Russian Tsar, Peter the Great, must surely have been a great man to leave a legacy of such opulent Russian Royal Palaces. St Petersburg is surely a beautiful and very European city, the incredibly decorative cathedrals, canals, town squares, magnificent architecture, museums, wide streets and interesting shopping arcades, gardens and parkland. We have enjoyed St Petersburg and in fact Russia in general has been fascinating although not wildly exciting. Quite different to expectations and a great country to spend time in as it is so incredibly interesting.
Over the past 5 days in St Petersburg, we have been on an excellent guided walking tour of the city (our guide was a young Russian guy who really gave us not only an insight into the actual city but also an idea of how the local young Educated Russians feel about their city - they are not happy with their government, their politics, their standard of living etc and talk of leaving Russia and possibly emigrating to for eg. USA). We went on a bike tour seeing yet a different area of this fine city which was fun and great to be back on the bike again (even though I did manage to come off at one stage - bikes, pedestrians and traffic made it chaotic), took a hydrofoil to Peterhof to see the palace and many fountains, (which was being prepared for the arrival of the G20 Heads of State arriving next week). We visited many beautiful cathedrals, sussed out the famous Astoria and Grand European Hotels, climbed the 262 steps of St Isaacs Cathedral for a great view over the city and continuing my theme of climbing a tower in each city I visit and so much more.
We had a really fun and interesting private canal boat trip with our little group at sunset which included a bottle of Russian Vodka (just to make sure we still liked the taste) and an interesting guide who pointed out places of interest as the sun was setting over the buildings and the canals (memories of Venice, Ellen).
One of our tour highlights was a pancake evening with a local Russian family where we saw how the poorer locals live in a communal apartment, just one room for whole family and shared apartment kitchen and bathroom with the other families. Very interesting and humbling, we learned a lot about Russian lifestyle, they were a lovely working class family, mum, dad and 10 year old daughter. The pancakes were also delicious, savoury with wild mushrooms which they had picked in the forest at the weekend and sweet ones with homemade jam.
Our Intrepid group were really fun and we all had a good time together, we had a couple of nights out together in the local pubs on the Russian Vodka and experimenting with local Russian food. We especially enjoyed the fish salad, the pancakes, Russian pies and borscht.
Russia is not a madly exciting place though very interesting and comfortable, we enjoyed our time here, St Petersburg and smaller country towns were easier to get around than Moscow. The people here are mostly friendly and I used every opportunity available to communicate with them again discovering that they are not real happy with life in Russia. The young Russians all seem to hope to live somewhere else one day, and are very negative about their lifestyle and prospects in Russia (which is not really so surprising, I guess).
The women dress beautifully and are very stylishly, extremely high heels (you would fit in well, Nadine), obesity does not seem to be as great a problem here as it is in for eg. the UK, the people appear to be healthier except for their nasty smoking habit which is rife in Russia.
The pubs don't have a great atmosphere (not like in the UK), they really are just places to go and get drunk.
Overall, I have really enjoyed my Russian experience, at times a challenge, but not as difficult as I expected and actually totally different to how I did expect it to be. The Intrepid tour was well organised, gave us a great overall Russian experience and as usual excellent as well as we had a really good group of 9 people plus our fun loving and knowledgeable Hungarian guide.
Tomorrow is our last day in St Petersburg which we intend to spend in the Hermitage Museum and then catch a ferry tomorrow night to Helsinki.
So all packed up (ie. 6 't' shirts and undies) and ready to keep on rolling and move on ........