Monday, November 24, 2008

St. Petersburg

The first phase of St Petersburg marked the end of the Vodkatrain trip, with Maria, who was the best local guide of the trip. Our two-day whirlwind tour took in the Hermitage, a panoramic city view from St Issac's Cathedral, the Political History Museum (which was fascinating but cut a bit short because Someone was grumpy), the Peter and Paul Fortress and many canals, statues and scenic streetscapes.
Kat brushing up on highschool history in the Hermitage. Below, where the dead Tsars live, followed by windows in the impressive Political History museum.

Our last meal as a group was a bit of a sorry state, with general exhaustion and irritability high. Maria took us afterwards to a bar area, and we had a couple of beers in a smoky little pub called Fidel (the Russian's love a Cuban theme) with supped-up Russian versions of everything from The Eagles to Michael Jackson. The last standing - so to speak - were Kat, R and I and we stopped by one more bar where R choked on the ice in the glass of Glenfiddich Kat bought us all (he thought we were doing shots). Waking with violent hangovers (it sounds bad, but it was only our third hangover in a month, which I think is commendable considering we were on the "Vodkatrain") we heaved backpacks on and trudged for an hour to get to the apartment we'd rented for six days with Pam. A good looking man carried our bags, one over each arm, up the stairs into the ENORMOUS apartment and we realised our time in St. Petersburg was about to get much, much better.
Although not the apartment we'd booked and been dreaming about for months (Prince Michael's former pad on Millionaya St near the Hermitage), we all had our own bedroom (bliss) and there was a separate eat-in kitchen, living room with a big TV to watch hilariously raunchy Russian music television (and exercise on the walking machine if any of us felt so inclined, which we obviously didn't) and a bath. Pam's arrival marked a distinct and much appreciated change in pace for the holiday. When we didn't leave the apartment til 1pm the first day, I'll admit to being a bit antsy, but I eased into the slower pace remarkably quickly (for me). Seeing Pam again after so long was a present, and being able to sit around the big kitchen table and talk and feast and laugh was the best thing I could have wished for after four weeks of busy traveling. We did nothing but eat and drink (and damn we did it well) for five days, the only tourist sights we saw were from the street or though windows of cafes and restaurants. One morning, I had caviar and pickles for breakfast, because I felt like it.
Other culinary highlights include the most expensive steak I've ever eaten (but every mouthful was a world of joy and it was as big as my head), bliny (pancake) heaven at a place just around the corner, a drink in 'The Idiot' called Crime and Punishment (accurately described on the menu as "our crime, your punishment"), random dumplings selected from the supermarket freezer section and made into soup (I guessed well on all of them except one which tasted like a sweet cheese, and didn't really go with the pork broth) and our last night, when we ventured to a French bistro for some salmon and wine:
The only blight on the whole fabulous time was en route to dinner on our last night, when we witnessed a Romper Stomper style attack on two guys outside the train station, when five men ran across the road as the lights changed and started swinging steel-capped boots into their heads and ribs with sickening force. Unbelievably, they both got up and made it across the street before the lights changed back. Aside from the ridiculously marked "Mafia Taxis" and occasional homeless person, this was the first real dark side to St Petersburg we'd been exposed to and it was shocking.

Eugene, our Moscow local guide, informed us that one of the statues of a horse on Nevsky Prospect had Napoleon carved onto its doodle. We never found it.

On our last morning, we headed out for breakfast and then Pam accompanied me snow boot shopping, as I anticipated Finland was about to get much frostier. I somehow managed to pick a pair up for about $25. It was a little glum saying bye to Pam, but we cross over in Sydney (for 36 hours) in January. Apartment living is the only way to travel. More please.

1 comment:

be picky... said...

Glad things are much less bleak for you, puppa. Great reading your yarns and miss you much. BP