/ St Petersburg - 2008
I realized that I had lived more than 30 years
next to Russia and visited some 35 countries but never
crossed the eastern border of Finland. So it was about the
time to book a long weekend in St Petersburg. As visa is
still a compulsory to visit Russia I contacted a travel
agency called Lähialuematkat in Helsinki. I realized that
their "all-inclusive" package with visa, train tickets and
hotel was actually cheaper than arranging everything by
yourself so I ended up on a sort of packaged tour! The
service was very good so I can recommend this company for
anybody travelling to Russia.
Check out the
I spent three nights in St Petersburg which is definitely
not enough if you want to explore the city properly. But as
getting there was easier than I thought it would be easy to
01.05.2008 Helsinki - St
is Vappu in Helsinki - after a brief visit to Kaivopuisto I
head for the railway station. I take the russian train that
is half empty. I spend some time in the restaurant that
offers interesting variety of russian dishes.The waiter
speaks some broken Finnish. Crossing the border takes a
while but there is surprisingly little hassle. It is already
dark when I arrive in St Petersburg so I just take a taxi
(an old Lada) to my hotel that is a huge and ugly concrete
building from the Soviet era. It has been renovated though
and my (business) room is good by my standards. Not much to
do tonight so I go to bed.
02.05.2008 St Petersburg
is a decent breakfast included so after some overeating I
head to downtown area. Sun is shining and it is a warm day.
First thing I realize is that the city is huge and the
downtown area has very few ugly buildings from the Soviet
era. Instead there is endless number of beautifully restored
buildings from the late 19th century. I just walk around for
a couple of hours to admire the beauty of the city and check
out the compulsory sights like St Isaac's Cathedral and
Hermitage. Later in the afternoon I also check out the
exhibition in Hermitage - actually the building itself is
more interesting than the huge collection of classic art.
There are also numerous impressive parks everywhere that are
perfect places for chilling out.
Some first impressions of Russia:
- You have to queue everywhere: if you want to buy a
ticket to underground, if you want to visit a museum...
- People speak English surprisingly poorly (or they
are not willing to speak it)
- People are often rude (especially when queueing -
you don't hear too many "excuse me's")
The language barrier seems to be really strong - as if I
was in France. There is very few English street signs to be
seen - knowing at least the cyrillic alphabet would be very
03.05.2008 St Petersburg
main activity for today is to visit Petershof - the
luxurious palace on the outskirts of the town. I take a
local minibus there - it is packed with locals and seems to
make frequent stops. Fortunately there is a couple that is
going to the same destination and they keep asking the
driver for instructions.
The main draw of the place is the numerous fountains
around the palace but unfortunately they are not in use yet.
But anyway the palace and the grounds around it are
impressive - just the sheer size of the place is
unbelievable! I have to queue for about half an hour to get
in to the palace. There is guided tours but unfortunately
they are all in Russian. Anyway the palace is somehow unreal
as there is gold and art everywhere. It is hard to describe
the numerous and luxurious rooms in words - you better check
out the pictures. But after visiting the palace it is easier
to understand why Russians of 21st century fancy gold and
I return to downtown in the afternoon and visit Church of
Our Savior on Spilled Blood. I'm not a big fan of christian
churches but this one is really fascinating - mostly because
of the architecture and the mosaics - the whole interior is
decorated with huge mosaics that must have taken years to
04.05.2008 St Petersburg -
be leaving in the afternoon so as the first thing I take my
bag to the left luggage at the Finland station. The lady
does not speak any English but I manage to get my bag in a
locked room. I should have enough time to visit "Kunstkamera"
the local Etnographical Museum that has a room full of
artifacts from Peter the Great's "anatomical collection".
Except for that room the museum is utterly boring but the
macabre anatomical collection is so weird that it is worth
visiting. Basically there just are numerous glass jars that
contain malformed babies from the 18th century - preserved
in some liquid. I did not quite get the idea why Peter the
Great was collecting such monstrosities but It was anyway
Russia first museum! Not for the fainthearted though.
I have just enough time to climb to the top of St Isaac's
Cathedral before returning to the train station. This time
it is a Finnish train that is fully packed with Finns - the
journey is rather painful as there are some stupid kids
making noise and there is constant traffic to restaurant and
Anyway a nice getaway for a couple of days and much more
to see than in the Nordic capitals nearby!