Monday, 20 February 2012

Springtime in Russia

I can already feel spring in the air. Snow is melting, sun is shining, even birds are singing. I'm already waiting for flowers, although it's still only February. Our son is going to Egypt in March with his grandparents. They've just booked the trip, his passport is ready to pick up from the Office. I sooo want spring to come as soon as possible as I'm already waiting to put my travelling plans in motion ;)
But that's not what I wanted to write about today. It just all reminds me of that...

A couple of years ago I managed to make one of my great dreams come true. I visited Russia, Saint Petersburg, to be exact. We were quite close to that when we were studying in Finland. So that was a chance we had to take. We booked a hostel in Petersburg, bought train tickets and hopped on the train to find ourselves in a completely different world. Amazing, breathtaking, enormous, full of contrasts and totally strange to us. We didn't speak Russian. Although Polish might sound similar to Russian for many, in fact it's not that close... Let's start with the lettering and finish with the fact that really similar words mean totally different things. From my lessons of Russian that I took once all I could remember was how to read. And that totally saved us ;) But let's start from the beginning.

We arrived at "Finnish train station" having no roubles, no map and no ability to speak Russian, but so happy at the same time.
We tried to find some kind of information to ask for directions either to the metro station or to the nearest exchange. We had no luck. We decided to go for it and look for the places ourselves. We succeeded quite quickly (yup, that was when the ability to read Russian letters saved us for the first time) in finding the currency exchange, which made it possible for us to buy metro tickets. We somehow found ourselves a map (I can't quite remember where we had it from) and started looking for our hostel. Well, at first we missed it really, but found it at last. No luxuries, but it was enough to have a good rest and spend the whole day out anyhow.

As quickly as we got to the hostel, we decided to start exploring the city. For our first afternoon we chose Vasilyevsky Ostrov. It reminded me of the communist times. I can't remember these really, but the architecture there was so characteristic of those times. 

We also took a short walk on the Nevsky Prospekt, but we were so tired after the whole journey and so eager for our trip the next day (Pushkin! - I'll write about that one next time) that we decided to get back to the hostel for a good rest.

In the next couple of days, we managed to see some of the typical tourist spots in Saint Petersburg, that is" the Bronze Horseman (Peter the Great), the Palace Square, St. Isaac's Cathedral, Church of the Savior on Blood, Admiralty building, many, many bridges over the Neva, Griboyedov Canal, Kazan Cathedral and some really amazing metro stations (!). There's really a lot of places to see in Saint Petersburg. We didn't visit the Hermitage (which I don't regret that much) and we didn't find enough time to get to the Peter and Paul Fortress (which I do regret). Well, let's just say that the four days we spent there weren't really that much. And I knew right from the start that I wanted to visit Catherine's Palace which was already a trip within a trip. I'll get back there one day. Even despite the horrible border crossing on our way back to Finland. It's really worth it.

Of course, before the trip to Russia, I googled for all the information I could find. Tips were welcome as well. What I can share is that it's worth buying some souvenirs on a market square next to the Griboyedov's Canal. If you come from a Slavic country, don't speak English. Try to communicate in your own language, using hand gestures and maybe help yourself with English words - you'll pay much less than the prices on the products say. We were not bargaining really and yet we paid like one third of the price given on the products. Russians were really open, really friendly. I truly loved it there. Although I felt relieved when we finally crossed the Finnish border :)

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