Sunday, February 22, 2009

Petrograd Patrol

This follows on directly from the previous post. You should read it first.

During the 20 minutes between waking up and arriving in St Petersburg I started talking to the guy in the bunk above me, whose name was Dmitry and is a professor working on terahertz optical and acoustic signals. I said goodbye to him as I got off the train, but he bumped into me while I was checking the map of the Metro, and he helped me get part of the way to my hostel.

I found the hostel pretty easily (especially given that I was walking. I think I shall have to eschew taxis as they never seem to be able to find the place and rip me off in the process). The hostel is called Crazy Duck and I'd say it's better than the Hostel Napoleon (so named because Napoleon stayed in the building back in 1812 allegedly) in Moscow. It's cheaper, the rooms are more spacious, the TV is huge and has surround sound and is also centrally located.

I checked in about 8:30 and while checking in saw a brochure for a walking tour at 10:30. That seemed like a good introduction to the city so I decided to do it. I was almost late because I got confused on the Metro, but got to the meeting point just as they were about to start. The guide was Sasha who was a history buff and walked around in jeans and a thin jacket, while the rest of us had gloves on and several layers done up. The rest of us were myself and two Belgians, Girt (I'm not sure of the spelling) and I forgot the others name.

The tour meandered around central St Petersburg, and took in a lot of small sites I'd have never known about, including an arts centre that used to be a squat and now includes the headquarters of a group planning to build a temple devoted to the Beatles. We also stopped in at a cafe and tried a cheese pastry thing for which I can't recall the name of (it happens a lot).

After the tour ended I continued on with the two Belgians and had a look at Peter and Paul fortress and then we had a late lunch at a cafe Sasha had recommended. At about 700 rubles it was the most expensive meal I've had in Russia, but definitely the highest quality.

After that we parted ways. I lounged around in the hostel for a while when two good looking girls introduced themselves and told me to come drink. Now, I may not be the suavest of individuals, but I know this is an offer not to be refused. I spent the evening not understanding much but indulging in the one lot of drinking I'm allowing myself per country. It was pleasant, and they were all friendly, but hard to get into entirely when all the conversation is going over your head. I did get a free dinner out of it.

On Sunday I woke up to a rather non-PG sound as metal bunks are not the most discrete of beds for certain activities. This is not an unprecedented experience, but at least in Japan I had a wall separating me from things. I basically stayed quiet and made as though I was still asleep.

Sunday's sightseeing was confined to one building, the Hermitage. I must confess I don't think I'd heard of it until I played Civ IV. The building itself is a work of art, and you could wander around and marvel at it even if it were empty of contents. As it is the contents are an outstanding collection. The only disappointment was the Egyptian display which did not line up to the hype in the Lonely Planet. I saw paintings by da Vinci, Raphael, Matisse, van Gogh, Rembrandt, and many, many others. There was a very good display of Greek and Roman statues, and I think I got photos of all the muses along with a bunch of other mythological figures. The rooms fitted out as they were in the days of the tsars were extremely elaborately decorated and it's safe to say that their tastes did not include simplicity of design.

I took a lot of photos, but am disliking the trend of having to pay extra to take photos of things. It was an extra 200 rubles to take photos in the Hermitage, but I think it was worth it.

In the evening I spent a little time with the group I hung out with last nigh, but too much Russian got to me so as they dispersed to get ready to go out I returned to my bunk. I spent a bit of time talking to a group of cadets who were staying in my dorm, and then finished up writing my journal after they left.

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