After our Berlin sojourn, we flew ourselves to Russia, the Motherland. This was always the biggest part of our trip, the train from St Petersburg to Beijing. Our flight left from a gate waaaay at the back of the Berlin airport, with lots of stern Russian staff and lines and bureaucracy. Excellent start.
Luke had come up with an excellent adventurous way for us to get from the airport to our hotel – marshrutky. For the uninitiated, marshrutka are fixed route mini-buses, kind of like a mix between a real bus and a taxi. So we get ourselves through customs, score ourselves some rubles, and get out of the nutty airport. I need to interrupt my own story for a moment to say that the St Petersburg airport has no signs in English. None.
So. We negotiate our way out of the melee, and find ourselves outside, surrounded by about 20 marshrutka, all empty. Luke consulted his spreadsheet, and got us on the correct mini-bus and we set off. As with most airports, the St Petersburg airport is well away from anything useful and is surrounded by a knot of highways and industrial estates. So we are alone, on a speeding mini-bus, in the middle of nowhere, except for our charming driver and his wife who collected the money. A say charming, I mean grumpy and smelly.
Eventually, at high speed, we approach the city, and more and more people get on the marshrutky, then more and more, and Luke and I became separated and everyone is yelling in Russian, and being Russian and it blew my mind.
We made it to our hotel, dumped our stuff, and explored. Now, I NEVER step into a McDonalds while in Australia, but overseas, it is a source of wifi, a toilet and coffee. Winner. And in Russia, the added bonus is that everything is the same but in cyrillic.
A highlight of St Petersburg was a Sunday morning bike ride tour with Nikolai, our charismatic, yet stoned guide. I love getting to know a city by bicycle, and lucky for us, no-one else turned up so Nikolai bought a couple of his friends along and the five of us trundled around the city. The company only runs tours on Sunday mornings, because the traffic is so so bad all the other times.
Nikolai introduced us to the wonder that is Russian ice-cream. Russians have a sweet tooth and there is always an ice-cream to be found while out and about.
The major drawcard for St Petersburg for most people is the Hermitage Museum. We spent almost a whole day at the Hermitage, and loved every minute. Totally not over-rated and full of gorgeous art (and busloads of very old Finnish people) in a gorgeous palace.
We got all cultural again one night, and saw Swan Lake at the Mikhaylovsky Theatre. It was stunning, Luke found his love for ballet and we wanted to go again in Moscow, but almost all the ballet companies are on holidays in August, so there weren’t any other shows to be found. So glad we went while in St Petersburg.
Now. Onto food. In retrospect, the food in St Petersburg was the best food we ate in the whole of Russia, easily. We ate the best blini ever at this odd, hidden away Soviet style caffeteria. We pretty much ordered one of everything, the mushroom and cheese stack and the spring onion with cheese ones were my favourites. We tried butter and caviar, which is a classic, but didn’t really like it. Caviar is full on, we have simple tastes.
Another favourite hangout was the church above. And it had wifi and beer! Well, something nearby had wifi, and you can buy a beer pretty much anywhere, including outside a church. We would often grab a beer, google away and take in the sights. Perfect.
After our week in St Petersburg, it was time to start the Trans-Mongolian proper and get ourselves down to Moscow.
See you at Red Square!