Wednesday, 17 June 2009

A weekend in Petersburg

The great Russian poet Alexander Sergeievitch Pushkin once wrote 'Люблю тебя, Петра творенье,' (I love you creation of Peter) in his poem the Bronze Horseman and after my weekend there I have firmly joined the throngs of people who are bewitched by this city.
My original plan for my Year in Russia was to study in Moscow for a term then move to Petersburg for term two where I would continue to learn Russian and also gain a qualification in Teaching English as a Foreign Language. Sadly due to lack of interest RLUS cancelled my course in Petersburg so I decided to remain in Moscow with the friends I had already made but resolved that I would simply go away there for a holiday or at least a weekend. As it came to pass I was not in Russia for the second of my two reading weeks so decided instead simply to go for a weekend.
As per usual I naively thought that we would simply be able to walk into the station buy tickets, then book a hotel or hostel then simply pack and see how the weekend would pan out. Sadly it took about 4 attempts to buy tickets from rude mean old babs who simply told us that all the platskarta tickets for every weekend in May were booked and that we would have to buy second class. Eventually after changing the dates and trying every possible option to get a cheap train we gave up and just paid for the second class tickets. Which definitely were worth it as the train turned out to be a luxury train where the guards wore white gloves and were actually polite and called me 'Madam' rather than 'devushka'.
Being as Petersburg is located 8 hours further north of Moscow the most popular option is to get an overnight train and arrive in either city in the morning. While this was a very good idea and saved money on a hostel etc it did mean that when we arrived in Petersburg at 8am we did feel and look like we had just spent the whole night on a train without breakfast. A quick trip to MacDonald's rectified one of those problems then it was simply a matter of waiting until midday when we could check in to the hostel, which turned out to be situated right next to an English pub with a huge red telephone box outside. For a moment I almost thought I was in England until a Bab knocked into me and then I remembered that I was still in Russia.
Unlike Moscow Petersburg is a very European looking city and the whole time I was there it felt like I was in Vienna or at a push Florence. Also unlike Moscow Petersburg was built on a grid system so it is a lot easier to navigate around. One thing we had not banked on was the fact that while we were there it was The Day of Peter which meant that literally the whole city were in the centre watching parades and concerts which made it a little tricky to get to some of the tourist sites but there we go it meant we got to see more more Petersburg.
Although only being there for two days we managed to see Senate Square, The Bronze Horseman statue of Peter the Great, St. Isaac's Cathedral where we climbed to the top to see the view, The Kazan Church, The Church of the Spilled Blood, which is a copy of St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow, the Peter and Paul Fortress, most of the canals and the Neva by going on a boat trip and most importantly of all the Winter Palace and the Hermitage Museum.
For any Russian cinema buffs out there you will know that this was the setting for Alexander Sokurov's ground breaking film 'Russian Ark'- ground breaking as the whole film was shot in only one take and tells 300 years of Russian history. What is most amazing is that this film takes place in many different rooms of the Hermitage Museum and the cameramen had to wear specially adapted cameras to allow them to walk and film.
The museum and palace were even more beautiful than in the film, gold shining everywhere, beautiful furniture in every room and European paintings hung throughout. The only problem was that because the place was so big it meant that we got lost several times and ended up leaving about 30 minutes later than we wanted. The only problem was that while we were there it seemed that the entirety of the middle/old age population of the UK had decided to buy a Thomas Cook package holiday and were in fact touring the museum at that point.
After surviving this one of our friends showed us a local pub where they brewed their own beer in the pub and you could watch it happening. That rectified the situation and because of the White Nights it meant that when we left the pub at 1am it was as light as if it was 8pm. However this did make sleeping a little tricky as the sun never actually set thus throwing my body clock and making me want to get up at 6am- something I NEVER do unless I am going to catch a plane.
After surviving the crowds, the tourists and annoyingly enough the mosquitoes who took a liking to me Simon and I ended back on the overnight train to Moscow.
Peterburg is a great place to visit and I would highly recommend it as it has everything- history, culture, a pretty yet slightly dirty river, the sun and even a nice greasy burger place. It is also a good place for a first time tourist to Russia as you can be in Russia but not feel like you're in Russia. I would just beg you not to go there via a Thomas Cook tour be a bit inventive book it and organise it yourself. Trust me you do not need to walk around in a group with a bored looking tour guide to see this city. Even just walking the streets while lost is fun and allows you to see just how beautiful the place is.

No comments: