The ship sails Monday at 7pm, so no need to get up early, (bonus) it takes all night to tootle over to St. Petersburg and spits you out at 08:30 the following morning, thrusting you into Russia’s second largest city after Moscow. From where we are parked on the east side of Helsinki, over to the west quay would be a 45 minute walk, I just couldn’t find any secure parking near the west quay and I didn’t want to cough up for, $25 per night for a car park. I needed to call into tourist information (bless ‘em) Helsinki which was on-route to get stuff printed off anyway, the ship boarding staff will not let you on-board unless you can prove you have a hotel booked (terms of the Russian govt.) and I was not sure if they would let me use an electronic format, so I printed off the shipping booking, the hotel booking and the two pre-booked tickets for the Hermitage museum. The museum was great value because it allowed you access any time over 2 consecutive days, valid for 6 months and access to the famous “Winter garden”, which, I understand has something to do with Dr. Zivago, (Angie goes all gooey-eyed every time “The winter gardens” is mentioned). Boarding starts at 14:30, we were early, (are we ever late?) we were on-board at 15:00. The room was clean and spacious enough, if you used to living in a MoHo it was luxurious, on the down-side, twin beds, and no window, on the up side…it had a shower.
The night passed silently, which may have had something to do with the visit to the duty-free shop and the “Bing-bong” went at 07:00 sharp. I’m first in the queue for coffee and on the view deck a very wet, grey, industrial looking, St. Petersburg looms into view.
I checked the weather forecast before we left & it didn’t paint a very nice picture, a storm was on the way across, the same one that swept across southern Norway on Friday killing hundreds of reindeer, then we caught the top of it in Helsinki on Saturday, now it was on it’s way to St. Petersburg to ruin our first day again. So we thought we would go straight to the Hermitage museum as soon as we dropped our bags at the hotel and spend the wet day indoors, we soon realised, so did everyone else!
The rain was lashing so hard on Tuesday, I didn’t dare get the camera out. After seeing the Russian news the following day, showing horrendous flooding in Moscow and surrounding towns, we think we got off lightly. The museum was packed. At times, we had to move to the edge of a room, just to get out of the way of hordes of ‘Oriental’ tourists barging their way through (and most of them do barge) from one room to the next…Same pattern of behaviour…Stop, listen to the guide through the head-set…click-click-click…on to the next room and repeat.
In spite of that, we had a great tour of ‘most’ of the museum. Its so vast, we got lost a few times and would never be able to take in all that the museum has to offer in a single day. We returned the following day to see some of the bits we’d missed then had a walking tour of the rest of the city.
Costs: At 80 roubles to the £, Russia is very cheap for most things by UK standards.
- A steamed corn-on-the-cob from a street vender=£1.20
- A pint=£2-3, we found Guinness, Magners, and some great local brews too.
- A reasonable meal for two with drinks=£20,
- A bottle of half-decent red=£2, (you could pay £10, but we don’t have sophisticated palates, …or £10 for a bottle of red wine)
- A 70cl. bottle of vodka or whiskey=less than £1.50, (that’s where the problem is guys!)
- A 15cm (or 6” ) Subway sandwich=£1-2 dependent on filling, add coffee or beer! ,.60p…
- A delightful hotel room in central St.Petersburg, with a bath, breakfast and slippers! £55.50pn…what value!
Eat at one of the swanky restaurants within 1km of the main square and you will be paying the same high prices as London or Paris. Drop a couple of streets back from tourist-ville and most things become reasonable, drop a couple more and you could live like a king. The currency conversion is a little frightening until get your head around it , I must have looked like I’d choked when I was asked for 8,900 Roubles for the hotel. “errr,,,are you sure that’s right?”
We got around all the major attractions in two days on foot, added a city boat tour for another £15 and walked through some lovely parks. The ‘saviour of spilled blood’ is not to be missed.
St. Petersburg, the verdict:
- A 2 night/3 day delightful taste of Russia, generally busy all hours of the day or night.
- I wouldn’t dream of attempting to drive there, nearly every car had some damage.
- We felt reasonably safe at all times, even after dark.
- I expected more deprivation and sleaze but didn’t see it, may-be need to venture out farther. Industrial areas looked very run-down.
- Not too many beggars, not too many tat stalls, generally a good balance.
- Loads of places to eat and drink. We don’t eat meat, but you could get just about any kind of meat you fancy, Elk, Moose and Bear were all on the menu.
- Most Russians tend to get on with their business and don’t pay tourists any attention. The feeling is, the government do the same with its population.
- Health & Safety is non-existent. You play in the road and get knocked over…your fault. There seems to be a complete absence of ‘Warning’ signs.
- Draught beer and alcohol is sold everywhere, corner shops, cafes, even Subway offer draught beer with your sarnie!
- Would I like to live there? Not a chance. Would I go back…no, I don’t think I would, but glad we did, it was a great experience.
St. Peters line ferry company lay on a shuttle-bus from a central collection point, just 5 mins walk from our hotel, the hotel, who were happy to look after our bags for the day after our check-out. A 30 minute ride back through down-town St. Petersburg and we are back on the over-night ferry to Helsinki. I think another trip to the duty-free shop is in order!
Forgive the delay on posting, we are now in Lithuania and WiFi can be hard to come by, I may add more photos later.
All the best for the weekend…Wayne.