Saint Petersburg: Venice of the North

Dear reader, 

If you read my last post you’ll remember I left you all as I boarded my unscheduled business-class train to St. Petersburg. (If you haven’t read my last post, please do so immediately otherwise you will cause a highly dangerous rift in the space-time continuum!)

I shall reprise: I awoke to a fresh omelette and hot coffee and all was, once again, well with the world. Stepping off the train into bright sunlight, blinking and unsteady like a student who has just watched all four Rambo films in the middle of the day with his curtains closed when he should have been at lectures when he finally leaves the house to buy Pringles, (and breathe), I headed to my hotel.

The lobby?

There was no one to help with my bags at the hotel. In fact, there was not even a sign for the hotel. In fact, there was no hotel. Unless you add an “s” between the “o” and the “t”. That said, once I’d computed that I was staying in a hostel, I began to appreciate the charm of the place; a maternal proprietor who insisted on doing my laundry in return for smiles and chocolate, a beautiful old, decrepit building with ceilings 4m high and oodles of character. Yes, this was good!

“But tell us about the city” I pretend to hear you shout. “Very well then, I shall!”

St. Petersburg is not imposing in the way that Moscow is. If the two cities were actors, Moscow would be Al Pacino – confident, imposing, stern; and St. Petersburg would be Natalie Portman, beautiful but more refined and more sophisticated in some way.

Everywhere you turn are ornate facades, gilded statues, picturesque canals and hipsters. Lots of hipsters! But I can put up with the last item if I get the rest of the list.

Cuppolas and canals
Mosaics in the “Church on The Spilled Blood”
Arthur Miller’s lesser known “A View with a Bridge”
I’m worried it still looks a little plain, honey.

So, I did the box-ticking activities, naturally (I include a couple of pretty pictured above, including the last one from the Hermitage – vying with the Louvre for world’s most impressive museum.) But these are seldom the most anecdotally fertile. So let’s skip to my first evening:

I’d headed to a restaurant on Nevsky Prospekt, the very lively main boulevard which bisected the city centre. I was seated at the bar next to a small Russian chap of similar age to myself who was engaged in lively debate with the bartender.

Hearing me doing grievous bodily harm to his native language as I attempted to order a beer, he struck up me conversation with me along the usual lines – where from, what do etc.

Despite rather sheepishly admitting to being an IT quality assurance professional (if you don’t know what that is, you’re life is probably more fulfilling than those of us who do!) he was actually quite a funny guy so, several beers and some trash talking later, we were playing Russian billiards at 2am in a deserted pool hall. As you do. Sadly no photos, I was “in the zone”.

The next day brought sunshine and a day exploring Peter and Paul fortress (turns out dickie birds have unexpected military prowess!) Then, after a haircut in a place with chain curtains and a riding crop on the wall (I didn’t ask, and, even if I had, my hairdresser knew not a word of English) I headed to the Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg’s prestigious ballet and opera location, to watch La Sulphide

interesting, mid-snip look
The keenly awaited sequel – Ballet 2: Culture overdrive

Not only was it spellbindingly beautiful but included an arsenal of special effects: Disappearing dancers, flying and smoking cauldrons! Remaining traditional but moving with the times.

I’m now en route to Pulkova airport to return to London for two days before heading to Cape Town (that reminds me: buy a cape for hilarious, visual gag).

Summary: Russia is awesome! Friendly people, beautiful and diverse country and enough spontaneous drinking to provide some great memories/memory losses!

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