Red Arrow and an endless boat trip

Walking down the platform to our first class carriage we were greeted by our young attendant for the night. He settled us in, showed us how to work everything and took our breakfast order. He is a student, studying trains in St Petersburg, what he meant is he is studying to be a railway engineer. There is a specific railway engineer University in St Petersburg, railway travel is so very important to the Russians.

After getting over the excitement of our luxurious accommodation we had a night cap we settle down for the night. Unfortunately, the trip is only from midnight to 8am so we don’t really get to fully appreciate our surroundings. We have an impressive shower and a decent Russian breakfast looking out over the Russian countryside, small towns and larger communist style apartment blocks, before arriving in St Petersburg.

Being quite early we leave our bags at the hostel and decide to take a hop-on-hop-off boat trip around the rivers and canals. Our guide is very informative and the buildings are interesting. We hop off at a stop near the Winter Palace and wander through the area.

The Palace square is again massive and they are also making preparations for the World Cup. In fitting with the location outside the Winter Palace they have installed a massive, over the top chandelier on the stage. St Petersburg has a different feel than Moscow. Much more touristy-there are hundreds of tour buses parked in the area, being nearly June we are approaching the worst of the mad tourist season. Even so, because of the space here it feel quite desolate, also it feels like a tourist destination, not a place locals would hang out.

(We decide instantly not to do the main attractions but find a few less crowded destinations. Also not sure I like traipse throughout the entire Winter Palace and Hermitage. We will do a separate wing of the Hermitage tomorrow that houses the other half of the Impressionist collection that we saw in Moscow.)

Back on the boat and we finish our tour, we get to our stop, which is a two minute walk from our hostel and…the boat does not stop!! The driver forgot to stop! Of course we are a bit peeved, but there is nothing they can do! We have to go around the whole entire circuit again! Another hour and a half. But actually after the initial annoyance, we saw the funny side and got some good travel tips from the really ambarrassed guide.

  • There are 93 rivers and canals in the St Petersburg area
  • 300 bridges
  • The rivers freeze in water, in the 19th century it winters were colder and they had a winter market on the ice in the middle of the river.
  • The widest bridge is 97m wide. Our guide said this is the widest bridge in the world. We think he means length/width ratio cos it’s a very short bridge over a canal.
  • Rich people built apartment blocks to rent out along the river fronts. These were called profit houses and were said to be more profitable than a diamond mine.
  • The original bridges were all painted different colours and buildings weren’t numbered but said to be near the Red Bridge, or the Blue Bridge…
  • There are three stone bridges in a row, each one built in a different century.
  • The Hermitage Museum has the second largest art collection in the world after the Louvre in Paris.
  • We went past an ex-orphanage that has a carving of a stork feeding it’s young on the gate, this is now a University of Pedagogy, where teacher’s train, so they have taken this symbol as it’s emblem.
  • We went past Stroganoff palace were Stroganoff was invented.

Our guide told us many other facts and stories about all the palaces and other important buildings we went past…but I can only remember this…my brain has travellers fog! I just enjoy the views instead!

By the time we got back to our stop second time around, the river was heaving with your boats and we only just managed to get across the river so we could get off!

We book into our room, we are staying for the first time at a hostel, we have a private room, but share the bathroom with all 30 other guests….there are only three toilets! We shall see how that goes! All the other guests are youngish backpackers, hope they like to sleep!

After visiting a rather odd craft beer bar and trying to converse with the hip bearded barman, we locate another Georgian Restaurant nearby. Again, we are quite taken with this food and I intend to cook some when we get back home.

We then wander the neighbourhood around us. There is a couple of bustling streets lined with bars and restaurants. Then we head into more residential area. The architecture is really interesting. A mix of worn and more work buildings. Like Moscow, St Petersburg has big wide streets which gives a sense of space. This area has a nice vibe.

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