St Petersburg – Part 1

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An excellent beer purchase suggested by our St Petersburg couchsurfing hosts.

After Europe we were a bit exhausted by changing country every few days, so we ended up staying in St Petersburg for 5 nights.  It was a good introduction to Russia — we had the chance to get used to reading Russian and so on, but in a city that feels quite European still.  This is something I’ve been thinking about as we make our way relatively sedately across the globe — when you move slowly you don’t get the extreme moments of culture shock that happen arriving somewhere strange and new by plane.

For the first three nights we stayed with Nastasya and Dima in Peterhof, about half an hour from the city centre.  They looked after us very well, Nastasya even cooked us some delicious food when we arrived, which was a wonderful welcome.  They will be heading off on a similarly big trip themselves in the next year or so, so we had plenty to chat about in terms of how to pull off such an undertaking (and why!).

Nastasya snapped us showing them our plans.
Nastasya snapped us showing them our plans.

They also gave us some good suggestions for walking locally, as well as the idea to go up North and see the northern lights.  We couldn’t pull the latter off in the end, but we were inspired, so a Russian arctic circle / hiking in northern Scandinavia combo trip is now on our ever lengthening list of ‘next time’ travels.  You would think that doing a trip of this length would give you ample time to see everything you might want, but we are finding the things we can’t fit in vastly outnumber those we can.  In Russia this was mostly because we were limited to 21 days in the country because tourist visas are short, and we forgot to factor in the boat to Japan only going once a week when we selected our visa dates.  Oops.

We did manage to take up their local walk suggestion though, and had a great day enjoying the autumn trees and the sea shore just on the brink of freezing over.  The first part of our day was spent in woodland, which was wonderful.  I was so happy to spend some time in the trees.  I’m a pain in the neck if I stay in the city too long.

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After soaking up some tree atmosphere we had a wander around the grounds of the palace that Peterhof is famous for.  It was built from 1714 on the orders of Peter the Great, as Russia’s answer to Versailles.  The area also features in Anna Karenina (and I’m sure plenty of other works of the time).  I managed to wade through enough of it on the Trans-Siberian to ascertain this much, before giving up on it for the second and final time.  Historical characters in books are insufferable.  I just want to give them a good shake.

The grounds were being shut down for the winter, which meant that the famous fountains were off, but also that it was free.  I don’t think we’d have stumped up the entrance price, so it was a happy accident that we arrived when we did.

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It was pleasant walking around the grounds in the autumn colours, but I’d still go for the woods over this sort of thing.  Anyone responsible for this sort of pomp can’t possibly have had any notion of their own absurdity.  From the posing going on at various tourist sites, I think this may be a shortcoming shared by a fair few Russians.  Here’s Arthur having a go at a Russian pose, to give you an idea.

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Taking yourself too seriously is considered an affliction of Americans, but I think Russia is worse.  Guess this explains the cold war.

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