The Zenit fans made a pretty good noise - their team not so much. Conceded a comical own goal. They got very excited when their new signing came on - not that he did too much. Got a last minute equaliser just after we left - had to beat the traffic. Stadium looked spot on at night - as per design, just like a UFO. No wonder it's the most expensive stadium in the world.Read more

  • Day10

    Damn tour groups

    August 3, 2019 in Russia ⋅ ⛅ 13 °C

    And so to the serious stuff - exploring St Petersburg and bizarre Russian cereal finished, we headed to the Petropavlosk Fortress - suposedly the only place to begin a St Petersburg odysey (so the guidebook says) Stepped out to discover things were a little fresh - thankful long trousers were chosen. Getting to the fortress involved a short walk, punctuated by exasperated chunnering along the way as we were barged out of the way - some just rude, most tour groups just getting in the way. Once on Hare Island, there were constant reminders of the Island's naming - hares everywhere (not real) & hoardes waiting for photo ops - gratuitous posing & lots of pouting. As we approached the cathedral, noticed a number of groups heading in a different direction & remembered the midday gun fire. Got there just in time for a bit of pomp & then to almost shit ourselves when the gun went off. Off to the museum of space exploration. Some good exhibits - particularly from Alexi Leonov but let down in 2 ways both of which understandable. Very hit & miss with the English translations - obscure stuff got them, soyuz & sputnik stuff didn't. Also it was very big on the minutia of rocket engines, which got a little boring even for me. The Gagarin stuff was very good though. Liz particularly liked sitting down & resting her aching limbs. By now hunger was a thing - no huge Finnish breakfasts. Nothing around the fortress & no snacks in of note. Decided to have a big lunch & if needed get something at the footie. Opted for the highly rated Brisket BBQ just around the corner - a slice of the states in the USSR. Probably didn't have anything this American in the whole time we were there. Very nice brisket & beef cheeks. Headed back stuffed & to prepare for a match Ruski style. Not sure what to expect.Read more

  • Day9

    Back in the USSR - for the first time.

    August 2, 2019 in Russia ⋅ ☁️ 13 °C

    What a manic day. Sleep only arrived at 1am when the taste free zone that was the retro disco subsided & then the rowdy drunks rolled in afterwards. Other than the noise, the cabin was surprisingly comfortable & it was at 7.30 that we surfaced to discover not ocean views but dockside views of presumably St Petersburg. Much earlier than expected & much sunnier. Back for picnic breakfast & a little hurried repacking to hear a garbled announcement indicating that only VIPs would be disembarking at 9 - the Ps would commence at 9.30 hmmm - how would the transfer view that? In fairness I had told the hotel that passport control would take a while & there was no point the transfer being there at 9. How true that would prove. 9.30 came and went & there was no movement nor announcement. Finally at 9.45 we were off but everyone had to funnel into 1 staircase off the boat - that took a while. Then we had to guess which queue was the non-Russian immigration option - the one that wasn't moving & proceded to not move for ages. It was a minor victory just to get in the building. 10.45 came & we were no closer or so it seemed. Once within sight of the passport posts, we thankfully made a correct choice & were through in 90 mins. Transfer located - relief but by now the clouds were rolling in. Not for him though. He had to contend with St Petersburg traffic on an army day. Cars with flags flying around & google telling him all roads are red. Eventually wound up at the hotel over 3 hours after the boat docked. Not good & to top it off the price quoted had almost doubled because he had to wait so long - I said not to wait! Still it was a far less stressful way to get to the hotel & I would have my revenge... Settled in, thankfully having early access to the room. Wanted to take in a game at St Petersburg's stadium - supposedly the most expensive in the world, so sought advice from the receptionist. She suggested we could go through the process online together. Happy days. Both my cards got spat out. Worrying days. She said the alternative was to have them delivered - no extra cost. She'd phone, check & get back to me. She came up later - not happening. She offered to pay on her card & we could repay her. Way to go the extra mile. Concerned by the card issue so first port of call on exploring was a cashpoint. Google showed up 3 nearby. None seemed to exist on inspection. Even more worrying. Decided to wander a little more & hope one turned up. Thankfully a Dutch bank did & the card worked. Cue much relief. Off to the shop - megre pickings but sorted breakie. Back for a chill before a little more exploration - Hermitage & a recommended eaterie. The Hermitage was impressive & ludicrously busy as were the roads - still (car park like) Food, thankfully, proved a little cheaper & English was indicated & understood. Went back via the Church of the saviour of spilt blood - snappy title. Unfortunately the main spire was shrouded in scaffolding & raindrops were beginning to fall - might be giving the fireworks a miss.Read more

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