19 April 2010

The first step in Russia

Been in Moscow for a couple of days now, but I still haven’t got around to covering St. Petersburg.  We got the train out of Riga at 7:30 on Wednesday evening, which was due to arrive in St. Petersburg after 9 the next morning.  This isn't our picture, but it gives an idea of what the trains are like

We went straight to where the hostel should be, according to their (ATMO HOSTEL) instructions, and spent about 10 minutes walking back and forward around the corner, and couldn’t spot it.  Eventually we spotted a small mostly peeled off sticker that we could make out an “MO HO” on.  It was a dismal hallway onto a stairwell that smelt of piss.  Atmo was based on the third floor.  It was a basic but interesting hostel, with very friendly staff.

Turns out their sticker that indicates where the hostel is keeps getting peeled off by the council workers.  They want to get up a proper plastic sign (they are a very new hostel), but it currently requires a lot of money as they need to be able afford the bribe to get the necessary application through for that.  All part of setting up a business in Russia.

Petersburg is a beautiful city, stunning 17th and 18th century architecture nearly everywhere, with few hints of beatings that had been taken through WW I, WW II and the communist period.

The first couple of things that we noticed was how filthy it was in Russia, something we’d also notice in Moscow, and how crazy the drivers were.  Cars were caked with layers of dust, and it was nothing to do with the big ash cloud:

Cars bombed along the streets are frightening speeds, and manoeuvred their way through group of pedestrians with little thought for consequences.  Red lights, while not as ignored as in China, were not guaranteed to make a driver stop.

Ladas were everywhere, which, as anyone with any knowledge of the history of Swatragh knows, made me feel nostalgic.  Swatragh used to have Lada dealership, giving it the local nickname of Ladaland, much to the amusement of our neighbours.  What with EU emissions regulations and all that, it couldn’t continue to sell them; it’s now seems to sell tractors.

The escalators into the metro were huge, taking what seemed like an age to get down.  Here it says that Moscow has one of the longest ones, so I’ll have to see if I can get to it.  I’d like to see someone ski down it. The metro was also cavernous and looked amazing:

On the second evening, Audrey and I were having a rubbish beer in cafe/bar near our hostel.  Half way through, as I was trying to practice the 20 or so Russian words I’m trying to master, a couple of Russians, Olga and Dmitri, asked if they could join us.  They wanted to learn English, and could also help us with our Russian (although I am satisfied with my dictionary of 20 words).

Audrey agreed to go the Hermitage with Olga the next day.  I wasn’t keen on going to the Hermitage anyway, so it suited me that Olga would go with her.  Also, I didn’t fancy spending the day trying to communicate in broken English.  Olga didn’t speak or understand a lot of English, but I put it down to being out of practice, as I’ve seen her written English, and it’s much better.  Audrey on the other hand would relish this chance, as she could practice her Russian all day.

The cathedral of the spilled blood was also amazing looking, with enough mosaics to cover an entire football pitch on it's inner and outer walls along with the ceilings:

We also visited a Vodka museum, I need to get in some preparation in for the trans-siberian trip.  We got three different vodkas at the end to try, and all tasted pretty similar to me.  We got an interesting insight into Russia’s Vodka history, as well as periods of prohibition in the country.

On another note, it looks like loads of NI has been mapped on Streetview, even tiny little back roads that get about 20 cars per day.  You can see my parents’ house here, but is difficult to see, as they’ve planted so many trees around it I've had to get an angle from up the road.  Streetview makes Moneysharvin Road (which is part of the main north-south road in NI) look like a country back road.

Finally, to paraphrase Mae West “So many beers, so little time” (this is in Riga, Russia had not been great for beer):


pok said...

Can't believe we're finally on streetview - dam those trees! Paula

Katie said...

ooooo so exotic!! must be tons of fun!!!! is the word "beer" one of those 20 russian vocab you're parcticing??? lol. and i'm so glad to finally find a place where ppl can share my passion for not washing cars.

Anonymous said...

i think it's about time you came home now!! We need pub pals again! On the other hand, glad you are having a great time. BTW right now, it appears that Chelsea will be the champions and Lewis is not in the happiest mood - Come home!! Anneka xxx